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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When Being "Frugal" Costs

There comes a time in every thrifty person's life where it strikes you that something you've done in the name of frugality has backfired and should be discontinued. I've discussed saving money with friends who shared the consensus that being frugal, especially being frugal to the extreme and making everything from scratch, simply is not worth it. I strongly disagree with this stance and plan to challenge the assumption that frugality doesn't pay in a future post.
Today I'll be sharing some thoughts on frugal measures that become counter productive and realizing when you've got to shake things up a bit.

It's Not as Frugal as it Sounds!

Convinced that baby wipes were a waste of money, I started rinsing my baby's bum under the tap during each diaper change. I was quite taken aback when, as a result of this change, our monthly water bill increased by more money than I'd ever spent on baby wipes. Oops. I've since switched to cloth wipes, sure that now I'll really be saving money.

We bought chickens and rabbits with the hopes of saving money. We mistakenly assumed that the chickens would provide us with eggs and the rabbits would breed, allowing us to sell the babies to pet shops. Unfortunately the eggs never arrived and most of the babies died; in the meantime we spent too much money feeding these animals (even if it was just cheap vegetables and grains). We've since downsized to a 515 square foot apartment with no yard; the animals are gone and we're saving money.

Sometimes we do things because we think it'll save us money. We have to make sure not to get stuck in a rut and assume that what we're doing truly is cost effective. Do the math. Keep track of your spending carefully. Don't assume that frugality is one size fits all; just because something is saving someone money doesn't mean that it will be worthwhile for you. Everyone's situation is different; what is cheap one one place can be expensive in another.
If you have no laundry facilities at home, it may not be cost effective for you to cloth diaper. If you raise livestock, it may not make sense for you to rely on vegetarian sources of protein. If, like myself, you are the type to forget to water plants, it may not make sense for you to buy seedlings to grow your own vegetables. If the raw ingredients for certain foods cost more than the prepared store bought product, it may not pay for you to make your own tomato paste or peanut butter.

Use an spreadsheet (Open Office has a free alternative to Microsoft's Excel) to track your expenses. (I'll elaborate on this in another post.) See if your changes have truly helped you save, or if they've merely rerouted your spending.

If you notice that your "frugal habits" are costing you more money, don't stubbornly insist on repeating your mistake- find a different way that actually saves you money.

Increased Income with Increased Spending

I'm a stay at home mom, not looking to work outside the home, as minimal as our income currently remains. When I had just one child, I worked many hours in the hopes of bringing in more income, but was exhausted from my 60 hour work week and 2.5 hour daily commute that I ended up spending nearly all the extra income on convenience items and babysitters. I vowed to never again do something that extreme, and came to the conclusion that making money doesn't always pay.

Increased Income but Collapsing

Recently I was offered a translation job at 25% above minimum wage. Always looking to earn an extra buck or two, I accepted and planned on translating the documents in my spare time. The employers were in a rush to get the project done, but I had so much on my plate already.

I was already watching children in my at home daycare, taking care of my children full time, nursing a needy baby round the clock, working 2 cleaning jobs, cooking for my family from scratch, trying to keep up with housework like laundry and dish washing, and writing daily blog posts for you readers. (Whew, I get tired just writing all that.)
My sons are not good sleepers and my husband was getting home from work near midnight, so I was only able to actually work on my translation job once 2.5 year old Lee would go to sleep at 11 pm. I was working until 2 am, waking up at 6:30 am with the baby, and I was on the verge of collapsing. A woman cannot survive on 4.5 hours of interrupted sleep indefinitely.
This second foray into making extra cash proved as disastrous as the first. I didn't spend any more money this time, but my sanity was paying the price.
If you're trying to increase your income in the name of frugality, but you're wiped out from all the extra work, that frugality is backfiring. A little extra money is not worth your happiness and sanity. You and your family will be paying the price.

Deprivation is Detrimental

I was once in a very tough position financially, much tougher than my usual. I did not have money to buy even the bare minimum, nor to pay for a bus ride to go to a free fun activity. I had not a cent to spare.
I learned to make do during that time, to survive on truly the bare minimum. I "shopped from my pantry", mooched a bit off friends and family, and spent a grand total of 5 dollars on food during those weeks to restock on beans and buy cucumbers, the lowest cost vegetables I could find.
I did it. We survived.
But it was no fun. 
It backfired.
The second we had a bit of money in the account, the deprivation got to me and I went on a shopping binge. I was feeling so deprived from those weeks of beans and rice, and beans and noodles, and homemade bread with bean "Sloppy Joe"s that I went to the store and loaded up my cart with pure nonsense. Junk of the purest sort. Fruit roll ups and pretzel chips and all sorts of imported, unhealthy, exorbitantly priced garbage.
Why?
I'm not really sure I understand the depths of my psyche enough to give an articulate answer, but it probably was akin to my giving the finger to deprivation, my way of proving to myself and the world that I was going to eat what I want, when I want, no matte how expensive, and that no one (not even I) could stop me.
A bit immature, perhaps, but I was having it really rough (and was just a few weeks after having given birth, so hormones probably played a big part in this).

The point of this embarrassing story is to show that deprivation backfires. People need enjoyment and happiness in their life, need to feel pampered once in a while. 
I usually write a post on Needs vs Wants every Wednesday, and here is where this post ties in to that theme.
You can cut back on everything so you are subsiding on just the bare minimum. You can stretch yourself to your limits, depriving yourself of sleep for a few extra dollars, or depriving yourself of every nice thing, because there is no money to spare on any frivolities. 
You physically can do all that, but at what price? You'll snap. I'm proof of that.

In my opinion, I think a little enjoyment in life is definitely a need. Physical need, no, but it is definitely an emotional need. Life without enjoyment is not worth living. Its drudgery, it's Hell, and it can easily lead people to suicide. Deprivation is no good.
This is why I spend extra time and effort to make fancy deserts and varied meals. Tasty and varied food is important to me so I don't feel deprived; other things are further down my list of priorities. Others might put more value on going out with friends; neglecting that would make them feel deprived. Do what you need to do to make sure you don't feel deprived.

BUT---
People shouldn't feel so entitled that cutting back on anything will lead them to cries of "Deprivation!"  The average person has a long ways to go before he can claim that this lack is leading him to the nut house. 
People have to do some soul searching, focus on all the little luxuries they have in life, and make any frugal changes slowly. Eliminating too much at once will make you feel deprived and is counter productive. Slow and steady wins the race.

The Goal of Frugality

The point of frugality is to improve your life. To give you some extra money in the bank so you have money for what truly matters. To stop having money worries.
If your frugality is ruining your life, stop right there, right now.
Frugality is to improve your life. If you're having an emotional breakdown, if you're not ending up with any extra money in the bank, or if you're collapsing from tiredness, something has got to change. You've got to seriously reevaluate what you're doing.
Frugality is meant to better your life, not ruin it. Got that? Feel free to email me- pennilessparenting at yahoo dot com if you feel frugality is ruining your life. I'm here for you and I'll help you out.


Has your frugality ever causing problems, whether financially, physically, or emotionally? What happened? What did you do to change things?

1 comment:

  1. I understand what you're saying about frugality backfiring. I'm trying to stay realistic and practical while being frugal because I have an impractical side that backfires and costs more than it saves! Good thing a married a wonderful man with a good head on his shoulders!

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