Frugality as a “Spending Transfer”

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.

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  1. Lee says:

    I’ve found over the last 9 months that it’s the very small, regular changes we make that have the biggest effect. I knocked down my cell phone plan for example from £41/month to £19 saving me £264 a year! Now, I’ve had a cell phone for at least the last decade and a half, and will likely continue to do so for the rest of my life.

    Over a decade that’s a £2,640 saving. Over the next 50 years that’s £13,200 and again, not taking into account any interest either.

    All these little changes add up to significant sums of money.

  2. right side of the river says:

    Trent, I don’t know what you do in your daily life that you require 100 loads of laundry in 3 and a half months. that roughly equates to a load a day. you might want to think about how to cut down on that. think about how much water and electricity you’d save, it might end up being more than the $18 from using homemade detergent.

  3. Joanna says:

    Trent, slightly off topic, but last night I decided to use the vinegar as Windex trick. YikeS!!! It was terrible. It somehow was sticking to the mirror and didn’t want to come off. What am I doing wrong?! It was straight, white vinegar in a clean spray bottle on a mirror. (BTW, LOVE the vinegar as fabric softener. No smell whatsoever!)

  4. Mike Piper says:

    I love this idea. It’s similar to the way Ramit phrases it sometimes:

    “Cost costs mercilessly on things you don’t care about so you can spend extravagantly on the things you love.”

    That’s really what personal finance is all about to me–getting your usage of money in line with your goals, values, and priorities.

  5. Mike Piper says:

    Joanna (#3): for my Windex replacement, I do vinegar plus a little bit of dish soap. Works wonderfully.

  6. KC says:

    I suspect the reader above that said you are doing too much laundry doesn’t have kids. On average an adult probably does 2 loads of laundry a week (at least I do for myself). 2 adults probably 3 loads/week. But you add a kid to the mix and that’s at least 2, if not 3 loads more a week. Add another kid – add another load or 2. That’s 7 a week or 1 a day. Kids generate more laundry than adults do – especially when you consider the young ones soil their clothing and I want that washed in HOT water separate from my clothes and towels.

    I don’t have kids, but I stayed with a friend of mine for 2 weeks while I was in the process of moving. I felt obligated to help her around the house since she wouldn’t accept rent. She and her husband have 2 kids (8 and 2). I never saw so much laundry in my life – clothes, sheets, towels. It was an everyday event – a real eye opener for me!

  7. It’s the old fashioned ‘watch the nickels and dimes, and the dollars will watch themselves’ (or something close to that).

    I think culturally we’d become bored with the concept, especially after decades of easy credit made it essentially pointless to track details and convenience became the measure of all things. Now we’re coming back to frugality as though we’ve discovered something new, something revolutionary. Our grandparents generaration must be very amused!

    Many years ago, while working at the office of a self-made multi-millionaire client, I asked him how he’d made his millions, expecting some high road adventure story, filled with deep and exciting secrets. Instead, he looked at the coffee me and my partner brought in to the office and said, “the problem with your generation is that you’re so willing to pay for what you can get for free”. I believe that was his “secret”.

  8. KC (6)–I agree, we have four in the house, and average about 7 loads per week. Good analogy!

  9. Johanna says:

    I agree completely with the main ideas of this post. But as usual, it seems that you’re trying really hard to portray people who make different choices than you in the most unflattering way possible:

    “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.””

    Consider, first, that not everyone who buys Tide is IN debt.

    Consider also that not everyone does laundry as often as you: As a single person who doesn’t mind rewearing clothes that aren’t dirty, I do at most one load of laundry a week. So according to your recipe, a batch of homemade laundry detergent would last me at least a year, a box of washing soda at least six years, and a box of borax more than twelve. In the last six years, I’ve moved three times, with two of those moves being trans-Atlantic. What I value, therefore, is not any specific brand of laundry detergent, but rather the convenience of not having to lug boxes of washing soda and borax with me everywhere I go, and not having to worry about finding a place to store a bucket full of a year’s supply of laundry detergent. That’s the thing that, to me, is worth a few dollars a year.

    Finally, consider that Tide is one of the most expensive brands of detergent that there is. So by comparing the cost of your homemade stuff to the cost of Tide, you’re “saving” much more than you would be if you compared to a store brand or an off brand (which is what I buy). You’ve shown that homemade detergent works about as well as Tide in one specific circumstance, but does it actually work better than the cheap store-bought stuff? If it does, I’ll consider converting – but if it doesn’t, I don’t see how you can justify doing the cost comparison only with Tide.

  10. Hope D says:

    I made my own laundry detergent for awhile, but I found it didn’t get my whites bright enough. Over time they started to look dingy.
    :I tweaked the recipe. I added more Borax and more washing soda. I then added oxyclean, but there went my savings. I decided to buy Charlie’s Soap. It is much cheaper than Tide, my whites look great, it is biodegradable, easy on the skin, and is a great degreaser. Love the stuff.

  11. Joe says:

    Nice post. Should answer the critics that think you are a miserable cheapskate.

  12. Well said, Trent! That’s how I view frugality as well! Some people have criticized me for things I do like keeping the thermostat down during the winter, hang-drying clothes, and using cloth napkins. One even went so far as to say, “Why do you live so poor?!”

