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We’re huge believers that there’s no one “right way” to do personal finance. We’d never preach total frugality or conversely argue that FIRE success is all about increasing your earnings. Instead we’d say you should figure out what makes you happy, and let the rest follow from that. If that means working a low-paid job you love that puts you on a slower timeline to FIRE, great! If it means you get super stoked about pinching your pennies and fast-tracking it to financial independence, awesome! You do you.
But sometimes we all just have quirky habits that don’t jive with the rest of our personal finance philosophy, and today we’re fessing up to some of ours.
When Our Philosophy and Habits Don’t Align
In general, we follow the “don’t be cheap” rule. We believe in paying for quality over junk, in prioritizing environmental concerns over the bottom line, in giving generously, and in tipping well (because people working for tips usually rely on them and make less than minimum wage — by the way, minimum wage in most U.S. states works out to a below-the-poverty-line $15,000 per year). We also value our time, and have dropped a lot of frugal habits that weren’t worth the time they consumed.
BUT. There are certain areas where we are just unrepentant cheapskates through and through. Where we cannot make ourselves pay more or pay for something period, no matter how much we try to rationalize with ourselves. (I know — that sounds like a ridiculous problem. But you’ll see what I mean in the list below.)
Our Secret Cheapskate Tendencies
Clothes — We have different habits around clothes, but we’re cheap in our own ways. If you look through Mr. ONL’s wardrobe, you’d be forgiven for thinking, Everything in here looks a bit threadbare. Because it does. He buys clothes, like, never. He still somehow manages to look presentable at work meetings (which are rarer than mine), mainly because menswear all kinda looks the same, not because he actually updates his wardrobe. In my half of the closet, you might not have the same threadbare thought, but if you saw price tags, you’d see that I won’t buy something unless it’s at least 80 percent off. I skip all the H&M and other fast fashion retailers that sell their stuff for super cheap (not a fan of their labor or environmental standards), and so on those occasions when I do buy clothes, it’s on the TJ Maxx clearance rack or, more likely, online from Sierra Trading Post when I have a 30 or 40 percent off coupon. But even then, I’ll probably return two-thirds of what I buy. And I’m sure I’m the only person at my level in my company who has never spent $100 on a pair of shoes.
Haircuts — When was the last time I got my hair cut? Hmm… it’s gonna take me a minute to remember that. I get my hair cut like once a year, and only bite the bullet when it looks so unacceptable that I can’t possibly face coworkers or clients without a cut. I’d love to rock a more stylish ‘do, but I just can’t bear the thought of paying someone to cut it more than once a year or so, which means I go for easy-style cuts that grow out really well. And yeah, I know lots of y’all are cutting your own hair these days. I’ll try that after we quit, but not risking it right now. After we quit, I am also going to try out every color in the rainbow, so you know all bets are off.
Medical/Dental/Vet Care — Have we been to the doctor this year? Not once. And why not? Because we haven’t met our deductible. Deductible not met = no doctor visits. Unless something urgent happens that forces our hand on the deductible, we probably won’t go get our preventive stuff done. I know exactly how bad this is, and I want to punch myself in the face for thinking this way. But even I, a health-obsessed mid-30s woman, a person who is demographically most likely to overuse health care, can’t shake the aversion to paying out-of-pocket for this important stuff. [UPDATE: We checked, and everyone with health insurance gets a preventive check-up paid at 100% every year, with no copay and no deductible, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. So we have no excuse, and we’re going to get our check-ups taken care of! Thanks to the commenters who pointed this out!] We do take care of our dental and vision checkups since the basic visits are covered 100 percent, but I’ve been stalling on a filling until the dentist agrees to lower the price some more (I’ve already negotiated it down once). On vet care, of course we take our beloved dogs to the vet, but I have definitely been known to ask how much things cost before agreeing to tests or treatments. Fortunately, vets are used to this type of thing and are happy to provide estimates, unlike human doctors who look at you like you’re from Mars if you inquire about cost before agreeing to something — and most likely they have no idea the answer.
Utilities* — You may already know that we keep our house super cold in the winter because we’re too cheap to turn up the furnace or to pay for enough fire wood to keep our wood stove burning hot. Well we’re equally cheap with our other utilities, practicing the if it’s yellow, let it mellow rule religiously, only watering our outside vegetation enough to keep it barely alive, and taking every measure we can think of to avoid using electricity. I have definitely turned out the lights on people still using a room because the turn off the lights when leaving the room rule is so ingrained in my brain. And back when our shower was leaking? We collected all of that water in buckets, and used it to flush the toilets and to fill our drinking water filter.
*This one is a semi-exception because consuming fewer resources does align with our environmental values. But sometimes, when I’m dressed head-to-toe in fleece and still shivering, I question our sanity.
Housecleaning — There is no world in which I’d categorize housecleaning as a “need.” But given how much we currently work and travel for work, having our house cleaned by someone other than us would give us a huge sense of relief. I even promised Mr. SSC a few months back that I’d do it. But we can’t bring ourselves to pay for something that we should be able to do ourselves — sort of like our struggle with recent home maintenance issues. We pulled the trigger on those, but just can’t do it with cleaning. Even though it’s exactly the same thing on the time vs. money scale:
Bottled water, car washes, soda, holiday decor, tourist mementos, and other things we never, ever buy — Bottled water is probably the worst modern invention — it’s a huge waste of money, it contributes enormously to the plastic gyres in the ocean, and the water itself is no cleaner than tap water. So we never buy it. If we’ve forgotten our water bottles when we’re out somewhere, then we make do with water fountains, like everyone did before bottled water became ubiquitous. We also don’t buy soda or car washes, and we don’t buy any sort of seasonal decor. The most we do is try to find the cheapest Christmas tree each year, and use the ornaments we’ve had forever, but you’ll never see decorations for any other holiday around here except the actual feast at Thanksgiving. We don’t even buy Halloween candy because
we’re terrible people the lack of street lights means we get very few trick-or-treaters each year, and so instead we just keep our lights off and the small handful of them pass us by. When we travel, we inadvertently practice Leave No Trace ethics, leaving only footprints, taking only photographs — with the exception of maybe a little chocolate. We’re not monsters. :-)
The Ridiculousness of It All
I want to cringe when I read through this list, because if you tally up all of what we could spend on these things, it’s nowhere near enough to meaningfully hurt our savings rate. I’d still never, ever buy bottled water or fast fashion clothes, but spending a little bit on some of these things — especially the things like medical care and housecleaning that would improve our quality of life — would certainly not kill us. If I got my hair cut more like twice a year? That would not break the bank. Same for hiring a cleaning service once a month, or actually going to the doctor. Given all the things we do choose to pay for — organic veggies and travel come to mind — the list of verboten items feels incredibly arbitrary and ridiculous. But we humans are imperfect beings, and we make decisions as much based on emotion as on logic, and this is definitely an emotion over logic moment.
What are your worst cheapskate tendencies?
Okay, we’ve unloaded our cheapskate confessions, and you know you’ll feel better when you get yours off your chest! ;-) What are things you just can’t bring yourself to spend money on, even if you know you should? Let’s chat in the comments!