Frugal to a Fault

Frugal to a FaultJust like when I was learning to drive, I am starting to realize my tendency to overcorrect when it comes to personal finance. It is no secret that I fell headfirst into the trap of excessive consumerism. In a lot of ways, it was not a fall, so much as a gleeful swan dive, credit card swipe after credit card swipe. Since coming to the sobering realization that I have too much stuff, I have made it a point to stop buying most things. It should have been the perfect solution; instead, I created a recipe for disaster. 

At work, I stand. A lot. If I’m not standing, I’m kneeling or squatting next to my students’ desks. I seldom sit, and that’s completely fine. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I went into teaching. I’m terrible at sitting for long stretches of time. It makes me fidgety, anxious, unhappy. But a few minutes plopped down here or there would be a welcome reprieve most days. However, it just isn’t going to happen. I do cafeteria supervision on my lunch break, and I usually get roped into subbing or doing some other task during my plan period. All of this standing coupled with back problems would lead you to believe that I had taken the time to invest in my feet and my back, but you’d be wrong.

After a particularly miserable day this past Friday, I swung into a shoe store and picked up two pairs of heel-and-arch-support insoles. I used to purchase them frequently, but now that I try to avoid the shoe store at all costs, they just slipped off my radar. As I worked to Macgyver open the plastic packaging in the parking lot with my classroom keys, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. Sure, at first I felt relief that I hadn’t lost a thumb or stabbed my seat by mistake, but I mostly felt guilty as the plastic packaging fell to the floor. $8.87 would be dutifully logged in the general spending category in our expense tracker.

After I keyed in the amount, I slid off my shoes, added the inserts, and stepped back in my shoes to run a few errands. Halfway through the first errand, my back felt better. By the time the second errand was over, I wasn’t even thinking about my back. I cannot remember the last time I stood without at least a slice of my attention zeroing in on the dull throb that usually radiates through my lower back. Suddenly, it seemed as if those $9 were the best dollars I had ever spent.

It turns out this isn’t the only area of my life in which I’ve become erroneously frugal. I have put so much emphasis on not spending that Mr. P is starting to adopt my habits, as well. In general, it is wonderful to be on the same financial page as a partner. However, when the page is all about frugal stupidity, it might be time to reconsider.

Just yesterday, we noticed two of our toilets making noises. Mr. P took the words out of my mouth: “That sounds expensive. Maybe it’s nothing. It’s probably just air pockets.” Just as I started to nod along, we looked at each other. I mean, we really looked at each other. Our water bill is already outrageously high.* Now, we were going to dismiss this problem simply because the thought of a one-time purchase of new parts or even a new toilet seemed cost prohibitive? Somebody stop the madness.

As soon as the hardware store opens, Mr. P is going to scour the plumbing aisle for options. While he is gone, I am going to leave a message for a long-forgotten chiropractor and an equally-ignored podiatrist. If generic BOGO inserts can make my feet and back feel so much better, imagine what real orthotics might do.

As I continue to navigate the world of personal finance, I’ll learn to stay between the lines and avoid this overcorrecting. Sure, there are times–many, many times–when it pays to be frugal. But there are also moments when I can be frugal to a fault.

*True story. I live one city over from my parents, but we have different water providers. Our bill is almost double theirs even though our usage is significantly less.

So Tell Me…What are the areas of your life that you refuse to skimp on? Have you ever been frugal to a fault?


Frugal to a Fault

25 thoughts on “Frugal to a Fault

  1. Whenever I get stuck on saving money, I try to remember the Sam Vimes Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness:

    “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

    But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

    Terry Pratchett was very wise (as well as riotously funny!)

    1. I love this! Yes, I’ve learned that lesson about cheap Target clearance shoes. But I’ve tried to swear off shopping. Unfortunately, things that keep me well during the day shouldn’t be filed away under shopping in my brain…or my phone app!

  2. I am so, so, so excited for you that you got the insoles! Yay no back pain! What a seriously awesome use of $9.

    I’m horribly guilty of the overcorrection in just about every aspect of my life. I mean seriously, the stories I could tell about overcorrecting in the dating world… Anyways. It’s definitely applied to frugality a few times, and I’ve had to catch myself and course correct when it does, because there are some things – like your back! – that are worth spending the money on. True confession: when I got a ticket from another province (that I wrote about today, haha) there was a teeeeeny flicker of “Well, it IS a different province… Maybe they won’t…. find me?”

    And then I came to my senses and didn’t ruin my credit score over a traffic ticket.

  3. I love this post. Me and Hubby talk about this often. Always trying to spend the least possible seems to lead to having to spend a lot in the long run. I think reading PF blogs makes us very competitive (#frugalitychallenge for example, Penny!). 😉 I know one thing, I’m going to look into those inserts! Thanks for the tip! 🙂

    1. I used to buy a pair a month (while I shopped for other things I didn’t need). And then when I stopped shopping, I kind of lumped it all together. It’s unbelievable what a difference they make – $5 at Payless. I’m also going to get fitted for real inserts later this month.