    But I DON’T live poor — nor do I feel deprived. Even though my husband and I are working hard to get out of debt, we can still make progress and have money left over for things we really enjoy like yummy, healthy food and improvements on our home. Those things are FAR more important to us than paper napkins, etc. And besides, we also have the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing less to hurt the environment!

  13. Jeroen says:

    I don’t know enough about chemistry to know if it’s true, but a lot of advertising for laundry detergent over here is about how you can cut costs by washing on 15° (That’s celcius, BTW) Trent, does your detergent work on such a low temperature? If not, what is the cost of having to wash on a higher one? (I really have no idea, but I expect that washing everything on 40° is mor expensive than on 15°.) Just a thought.

  14. Jaden says:

    I can totally see your point on this one, Trent… But rather than spend the time at home, making these household cleaners myself, my trick is to shop at a store that doubles coupons up to $1.00, find one for the detergent (or cleaner, or fabric softener) that I like, then wait for a sale. I end up usually paying around $1.00-$2.00 for the entire bottle of detergent/ fabric softener (sometimes less), and most times get my household cleaners for free or pennies. :) Granted, doing the couponing thing does take time, but I enjoy it as a hobby anyway… and with the dirt-cheap prices I pay for these items, I am guessing it’s about the same- possibly less- financially than it would be for me to make it myself.

  15. Evangeline says:

    I think the whole point is quite elementary: You alone are responsible for your financial future. Save where you choose, invest or spend where you chose. If you are comfortable with your choices then you are more likely to make a real difference. One person’s latte is another person’s detergent.

  16. Mike says:

    @Jeroen, #13.

    Regarding low temperature washing. I’ve always used cold water to wash my clothes for years, even before using Trent’s home brew.

    Now, I haven’t taken a temperature reading of the cold water going into the washing machine, but it feels pretty cold, I think it’s below 15 Celcius. But my clothes come out just as clean as tide.

  17. Paul says:

    I think it’s very important to recognize all of the marginal and opportunity costs involved in some of these transactions.

    For Trent, he may place a low cost on the time spent making detergent, and thus the $70 or so he ‘saves’ every year making detergent is worth it for him.

    For me, making my own detergent would cost significantly more than buying it, given the marginal cost of the time to aquire detergent is about zero, and if I spend more than an hour or so a year on this, I’m losing out.

    Neither is better/worse, but considering everything is critical – it’s not just about a couple of bucks.

    We stopped clipping coupons a couple of years ago after looking at the marginal cost of the time required and the opportunity cost of that time.

  18. Brent says:

    This post oddly struck a note with me. I don’t make my own detergent and it wouldn’t be worth it for a single guy like myself. But People often wonder why I bought a house in the poorest neighborhood when I could have afforded the most expensive. Its that same transfer mentality, I really value the idea of making sure I don’t have to work past 65.

  19. Josh says:

    I have been looking to cut down on my entertainment expenses lately. I found a fun and cheap activity is going to Target (within walking distance), sit in the laundry detergent aisle and laugh at all the fools who add a bottle of detergent to their cart!

  20. Jane says:

    I also think 7 loads a weeks sounds high, and I have a child. We do about 3 loads a week. My husband and I both re-wear clothes that are not stained or dirty, especially in the winter.

    I agree with Johanna on this, and I think it’s unfortunate that Trent tends to denigrate people who make different choices than he does. And the savings you calculate on making your own detergent are only valid if you buy Tide at full price. I would never do this. I wait for sales and use coupons. People in general tend to exaggerate their savings. If I buy something on sale and with coupons that is normally $4 and I paid $1, I did not save $3, because I would never pay that to begin with.

    One way to save on detergent without making your own is to use less than the recommended amount, which is always inflated anyway. The clothes still get clean, and it’s better for your skin.

  21. Jane says:

    @Josh #19
    Obviously you and Trent would get along, considering you both show a degree of contempt for people who have different priorities.

  22. Joanna says:

    Thanks Mike! I’ll try the vinegar/dish soap combo tonight.

  23. Josh (19)–That’s funny. But you’re onto something with entertainment expense. For a lot of people that’s the silent variable, the expense that soaks up extra money without being noticed. Some people spend more on entertainment than they do on food, esp if you include restaurant meals.

    We need to entertain ourselves otherwise life is boring. But there are so many lower cost ways to do that.

  24. Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but our time is too valuable to use on making laundry detergent. My wife is an MD and first year resident. She works approximately 80 hours per week. I’m an attorney and work 60-65, not counting the time I spend blogging (my second job;)), which tends to be significant.

    I don’t think making our own detergent will ever be efficient for us. We try to be frugal by buying the cheapest degergent we can find that works, and using only a portion of the recommended amount.

  25. Marisa says:

    Trent, in general I agree but I look at it just a little bit differently. Take the $18 for laundry detergent as an example. I’m throwing every bit of money I can budget at paying off debt ($6k in just under two months so far), so that extra $18 buys my husband and I dinner at our favorite dive, or ice cream and a movie, or new chew toys for the dogs. While I may not be applying the $18 directly to debt repayment, I’m applying it to little things that we enjoy but won’t build into our budget. By “finding money” in other places, we’re still making progress on our debt AND have incentive to cut our costs!

  26. LC says:

    You can never afford to get ripped off. I have to admit that laundry detergent is one of the most expensive and often purchased item on our shopping list. You are paying for the advertizing, which is huge for such products. (Where do you think they get the budget from? You.) Also, many detergents are petroleum based, so you are fighting the same people who are ripping you off for gas.

