Around the bend: Opening up a frugal can of worms

Given the current tough economic times — otherwise known at our house as the New Normal — we’ve had to cut way back on our impulse purchases. As I’ve told my husband, Mark, no more going out to the store for milk and coming home with a new tractor.
This need to be financially responsible comes more easily to me than to him; I’m a tightwad by nature. That’s probably why it took me so long to make my latest purchase. After months of hemming and hawing, last week I finally decided to just take the leap and do it.
I got a new can opener.
My heart still races when I think about it.
Now, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t consider a can opener a luxury; it’s not like it’s an electric one. But in this case, I had a hard time justifying the purchase because we already had two can openers. I just didn’t like them.
I got our primary can opener from one of those fancy home party companies. It’s designed with three unique features: (1) It’s the “safety” kind that removes the entire top of the can, leaving no sharp edges; (2) because the cut lid doesn’t fit inside the can, you can’t press the juice out of your tuna, meaning all your tuna sandwiches come out soggy; and (3) it doesn’t really work.
In the can opener’s defense on feature (3), I think mine’s a dud. Other people swear by this type of opener and insist they can reliably get a soggy tuna sandwich with no trouble at all.
Having paid a hefty designer price for the thing, I hated to admit it was faulty. So when my family complained that trying to use it was giving them repetitive stress injuries, I assured them that this was part of the can opener’s normal operation.
It goes like this: On the first lap around the can, the opener takes a test run just to scope out the terrain. The second time, it lightly scores the can in a polite but noncommittal manner. And on the third and fourth revolutions it cuts just deep enough in one or two places that most times you can pry the can open with a screwdriver. Only on rare occasions do we have to break out the acetylene torch.
“It’s how they do it in Europe,” I told the family. “The French think nothing of spending three hours to make lunch, even if it is just opening a can of soup.”
Mark, however, having no appreciation of gourmet cooking, insisted that a person should be able to open a can of tuna in less time than it takes to drive to the ocean and fish for one. Ever resourceful, he dug out opener No. 2, the one we keep with our camping supplies.
It works — if you have freakishly strong forearms. It’s a can opener only Popeye would love.
It’s an all-metal, awkwardly shaped thing, with as much ergonomic comfort as an iron maiden. Although its blade will slice through a can’s lid, you have to squeeze it hard, usually until you black out. You need to stop and ice your hands after each agonizing crank, and now and then the strain of trying to turn it will burst a blood vessel in your eye.
Given these two openers, I couldn’t help noticing the stylish and comfortable-looking Kitchen-Aid can openers at T.J. Maxx.
I eyed them for months but kept coming back to the same questions: Did a person on a tight budget who already owned two can openers need yet another? Would I be able to sleep at night knowing I had casually dropped $7 on a third can opener when there were people in this town struggling to get by with just one? 
I couldn’t do it.
Returning to T.J. Maxx a few days ago, however, I noticed the can openers had been moved to the clearance rack.
It was time.
My hands shook as I brought a gleaming red and chrome opener to the checkout counter. I giggled when the checkout clerk said, “Wow, marked down to $5.50. You got a great deal.”
Yes, yes I did. Best of all, it works beautifully. Opening cans at our house is now a quick and pain-free experience.
Still, I feel a little guilty. It’s not in my nature to go out and blow five bucks on something as frivolous as a nonessential can opener.
So I just have to keep reminding myself to look at the big picture: If you factor in what we’re going to save on physical therapy bills, that thing will pay for itself in no time. 

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