Updated on 12.18.09

Frugality and Your Sense of Value

Trent Hamm

Earlier this week, I offered up a post detailing how I wrap Christmas gifts, utilizing brown paper and yarn. The response was mixed – some people didn’t like the aesthetics of the packaging, while others did (obviously, I’m in the latter camp, as I love the aesthetics of brown packages and yarn).

Guess what? We’re both right.

For some people, there’s a lot of value in a certain gift aesthetic. Having a bundle of beautifully-wrapped presents under the tree adds value to their holiday season because of the visual appeal it brings to their home. That’s cool.

Others don’t really care that much about the wrapping and instead focus on the items inside. It doesn’t matter how they’re wrapped, just that there are presents people will be happy to receive under the tree. That’s cool, too.

Each of those groups will seek to maximize their value in a different way. The individuals who love beautifully wrapped gifts will spend more of their Christmas budget on wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and other decorative elements. They’ll also spend more time wrapping gifts so that they look perfect and wonderfully appealing to the receiver. Others (myself included) will spend more time thinking carefully about the item the recipient will want and view wrapping as merely a way to disguise the item from the receiver. Their Christmas budget will minimize wrapping costs in favor of spending a little more on the gifts themselves.

And there’s nothing wrong with either perspective. Frugality is all about your personal value – maximizing the “bang for the buck” for the things you value. For me, it’s not the gift wrap on a present – for others, it’s all about beautiful gifts under the tree.

This pops up time and time again when you talk about frugality. Some people think it’s ludicrous to make your own laundry soap. I think it’s unnecessary to wash sandwich-size resealable baggies. Some people are simply disturbed that we’ve bought second-hand cloth diapers off of eBay to diaper our children with. I won’t dumpster dive or dig through items people set out by the curb for trash. Robert Pagliarini, in his CBS column, actually called me out for talking about brewing my own beer.

Frugality isn’t just about following a list – and then judging a list to be useless because some of the items don’t match your values. It’s about absorbing lots of ideas and utilizing the ones that fit your life. It’s about thinking about the things that work for you, not tossing aside everything because some ideas work better for others.

The next time you come across a tip for saving money, don’t discard it immediately because you don’t think that it applies to your life. Think about it in detail. Perhaps some aspect of it could be of use to you – wrapping small gifts in cut-up brown paper bags, using yarn as a decorative element, or so on, in the example of the gift-wrapping article. Or maybe none of it is – but someone else you know might find it useful, in which case you can pass it on and increase your own social capital a bit.

Frugality is about value and there’s value in almost everything – but that value is different to some people. Good luck.

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  1. Johanna says:

    Yet again, we have an article that seems to say “To each his own,” but really carries the not-so-subtle undertone of “But my way is still the best.”

    “The individuals who love beautifully wrapped gifts will spend more of their Christmas budget on wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and other decorative elements. They’ll also spend more time wrapping gifts so that they look perfect and wonderfully appealing to the receiver. Others (myself included) will spend more time thinking carefully about the item the recipient will want and view wrapping as merely a way to disguise the item from the receiver. Their Christmas budget will minimize wrapping costs in favor of spending a little more on the gifts themselves.”

    First of all, I’m not sure why it shouldn’t take exactly the same amount of time to wrap a gift in gift wrap and tie a bow with ribbon as it would to wrap it with brown paper and tie a bow with yarn. But even if you’re right, and those of us who use gift wrap are spending vastly more time wrapping gifts, why does that imply that we’re not being as thoughtful as you are about picking out the gifts themselves? And why does the few dollars a year we spend on gift wrap necessarily come straight out of our budget for gifts?

    Answer: It doesn’t.

    And then there’s this:

    “Some people think it’s ludicrous to make your own laundry soap. I think it’s unnecessary to wash sandwich-size resealable baggies. Some people are simply disturbed that we’ve bought second-hand cloth diapers off of eBay to diaper our children with. I won’t dumpster dive or dig through items people set out by the curb for trash.”

    Note the pattern here. According to Trent, people who are not Trent react to others with an over-the-top level of emotion (calling them “ludicrous” and being “disturbed”), whereas Trent himself has a much more measured response to them (saying that the things they do are “unnecessary,” or merely stating that he wouldn’t do them himself).

    Just saying.

