Of all the posts on The Simple Dollar, the post that seems to drive the most emails to me is my homemade laundry detergent guide. People seem to hardly believe that I actually make my own laundry detergent.
My response to these dumbfounded emails has evolved over time (yes, I get so many emails on this that I have a “standard response” that I insert into such emails), but now it looks something like this:
I make my own laundry detergent because I save about $18 per 100 loads – about three and a half months’ worth of laundry at my house. That $18 goes towards other goals in my life – paying down debt, saving for my dream home, and so on. I’d rather have my $18 go towards that than supporting a mega-corporation pumping out millions of gallons of detergent a week. Plus, it’s fun to make.
The real core idea here is that I’m “transferring” my money from spending it on detergent to saving for my dream home. Sure, it’s only $18 every three months or so, but that’s $72 a year. $720 a decade. And that’s assuming I don’t earn any interest or investment income at all on that money.
Homemade laundry detergent is just one avenue of such savings. I make up my own bottle of Windex and “transfer” $4 a year from household chemicals to debt repayment. I turn down the temperature on my hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and transfer about $40 a year from the gas company to our dream home savings account. I eat leftovers for lunch and transfer $3 from a food producer to my emergency fund.
In each case, all I’m doing is taking money from something less important to me – household chemicals, natural gas, large food producers – and giving that money to something more important to me – debt freedom, our dream home, my emergency fund.
Once you’ve adopted this kind of mindset, many of the “ordinary” choices people make begin to seem a little odd to you. They certainly do to me. Every time I choose to not maximize my value in some relatively unimportant place in my life, I’m taking money away from the things that are truly important to me.
If I choose to just go buy Tide at the grocery store, $18 disappears from my debt repayment plan (and goes to Procter and Gamble) every three months, leaving me beholden to Chase (or some other entity) for longer.
If I leave my hot water heater at a high temperature, $40 disappears from our savings for our dream home (and goes to my energy company) every year, making that dream less and less attainable.
If I go out for lunch every day this month instead of eating leftovers, $60 (at least) disappears from my emergency fund (and goes to a food producer), making me more susceptible to major life emergencies.
The list goes on and on. In each case, I find it’s better to keep that money in the areas of my life that are truly important to me.
So, when I look at someone else spending money on Tide, I think to myself “they must place a higher personal value on Tide than on getting out of debt.” Perhaps they do – and that’s fine. However, I can certainly say that those values are far away from my own values.
I never advocate trimming spending on areas that are truly important to you. If something has a high value in your life, by all means, spend money on it.
But in areas in your life that don’t have a high value, why are you spending money? Every extra dollar you spend in an unimportant area is a dollar taken away from an important area.
Frugality, in the end, is just a “spending transfer” – transferring your money from an area that’s not important in your life to an area that is important in your life. People talk about frugal misery – that, to me, is the opposite of misery.