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It's not thrift, it's just plain meanness

You'll have had your tea then.

Six words to strike fear in the heart of the parched visitor and mark a household out as a bunch of meanies. Equally, the guest who turns up at someone's house "with one arm as long as the other" as my mother puts it when referring to the practice of coming not bearing gifts.

Dropping pebbles in collection tins and pilfering fistfuls of condiments from local cafes; all examples of flagrant stinginess, an affliction which seems to be on the rise.

This recession business is providing convenient cover for rampant meanness under the banner of thrift. These straitened times have shone a light on a certain breed of miser and seen them held up as dubious heroes. As we thrash around for ways to make ends meet, lifelong Scrooges are coming to the fore to share the secrets of their penny-pinching success.

Cue Extreme Cheapskates, a new show that will start on US cable channel TLC on October 16 which documents the thrifty ways in which frugal families save money. Misers include one woman who washes her clothes as she showers and refuses to pay for toilet roll (let's not even mention her money-saving alternative) and a mom who feeds her family road kill. Then there is Greg from Ohio who only flushes the loo once a week and eats using free plastic forks, despite having a well-paid job.

Meanness, as we know, is rarely the result of a person's financial situation but greed for greed's sake. Just look at the bold Anne Robinson and three quarters of the ageing boy band Take That for an example of tightfisted self-interest.

This well-heeled foursome are among 2000 people who attempted to shelter £1.2 billion through an aggressive tax avoidance scheme. I wonder how they feel when they hear rumours of their local hospital being down-sized or the community arts centre closing?

Meanness leaves a sour taste with all those who are touched by it. Acts of generosity on the other hand, no matter how small, can be transformative.

Back when there was still a toll on the Erskine Bridge, a friend of mine used to always pay for her car and for the car behind too. As she sped off, she liked to think that, after a brief moment of bemusement, the motorist behind would enjoy a small surge of contentment about the state of the world.

Generosity can be infectious. Just look at the beautiful tale of nine-year-old Rachel Beckwith of Seattle. Following a talk at her school by the organisation charity: water Rachel had only one wish for her ninth birthday. She didn't ask for presents or a party but wanted to raise $300 to allow 15 people in Africa clean drinking water. She only raised $220 but vowed to do better the following birthday.

A month later she was killed in a car accident. Touched by her story, strangers from around the world were determined to fulfil her promise to do better next time and donated to the charity. A year on, more than £12.6m (£780,000) has been raised, which has provided safe water for more than 60,000 in Ethiopia.

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