  2. Geoff says:

    @ Johanna – Do you set a reminder for 8am and 2pm everyday to read Trents articles, spending the time in between thinking of comments to leave which describe your dislike for the article (whatever it’s subject) and how hopeless Trent is at getting his meassage across?

    Ever thought of not reading the TSD and spending your new found free time making homemade laundry detergent!
    Just a thought

  3. Real frugal wrapping is the Sunday Comics!

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  4. Kat says:


    Since you never have anything positive to say about what Trent writes, have you considered either reading a different blog or starting your own? Constantly exposing yourself unnecessarily to something you feel so negatively about isn’t healthly and is just troll-like to those reading it.

  5. Kathy says:

    Johanna, I’ve seen your replies to various posts Trent makes and have observed your replies to them. While criticism is good and it keeps writers on their edge and from getting too complacent, I think you are now beyond offering constructive criticism to Trent. It’s as if you are taking everything Trent posts that YOU don’t agree with way too personally and you are reacting with over the top emotion while missing the entire point of what Trent is saying. And then you continue to beat what I consider a dead horse every time Trent writes something in some way that you don’t like. You’re just as guilty of the same thing you accuse Trent of doing, too.

    I wonder, a lot like the others, if you purposely sit and wait for him to post so you can pounce on it and rip it apart.

    I’ve read some of the posts over time by people who don’t agree with Trent’s making his own laundry soap, and yes, I do think that THEY think Trent is “ludicrous” for making his own laundry soap. I will give Trent credit for NOT sounding too “holier-than-thou” when talking about that in this post. I can also see where this criticism comes from, too. But I think you, and the others who overreact every time Trent writes about making his own laundry soap must have some sort of inferiority complex if it bothers you that much that he does this and talks about it.

  6. Rosa Rugosa says:

    I thought this was one of the better posts I’ve read here, driving home what I believe is perhaps the most valuable frugality tenet – that of wisely using your finite resources for maximum value. How best to do so will naturally differ from one individual to another. However you choose to allocate your resources, it all ultimately comes out of the same pool, and if you spend more in one area, you have less to spend on other areas.
    If Trent’s posts reflect his own biases, I think that’s fine, because it’s his blog. If Johanna wants to make critical comments, then I think that’s OK too; it’s supposed to be an open forum of various ideas and opinions. And Henry has his value too, because although this season does not bring out the best in me, I positively feel like Polyanna in comparison!

  7. Michelle says:

    I’m on Team Johanna. I really did get a “nicely wrapped presents are not as thoughtful as poorly wrapped presents” vibe from this. My presents are just as thoughtful, I just spend a bit more time looking for deals on wrapping paper, and I spend more time wrapping. I spend time wrapping, which makes me happy and brings value to my life, Trent spends that same time making homemade laundry detergent, something that brings value to his life. IMO, it all equals out. Because I chose to spend my time differently, it doesn’t mean that my gifts are not thoughtful!!

  8. Gwen says:

    I have almost stopped reading comments because of Johanna. Engaging in conversation is one thing, habitually ripping into Trent twice a day irregardless of what he says is another.

  9. Des says:


    Johanna doesn’t rip into Trent “irregardless” (sic) of what he says. She eloquently states my exact reaction to Trent’s posts. I agree with her assessment of this post, it does come across as holier-than-thou and self-congratulatory. I don’t understand why everybody wants to rip into Johanna. If you don’t like what she says don’t read her comments. That is why Trent put names at the beginning of each comment.

  10. Mo-Town says:


    I’m one of those people who puts a lot of time and effort into wrapping presents, and I think you’d be surprised how little I end up spending on wrapping paper, ribbon and bows. Most stores heavily discount their remaining stock after Christmas, so my wife and I make a yearly post-Christmas trip to the local stores that tend to carry nice wrapping paper and Christmas ornaments.

    It’s a lot like stocking up your pantry. You keep your eye open for the things you need and you buy them in bulk when they go on sale.

  11. Looby says:

    I’m hoping this isn’t going to be a thing, but I will join Michelle on Team Johanna!
    I think that Johanna adds really good constructive criticism to many of the conversations and I know that she has stated her agreement with Trent on occasion.
    I certainly don’t get the impression that she is “ripping into Trent”
    Also I will agree that on occasion (and today’s post is included) Trent does come across as a little condescending to people who have a different approach to him. I’m fairly certain that Trent doesn’t mean to come across this way and I would imagine he might be grateful if people point out to him how his writing can be construed at times, it’s all part of learning to be a better writer.
    @ Gwen- I think you mean regardless.

