The Buck Stops Here

Frugality is always a hot topic around the personal finance blogosphere. "87 Frugal Finance Tips", "Frugal Meals for Frugal Folks", "I'm More Frugal Than You, Na-Na Na-Boo-Boo". (yes, those are fictitious articles) And thats great - Don't get me wrong. I enjoy frugality as much as the next PF blogger. But where does frugality end and reality begin? Frugality can easily cross the line into cheap if not kept in check with quality and value. Where do you draw the line in your frugality?

Seeds of frugality are often planted during childhood by watching what Mom and Dad are doing. Refusing to use the A/C or furnace before crossing a date or temperature threshold. Ordering a meal, but drinking the free water instead of spending a money on beer or pop. Once you hit college age and get out of the house, it's your first real opportunity to 'experiment' with frugality. You stumble across things like cheap cheese. "I'll save 80 cents and buy the generic cheese," you think, "Mom would be proud". Except Mom knew better. That 80 cent savings was really $1.10 down the drain since the "cheese" tasted more like corn, and not in a good way. After my "corn-cheese" experience, I learned that a line in the sand must be drawn. Generic was not inherently bad, but required discretion.

  • Food - We buy a lot of generic/store brand food. These seem to be better than they used to be, and are offering a lot more variety. Some stores even offer store brand organics, but we still look for USDA certification. Some things we won't compromise on: Meats, ice cream, cheese, pop, and OJ. For those items we have found our threshold to be above average.
  • Technology - I don't buy into the 'planned obsolescence', 'disposable' technology crap. In my opinion, sub-par electronics just aren't worth the headaches, and constant "why won't it work". Usually, if we're spending more than $20 on some electronic bits, then we're going to get something that we'll be happy with. Some times when I will buy the cheap tech stuff: cables, cables, cables.
  • Education - Once we relocated last year, we had a few choices for education. We could be like many people and send our kids to the public school that we were funding via local taxes. Not a bad option financially speaking, but that school system leaves a lot to be desired. We could pay for them to go to our parish's parochial school. Not cheap by any means, but an excellent education. Or we could go ultra frugal and home-school. We have nothing against home-schooling. We have several good friends who do it. But it's a bit of a stretch for us. Where did we end up? Parochial.
So there's three examples. Where do you draw the line? What trade off's will you make / not make in the name of frugality?

***UPDATE*** Welcome FoF readers! Please take a few minutes to check out some of our other frugal living articles. If you are new here, find out more about Not the Jet Set here.


Kaye said...

I agree with cheese and will add Cheerios (the honey nut are fine in generic, but the original just aren't the same), ketchup, peanut butter, Little Debbie Snack Cakes, and toothbrushes...they just don't last. That makes it sound like we eat a lot of junk, but those are just things I've noticed a difference big enough to decline the generic.

sara l said...

I think the line is what's great about frugality. You choose the areas where your family is willing to make an alternative choice so that you can spend/save for the things that are important for you.

Meg said...

That's awful about the cheese! I shop at Publix and have loved all their generics. In fact, just the other day I was talking to a friend about how the blocks of Publix cheese we buy are comparable -- if not better -- than sliced Boar's Head cheese, which we used to live off of. We feel very fortunate to live near a Publix because their generics have saved us a lot of money, despite our original assumptions that Publix was a somewhat higher end store for the area. It is, but not in price, I'm happy to say.

I don't buy disposable clothes -- at least as much as I can detect them. I'd rather pay more for something that doesn't have seams unraveling while it's still on the hanger. Fortunately, I'm a good bargain shopper, so it's not like I'm spending much on clothes either way.

I don't sacrifice my health. I know some people don't mind eating nothing but ramen noodles or mashed potatoes, but I try to keep processed foods at a minimum in my diet. I don't care if I could get boxes of junk food for free, it's still not worth the price. Likewise, I don't sacrifice my cats' health -- goodness knows, my husband and I have learned our lessons after switching to cheaper cat food and ending up with a huge vet bill last Christmas.

I also don't sacrifice a certain level of style -- aka, my sanity. I work from home and like the place to look nice. I'm not shelling out big bucks on furniture and decor items by any means. But if I'm buying something I'm going to be staring at every day, I'm willing to pay a few extra bucks for it to look nice.

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