Frugality and Trust

It may be surprising, but I’ve found over and over again during the last several years that one of the most important elements of frugality in my life is trust. The simple act of building up trusting relationships with people in my life, then relying on those trusting relationships, has made a tremendous difference.

Yes, on occasion, I get burned by trust, but I’ve found that again and again, trusting other people in my life – those that I’ve built trust with over a period of time – has paid such dividends that it’s been worth it. Building trust with people is simply one of the best investments I can make.

Let me walk you through five specific examples from my own life, along with strategies for building that kind of trust in your own life.

Trusting your neighbors I live in an area where several families live nearby. Since we’ve moved in, we’ve built a very strong relationship with one neighboring family, a solid relationship with three other families adjacent to us, and a friendly speaking relationship with two more families near us.

We trust the neighbors with a strong relationship so much that we’ve given them our house keys when we’ve left on vacations – and they’ve done the same for us. (This was so that we could water plants, put packages in the house, and feed pets.) This has saved us on housekeeping costs. We’ve left our children with multiple neighbors in the past, which has saved on emergency child care as well as regular child care. Our neighbors watch our house while we’re gone, and we watch theirs. We constantly loan things to each other and often do things like sharing garden seeds or garden produce.

We also trust and value their advice on local issues and business recommendations. If something isn’t up to snuff, they’ll tell us. If someone has treated them right, they’ll tell us, too, and we trust what they’re saying.

The strategy: build trust slowly over lots of interactions. Get to know your neighbors. Greet them when you see them. Invite them over for dinner or for a backyard barbecue, one neighbor (or couple or family) at a time. When you know several of them, have larger events where you can facilitate everyone knowing each other better. Most important of all, offer assistance when you see that it is needed and try to help when asked.

You don’t need to be best pals with your neighbors, but you do want to be close enough that you can ask them to watch your house while you’re gone or to ask to borrow a rake when you need one or for a piece of advice.

Trusting your doctor Your primary care physician is the person that’s most likely to be the one that catches some sign of a major medical problem that you have. You need to have a strong trust that the doctor will catch those things. Without that trust, a doctor is fairly useless outside of helping with routine things, and those routine things can usually be handled by a nurse practitioner at a free clinic or at your local drugstore.

Early detection of a medical problem can not only save your life, but can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way. It makes a huge difference.

The strategy: use neighbor recommendations to choose a reputable doctor, take advantage of free checkups to build trust slowly, and never hesitate to get a second opinion. When first selecting a doctor, trust your neighbors and friends to indicated a good one, but that’s just the first step. Once you’ve identified a potentially good doctor, you need to build a relationship. One good way of doing that is to make sure that you take advantage of all regular checkups allowed by your insurance, not only so that you can get a regular update on your health, but so that you can provide more medical data for your doctor and also build a rapport with him or her. This also provides an opportunity to see how your doctor handles relatively minor situations – are they handled with the seriousness that you expect? Those things all build trust that goes both ways, and that trust can make the difference between success and failure at a key moment.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever seek a second opinion. When you do seek a second opinion, start this process over again by asking for suggestions from your friends and family.

Trusting your mechanic Your auto mechanic has the potential to save you a lot of money – and to cost you a lot of money. A good mechanic will keep up with the maintenance on your car, handle repairs easily, not overcharge you for bogus expenses, and will provide good advice when it comes to replacing cars.

On the other hand, a bad mechanic will do sloppy maintenance, drag out repairs for more labor costs, find all kinds of things that need “repairing” (but are actually fine), and mislead you when it comes to car replacement (so you’ll stick with a lemon and come back for more repairs). That adds up to an enormous difference in cost.

The strategy: use neighbor recommendations to choose a trustworthy one, then build trust slowly over many maintenance stops. The strategy is really very similar to other professionals that you hire. Start with your bedrock trusted relationships – your neighbors, friends, and family – and use the mechanic that they recommend. Over time, keep up with your maintenance schedule and watch and listen to how the mechanic handles interactions with you and with other customers. Are they handled well? Are there frustrated customers? Do there seem to be a lot of “extra” expenses on repairs? Are people complaining about bring a car back again and again?

Trusting your dentist Your dentist has the power to keep your teeth clean and proactively find dental problems during regular checkups. If they’re not trustworthy, they can miss out on potential upcoming dental problems which can result in huge expenses for you.

Also, poorly-repaired dental problems can just keep generating costs and pain for you, neither of which are things that you want in your life.

The strategy: use neighbor recommendations to choose a trustworthy one, then build trust slowly over many regular checkups. Again, start by finding a dentist that’s trusted by many people that you trust, and then build your own trusted relationship over a long series of checkups. As with the mechanic, keep your ears open for signs of real problems, like people coming back again and again for the same problem. That does happen on occasion with even the best dentist, but it shouldn’t be a repeated thing.

Trusting your plumber and other home repairmen Sometimes, things go wrong in your home and you need to call in a repairman to fix it. The problem is that you can often go from not needing a repairman at all to suddenly needing one in an emergency.

You’ll want someone that comes in and fixes the problem quickly and effectively with a reasonable cost and doesn’t have any reason to keep coming back. For example, a plumber should just come in, repair the problem effectively, and leave you with plumbing that works as normal. If a repairman has to keep coming back, they’re either milking you or exhibiting questionable competence.

The strategy: use neighbor recommendations to choose a trustworthy one. Again, you’re relying on personal recommendations from your neighbors as a key element. With repairpeople, that recommendation from friends and neighbors is even more important than before because you often don’t have the chance to establish trusted relationships with such repairpeople over a long period of time.

What about online recommendations? I tend to trust online recommendations much less than personal recommendations from people I trust. Online recommendations are often shadowed by people who have unrelated axes to grind, people who have a financial interest in negative reviews, and people who have a financial interest in positive reviews. I’ve reached a point where I mostly only trust reviews from trusted reviewers – which, again, comes back to the trust issue.

How do you identify trusted reviews online? I generally only trust a few sources that I don’t know personally both online and offline, and they tend to be ones that have led me down a good path in the past. For example, I trust Consumer Reports and I trust a few very specific bloggers and podcasters in very specific areas. However, in terms of just Googling for a recommendation, I don’t put too much weight on the thoughts of random bloggers at all. I tend to dig in and follow specific people who seem to be offering sensible advice and if they do so over a long period of time, I begin to trust what they say. It helps that relationship if they offer advice that I can easily “prove” on my own, such as simple tactics for self-improvement or frugality.

For me, trust is a key ingredient in frugality. Without trust, it becomes much more difficult for me to rely on key relationships, and relying on those relationships has the potential to save a lot of money.

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