  4. Goodness, you bring up such great points with this. I, too sometimes struggle to find the right balance and find myself being frugal to a fault when in reality it is probably creating a larger problem down the line (that may cost more money)! One thing my fiance & I refuse to skimp on is groceries. This isn’t to say that we shop at the fanciest markets, but we consciously know how much we generally spend per month but we do not have a strict budget. This is because we value our health and do not want to cut down on the amount we eat simply to save more money. I always try to think of what I value, and what will be my return on investment when it comes to not skimping, or being frugal to a fault. Sometimes I fall into this trap of feeling guilty when I spend any money (which is a dangerous place to be). Great post!

    1. Eating well pays dividends in the future. At least that’s what I tell Mr. P when I pack baby carrots, an apple, and a banana in his lunch every day 😉 There are definitely things that we shouldn’t put a price on.

  5. Frugal to a fault – I think this is part of the personal finance learning curve when entering the World of the Frugal. We have made (and continue to make) mistakes in an attempt at frugality where we should probably spend the money but choose not to in order to save a little more. Over the years I’ve learned it’s okay to splurge on good shoes, healthier food, as well as quality technology and appliances that may be costly up front but will save us money in the long run. Mr. FI are coming to the mutual understanding that, since we don’t buy a lot of things, it’s okay to spend a little more on the things we do buy so they’ll last longer, work better and make our lives a little better in the process. Glad you found something to help your back! Sounds like that purchase was worth the money 🙂

    1. Happy to hear I’m not a total abnormality. Frugality definitely is a learned behavior. Good thing I have an entire blogosphere of resources and bloggers to keep me on the right path!

  6. My most recent frugal-to-a-fault experience also has to do with shoes! This summer I decided I needed some professional-looking black flats for work because I had basically zero work shoes other than boots. I found some pretty nice ones at a secondhand store for $29, which I felt like was a fairly okay price. So I bought them and congratulated myself on not paying $50 for a new pair. But then, after I’d been wearing them for a few minutes, I realized they were too tight. Unfortunately, the store had a no-returns policy, so I figured I’d just tough it out. That did not work because: blisters. But I was NOT going to cave and buy a new pair. So I paid $6 to have them stretched. And I thought they were okay at first, but then realized they were still too tight. So I paid $6 to have them stretched again. Which still didn’t make them big enough. So I got them stretched a third time. And they still hurt. So basically, this is now at the point of insanity: in an effort to avoid paying $50 for some nice shoes that fit, i have now paid nearly $50 and sacrificed a lot of foot comfort (not to mention time) for shoes that do not fit. So now I’m going to have to buy new shoes anyway.
    Maybe foot comfort is just one of those things that it’s worth shelling out for…

    1. Yes, yes, yes. I was talking with a girl friend about this today. She walks and takes public transportation to and from work, and I was telling her my insoles story. Her reply was, “My feet are my car. I HAVE to take care of them.” I’m starting to realize that lots of people shell out big bucks for ergonomic desks and snazzy chairs because they sit all day. It’s time for me to do the same for standing.

  7. Oh I can totally relate! I have back issues and it’s so easy for me to get too frugal and let me health go! Why is it so hard to just stop and take care of ourselves! I usually end up paying for it later when I’m in terrible pain and need to pay for a massage etc.

    1. The worst part is my chiro will cover massages as part of my PT routine…and I still don’t go. Because I don’t know how to make time for myself apparently. It’s awful. I’m working on it!

  8. Awareness is the first step — at least you’re recognizing this tendency in yourself! Going off the deep end initially is completely normal, and what’s important is that you decide to dial back your frugality a bit, rather than rebelling from it entirely and going back to rampant consumerism. We definitely were too restrictive with ourselves for a while, and have decided that we have to allow ourselves some restaurant meals and a little bit of spending on entertainment to feel “normal.” I’m sure you’ll figure out your happy medium. 🙂

  9. My husband has to constantly remind me that health is more important. I’m all up in the numbers and I’m like “our food budget is nearly gone for the month, so we’ll just make meals from what we have for the next two weeks” and he’ll say “and we’ll go over budget a bit to buy fruits and vegetables because that’s more important.” Right… good reminder. My sister-in-law had “visitor lightbulbs” back in the old lightbulb days… they would use really low wattage and then switch them out if visitors were coming over to look less dark! I though it was hilarious.

  10. We have definitely avoided paying for comfort items we really need in the past. I have had back problems too (two spinal fusions in my early 20s) and there were times I could have benefited from better shoes, a better chair, or whatever. I’m a little more conscious about it now.

  11. I’ve been there for sure. I put off a purchase so long that it ends up costing us more. Or there was one time that I didn’t feel like pushing Tim hard enough to get his butt into an urgent care because… money. The cold turned into pneumonia and an ambulance ride to the ER… when he didn’t have insurance. Sigh.

    Glad you got insoles, but maybe consider seeing a specialist to get *really* good ones? A co-pay for the doc and one for the insoles and you’ll make sure you a) don’t need ones to correct a problem and b) will have great quality ones for people on their feet all day. (Note the Terry Pratchett quote above about buying things that’ll last vs wear out.)

    1. Yes! I made an appointment with my podiatrist (who I did a great job of seeing for exactly one surgery and one stress fracture and then never went back) to get fitted later this month.

      Ugh to the medical bills without insurance. We humans are really good at overlooking our health sometimes, aren’t we? The intentions behind saving are so good and noble, but the cost can be high.

  12. A few things we don’t skimp on are insurance, healthy food, and travel. Now with travel we certainly look for deals, but life experiences are invaluable to us.

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