  12. marta says:

    I agree with Johanna as well, and it’s not fair to accuse her of being trollish or always negative, which is not quite true. I have found most of her constructive criticism to be valid and well argued.

    I also got that vibe from this post, and it is not the first time this happens either. Far from that. “Yes, yes, everyone’s choices are valid, but my way is still the right one, and I have thought deeply, thoroughly, profoundly and strongly about this issue.”

    For example, new car on someone else’s driveway? That person clearly values a shiny new object over financial stability, homemade laundry detergent and whatnot. New car on *Trent*’s driveway? Oh, he did a LOT of research, and made a careful decision, blahblah, and it’s totally frugal, etc.

    After a while, this kind of vibe gets really tiresome.

  13. Kai says:

    I agree with the general tenet of ‘do which things matter to you’.

    In the case of presents though, it’s not about what brings value to your life. Because the presents aren’t for you. To follow the same logic, wrapping a present should be about what brings value to the life of the recipient. If you are giving a gift to people who care only about being suprised, then you should go for the brown paper. If you are giving a give to someone who finds the look of the unopened present to be valuable, then you should be wrapping it nicely in bright paper to add to their enjoyment of the gift.

    For example, while I find the brown paper fine, I think the floppy yarn bow really does look messy. Something small and neat wouldn’t. Just the yarn tied wouldn’t, and no yarn would look fine, but as is, it just looks like you don’t know how to wrap a present. Maybe it satisfies you. But if you were giving it to me, I would not find it aesthetically pleasing. Now, I am with you in that I don’t care about the aesthetics of wrapping I am given, but I could be otherwise.

    If you are giving that present to someone who really enjoys a pretty present, you’re losing out on some of the value you could be giving them with your gift.

    If you don’t care, what you should be doing is encouraging people to give YOU presents that are only wrapped as disguise.

  14. Sam says:

    I agree with Johanna a lot of the time. I think Trent’s posts contain too much holier-than-thou attitude and often contain basic, almost common sense ideas. To be honest, I only come here out of habit, and not as frequently as I would if there were better ideas.

    It’s irritating how Trent will repeat the same stuff over and over – turn leftover veggies and meat into a soup made with ridiculously easy homemade stock, I’m becoming a good cook and can do things so quickly and effortlessly and I invest in high quality kitchen utensils, Paperback Swap, board games. Yes, yes, we know Trent. Move on. We know you think your homemade bread makes mind-blowingly good toast, while I disagree and others may not, you don’t have to write about it in what feels like every other post.

    Trent’s ideas are run of the mill and rarely something I haven’t thought of or read elsewhere. I mostly like the Reader Mailbags, I think those are some of Trent’s best posts. And when he breaks down the cost of something and compares it – the cheeseburgers comes to mind and the homemade bags of instant oatmeal.

  15. Des says:


    That is a really good point, one which I hadn’t thought of. My husband is very aesthetically-minded. He appreciates visual beauty much more than I do, and enjoys beautifully wrapped gifts. Me? Don’t even bother wrapping it if its for me! I love presents but I’m not big on surprises. May as well just leave it in the shopping bag, the wrapping will be lost on me.

    “Different strokes for different folks” may be true here, but the “folks” are the recipients, not the givers.

  16. Courtney says:

    Reading Johanna’s comments brings to mind that old lady from the “Crabby Road” comic strip – only Johanna is even crabbier.

  17. NYC reader says:

    Put me on Team Johanna. She consistently writes thoughtful and challenging comments. I particularly like that she brings a more worldly perspective into her comments, often bringing to Trent’s (and our) attention that the universe doesn’t consist of a white American family headed by a white male in the rural heartland of the US, and that maybe, just maybe, Trent needs to expand his horizons a bit. We all don’t look like Trent, and we all don’t live in a homogenous insular community of people who look just like us.

    Now about the cheerleader chorus… I read a lot of blogs, and the best ones (IMHO) have a variety of opinions and ideas in the comments, and where the blog host acknowledges and grows from the comments.

