Sometimes we do things that are goofy and they can lead us into financial trouble. At other times we engage in frugal behavior and some of that can appear to be equally goofy. What can make our frugality appear misapplied is the minimum way in which the activities appear to save money or otherwise reduce our burden of debt.
Saving a nickel here or there is just plain goofy, right?
Well, what might appear goofy at first, could be beneficial if only we take the time to look at the flip side. Examining the opposite side of the coin can help give us a “would you rather have this instead” perspective, and that can be just enough to help us see the good in it. Often, outward appearances can mask a healthy mindset. Even if we don’t appreciate the savings we see, we might appreciate the mindset that drives it, and sometimes the mindset is never more clear than when we examine the flip side of things.
In my world, having the right mindset is the best starting point, and is usually superior to knowing good techniques. We can always learn new and better techniques, but we’ll never accept them and implement them with any consistency if we don’t have the proper mindset.
Let’s look at some examples of what might appear on the surface to be a bit goofy, but when we look at the flip side, we can see evidence of a good mindset, one that can help keep us on the right track.
Washing plastic storage bags for reuse – this has to be one of the least fruitful activities known to mankind. Plastic storage bags are generally about 5 cents a piece, a little more or less depending on the size and quality. My family washes and dries these by hand. They’re meant to be a disposable product, but we reuse them over and over again, so much so that many take on a well worn appearance. They’re not even tossed away when they spring a leak in one of the corners, instead they’re used to store things that don’t have any liquids associated with them.
No one is ever going to save a bunch of money reusing plastic storage bags. Even if each bag cost 10 cents, and you tossed away four every week, that’s only about $20 a year, hardly one of the big chunks when it comes to saving money. Nevertheless, it’s a mindset of frugality, of refusing to waste a resource just because it’s cheap and easily wasted without consequence.
Of course, the flip side is a mindset of wastefulness that can start with small things and eventually encompass more and more items in the disposable world we live in. And, we all know that such a careless attitude about resources won’t contribute positively to our bottom line.
Buying fixer upper houses – now this is something my father did all his life, he bought distressed homes that needed mostly superficial work, and spent his summers repairing and remodeling. I remember being up on the roof of a two story English Tudor home, helping him put on a roof. It was a bit like being on a high wire. I remember more than a few neighbors being scared to death when they watched us working on that steep roof. To them it seemed goofy and dangerous. And, since my father was a high school teacher, many thought it goofy that he spent his summertime doing work instead of enjoying his time off.
Regardless of the risk involved, home improvement projects generally pay off in terms of resale value of the home. Only those on the outside looking in ever considered what we did to be goofy. Those on the inside knew that we were increasing the comfort and value of the place we called home, a good investment from many perspectives.
So what might be the flip side? Could it be allowing the home to fall into disrepair? How about always buying beyond our means because we didn’t want to put any “sweat equity” into the place? None of those seem appealing. I think one of the most enlightening flip side perspectives is the idea that we could have used all of that summer time off to travel or engage in recreational activities. It would have been a bit like retirement — lots of time for spending money — right at a time when investment and savings was high on our priority list.
Cutting your own hair – this is something I’ve done for about 30 years now, and it has saved me thousands of dollars. And, I can remember my parents being a tag-team when it came to giving their children haircuts. Dad would do the main work with the trimmers, and mom would bat cleanup with the scissors and razor. As an adult, I picked up on this and enjoyed the convenience and frugality of being my own barber.
Some find this a bit goofy, to cut your own hair, simply because it can be a waste of time and quite frustrating. Try trimming up the back of your neck in the mirror. It can be difficult. A former close friend of mine used to spend about an hour each morning doing her hair. I always thought it was an excessive amount of time each day spent on grooming. She always considered it to be her treat to herself each day.
What’s on the flip side of all of this? There are many possibilities such as spending way too much money on getting your hair styled when it only needs to be cut, spending time and money and travel expense for trips to the beauty parlor or barber, and of course the always popular (…not!) lack of grooming. Also on the flip side could be a decided lack of interest in self-reliance (leading to more dependency on paying others for many basic services), and an attitude of having more money than time (leading to increased spending just to live a life of greater convenience).
Changing your own engine oil – here’s an activity that acts as the center of the universe for jokes about guys. You know the old story about the all day job that cost about $150 because it involved beer, beer buddies, oil, filter, multiple trips to the auto parts store, and perhaps a trip to the emergency room as well. All the while the wise woman paid $30 and had the job done by someone else in about an hour. Of course, that’s not necessarily the case, but it makes for a good story, and sometimes an oil change or other vehicle maintenance activity can take that goofy route.
It’s easy to see the flip side where everything is done by a shop or at the dealership because the owner doesn’t know anything about basic servicing of a vehicle. That can be expensive. Another flip side is failing to take care of basic maintenance needs. Either way, there can be a higher price waiting to be paid.
As I’ve written before, focusing on the big chunks makes a big difference if we’re trying to save money, but we need to recognize that less cost-effective practices can be indicators of people heading in the right direction, and exhibiting a good mindset with respect to handling money. If folks are headed in the right direction, even quite slowly, they deserve our encouragement.
The key to success in all of this is to recognize and cultivate a good mindset, and then apply it ever more wisely through practices that provide greater return on investment. That will help keep us out of the arena of goofy behavior. Even if we wander off in that direction, perhaps we need to consider the flip side and be thankful that although our frugal activities don’t reap us huge benefits, at least we’re not drilling holes in our own financial boat.