    My wife and I have a contest to see who can find the most money — this usually involves coins lying on the sidewalk, but you get the picture. That is the attitude that you have to have.

  27. lurker carl says:

    Jane makes an excellent point, the “recommended” dose for laundry detergents is double the volume needed to get all but a large load of the dirtiest clothes clean. And the filthiest clothes will need some manual scrubbing before machine washing.

    I’ve noticed the same overdose issue with many pump style dispensers, a full pump will deliver considerably more product than needed for the job.

    Trent’s formula is not a detergent, thus should be called “laundry soap” instead. Bar soap, Borax and washing soda are not detergents. Soaps remove the dirt particles from the fabrics. A detergent additive is a chemical designed to keep soil particles in suspension, not remove them from the fabric. Without the detergent present in the wash water, dirt is deposited back into the fabrics and makes the clothing look dull or dingy over time.

    As others have noted, washing the dingy clothes in a commercial detergent (like Tide) rejuvenates their appearance, products with enzymes will remove most residual organic stains that have not yet chemically bound to the fabric.

  28. Ellen says:

    It’s funny that you post on this today because I was thinking about places I save yesterday, while running. As I ran by the big windows full of people on treadmills in the gym near my home, I thought, “What a waste.” Not only were these people wasting their money on a gym membership when they could get the same workout for free, they were also wasting a beautiful day for a run – something that you just shouldn’t take for granted when you live in Michigan.

  29. LDH says:

    @ Johanna, Thanks for pulling the words out of my mouth.

    Trent, I’m ready to stop reading because you are overextending your ideals. Saving money=good. Buying Tide=neutral.

    *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*

    I sure hope not. Like Johanna, there are many reasons I do not make my own laundry detergent. I live in a 640 square foot town home that also houses another person, a home office, and two cats. I do not have my own laundry room. Should I be storing Borax on top of my fridge next to my apples? Or how about in the only closet I have, in between my clothes and my husbands clothes?

    When you look at people spending money frivolously, you can perhaps think they value that over getting out of debt. But Tide is NOT frivolous spending for many people (myself included). The money I save by staying in a 640 square foot house (that has a lower mortgage than some car payments) far outweighs the savings I would have if I made my own laundry detergent (and then felt that my house was cluttered and said, gosh, it’s really time to move…I don’t have room to store all these supplies that are saving me money.”

    You say in one sentence that you choose what works for you, and in the next, “So, when I look at someone else spending money on Tide…” I write for a living too, and I can tell you that these kind of value-judgment laden statements are not appropriate in my profession. Maybe when I spend three times as much on a house that has an appropriate workspace and storage area for the supplies needed to make my own laundry detergent, I will. That said, making laundry detergent is a tip that you are providing for others, not a mandate that the people who do it are committed to their families and their dreams versus those who do not. So treat it like a tip already and not like a mandate.

  30. brad says:

    @ #28 ellen

    i dont think theyre wasting anything. ok, so today you get some sun and a free run. during the other 325 days of your state’s anti-anything-without-a-layer-of-blubber-climate, they are paying for the comfort of running in a climate controlled environment. also, you assume they just use the treadmills. how would you get an elliptical workout for free? weighted pull ups? bench press? i have a gym membership and there’s NO way id be able to replicate all the exercises i do on my own for less.

  31. I couldn’t believe the ingredient list myself!

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  32. Looby says:

    Once again I’m in complete agreement with Johanna and LDH. Why do you feel the need to care what any stranger puts in their shopping cart, let alone pronounce a pitying judgment?
    I made a similar comment at Frugal Dad a few weeks ago- if you are truly happy with your frugal choices stop trying to belittle and judge others who “appear” to make different ones.

  33. Jenzer says:

    Hmmmm … on June 4th Trent posted about using Consumer Reports “best buys” to assemble a shopping list. According to the latest issue of ShopSmart magazine (published by the same folks who do Consumer Reports), “in our most recent tests of more than 40 detergents, Tide liquids earned top honors: Tide 2X Ultra with Color Clean Bleach Alternative was best for top-loaders, and Tide 2X Ultra with Color Clean Bleach Alternative HE was tops for front-loaders and high-efficiency top-loading washing machines.”

    I’m with long-time reader Bob who was quoted in Trent’s June 4th post: I trust Consumer Reports, so I’ll look for the best deal I can find on their best buy recommendations, so long as they work well for us. For our family, that includes Tide, which does do a great job getting our (often grungy) clothes clean.

    I have zero interest in spending any more time dwelling on our choice of laundry detergent. I’ll take those 15 or so minutes I didn’t spend on making my own detergent and transfer them to an activity with higher personal value, like going out for a walk with my kids and the dogs.

    Besides, having spent ‘WAY too much time with a paint scraper removing bar soap scum from the shower stalls in our rental property, I’m fearful of what prolonged use of bar soap would do to the innards of my washing machine.

  34. Amelia says:

    I do make and use homemade laundry soap, but not just for the cost savings. Borax and washing soda come in boxes which can be recycled. I make one large batch of laundry soap in a five gallon bucket and keep reusing that one five gallon bucket. I desperately dislike buying petroleum-based, heavily scented laundry detergents in plastic jugs over and over again. Not only am I saving money with the homemade laundry soap, my asthmatic family stays healthier and I’m not putting plastic bottles into a landfill. I’ve not noticed that our clothes are dingy at all, and we’ve been using the soap for almost a year now.