    The ones I am most likely to drop off my reading list are the ones where the commenters are an echo chamber of sycophants and cheerleaders, where commenters attack one another instead of respectful debate about ideas, and where the blog host ignores reader ideas and/or stifles dissent (e.g. deletion of posts which don’t agree with her/his opinions).

    Trent’s blog is becoming perilously close to a self-congratulatory echo chamber. His writing tone, as others have noted above, has a self-rightous undercurrent via the word choices and presentation of ideas (e.g. others have a shiny new car because they are wasteful spendthrifts, my family has a shiny new car because I did all this research about cars and got a good deal, and I can justify/rationalize the purchase).

    I would love to read a blog authored by Johanna. I am sure it would be well-written and thoughtful, and would present interesting ideas that challenge and inspire the reader, no matter what topic she chooses to write about.

    That said, Johanna has a well-deserved place here on Trent’s blog. Instead of sopping up Trent’s writing without critical analysis, we would all be better-served to look at his writing and ideas as independent thinkers, not as part of the cheerleader chorus. I also think Trent needs to acknowledge constructive criticism and differences of opinion/perspective without the defensive writing tone.

    Last, but not least, all of us could learn how to be better writers by reading Johanna’s comments. Beyond the obvious that she knows proper grammar, spelling, and usage, she presents ideas in a clear and concise manner. The poor presentation of ideas and glaring language errors in Trent’s writing (and the recent guest post by Philip Brewer) reduce the impact of their writing. (I’m supposed to believe in the credibility of a financial writer [Brewer] who doesn’t know the difference between principal and principle? Yikes.)

  18. Gretchen says:

    Kai makes an excellent point.
    Also, as many pointed out in the other thread ”
    Their Christmas budget will minimize wrapping costs in favor of spending a little more on the gifts themselves” just isn’t true.

    (I’ve also been on the “Johanna blog bandwagon” ever since someone brought it up a few weeks ago. This is also one of the few blogs I read where the author does not frequently comment in the, well, comments section.)

  19. Courtney says:

    @NYC reader

    “I particularly like that she brings a more worldly perspective into her comments, often bringing to Trent’s (and our) attention that the universe doesn’t consist of a white American family headed by a white male in the rural heartland of the US, and that maybe, just maybe, Trent needs to expand his horizons a bit.”

    Oh, please. That is so snobbish and condescending. I think that you need to expand your horizons and realize that being a white married male in rural America does not make a person less “worldly”.

  20. Bill says:

    I love Johanna’s comments, I might not agree every time but she always makes me think as do many of Trent’s posts.

  21. kim says:

    Another vote for team Johanna. Trent is definitely defensive these days about anyone who differs with his opinion. Your way is not always better Trent. Don’t put me down in a back handed way in the same post that’s telling me I can have my own opinion. I would love to see a two month ban on the following words: leftovers, prius, board games, and laundry detergent (I would prefer six months on this one or maybe never write about it again).

    Johanna, I’ll read your blog if your write one!

  22. kristine says:

    My issue was the link “Robert Pagliarini, in his CBS column, actually called me out for talking about brewing my own beer.”

    If you click on this, it is a long glowing review of his book, with the slightest mention near the end that the critic would never consider making his own laundry detergent or beer. (Literally a 2-word comment on the beer.)

    I felt a bit played, as if cleverly steered to a commercial. Left a bad taste.

  23. Nicole H. says:

    I am one who likes nicely wrapped packages under the tree. I like and put value on things that are aesthetically pleasing. I wasn’t offended by this article but can’t believe how much thought everyone has put into both this article and the comments.

    It’s just wrapping paper, even if it does reinforce an idea about frugality.

  24. Ryan says:

    I won’t say that I’m on Team Johanna (because it reminds of the Twilight madness, which is for lack of a better word, retarded beyond belief.) But I agree with her today.

    Maybe he phrased it wrong, maybe he phrased it exactly the way he wanted to. I honestly don’t know, but I did get the impression Trent was saying someone who wrapped with commercial paper didn’t spend as much time picking out gifts.

    And I just don’t get that. How do they relate? Why can’t someone spend hours researching a gift and spend hours wrapping?

    But overall, I like the message. Do what works for you.

