My sister should buy a new washing machine

Occasionally I’ll mention on a blog comment here or there that my father puts Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme to shame with his extreme frugality.  His wad is tighter than Amy Dacyczyn‘s.  Now, he is incredibly generous with charity, and his extreme frugality put both my sister and me through fancy private colleges with no debt.  We learned a lot of lessons, both good and bad, about deferred spending, frugality, and money management.

I remember when I was a brand new graduate student in a new city with nothing– no furniture, and 10K in student loan debt that I had married into (though at the time I didn’t yet know it was unsubsidized).  DH had gotten a bonus from his university for getting an outside scholarship and we were at a discount strip mall trying to decide whether or not we could get a le crueset pot and whether or not we should get the amazing expensive mattress we’d made the mistake of trying after trying not so amazing less expensive mattresses.

So I called my dad, the most skin-flinty person I know, from a pay phone in the parking lot (using a phone card!).  He argued that the le crueset was always worth it (this was when they still had lifetime warranties, and he’d just had his set from the 1970s completely replaced, no questions asked) and that good sleep was important.  He told me to do a cost benefit analysis based on how long we’d keep the mattress and think about if it was worth that much per year to us to get a better night’s sleep, keeping in mind that we spend more time on a mattress than we do anywhere else.

Those arguments may be the opposite of skin-flinty, but they really are the essence of frugality.  (Though in retrospect, we should have tried bargaining down the price of the mattress.)  To be honest, I was a little surprised to hear him make them.  But then I remembered that much of the stuff my parents still have is high quality from the 1960s and 1970s.

My sister, on other hand, remembers more the K-Mart/Walmart parts of growing up.  Things so cheap that it doesn’t matter that they’re going to break (other than for environmental purposes).  And for a time it was harder to tell if paying more would actually result in higher quality– many things weren’t worth getting a consumer reports magazine to look things up.  (Yay internet for making quality a lot easier to determine!)

Anyhow, she had strongly hinted that instead of buying a $369 automatic litter box, I should buy her a washing machine.  Of course, I wasn’t going to do that because if I didn’t get her the $369 litterbox she certainly wasn’t going to get one herself.  So I ended up getting $80 some of cat toys.  A week or two after she got the toys (which she was in the room for when I purchased them) she yelled at me about how she could buy her own cat toys and she really wanted something for her, like a washing machine.  (I’m *pretty* sure it’s only me and my parents she’s this impolite with… at least I hope so…  Close family bonds don’t stand on ceremony, right?)

So I’m like, why don’t you buy your own washing machine?  You make a six figure salary.  You have a reasonable mortgage.  Your rental room is rented out again.  You should be able to buy your own washing machine!  Spend those $80 you would have spent on cat stuff towards a washing machine instead.

“I can’t,” she said.  “It’s a want, not a need.  It’s not broken.”

Then why do you want a new washing machine?

“This one doesn’t get clothing clean anymore and sometimes it makes holes in my stuff.”

That sounds like broken to me.  Get a new one.

“It’s still working though.  Just limping along.”

Ok, first off, it’s destroying clothing, which means that she’s losing money on clothing.  It’s also negatively affecting her quality of life by not doing its job cleaning things.  She complains about it a lot.  Her tenant also probably has a lower quality of life because the washer doesn’t really work.

On top of that, money is completely fungible.  If someone else buys your needs, then you can spend some of that money on your wants.  So if someone buys the cat stuff you would have bought, there’s no reason not to put that money towards the washing-machine fund.  Or she could not eat out for a few weeks and redirect that money.

Not that she actually needs a washing machine fund.  She has extra money and can totally afford a reasonable washer out of cash flow.  I don’t know if she could get a fancy one out of cash flow, but if she’s talking about washers under $400, then she can afford it.

The only reason she’s not buying one is that she thinks she can only buy needs, not wants, and she doesn’t realize that replacing a washer that isn’t doing its job as a washer is a need, not a want.  (Yet somehow, hiring an interior decorator and renovating the kitchen she hardly ever uses is a need?  I don’t understand the logic!)  If it’s destroying clothing, that’s a false economy– she would save more on clothing if her washer didn’t destroy it.

So I said, “You save for retirement, you pay down your mortgage, you have an emergency fund, you found a new roommate, you can get a new washer.”

And she said what my mother always says when she doesn’t want to say no but means no, “We’ll see.”

My DH offered to cut a washing machine cable for her the next time we visit so that she could buy a new unit without guilt.

Do you put off buying things you shouldn’t because they’re not needs even though you can afford them?  Do you ever have the situation where you spend lots of money in one area (like eating out) but feel like you can’t spend on something else that seems frivolous, even though it would improve your quality of life?