  35. katie says:

    Ellen, some of us have allergies and asthma that make running outdoors difficult. Why be such a hater? People at the gym aren’t spending your $!

  36. Larabara says:

    In my experience, only one infant that uses cloth diapers generated a daily load of laundry just for the dirty diapers. Not to mention drooly bibs and tops, onesies, etc. Once they started crawling and then walking, the dirty clothes multiplied exponentially. We only saw a slight decrease after potty training. Also, teenagers (especially boys that play sports) create a lot of dirty laundry as well. Single folks, enjoy your light-laundry years!

  37. dsz says:

    I don’t often agree with Johanna, but I’m with her and LDH on this one. That one sentence turned a neat idea into a condemnation, and a condescending one, at that. It’s one thing to put the information out there and to make a case for a certain process or philosophy, but an all-encompassing statement like that is distasteful. Zeal and zealotry are two entirely different things and this post, IMO, crosses that line. Most of us know someone who has ‘seen the light’ in some way or another and most of the time they are insufferable and blind to any valid reason why someone would not want to join their cause. There are tons of reasons why a certain cost-saving measure that some find fantastic won’t work for the rest of the population, and each reason is valid for that individual. I’ve gotten a sense of a holier-than-thou attitude from some of the posts but just chalked it up to Trent’s youth, but now I don’t know. I’m not so sure I want to take advice from someone who honestly believes he can draw a conclusion about how much another values a debt-free life based on their purchase of a single product. If we’re going to start making blanket assumptions based on one purchase-how many debt-free, frugal-minded people buy Tide but wouldn’t dream of owning or even playing a video game? I don’t use Tide, but I’d sure as heck not devote one moment of my life to a video game and I have to admit wondering a little about a grown man who does. There’s *my* holier-than-thou attitude for you, but then again, I don’t write for a living. I think any type of blog has to have as a basic tenent a respect for differing priorities and this one, at least, is lacking.

  38. Carrie says:

    What dsz, Johanna, and the others said. I buy Tide and even own a designer purse. So, from those two pieces of information, what can you tell about my net worth, values, or income? Precisely nothing. dsz, I feel the same way as you do about video games.

  39. Jenn says:

    The fact is, I don’t like Tide. My favorite detergent is Arm & Hammer Free. I can get an 80 load box on sale for 8.99. I only use half the recomended amount so it is actualy 160 loads. Trent’s homemade detergent=not worth the effort for me.

    Trent does spend a lot of time patting himself on the back with one hand and pointing a finger at people who aren’t just like him with the other. Oh well. I had a good laugh over his “drink the yuppie kool-aid” choice to buy a Prius, so I guess I am no better!

  40. Noadi says:

    I buy laundry detergent because it keeps my clothes looking nice longer. Homemade detergent doesn’t clean stains as efficiently as commercial detergent with the enzymes they have (and I love to cook so stains happen in the kitchen). In the long run I probably save far more by having to buy new clothes less frequently than I spend on laundry detergent.

    You may not care about clothes and looking good but as a single woman the last thing I want someone to think when they look at me is that I’m a lazy slob who can’t wash her clothes.

  41. Ryan says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that I think Trent places a very high value are doing things that are good for the environment. This could explain why he likes the homemade detergent so much.

    That’s not to say however that he has the right to look at people and say that they must like debt because they’re buying Tide.

  42. Jenzer says:

    Another thought … this statement of Trent’s puzzled me a bit:

    “I’d rather have my $18 go towards [other goals] than supporting a mega-corporation pumping out millions of gallons of detergent a week.”

    That mega-corporation, Procter & Gamble, was the fourth-largest holding in the Vanguard 500 Index Fund (VFINX) as of July 31st, 2009, according to Vanguard’s web site.

    Given that Trent has advocated investing in index funds (see posts on Feb. 24, 2008, and June 15th, 2009, among others), I find it confusing that he would then suggest that buying products from one of the corporations held by a popular index fund might be an unwise use of one’s financial resources. It seems contradictory to make an extra effort to avoid giving one’s money to mega-corporations, but then expect those mega-corporations to do well enough to fund one’s retirement.

    It reminds me of some of the farmers here in our rural area who plan to retire by subdividing their farms and selling the lots to urban transplants … but they hate “city folk” and don’t want them as neighbors.

  43. friend says:

    I don’t give a rip about who makes their own laundry soap and who doesn’t. If Trent has an idea I like, I may use it; if not, I go elsewhere and check back later. He is not my lifeline. Chill, y’all.

  44. Donna says:

    I agree with the concept of frugality as transferring money away from things not important to you so that you free that money up for other things that are. Where it gets dicey, apparently, is giving an example that won’t offend somebody, somewhere.

    For the record, I tried making laundry soap according to this recipe a loooong time ago (it really is an old standard recipe, available many places on the internet), when I was a stay at home mom living on a single income and had 2 babies in (mostly cloth) diapers. It didn’t clean well enough for my tastes, and now that I’ve got five kids, I doubt it would work for me. Instead, I use very cheap or free laundry detergent I get matching sales, coupons, and rebates. I am currently working on a 100 load jug of All free and clear I got for 7.99. I stretch it to 200 loads by using half the recommended amount in my he washer. That works out to about .04 per load. After this, I’ll be using laundry detergent I got free after rebate. Cost .00 per load.

