Frugal Fail: What It Is and What It Isn't

I suppose it was really brought home over Christmas because I was doing what I normally do each year at that time: watching every version of Dickens A Christmas Carol.   It's our tradition to watch all available versions of it, excluding cartoons.   I like A Christmas Carol ! Scrooge  has money enough to meet his needs but he suffers privation in a prideful way.  He eats poor meals, refuses to allow sufficient heat in home or work place, even begrudges his clerk his wages and makes Bob feel shame and embarrassment for asking for his deserved and much needed pay.  He implies that Bob, who is poorly paid and has a family to feed and clothe, squanders his money in a frivolous way.  Scrooge is a miser.  He doesn't care for money for what it can do for him or others.  He only accumulates it.

I write a good deal about frugality on my blog.  I follow other frugal blogs. I really enjoy reading other people's frugal doings, but I have noticed a trend of late of people apologizing for any sort of spending or for any indulgence or splurge.  It's almost as though there is a contest on to see who can be more frugal, in a miserly way, than another.

Sometimes someone takes another person to task for not doing a certain thing that they personally have found frugal.  Oh the brouhaha that can get started because of a spending point that others disagree with!

We buy sodas.  We buy them every grocery pay period and we're not going to stop.  Now and then someone feels the need to point out that we could save more money if we'd stop buying soda.  No matter that I always buy on sale and often have a free coupon from MCR points.   Nope that is not good enough for some folks.  All they see is that we get a box of soda every two weeks.  I never retort because if they are worried about that less than $5 indulgence, what would they say to my indulgence in real perfume or the annual lot of NEW hardback books I buy myself after Christmas each year?  Where is it written that anyone who claims to be frugal must forgo any expense that is not wholly utilitarian?

Not too long ago I read an apologetic statement about someone with chronic pain soaking in a hot bath a few times a week when the weather is cold.  She has arthritis and found the hot water soak did wonders for pain control but she felt the need to apologize for having a hot bath twice a week.  I  saw no need of the apology then or now.  For goodness sake, give yourself permission to enjoy that hot soak and the relief from pain it allots!

On the other hand was a woman whose planned savings this year equals two years salary for us.  I do  not begrudge her her savings...but she was always stating how very cold they keep their home, at a temperature that is just barely above freezing,  in order to save just a very very few dollars.  I believe that while her plan to save money was very admirable she really made the task of saving seem onerous and difficult and filled with hardships to others who might have been new to savings;  much as the woman who loses a hundred pounds reports that she works out at the gym for five hours every day.  I've yet to meet many who want, or have the time to indulge in that method of losing weight.

Here's my thing.  I am a moderate sort of person and truly do believe that there was a great wisdom in my Granny's admonition to 'have moderation in ALL things.'  I apply that to my savings and spending, to my frugal life, as much as I do to any other area.  There are areas where I will save and scrimp and make do and other areas where I spend a good bit.  Being frugal isn't a competition. It is a balance between saving in areas that matter little to you so that you can spend a little in areas that matter a lot to you. That's what makes my life over all a Frugal Win in my opinion.

So let's define what a frugal fail is: when we refuse to buy an affordable and  better quality item (even a used one) because it costs more than a much cheaper version it is definitely a fail.  I used to buy the very cheapest t-shirts and pants for my wardrobe and all it got me in the end was a lot of badly faded and shrunken pieces that never looked nice for any decent occasion.  Eventually I realized that  buying the best I could afford (from clearance racks usually) almost always meant that I never had a clothing crisis of nothing decent to wear and actually cost me about half what I'd been spending in super cheap selections.  I'm not buying designer or top quality clothing, just medium priced mass produced pieces but I am often able to wear them for several years.

A frugal fail is any repair that is needed and you ignore it because you are convinced it will cost you too much to replace or will be a difficult job.  Wait long enough and it will indeed be far out of your price range when you are finally at a point where ignoring it isn't going to work any longer.  That leaky faucet that eventually turned into a steady stream and caused damage to the sink, the cabinet, the flooring, not to mention running up your water and sewage bills...and if it was a hot water leak, you were paying higher electric costs as well, suddenly is a costly repair in time and money.  Yet it might have been easily repaired.

Another frugal fail is refusing to purchase foods that will support a healthy diet.  I've heard plenty from folks claiming that good food is too expensive and they buy nutritionally dead items because they think they are cheap.  Failing to protect your family's health is a big fail!