59 Responses to “My sister should buy a new washing machine”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    People often ask me why I don’t replace something that is half-working. “But, it still works some.” I had a boarder who liked to drink when he did laundry. This was back when you could just rip through all the cycles with the button turned to ON. He stripped gears or something. The washing machine would not work on all the cycles. Eventually, I was down to one cycle–gentle. Then, the gentle did not get much water out in the spin. Only when soggy clothes were threatening to ruin my dryer did I replace the 30-year-old washer. I understand her point there. I don’t understand how a washing machine makes holes in things.

    I use things until the absolutely die. I scrape out lip balm even though I just bought two more.

    It seems your sister wanting you to buy a dryer is taking her scruples about buying a little too far. She makes me laugh.

    This is sort of the opposite problem you have with relatives who hit people up for necessities so they can save their money for frivolous items.

    My stove stayed until the last usable electric eye only used half the coils. Neither the other eyes or the oven worked. The 30-yr-old refrigerator quit defrosting the freezer, but I kept it long beyond what I should have. An appliance guy told me after I replaced it that an $80 part would have fixed it….sigh.

    Long ago, I wore a pair of socks with visible holes because they felt so good even when people asked me why I did not buy new socks. Only when people were offering to buy socks for me did I give up wearing them. I did keep them for secretly wearing with shoes at home. They were still good socks!

    If this stupid, half-working dishwasher would finally bite the dust, I would be sooo happy. Then, I would need a new one. I do shop dishwashers just so I will be prepared.

  2. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    Your sister sounds like my parents. They currently have a string tied around a broken door knob to open the door from the garage into the house. If anything is working in any capacity, they will not spend a dime to fix it. My sister got them a new kitchen sink and installation from Lowe’s for Christmas this year because their sink has been leaking and they have had a little container to catch the leak underneath for about a year.

  3. omdg Says:

    We put off buying a new coffee maker for like 6 months after the old one started making coffee that tasted absolutely revolting. We even splurged and bought the expensive $40 one. OMG so worth it. Should have done this months ago. I think we avoided buying a new one probably because we were afraid that it was really the coffee and not the coffee maker that was the root of the problem. Still, for $40 we could have easily just done an experiment and figured it out for sure, because damn, that coffee was AWFUL.

  4. Quail Says:

    Two thoughts – I too learned similar principles from my parents as you did: buy quality so that things will last. On the other hand, somewhere I also picked up guilt, as apparently your sister did. I am a frugal person and yet now that my spouse and I have an income (after both being students for a long time) I go back and forth between buying things that are at the level of need of your sister’s washing machine that we totally can buy and afford (and still be on our retirement savings plan) and feeling terribly guilty about it. We have a baby due this spring and while we can afford the expenses, things like a carseat are inducing weird guilt swings. Those things are expensive! And tricky to find trustworthy ones second hand! And it’s just faster to buy new and know it fits in your car! Etc. So, I would imagine that this is a mental hangup that is “making up for” what your sister sees as frivolous purchases in the past – maybe the kitchen reno – that’s she’s doing penance for now. And it will be absolved if you buy the washer.

    A piece of advice I got from a grad school mentor – not even my parents – is that things like appliances, cars, etc should be purchased before you absolutely need them. You can research, save if you want/need, and buy when things are on sale. We got a great deal on a new washer/dryer a few months ago by stacking an energy audit rebate, a holiday sale, and strategically opening a store credit card. Life is so much better. Our old dryer was from the 1960s and still worked like a charm – by baking everything and wasting a ton of energy. I felt a twinge of guilt about the purchase but with the massive amounts of laundry we anticipate with the baby and the energy savings both fiscal and cosmic, I’ve gotten over it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You did the right thing on the washer/dryer, and I hereby give you permission to buy a brand new car seat of whatever kind you like best/fits your car. Boom. I just granted it. Did you feel that?

      • Quail Says:

        Haha, yes, felt it. We ordered the car seat and it barely fits (we have a compact car) so I’m glad we just went with it. Plus it looks pretty badass. Now it just needs a kid to go in it…a few more weeks…

    • Revanche Says:

      We had the SAME qualms about buying a new car seat. We hemmed and hawwed and researched and bargain hunted to no avail. Out of the blue, we mega-lucked out. A cousin had literally just transitioned their kids out of the newborn size – exactly the model we wanted – the week before we met up with them randomly, and they wanted to give us their only 1+ year old seat and base. It was sheer providence. But we took that as permission to get the (slightly pricier) stroller that I can actually use to go with the seat. Now, to see if the KID will use it.