    It takes all kinds. I don’t particularly care what people use to do their laundry, but if there are financial worries or concerns, I do think that being conscious in one’s spending will help figure out whether there is a more cost effective alternative. I think that’s what Trent is trying to get at.

  45. Jules says:

    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.”

    Did you really write this?

    I make our laundry detergent–I have eczema, which is currently being exacerbated by our third cat, so most detergents are just hell on my skin–and I’m offended. Not personally offended, since this sort of saving and scrimping has allowed us to build up a decent emergency fund and live on far less than what we make (which is little and less). But one does not place a personal value on Tide itself. Buying Tide represents, amongst other things, convenience, quality, and consistency. Maybe that’s worth the price. I eventually came to that same conclusion–when we both began working, I quickly realized that homemade bread, as yummy and cheap as it is, simply wasn’t worth the effort–not for the quantities that we need for the week.

    Also, might I add, the amounts that you’re transferring are nigh-on negligible. Yes, yes, every drop in the bucket counts–but the amounts you’re talking about could be wiped out (easily) by, say, treating yourself or your wife to a long luxurious soak in the tub (at home!), or buying flowers for your mother, admission fee for the state fare, or gas money if gas prices shoot back up. I don’t usually side with Ramit in this–but in this case, the implication that somehow $40 a year is going to get you to paying off your mortgage that much faster? Okay, maybe by a day.

    And lastly, why does someone who buys Tide have to be in debt? I buy brand name toothpaste. I also have an expensive purse, three cats, and almost every week I buy fresh flowers. I also spend money on books. Maybe I’m a spendthrift wastrel–or maybe I value my dental health, believe in top quality, adopted and rescued animals in need, am proud of the place I live in, and want my kids to have a library they can get lost in when I have them.

    I do get the big picture–don’t spend money on stuff that doesn’t make you happy–but that one line, in addition to the math, just made this entire post an epic fail.

  46. Jenn says:

    @43, it is not really about laundry soap, it’s about Trent’s rather snarky comment towards someone buying Tide. It’s an example of his condescending attitiude. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some good ideas, advice, and links to other advice. It means his attitude wears thin sometimes, and there are enough of us saying it, that perhaps it is something he should consider carefully. If Trent didn’t want his ideas criticized, then he would not have a comments section. If you don’t like reading debates, then don’t read the comments section. I think it is interesting to read other’s reactions to Trent’s posts, and I would rather everyone didn’t “chill” I would rather they discuss it. To each their own!

  47. Steve in W MA says:

    @ “For me, making my own detergent would cost significantly more than buying it, given the marginal cost of the time to aquire detergent is about zero, and if I spend more than an hour or so a year on this, I’m losing out.”

    Only if you actually were going to be earning money some other way in that hour. You need to compare against the most likely other alternate use of your time.

    In my life, most tasks like the ones Trent is describing are done during those times I’m kicking around in the kitchen. So making $18 while basically relaxing in your own kitchen *at a time that normally you’d be making nothing* means that the differential in marginal cost is +18 dollars toward the detergent making.

    On another aspect of Trent’s post, doing an analyis of a yearly economic benefit for some task is a useful way top decide whether it’s worthwhile.

    Calling my credit card company to transfer a balance to a lower rate program may benefit me $200 in interest charges over the year if I am forced or decide to hold a balance on the card. Once I know that, I can easily get over the inertia of getting my info together, getting on the phone or internet, and making it happen because I know it’s equivalent to preserving $200 of income.

  48. Joyful Abode says:

    Add me to the list of people who are somewhat horrified at this:
    “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.””

    Like Johanna pointed out, not everyone is IN debt. And not everyone has the storage space for the materials to make homemade detergent, and yes, some people move all the time (me included – we’re coming up on our fourth military move in just over 2 years, and the movers won’t move cleaning products like borax).

    Dave Ramsey followers tend to do the same judgmental thing with people who use credit cards, “Wow, they’re so much in debt. I can’t believe they’re buying groceries ON CREDIT. I feel awful for them. They need to be shown The Way.” … do they not realize that tons of people with zero debt use credit cards and pay them off in full each month?

    Be careful with judgment!
    1) It can poison the way you see people/the world.
    2) It can backfire and make you look like a fool.

  49. AnnJo says:

    Trent’s main point in this post is getting lost while everybody’s busy making judgments about his judgmentalism. The point is the PURPOSE of frugal skills is not about doing without in an absolute sense but in doing without one thing in order to advance another, more important goal.

    I would like to add one other way to look at this kind of transfer frugality:

    If one of your eventual goals is financial independence, i.e., being able to support yourself on savings and passive income without the requirement of paid work, frugal habits are equivalent to extra money in the bank.

    At a moderate rate of return of, say, 5%, the $72 a year Trent saves on laundry detergent OR WHATEVER, is the equivalent of having an extra $1,440 in invested net worth. (Actually, more, because you don’t have to pay taxes on saved money the way you would on income earned.)

    As I approach retirement I have been using as a rule of thumb the assumption that I will be withdrawing from retirement funds at the rate of 4% per year.

