I define “frugality” as meaning “cutting back on the things that aren’t as important to you so that you don’t have to compromise on the things that are important to you.”
For example, I don’t particularly value anything about laundry soap except for whether or not it gets my clothes clean, so homemade laundry soap that costs $0.02 a load gets my vote.
So often, frugality sticks with just that focus. It looks exclusively at the “cutting back on things that aren’t as important to you” part of the equation, but doesn’t really address the “you don’t have to compromise on the things that are important to you.”
Like it or not, there are some things that I simply won’t compromise on, period. I will shop around, but I won’t accept anything short of the best. I view my frugality in other areas as being, in part, how I support these choices.
So, where do I draw the line? What things in my life qualify as things that are important to me that I won’t compromise on?
My children’s health Our children get their checkups regularly. Whenever one of our children has an additional medical concern, we deal with it directly and seek out the solution that will give them the best long term prognosis.
In the past, that has meant travel costs, lodging costs, and other expenses beyond the medical bills. In a few situations, we’ve fought insurance companies and even incurred a few expenses on our own.
Those expenses are why we’re frugal in other areas. I’ll wear a pair of worn out jeans every day for a year if it helps my son or my daughter get the attention and treatment he or she needs.
Fresh foods If at all possible, I want our family’s home diet to minimize the use of hormones and preservatives and artificial sweeteners, particularly high fructose corn syrup. It is important to everyone in our home that our foods aren’t treated with herbicides and pesticides if we can possibly avoid them.
Sometimes it’s not an option, but if you give me a choice between a more expensive item without preservatives or without hormone use and a less expensive item with those things, I’m always willing to pay for the more natural version.
There are few long term scientific studies about the effects of many of the things in our diet today, but from studies of things used in the past, I have enough concern about it that it’s a line I prefer not to cross.
I’ll gladly use whatever the cheapest shampoo on sale happens to be in order to be able to afford hormone-free milk.
Garbage bags I have had too many cheap garbage bags fall apart on me at inopportune moments, forcing me to leave the house with a complete disaster in the kitchen – or, even worse, on the living room carpet. I simply don’t buy cheap garbage bags – we stick to whatever Consumer Reports indicates is the sturdiest and only use price during a dead heat (which means, based on the last survey of bags we saw, Glad ForceFlex with drawstring is what we use).
This seems like a silly thing to you, perhaps, but it’s an example of something that’s shaped by personal experience. Sarah and I have simply dealt with too many disasters brought on by cheap garbage bags over the years, so it’s worth an extra nickel (or so) per bag to just avoid them entirely.
I’ll happily change my own flat tires or meticulously plan meals using the grocery store flyer if it means avoiding another explosion of leftover marinara all over the entryway rug and floor (or the living room carpet).
Why does this matter? Whenever I get a sense that I’m cutting back too much, I find it’s often really useful to think about the things where I don’t compromise (or compromise very little). As I’ve stated above in several different ways, I feel a lot better going the “cheap” route on something of relative little importance to me to be able to avoid compromising on a few things I really do care about.
How about you? What won’t you compromise on? What areas in your life are the reason you look for ways to cut back in other areas? Everyone’s going to have a different answer, of course, but I believe the question is still worth thinking about. Everyone cares about something and frugality is a powerful way to help protect that thing you truly care about.