    • Lara Says:

      It’s smart spending to buy brand new car seats, recommended by the car manufacturer, and installed professionally. To do otherwise is to put your child’s life at greater risk in the event of an accident. Some automotive clubs will install seats/ baby carriers for free as part of the membership service. Please do not buy car seats second hand, there is no way of knowing whether or not they are safe (damage is not always obvious by looking at them) and meet current safety requirements. Buy this item with pride, and ditch the guilt!

  5. monsterzero Says:

    So…your sister feels guilty about spending her own money but not about spending your money? That’s kind of messed up.

  6. Foscavista Says:

    On his way to your sister’s, could DH stop by my house and break my dishwasher? It runs fine, but, being one of the cheapest models, is loud while running.

  7. Debbie M Says:

    In this example, the washer *seems* like it works because water comes in, gets whooshed around, and then drains. But if it’s not cleaning the clothes, it’s not a clothes washer. In this case, it’s a clothes destroyer. I like to think that in this case I would notice that I no longer have a washer, and if I feel that having a washer is a need, then I need another washer.

    To answer your questions, I don’t think I put off buying things I shouldn’t because they’re not needs even though I can afford them. But I may be mistaken, like your sister!

    Do I spend lots of money in one area (like eating out) but feel like I can’t spend on something else that seems frivolous, even though it would improve my quality of life? I don’t think so. Or at least I’m always evaluating my spending. I used to spend a lot on education (I have a master’s degree) and of course that meant I didn’t feel like I could spend much on other things. When I was thinking of getting a PhD in educational psychology, research showed that I should not do that unless I got accepted into one of the better schools because only people from those schools actually get jobs. In the end I decided to not go back to school unless I was either promised a job or paid to do so. Now I just audit courses.

    (Except the Spanish classes I’m taking now. I’m taking them with friends! Automatic study group! And auditing at the community college costs exactly the same as taking a course–unlike at the university where I work which charges almost nothing to audit.)

    I do sometimes regret not buying things (like a trip to the top of the Arch d’ Triomphe) and I sometimes regret buying things, but I’m not always erring in the same direction and keep improving.

    One thing that helps with my (pretty minimal) guilt problems is that I use a budget. There are categories for stuff I don’t need, and so long as there’s money available there, I can spend it guilt free. I review the budget every time my salary changes and every time I notice going negative too often in one category (yea! I can afford to give myself loans) or really wishing I had more in another category.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s my argument too!

    • Leah Says:

      When traveling, I try to go with the regret idea — will I regret not doing this? I budget a large amount for vacations (more than I think they’ll cost) and then let myself splurge here or there. I do avoid stuff I don’t think I’ll like, and I don’t eat out a ton on vacations (mmm, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch), but I definitely pay for big-memory type stuff like the Arc D’Triumphe or going paragliding in New Zealand. Both great memories for me.

      However, saving for traveling? Quite frugal. I like to think “hmm, $10 DVD or half a night in a hostel?” When single, especially, the hostel night almost always won out. Harder with a partner, but I still use this method to save up for taking awesome trips.

  8. Astra Says:

    Your sister sounds like she has the type of frugality I grew up with that left me with a distaste for the practice. I remember my grandmother refusing to buy new tennis shoes even though her swollen feet no longer fit in the old ones. I remember her hectoring her 63 year old son (my dad) about whether he found a new job yet after he took a golden parachute at his previous one.

    I understand the need for living within your means and planning ahead for the future. We do this. Because of my history, though, I get uncomfortable with the people who make a hobby out of frugality because I sense a moral self-righteousness that pushes my buttons.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, she missed out on the early years of them buying the high quality baseline stuff, because once you’ve bought it, you don’t really need to replace it.

      She does live a pretty nice life though, and does spend money on things like eating out, travel, interior decoration, throwing baby showers and bridal showers for her many friends, etc. So she’s not completely a miser. Just occasionally it pops up in these kinds of instances.

  9. Cloud Says:

    I have this tendency only in clothing, I think. We, for instance, gleefully replaced a working dishwasher with a far superior model that I still love ~5 years later. (It is a Bosch and seriously, I could write love poems for it. It is that awesome.)

    But my closet is full of things that don’t really flatter me, but fit and aren’t worn out so I can’t really talk….

    I suspect in this case, my problem is that the process of shopping for a replacement sucks so bad that I just deal with the clothes I don’t really like instead.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Next time my shopping buddy is in San Diego (where her mom lives) we really need to convince her to let you hire her as a personal shopper for a day. She is amazing.

    • xykademiqz Says:

      I now wanna read that Bosch dishwasher poem.