    I’m still working to build those funds, but it is just as useful to lower my ongoing regular expenses. If I plan to spend $50,000 a year to live comfortably, I’ll need $1.25 million in retirement savings, but if I can reduce my living expenses comfortably to $40,000, I need only $1 million.

    Major and minor household skills like the ones Tresnt espouses are part of the picture for an earlier retirement for me, but the main point is the mindset Trent urges.

  50. friend says:

    #46 “to each their own” — exactly. you got it.

  51. Liz says:

    I have to use Tide as both my son and I have allergies and break out in severe hives with any other brand. I WISH I could use something less expensive. I’ve tried changing a few times with no success. Do you know how much it sucks to have to rewash everything you own?

    Along those lines but somewhat off topic. A few years ago I invested in backyard rabbits for meat. We also bought two fancy purebred rabbits for my kids as pets. Unbeknownst to me, during the six years since my last exposure to rabbits, I had developed a severe allergy to them. Severe enough that I ended up in the emergency room and all 12 rabbits had to be removed from the premises immediately. The entire experience ended up costing us $1200 in emergency room charges and $600 in rabbits, cages and supplies. We didn’t have health insurance at the time.

    A few months later when I did have insurance, I went to an allergist for a full screening and found out I was actually allergic to all fur-bearing animals – with rabbits bordering on life threatening. I was shocked as these have all developed in the last ten years. My dream of homesteading died that day. Good to know in the long run as it saved me at least $2000,000 – the cost of a hobby farm, cows, goats, horses, etc. I am now quite content on my 2/3 acre with four apple trees and a huge garden – another $5,000 and I’ll own it free and clear.

    The moral of the story? Check for allergies first. In the long run, it will save you money – and your kids heartbreak when their newly chosen pet has to go NOW.

  52. Laurie says:

    #28 Ellen: Some of us running on those treadmills would love to be outside but have two or more children who someone has to watch while we run (now that they have outgrown the double jogger).

    #33 Jenzer: I’m with you on the soap scum in the rentals houses – been there, done that

    I want my clothes CLEAN! My chemical engineering college roomate recently explained the difference btw laundry detergent and laundry soap and I won’t be using laundry soap!! I do only use 2TBSP of Tide at a time though – and it works just fine.

    To all of you washing 1 – 2 loads a week: SERIOUSLY? Sheets, towels, curtains etc? Workout clothes? Do you send lots to the cleaners?

    With 4 in our house I run 2 loads of towels and 1 load of sheets (alternate btw ours and kids) every week. Then I wash the dogs bed and do 4 loads of clothes for a total of 8 loads a week, and then once a month I do an additional 2 loads of curtains (rotating rooms). I dread the day my kids get bigger and I need to do 6 loads of clothes.

  53. Rachel says:

    I’m with the other commenters who were taken aback by your sentence:
    @ 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.”
    Trent – you do such a good job of writing down your ideas and tips, and getting down to the very basics of costs etc, that this was a shame. Perhaps it was just an unfortunate choice of wording, and you’re smacking your forehead reading comments, but it came across as smug.
    It’s one thing to acknowledge that people may have different values from you, another thing entirely to presume to know what they are on the basis of one purchase, and particularly incensing when you phrase them in the most condescending way possible.
    Working on your writing career, I think you need to take heed of the extensive criticism on this one sentence. I’m pretty sure you didn’t intend to come across as you did, and you need to bear in mind how you appear to your readers when you choose certain phrasing, and whether that is the impression you are trying to make.

  54. deRuiter says:

    A lot of people think that making judgements is wrong. WE ALL MAKE JUDGEMENTS EVERY DAY! There’s nothing wrong with Trent watching people put detergeant into a cart and thinking, “I’m saving money by making my own soap and they are spending money the way they choose, I will have more money than that person at the end of the year.” This is whqat is known as a fact, it is true. In order to be successful you HAVE to look at what others do and make judgements about whether those actions will add to your success. BEING JUDGEMENTAL IS A GOOD THING as long as you don’t force you conclusions / ideas on other people. You make judgements every day, hundreds of them! “Bring lunch from home or buy a meal out?”. “Wash clothes in cold or hot water?” “Nurse the old car or buy brand new with a whopping loan?” All these decisions are based on our judgements. When you are asked by a waitress, “Do you want white or rye?”, you MUST make a judgement of which is best for your situation at that moment. Trent isn’t forcing his ideas on the Tide buyers, he’s explaining how he makes judgements which affect HIS financial conditon. This “Don’t be judgemental.” stuff is foolish. In order to succeed a person must make judgments except under the Communist system where there is only one brand of laundry soap on the shelf, then no judgement is required. Well…. there’s still “Take it or leave it.” which requires your judgement. Being judgemental is a good think if you keep your ideas to yourself and act on them consciously to improve your life and finances. Get real folks, everyone is judgemental. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a tool to help you improve your life. If you can’t judge right from wrong, smart actions from stupid actions, and adjust your behavior accordingly, you’re going to fail at everything.

