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?