    • Cloud Says:

      Yes! I should just hire a personal shopper already. I’ve told myself that when my income in my new work arrangement surpasses that in my old one, I am getting a stylist to come in, shop my closet, and then go buy the things I need. So, I just need to sell more books… :)

      I will start working on a love poem to my dishwasher. I haven’t written poetry in years! But this is silly and fun and so I should do it.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    I did something even dumber than what your sister is doing. I waited too long to get some dental work done on my cat, because I knew it was going to cost over a thousand dollars and I have been in a chronic juggling pattern for the last year between credit-card payments and savings, and I just didn’t want to spend that money. But I should have spent it a year ago; I knew I was going to have to spend it eventually, and by putting it off I let my poor little cat get way too thin (she wasn’t eating enough, because her mouth hurt. I am a horrible person). By putting it off I also certainly ended up wasting money because, without that big charge, my cash flow “allowed” me to fritter.

    Just because a bad washing machine isn’t physically hurting anyone in the household is NOT a good rationalization for not replacing the damn thing. You know you’re going to have to spend the money eventually. Spend it now and fix the problem.

  11. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Your sister sounds like a f*cken pain in the motherf*cken asse!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Only to immediate family!

      • zenmoo Says:

        Aren’t all sisters a PITA to each other? It’s the price of absolute honesty. It’s like if I go shopping with mine, I know they will tell me EXACTLY what they think of my choices without regard for my feelings. No false sensitivity! (but also, woe betide anyone who does wrong to us. When my sisters now-husband dumped her & then they got back together he was way more scared of facing her sisters than her parents! )

      • Revanche Says:

        This is actually to zenmoo: This has been my observation with my cousins. Sisters are mean as hell to each other. Purely anecdotally. I severed ties with some as the cost of (my) honesty and found out eventually that we’d come around to being like sisters again, I guess because of that honesty. Heh. Weird.

    • Thisbe Says:

      That was my thought too. My sister is (apparently?) often charming and pleasant to others, but intermittently and often demanding, rude, volatile, and unpleasant with family. I decided a few years ago after a particularly ridiculous holiday season to just quit paying attention to her. The improvement in my life has been notable. We are cordial at family events, and losing the mental load of trying to predict, avoid, and / or mitigate Scenes more than makes up for the loss of the occasional companionable moments we shared.

      My sister is probably more of a tool than #1’s sister though.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t think she’s a tool. We have the kind of relationship where she will drop everything and drive out to take charge and rescue me from a fender bender, but she’s also kind of a jerk when I’m trying on dresses at the store. There aren’t any scenes, she just doesn’t filter with family and occasionally likes to needle (and she knows how best to). I’ve probably been the same way with her though slightly less so, because we’re both getting far less obnoxious as we get older and I have several years on her (something she enjoys pointing out at each birthday).

  12. zenmoo Says:

    I’m very much in the spend money on quality so it doesn’t need replacing school of frugality. Bed sheets are my case in point. We’ve had the same three sets of sheets for 9 years and I just had to replace them. At first I was horrified to spend $400 on 2 full queen sets and one fitted sheet. And that was a 40% off sale price. But then – nice sheets! So nice to sleep in! And even if I get only 5 years wear this time, it’s still less money than I spent on books in the last six months….

    • zenmoo Says:

      I should point out, before I went to replace the sheets I had mended multiple tears in each fitted sheet.

    • Leah Says:

      oh, what sheets do you buy that are that durable? For just me, sheets last forever. But we got awesome bamboo sheets for our wedding (seriously, felt like buttah to sleep in), and they lasted less than a year. I blame my husband’s rough heels. So I bought Target mid-price sheets. They feel good enough, and they’ve been sturdier than the awesome sheets, but I would be all about spending good money to get something nice and sturdy.

  13. J Liedl Says:

    My parents didn’t teach me much about money management but they were helpful about recognizing what needed to be dealt with and dealing with it. I married into a family with better money management skills and adapted some of what I saw there to what would work for me. People who say “follow this system to manage your money exactly the way I do” are a bit annoying – I can’t manage money the exact way someone else does because my life and mind work differently. But teach me the principles of your system and explain how they work, and, if it seems sensible, I’ll likely adapt a fair chunk of your system with gratitude.

    I know some of my spending priorities bemuse those around me. My father can’t understand why we haven’t bought a second car. Until DH gets some job security at the college, it’s cheaper for me to rent a car a few days a week when our schedules clash than to either trash our savings to buy a quality used/cheap new car or pick up a clunker with which to subsidize our local mechanics. I’ve done the math. $100 a week for 12 weeks of term, two terms a year, is still cheaper than the cost of adding a second car to our lives, especially if DH goes back to part-time evenings (stay tuned).