  55. Kate says:

    Maybe making judgements is okay as long as you don’t post them on a well-read blog? But, as Trent has often said…he is perfecting the craft of writing and maybe from the responses to this post he learned something.
    The main point, to me, is that it is the little choices that we make that add up to big savings. Such as…I am a hummingbird enthusiast so I frequently am making hummingbird “nectar”. I was talking to a coworker and she said that “she didn’t have time to make her own nectar”–she just bought the mix at the store. How does measuring out mix and adding it to water save much time over measuring out sugar and adding it to water? I think the perception that it saves time is that I have to boil the water and she doesn’t and I have to wait for it to cool down and she doesn’t. So maybe we should look more closely at how perceptions come about.

  56. Jane says:

    @DeRuiter
    Yes, you must make decisions (that you call judgments) in life, but Trent’s statement does much more than that. He makes presumptions about a stranger that he is not qualified to make. Just because someone likes name brand detergent doesn’t mean that they aren’t frugal or doing well financially. In general, we have NO idea what someone’s finances are like unless they tell us.

    My neighbors have all redone their kitchens very nicely, while we have a dated kitchen. I could say, “Well, we won’t do that, because we don’t want to leverage our home.” But how do I know that they have gotten a HELOC? Perhaps they saved for years and wrote a check. In general it’s dangerous to judge someone else’s choices, unless you have insider information. I knew my sister shouldn’t be spending, because one time in front of me she asked her husband “Honey, which credit card can I put this on?”, implying that they were all maxed out.

    Anyway, there’s reasonable judgment, and then there’s being judgmental. This is especially egregious about perfect strangers in this case for which you have no context.

  57. Caroline says:

    I could not agree more. As an aside, I’ve just watched 1900 House and am very thankful that we have alternative recipes for cleaners and detergents in 2009! Some of the cleaners they had in 1900 were way harsh! And Tide is harsh too!

  58. Jane says:

    One more thing, I think the danger of regularly making judgments about strangers like this is that it leads to a skewed version of both yourself and the world in general. In this case, you could think that most people are mindless spendthrifts. This leads to arrogance and a too high opinion of yourself. I think that’s what I see in many of Trent’s statements that bothers me, mainly because I also see it in my parents, who are classic non-consumerists. They think they are on a higher plane, because they don’t shop or spend money on much of anything. It’s really distasteful to think you are better than other people, whether it’s because you are rich and have nice things or conversely because you don’t care about material possessions. Either way, it’s arrogant.

  59. Good post. This demonstrates my view that frugality is about creativity and smarter choices in purchase decisions.

  60. Steffie says:

    Maybe she was shopping for a neighbor who broke a leg and couldn’t get to the store, maybe she was shopping for someone as an ‘extra’ job so she could pay off her debt faster, maybe she just paid off her zillion dollar debt and was splurging by buying ‘Name Brand’ detergen!! I buy name brand products, sometimes with sales and coupons, because the company I work for sells to name brand companies. They stay in business so I stay employed.

  61. Shelly says:

    I’ve never really chimed in on the detergent discussion before, but your thought to yourself about people buying laundry detergent caring more about the detergent than debt has provoked me.

    I totally respect your decision to make your laundry detergent and I understand why you do it. And with kids, as mentioned above, you probably need to do a whole lot more laundry than I do. My husband and I together do an average of 3 loads a week.

    But I will never make my own detergent, as much as I care about paying down debt. For me, I’d rather pay a little more for a gentle detergent that is formulated to prevent color fading and prolong the life of my clothes, because I need my nice clothes for work and don’t want to have to buy new clothes regularly. So to me, I’m actually saving money by taking the best care of my clothes as possible.

    I do other things to save money, like buying my detergent in bulk at BJ’s and with a coupon whenever possible, washing my clothes with cold water, and wearing non-soiled shirts and pants 2-3 times before washing. And I spend the time I would spend making detergent with my family.

    It doesn’t mean I care any less about paying down debt; it just means that I save money in other ways. And considering my husband’s been on unemployment for nearly a year now, getting compensated less than half of what he used to make, and we’re *still* able to pay off our credit cards in full, contribute toward retirement and make larger than minimum payments toward our mortgage and car loans, I think we must be doing something right.

  62. Little House says:

    I love the term “spending transfer” I think it clearly defines saving money on items you don’t care about and spending it on items you do.

    Looking at your directions for making laundry detergent, I like that all the ingredients are pretty eco-friendly. But, how long does it take you to cut up the soap? Do you have to include a bar of soap in the detergent mix? I’m just asking because I don’t think I’d have to time to cut up the soap and make the detergent. So if I ditched the soap, would my clothes come clean?

    thanks-
    Little House

  63. getagrip says:

    It’s interesting that one statement can trash the primary point of an entire article and spin us off into tangents. I guess this is why politician have to be so careful in every word they utter, everyone’s waiting for that verbal slip to pounce.

    I will agree that that the statement as written, with the implied value judgement, comes across as the reason lots of folks flip the bird at frugality. I will also agree that it’s bad enough to deserve comment (I know I wrote one specific to the statement, but then decided others have pointed out the flaws in the statement better than I could).

    But the lesson to all is that you can do a hundred things right, but one bad act, one weak moment, one off putting concluding statement at the end of an otherwise reasonable article, can erase it all.

  64. brad says:

    @ 54

    ““I’m saving money by making my own soap and they are spending money the way they choose, I will have more money than that person at the end of the year.” This is whqat is known as a fact, it is true.”

    i think the reason people get upset is because we dont know anything about the person buying tide. they may have 6.3 million sitting in the bank. you cant call something a fact if you dont have all the info.