When we were at our poorest and had the most mouths to feed, we learned to never skimp on whole foods and pantry staples.  We bought seasonal fruits and vegetables in quantity, we made sure that the children had an ample supply of Vitamin C rich foods.  We trimmed our budget by reducing meat, and stretching it with vegetables and pastas and rice and beans.  We always had carrots, onions, celery, lettuces, apples, oranges and peaches on hand and encouraged the children to glean summer fruits and berries that grew wild.  That was when we were POOR!  As our income improved our biggest change was to serve a bit more meat.   Pantry staples meant that we always had the basic needed ingredients to make most foods.  It took  more time, but it saved us loads of money.

What were some of our other frugal wins?  The time we decided to replace the deck assembly on a mower rather than buy a whole new mower.  We got three more years usage from that mower and then gave it to someone who used it as part of a start up lawn service when we bought a larger mower more suited to the size yard we keep mown.

We bought a used Honda in 2003 and drove it for six years.  Then we passed it on to Katie who drove snot out of it for 4 more.  When it finally drove it's last mile she sold it for enough money to make a sizable down payment on another vehicle.  The key to that long lasting Honda was routine servicing and maintenance.  John likes to say that we baby our cars and we do because we find the service they give us is long lasting.  All that maintenance and routine repair might have seemed foolish and expensive but the years of service it netted us from the car made it well worth while.

And as an aside, we bought an even older used Honda in 2003 (yes, we had to buy two cars that year, within a 3 month period!) from an individual who had babied his car as well.  That car ran for us for 6 years.  Then we let it sit in the yard pretty much unused and only cranked it a few times a year for 3 years.  We sold that car for a nice sum and it is still running for the couple who bought it from us!

Another frugal win was accepting a used dishwasher from family when they remodeled their kitchen.  My dishwasher works just fine and has for 18 years now...Their dishwasher worked fine too and is about ten years old.  When mine quits I've got one waiting in the wings.  It cost me nothing.  If I get two or ten years usage out of that other dishwasher then I've got plenty of time to research and find a bargain on a replacement for that one.

Personally I don't consider it necessary to apologize for small indulgences.  Small indulgences are not frugal fails.  Failing to enjoy life IS.

What will you have? A frugal  fail or a frugal win?


