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Frugal living tip #35. August 31, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Mondays in 2009 here at Poor Richard’s Almanac have been set aside for Frugal Living Tips in recognition of the hard times so many of us are going through right now. So our friend Ben was astounded to see an article in our local paper focusing on how to get the frugal-minded among us to let loose with their hard-earned cash.

Say what?!! As a card-carrying spendthrift, our friend Ben can’t even conceive of someone who refuses to spend money out of fear. If it glitters or comes in book, movie, or CD form, our friend Ben is after it like a bulldog on a pork chop. If it weren’t for the ongoing efforts of Silence Dogood, I’d be out of meat and borrowing meal, as the old-time saying had it.

But apparently some people have the opposite problem: They’re so afraid of going broke that they can’t bring themselves to buy an extra pack of toilet paper to make sure they don’t run out. They predicate every treat on “What if I can’t do this later?” As in, “I shouldn’t take my spouse out to dinner now in case it means I can’t take him or her next month.” “We shouldn’t go to this movie, even though we all really want to see it, since if we wait to rent it we’ll save at least ten dollars.”

Well, obviously, if your bank account’s empty, you’re living on credit, and your paycheck’s not due for a week, it makes sense to postpone even small pleasures ’til later. (Our friend Ben encourages you to continue buying toilet paper, however.) But if you have the money and you actually want to do whatever it is, carpe diem. Tomorrow might never come. 

Getting back to those of us who’ve never seen a [your favorite here] we didn’t want, our friend Ben has come up with a three-point checklist to help us keep our collective hands out of our billfolds. It’s based on that old three-question restraint for gossips, that before saying something you should ask yourself: “Will saying this do harm?” “Is it kind?” “Does it need to be said at all?” If we actually used this exercise, most people would probably never talk at all. But I digress.

Next time you’re thinking about buying something, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Why do I want it?

2. Can I afford it?

3. Do I actually need it?

If the answer to the first question makes sense to you—whether it’s “I’ve been waiting to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie for a year!” or “My shoe has a hole in it and I need a new pair”—and the answer to the other two is yes, go for it. Otherwise, buyer beware. The money you save will be your own!



1. Daphne Gould - August 31, 2009

When my son was young he always wanted to buy stuff. I taught him the trick of waiting a week or a month for larger things. For him everything glittered when he first saw it, but it would dissipate with time. If he waited long enough he would find out if he really wanted it.

My daughter was the opposite. She held on to her money and hated to spend. She hates the concept of money at all and didn’t like using it. It is extremely hard for her to spend anything at all. I talked to her about when you have a job, you can take a certain amount of money from your salary and put it away (we told her 10% since that is what we have always done). The money is for really big things like a house and retirement. The rest she ought to spend and enjoy herself. I had to talk her into spending a little at college. But then she has OCD which is an anxiety disorder so she is anxious about a lot of things. Money is only one of the many things.

I use a version of the trick you taught your son when I look at catalogues, Daphne. I love relaxing with a favorite catalogue at night, but then I want everything in it. So I tell myself that “I’ll order that later” and put the catalogue in the rack. Naturally, I never pick it up again. Occasionally, we actually do need something—this year, for example, we’re going to need a set of insulated curtains to replace the disintegrating pair in our home office before cold weather arrives—and then those catalogues come in handy. I have a birthday coming up and plan to ask my family for a gift certificate to one of the catalogues that sells insulated curtains. Problem solved!

As for your daughter, maybe you’re on the right track about the house. If she can save up and buy one that makes her feel secure, then feather her “nest” with beloved objects so she loves coming home to it, that might be the best possible use for her money: buying a sense of safety and peace of mind. I guess not everybody needs to focus on the little pleasures! At any rate, you all sound like great parents to us. Kudos to you!

2. fairegarden - August 31, 2009

Hi OFB, I loved your reference to card carrying spendthrift! HA I used to have a severe shopping problem. Four kids to clothe, moving to L.A. from Podunk, PA and getting a Nordstrom’s credit card nearly ruined us financially. Everything was so pretty and cool, and easy credit made it easy to come home with me. The cure began with walking around the store with everything I wanted in a cart or on my arm. Then, before leaving the store, I would put everything back. It was the picking things out that was so fun, not the actual purchasing of them it turns out. Now, plants are the only indulgence, and seeds are so much cheaper. Funny, we suddenly have more money too.

OMG Frances, moving from PA to LA!!!! You were so lucky (and smart) to survive. I agree, it’s the choosing that’s the fun part, which is why I love to page through catalogues just before bed. Maximum indulgence and no worries about actually ordering anything (except in my dreams)!

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