  65. Jill says:

    Back when I was a wee thing, I’m sure that my coupon-clipping very frugal mother was less than thrilled that the expensive Tide was the only detergent that didn’t make me break out in a rash. But in the greater scheme of things, she decided that, even though it would have been more cost effective to just keep using the cheap stuff and letting me scratch myself bloody (we had union health insurance and no co-payments for anything) it was better to just go ahead and spend the money on the Tide in the name of better comfort for me. And I’ve got to say I’m glad she chose to work Tide into the budget that way.

  66. I don’t think that Trent was going for judgement with the Tide comment, but maybe affirmation. Let’s face it, millions of people buy laundry detergent off the shelf, but how many make their own?

    The Tide comment is probably mostly to affirm–in his own mind–why it is he’s doing what he is. And in point of fact, there probably are a large number of people who use Tide who would be a lot better off making their own detergent and paying off their debts.

    We all need affirmations in order to do what we do especially if it may be different from the norm. It’s mental conditioning. As long as he isn’t saying ugly things to people or treating then unkindly, it really doesn’t matter how he frames the thought. He’s using it for a positive action in his life. Inwardly directed, that’s actually quite brilliant.

  67. Michelle says:

    Brilliant. This is some of your best writing.

  68. Claudia says:

    My husband and I just got back from a vacation to the U.P. We stayed in a cabin, so I cooked and made sandwiches for picnics when we were out and about. As I packed the car to go, my husband kept teasing me about being an “Iowa farmer.” In the Northern Minnesota resort town we grew up in the old codgers favorite saying was “Those dang Iowa farmers come up here in a pair of dirty overalls with a $10 bill in the pocket and never change either one the whole time they are here.” Which of course, reminded me that Trent was an Iowan—(LOL!)but then, since I agree with a lot of what he says–make my own laundry detergent (use Fels Naptha with very good results), pack lunches when we travel, etc.–I guess that makes me an Honorary Iowa Farmer!!!
    To each their own, I think a lot of things people spend money on is just stupid, but then they probably think I’m stupid to not spend my money on those things–End of problem and discussion IMHO!!

  69. I think the sense of judgmentalism probably stems from the fact of people being so judgmenetal towards me in some of my habits.

    I am judged in an odd light because I bring my own lunch to work everyday.

    Ditto because I don’t pay for trash pickup.

    And on and on and on.

    If so much wasn’t coming from the other camp, Trent may not come off as sounding so judgmental.

  70. Sara says:

    I don’t make laundry detergent and don’t plan to and I don’t really see this as Trent’s point. I see the laundry detergent as an example of a way that he does something creative to save money. You could just as easily come up with a recipe that saves money and serve it twice a month for cumulative savings. You could run the washing machine one time less a week. You could buy one business outfit at a thrift shop, yard sale, or consignment shop. The idea is to save where it doesn’t hurt and to be creative about it–I think that creativity is where you get the good feelings that can and should replace the good feelings we used to get by hitting the mall.

  71. anne says:

    i don’t know how this next sentence of trent’s got lost in the shuffle:

    “Perhaps they do – and that’s fine.”

    that doesn’t sound too judgmental to me.

  72. Christine says:

    I have a question for anyone that may know the answer- I’ve often thought of making my own laundry detergent but I’m worried that it will wreck my HE washer, since I only buy HE washer fluid for it. Will homemade detergent damage it?

  73. mike says:

    Making laundry detergent that works is a great idea. We all do things for our own reasons and a lot of you are quit the bigot about yours. Thankyou for the recipe

  74. Steve in W MA says:

    “Waaa, waaa, waaa, I buy Tide and what Trent wrote made me feel bad so now I’m angry”.

  75. Jaime says:

    I still buy Tide, but I’m not in any type of debt. I don’t have credit card debt, no mortgage debt, no car loans, not even student loans, I don’t judge you for making your own laundry to each his own, but I still buy Tide ;)

  76. Jaime says:

    btw since its just me and BF the box of Tide lasts us 4-5 months, it last us quite a bit, I’m sure its a huge savings to you since you have a family. It really depends on each individuals circumstances.

  77. Fawn says:

    Great article!

    I used to spend money on things that didn’t matter. (Things I just had to have, not need. More clothes, shoes, fun things, etc.) I have a lot of control over that now, because I realize that I have more important things to spend my money on. Like paying off my debt in a quick manner, so in two years my boyfriend and I can get married and start trying for kids. I won’t have the debt to worry about and I have a larger chance to stay home with our babies.

    When I see friends spending money on things “they just have to have” and the next moment they are talking about money issues, I think of how they are wasting their money. I keep my thoughts to myself, but I still think them. I find it a good mindset to be in, it keeps me going with my money goals, to realize where people could be saving money. I don’t think any less of them. It’s just automatic to think that, and it works for me.

    Now that I am not spening all that money on things I don’t need. I am putting that into my infant and toddler dress business. Fabric is expensive, and you have to put money in to get started. I am not saving that money like I could be, but it is going into something bigger, that is growing as we speak, and hopefully will become a full time job. (That will be continued when we have kids!)

    On the laundry soap discussion. I tried making my own. I found that my clothes weren’t as clean, they were getting residue deposits. My boyfriend wasn’t to hot on the idea of not using “official” HE detergent, so it just didn’t work out for us. The point is, we tried it.

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