  25. Henry says:

    Go, Johanna, Go. I agree with Sam, I’m here out of habit. It’s a little like when I hear a loud crash outside my house followed by sirens. I gotta have a peak at the show. Some people here like Trent, some view him as he views everyone that doesn’t do as he does: with disdain.
    But the sad thing is, every reader here earns Trent money, whether lover or hater. Purge people that offer dissent, or let them be. Lose money from those that disagree, and lose future money because the posts become trite and repetitive. You better stay alive with the reader dialogue, ’cause the posts alone won’t carry this for long. If you forcibly readers is this a forum you want to be a part of, where only yes men are welcome? Will you one day disagree and be blackballed? Why do you want such a vapid forum?
    At the top of every comment is a name. If you see a name that you don’t like to hear from, you are able to skip to the next post. But you don’t. You either read it so YOU have something to bellyache about, or you read a comment from someone else replying to the prior comment. Then curiousity gets the better of you, where you just have to read it because you have to be involved. You complainers need to exercise a little self-control.

  26. Henry says:

    I omitted the word ‘remove’ from the above post. Surely readers could use context clues to understand my intent, but I won’t depend on that.
    But just to keep those of you couldn’t use context clues guessing, I won’t tell you where it belongs!

  27. Henry says:

    “Their Christmas budget will minimize wrapping costs in favor of spending a little more on the gifts themselves.”

    Do we really have ‘Christmas budgets?’ Do we sit down and add the cost of every gift, every decoration, all the wrapping paper, the gas to get to every party, the cost of every drink if it is a cash bar, and on and on? No, I don’t think so. I think we put some sort of spending cap on a person, whether it is $10 for a coworker, or $100 for a nephew. We don’t put our money in a pile, and allocate percentages from it. We put caps on gift wrap. $10 for a roll of paper because it is from a designer or the like? No, we have a predetermined amount in mind that we would be willing to spend on something or someone and we spend it. We don’t get all of our shopping done and then say “well look there, I’ve got $60 left in the budget and all the gifts bought, I’m gonna have these presents professionally wrapped!” No. Or we’re at the last party, with the last of the ‘Christmas budget’ in our pocket. We say “I’ve got $60 left in the ‘budget,’ I think I’ll sit here at this cash bar and guzzle $60 worth of hooch!” No, we would’ve decided to guzzle that hooch long before we bought the first gift of the season, broke or rich!
    This logic reminds me of something my uncle said. He claimed waitresses made no tips in the smoking section because the smokers had to spend all of their money on cigarettes. So even as a non-smoker, he always requested the smoking section ‘so he could help them out.’ What a hero. And if you had any sense to yourself, you wouldn’t fall for it and see what a shyster he really is. A liar, prone to making statements to impress, but have no real logic behind them. If his comment was true, the smokers would be eating at McDonald’s or at home if their money was as tight as he claimed.

  28. Henry says:

    I now remember (thanks again, Sam) what made me put this blog on my favorites bar: Lessons on how to make detergent. Cost breakdowns of fast food burgers. Other things, that Trent actually put effort in, spent an hour or a few days experimenting with or investigating, and then posted his documentation of those how-to’s and investigations. That was original material, and fresh. Now it seems he is resting on his ‘laurels’ and expecting the same amount of reader satisfaction.
    When I discovered this blog, I spent the next week trying to read every post in the archive. Some didn’t apply to me, and I skimmed over them. If I had just discovered this blog this month or last, I doubt I would have ever come back, and definitely wouldn’t have read the archives.
    If it’s such a hassle to provide something fresh that doesn’t agitate(and proofread), cut the posts from 2/daily to 1/daily. Or even go to 1, 3, or 5 a week.
    I’m here for quality, not quantity. Are you?

  29. Kara says:

    Henry, I would argue that having a “spending cap” and “alloting” so much for each person is a budget. After all, a budget is a tool where one decides how to spend his/her money. I came in under budget this year and decided to buy another gift for my husband.

    As for the Johanna debate: I think like that she comments. I don’t always like her comments, and sometimes I think that she just reads to pick apart the post. Nevertheless, I think people like Johanna and Henry (who seems to want to cast a black cloud over everything) deserve to be here and have a purpose. They do show an opposing view whether you like it or not. For better or for worse, that makes us think. It’s a good thing.

  30. Kara says:

    Wow. Shouldv’e proofread that comment. I meant to say that I like that Johanna posts comments.

