Why #2: Smoking in Church

by Lindy on October 26, 2010

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This is part two in a two-part series on my tendency to act like a toddler when it comes to being frugal. You can see Part 1 here, in case you missed it, as well as the Intro here.

Shortly after starting my financial journey (the one in which I realized saving is good, and debt is bad), I came across an article in our local Arizona Republic profiling a family recently crowned as Arizona’s Thriftiest Family.

The article mostly discussed their scrimping ways, some of which you may be familiar with: using the envelope cash method, popping around town to get the best deals, buying in bulk, being coupon-crazy.

But this family also had some hardcore habits.  The mom was known to dig through trash cans at baseball games to collect soda cans.  And if they ran out of gas money one month, they didn’t drive, no exceptions.  Their monthly “personal” budget for haircuts and entertainment was an amount we could easily blow through in one night.

To me, their life sounded Draconian.  I sat there with eyes wide while reading, did I too have to live like this in order to be “responsible?”

Apparently I wasn’t alone, because a few days later there was a letter to the editor with just enough snark to make me cheer a little, saying essentially what I was thinking, “thanks, but no thanks” to this kooky life of thrift.

When I first started reading financial blogs in an effort to make myself more money-smart, I remember thinking, who are these crazy people who make their own laundry detergent and calculate their annual savings for buying gas at the station that’s 2¢ cheaper.  And are paper towels really so evil?

I felt very much like an outsider looking in on this strange little world.

I suppose it’s similar to someone going to church for the first time.  Everyone else knows when to stand and when to sit.  They know the right way to shake hands during the greeting, and what to do with those little juice cups and wafers.

Not that it’s the intention of congregants to make new-comers feel inept, it’s just a matter of different cultures.

Then there were the teenagers who would come to church wearing Bad Religion T-shirts, and smoked in the breezeways between services, as if to say, “hey, I’m open to this whole church thing, that’s why I’m here, but I’m letting you know I’m still not one of you.”

That’s how I was.  Smoking in the breezeways of frugal church.

I even started a blog called “minting nickels” to endorse the virtues of making money over saving it – I wanted to set myself apart from “them”  (the paper towel-haters).

Thankfully, I’ve matured a little, and realized that the hardcore thrifters really enjoy what they do, to some of them it’s innate.  It doesn’t mean I have to like doing those things though.

I’ve also realized that saving isn’t so bad, if I find ways to save that I enjoy.  It turns out I really enjoy grating a bar of Fels Naptha while making my own laundry detergent (I’m convinced it’s the smell).  I haven’t even calculated how much it saves us to do that, but I do it anyways because it makes me feel good.  Do you think I’m kooky now?

But I’m pretty sure I’ll never grow to love coupons.


Thank you to Consumerism Commentary for hosting the 281st Carnival of Personal Finance, and including this story about rebellion.

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  • You make a good point about the really hardcore frugal folks. At some level, they just enjoy it. So, why not have fun? Hey, for me there are other thrills, but if for some people there’s an insatiable thrill in saving a penny on a gallon of gas, so be it! I actually know someone who used to do this, and got a big thrill out of it. To each their own!

    For me, I do try to save opportunistically, and try to live within my means while focusing on the future. That said, it’s often a better use of time to work on ways to increase earnings, as opposed to squeezing every last penny out of one’s budget.

  • Well, it is Draconian lifestyle. No matter how hard I can try to be frugal I will not save on my hair. My haircuts and color are expensive but it is all worth it. Travel is another weakness of mine. I will splurge on travel because I believe your travel experience when you are young is much different from when you are old and cannot do a lot of things.You do have to priorotize…

    • Lindy

      I always have to laugh when I see those statistics that say millionaires pay an average of $12 for a haircut. Don’t they know that hair is important?

  • I do get a thrill from saving money and not spending, but I also know how to spend.

    I don’t see all of what frugal people do as Draconian because I guess I’ve grouped myself into that area as well.

    I love to travel, I love clothes, jewelry.. but I don’t do it lavishly or on credit, and I can afford it.

    The good news is my earnings have also increased along with my expenses decreasing. What I cite is minimalism more so than wanting to save a buck.

    I just don’t want to carry all that STUFF.

  • Lindy

    To someone in financial baby-dom, as I was when I read that article about the thrifty family, it seems weird to spend so much extra effort on saving, or making a few extra pennies. And all you see from the outside looking in is deprivation.

    I suppose a lot of people may feel the same way I did – like an Us and Them sort of mentality – the uber-frugals, and the normal people :) (just kidding).

    My initial response was to rebel, and that rebellion rears it’s ugly head still sometimes. But it really all comes down to what I’ve expressed in previous posts – if your desire is strong enough, then the extra effort is not actually Draconian. And, it all comes down to personal preference, and balance, and blah blah you know what I mean.

    Thanks everyone for your great comments so far!

  • I think Squirrelers said it best. :)

    Though these kinds of mindsets just seem so weird to an economist. We see everything in terms of trade-offs. Of course some people will make their own soap and not coupon… that person gets utility from soap making but not from couponing. Other people feel differently. One thing is worth the time but the other isn’t. It doesn’t have to be either/or… people are just trying to maximize their own individual preferences (utility functions) based on their budget constraints.

    And it is kind of fun to save and to watch the savings grow. It’s like a little money garden. I like that. Plus I’m better with money than with plants.

  • I also think it all depends on perspective. If your parents didn’t ever drive at all, then having a car at all is a luxury. My mom didn’t have indoor plumbing growing up, so to others, her crazy water saving strategies may seem extreme, but to her, she’s using way more than she did growing up when you had to haul it bucket by bucket from the well.

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