A popular idiom that I learned during childhood. I Googled the origins of this idiom and found out that it was coined almost 500 years ago, in England and first recorded in Francis Meres’ Luis de Granada’s Sinners Guyde, translated in 1598:
Least he (as it is wont to be sayd) be penny wise and pound foolish, least he I say, gather ashes, and cast away flower.
Isn’t that imagery very striking, to gather ashes while casting away the flour (wasn’t flour spelled flower in the olden days)? How apt.
I am sure we all have battle scars from our forays into the consumerism world, buying the lower cost product and then realizing later, that the quality was commensurate with the price paid. It may have been better to buy the higher priced product and had greater durability and other qualitative benefits. Clearly, this doesn’t apply to ‘branded’ products, where a significant percentage of the pricing is for the image/status of being a ‘prideful’ owner of said branded item.
But money is not the only exchange medium that is called to mind with this idiom. How about TIME?
Clearly, when we are considering life investments, be it a home or our retirement options, we would and should be spending lots of time given the years of living in said home, or relying on said investment income for retirement. What happens if it’s one of those items on Amazon? Or a hotel night in town X? A defined budget may dictate getting products or services that fit within said budget. But ultimately, the trade off is whether to purse the best value price offering by spending too much time, or securing a good enough value price offering with the right enough amount of time. Would budgeting both money and time, when researching/evaluating future products and services be a more optimal use of our scarce resources, of which time is the most uncertain? Are there other areas of my life where I treat ‘Time’ as pennies, thinking that I had an unlimited bag of it (ala those addictive seasons on NFLX and the like)?
Is RELATIONSHIP another possible exchange medium? How can I be penny wise, pounds foolish in relationships? Perhaps if we consider how we relate with children in an environment of conflicting time demands/priorities, the insight might be revealed. Missing a child’s play for the sake of overtime work (so that we can get a better bonus, or score the ‘deal’) seems the right thing to do, since we rationalize that we can always catch the next year’s play. And sometimes that does work out. But other times, this rationalization becomes ingrained, and the rare mis-attendance turns into a common routine where the other partner picks up the slack.
What about adult relationships? What constitutes pennies vs pounds? Perhaps we count the pennies of mis-perceived ‘slights’ and forget the pounds of ‘care’ and ‘concern’ that friends showed during the relationship.
Additionally, social media have allowed us to be kept informed of many more friends’ activities than pre-social media. But if depth of relationship is the pounds part of this relationship equation, why then do we spend more time on social media than on face to face interactions? Clearly none of us want many superficial relationships over a handful of deep relationships, right?
A final example – is HEALTH another possible exchange medium? A pennies approach to health might be subscribing to the view that there’s a pill for any and every health deficiency. That medical care and pharmaceutical offerings have advanced to the level that one only need minimal attention to the rigors of a regular exercise regimen, good nutrition and good rest/sleep. Who has the time and energy for a pounds approach to health?
You may come up with other exchange media. It might make for an interesting reflection of how culture and social norms have re-calibrated our inner compasses of young.
Pennies wise, pounds foolish. Short term vs long term. Immediate gratification vs future sustainability. Tangibles vs intangibles. Surface vs Within. Image vs Character. Pain-avoidance vs Soul-building.