    In your sister’s case, I’d never expect anyone else to buy me a new washing machine or anything else for the house. And if my washing machine chewed up clothes, it’d be out of here in an instant. However, I am very, very good at pursuing warranty repairs which is why my current washing machine is still chugging along quite nicely.

  14. Leah Says:

    I used to be really bad at this. I definitely put off things I could afford. My husband is still fairly money savvy but good in helping me see the life/spending issue more clearly. I wish we spent a little less . . . but we’re doing well enough, I think.

    That said, we don’t usually buy things if we have a good-enough situation. We had a washer that worked fine (but was really small), and we only replaced that when it died. When we did replace it, we got a really nice set. Making due with the small washer helped me appreciate how truly awesome our new one is.

  15. Revanche Says:

    I am sure I do. I think our mattress was one area I really didn’t want to spend the money and PiC was adamant that it was crucial to improving my sleep. It didn’t solve the sleep problems entirely but the huge amount of money we spent on it seems to dwindle to nothing in comparison to the Cloud Of Wonder feeling it induces. I haven’t replaced the washer at Dad’s house, though I’d be willing to, because it too has become a clothing destroyer because unfortunately TrainWreck sibling will destroy anything I provide.

    I hated spending on “expensive” baby stuff and furniture but have had to get over that in our last round of mega-organizing. It helps that we have been able to get some things off Craigslist, a lot of hand me downs for the smaller stuff, and some sales from Ikea/Container Store/Babies’R’Us.

    On a smaller scale, I’m notorious for wearing pants until they die a horrible and embarrassing (to me) death. And yet I still don’t stop doing it because when they near that stage, they’ve hit that sweet spot of amazing softness …. so I’ll just continue to wear clean underwear and hope for the best.

    If the clothes are still in relatively decent shape (no holes) I can’t bring myself to toss them. I have clothes that are 10-15 years old, and I know this when I sorted through old photos from a decade ago, I spotted several outfits composed of that stuff hanging in the closet. I could never be accused of being fashionable. Both PiC and I had to do a deep clean recently, though, and let go of a lot of that stuff based on: did you wear this in the last 2 years and is it strictly necessary to a basic but professional wardrobe?

  16. Leigh Says:

    Yup. Totally. My boyfriend and I have conversations like this all the time :) He’s a bit more of a spender and tries to convince me to spend money on things I want and I try to convince him to spend a bit less sometimes…

    I didn’t want to buy new thermostats because the old ones worked just fine! Except for the fact that they didn’t seem to know what temperature the room was and they spent a lot of unnecessary time heating it up. My boyfriend eventually convinced me to buy new ones and they’re amazing.

    I’ve been getting better. Newly-minted college graduate me didn’t want to spend any of her hard-earned savings on a trip, but now me is going on an amazing almost month long trip with her boyfriend. I still didn’t want to buy myself a third pair of a pant style that I wear every day at this time of year even though it was < $100. I accidentally left them in my cart and then went to buy something else (socks) and they were on sale, so I bought a pair.

  17. Linda Says:

    I’m currently making do with a small desk table to dine on in the new rental house because I simply cannot find a kitchen/dining table I like. I guess that’s not quite the same as having the means to buy something but not doing it because it isn’t a “need,” but it’s pretty close. I’m trying to be deliberate about what I’m buying to furnish the house instead of just running out and buying the most convenient thing to fill the space. I’m also working on achieving a big Discovercard cash back bonus by spreading out all these furnishing purchases over the next few months. :-)

  18. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    Do you ever have the situation where you spend lots of money in one area (like eating out) but feel like you can’t spend on something else that seems frivolous, even though it would improve your quality of life?

    YES. A lot of things actually. I have a hard time letting go of some frivolous things like eating out especially eating out and sacrifice other things. For instance the pots and pans I got for Christmas. They should have been replaced about 2 or 3 years ago. Things kept getting stuck and burnt and they sucked. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Same with the rice cooker. I haven’t made stress free rice in YEARS.

  19. plainandsimplepress Says:

    In the wash machine department, it’s important to bear in mind that the new water- and energy-efficient wash machines don’t get clothing clean anymore and sometimes it makes holes in your stuff. Probably the $369 automatic litter box is a better buy.

  20. First Gen American Says:

    For durable goods, that’s always been Babci’s motto. Always buy the best item you can afford so it lasts longer and saves money in the long run. I did have to convince her to get a good mattress though.

    I’m stupid about clothes. I go forever wearing ill fitting clothing cuz shopping when you’re tall is hard. Buying a full length mirror though did wonders. When you actually can see how bad you look, it helps motivate you to toss certain things.


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