a8383 said…
Oh I completely agree! Are you surprised? Haha! We are thrifty so we can spend where we get value. We are intentional in our spending. We try not to spend on low priorities to us. I too recently quit a blog where the woman saved $1000s every year but her home looked like a hoarders and she clearly took no care of herself. That is not the kind of life I want/ admire. It is about balance! We had friends who couldn't afford to take down a dead tree by their house- it eventually fell on their car! Angela
Dawn said…
Lovely post! We only have one life. I believe in living below our means but have no interest in being miserable. I make a point of saving in some areas (continuing to drive my older but perfectly good car) to be able to spend in other areas.
Rebecca said…
Great post - good examples. I like "balance....not competition" :)
Kathy said…
I believe in moderation too! I don't think we have to be miserable to save money. We keep our heat pump set at a temperature that is comfortable for us...I buy soda and chips, and I make cookies or a cake each week. Life is too short to be miserable.
Janell Hughes said…
Great read. Husband, daughter, and I camped this weekend at FDR. Was it really frugal? No. Was it great quality family time? YES! Yes, we paid for fuel, camping fees (I have a discount card for National Parks for being disabled, but when I asked if they had anything like that to offer, they gave us $15 off even though it's not their card), and the junk food I purchased to take because I didn't want to cook all weekend. I feel like the hiking my daughter did and geocaching we did together and family time greatly outweighed the $100 we spent.
Mable Hastings said…
Thank you for this post. We live a frugal life, but my indulgences are hard back books by my favorite authors as soon as they are published and a warm home. I have a chronic illness that leaves me feeling cold virtually all of the time. About a year ago I realized that I was making myself constantly miserable by keeping the house cool to save money. I now put the heat to whatever I need to feel comfortable that day (some days I feel better so don't need as high a temperature in the house). I will economize in other places, but no longer on feeling comfortable in my own home.
Anonymous said…
Every family has to figure out what their needs are and what their pleasures are. We can save and save but what for? Just for the sake of feeling and bragging that we have saved such and such money? No way. We save in one area to be able to indulge in another. I agree that there is no savings if we do not repair the things we own and feed our whole families good nutritious food. And also keep up our health. I love books too. I get a few new but most used. That is ok with me. I have to buy very expensive orthopedic shoes and inserts and such. I have the money to do that by savings someplace else. We like pop too. We may get it at the lowest price we can..but we get it. Balance..that is the key I agree too. This is not a contest. This is our lives. Also to us there has to be money to help others and give to the church. Those are basics that do not change. I haven't seen such too frugal statements. I must not go on the same blogs but I agree with all your thinking on this. We do not sell our used cars or equipment but pass things down. They are still good and others can use you do. This even gives back to us..the feeling of being a help is wonderful ! I love to hear others comments. I am glad you wrote this. Perhaps it will enlighten someone and give them the permission to enjoy their own life . Sarah
Laurie said…
Bravo! I admit, sometimes I let the " frugal police" get to me and I feel I'm not doing enough. My husband enjoys Netflix, not something we need, but he enjoys it! Me, I love loose leaf tea I make by the pot. I buy soap instead of making it all the time. Actually, making soap can get expensive! Life is indeed too short to deprive yourself of simple pleasures!
Janell Hughes said…
P.s. did y'all notice the 'faces' in the tree branches?
Louise said…
hmm I tried to post a comment and it told me to refresh the page as they were experiencing a problem.. oh well, I shall try again.... WHEN you go to use your dishwasher you have in storage, make sure to check the hoses and rubber washers as they will dry out over the years and you will have a huge mess when you start it up.. Happened to my sister so thought I'd share that tidbit with you... I totally agree with all you have said about Frugal Fail.. I consider myself a Frugal Winner even though I treat myself more often than I should considering the diet I am "supposed" to be following as a diabetic... Keep on sharing your helpful hints and such.
Living on Less Money said…
Very 'grace' filled post! I enjoyed it!
Very 'grace'filled post! I enjoyed it!
JoAnn Baker said…
Isn't that the whole point of being frugal? Save on the things you can, so you will be able to spend on the things that matter. I'm right there with you Teri!
Vicki in UT said…
I totally agree with you. When you talked about keeping the house cold, it reminded me about the year we were trying to sell a house we were not living in. We had to keep the heat at a minimum level to prevent pipes from freezing during the winter. And do you know--we didn't save all that much money over the temperature we had set the thermostat on when we lived there. That was eye opening to me. I recently read an article about how much it really costs when we leave lights on...and it wasn't that much. I won't leave all my lights on all day, but I also won't feel guilty when I feel the need to have an extra light on, or leave a light on while I quickly go into another room. Money is supposed to be our servant, not our taskmaster. We use it to make our lives comfortable, and what we choose to spend on may be different than what someone else chooses to spend on. And that is ok.
IM said…
I don't think we will ever be rich enough to buy cheap!

A budget is planned spending, for your family needs and wants. That can be as varied as there are families!

I like to know in advance that there is "enough" for our yearly expenses, and a little nest egg for unforeseen occurences. My hubby will be retiring soon, so this year, we are trying to live on what his income will be when retired, if that makes sense. So far, so good, but it is only January! LOL
vickie morgan said…
You know that's one reason why we live frugally so we can afford some pop or whatever else we want. Not so we can deprive ourselves. Whether it be pop, cable t.v., travel or whatever we are able to afford it's because we watch the others things we do. Such a good post.
Colleen said…
Loved this post Terri because I believe it is so true. I believe in buying the best you can afford but not automatically buying something just because it is expensive. Balance & moderation is the key to a happy life. We are now retired and I find it is less expensive living easily. We are home more so cooking from scratch is easier, dress clothes last a lot longer. There is less wear & tear on the car & a lot less gas. We spend a bit on books & cable but it is our main source of entertainment so it is worth it to us as is eating healthy good food. Like you if one of us has a taste for steak we buy 1. We don’t do without but we try and make sure it is something we really want before getting it.
Anonymous said…
I so agree with this. I buy most of my clothes at the thrift store and dry all my clothes outside whenever possible- cook from scratch and many other daily frugal things. Because of this, we can take our two adult children and their families on a nice but short vacation this year. To me making family memories is priceless.

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