  31. Sam says:

    @kim #21, I would like to see a ban on those words too, lol. It seems like they are in every article.

    @kristine #22, When I clicked the link and read the article I couldn’t figure out what the heck Trent was talking about either. I thought it was going to be an article, or paragraph at the least, about why it doesn’t make sense to brew your own beer.

    @Henry, Glad I could remind you of what you used to love about this site! There are a few posts that I think are good, especially the early stuff, but now it seems like there’s not a ton of original or interesting stuff.

  32. Henry says:

    Thank you, Kara. And thank you, Sam. I did think I loved this site at one time. The fact that it remains on my favorites bar indicates that I’ve not given up on it. I can attest that there are several sites waiting in the wings to replace a site I could abandon, but I’ve not retired this one and promoted another, yet. When it comes off my favorites bar, that means it will no longer be a daily visit.

  33. Henry says:

    I did not mean to use ‘peak’ instead of ‘peek’ in #25. I know the difference, I’m sorry. Been out of town for two days but just had to see what was going on here. I remember actually backspacing on ‘peek’ in favor of ‘peak.’ I shouldn’t be typing right now, but at least I’m not earning money on my comments!

  34. Henry says:

    But, Kara (#29) if I go to find a gift for a co-worker, I may mentally say “I will spend no more than $10.” I don’t say “I will only spend $8.50, since it will also cost $1.50 to wrap that gift.” I spend the ten dollars and deal with the costs of wrapping later. Even if I am predisposed to using newspaper.
    If a nosy co-worker asks how much you spent on so-and-so, you don’t include the costs of wrapping paper, even if you had it wrapped at the mall and paid for it.
    But what about the people who have an overabundance of wrapping paper stored in their house? They bought that paper after Christmas and it has no bearing whatsoever on a ‘Christmas budget’ since it was bought 51 weeks earlier.

  35. Henry says:

    Still can’t sleep. New scripts from the Doc. So, what does Trent spend on a bottle of wine? I’ve seen pics of some pretty high end stuff and have heard no mention of him making his own. Does he rinse those bottles for the last bit of ‘flavor?’

  36. Right, right and right lol. Most persons spend time on wrappers that sometimes the receiver looked at the gift and wonder why all the fuss. But I guess we could not all be the same hence this world would be boring. Enjoyed reading your article. Season greetings to you and your family.

  37. Lenore says:

    What if Trent has multiple personalities and Johanna is his inner critic? He looks like a strapping young fellow in the pix posted, but how do we know he doesn’t type this stuff in a pink bikini and bunny slippers? Well…it’s winter, and he’s in Iowa, but y’never know about the slippers. Just kidding!

    I also questioned the assumption that fancy wrappers spend less time picking out gifts, but every dollar spent on paper and bows does reduce your available cash sooner or later. I don’t buy greeting cards that cost over $1 because I’d rather put that money toward the gift. Ditto on decorative packaging.

    Brown paper is fine, but those newspaper end rolls Trent gives his kids to draw on would probably look even better. I’d prefer a thicker or fancier yarn or ribbon, but I hardly ever wrap presents since gift bags can be reused indefinitely. I bought some garlands of tinsel at the dollar store to top the bags with instead of tissue paper too. I figure it will end up decorating something next year and is more festive anyway.

    I mentioned the other day I was nervous about having dental work, but it went just fine. In fact I want to thank everyone who pays taxes in Illinois because my fillings were paid for by Medicaid. Thanks to everyone else for my doctor appointment yesterday covered by Medicare. Now I won’t get swine flu! I’m not thrilled about being a drain on the system, but I do appreciate these programs and everyone who works to keep them funded. My holiday wish for all of you is health, happiness and a whole heap of homemade laundry detergent!

  38. I’m neither on the Johanna team or the Trent team, but it does seem Trent presented something of a false dichotomy here, i.e. you can either care about the wrapping or care about the present.

    Why can’t we do both? I posted this week about some frugal AND beautiful gift wrapping ideas, but I can assure you that I do put great thought and effort into the presents I’m giving. In fact, one gift I’m making this year has been in the works since May…it may very well be the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever made, and the fact that it will be wrapped beautifully will not negate that.

  39. Emily says:

    I found this post condescending. You can be frugal about your gift wrapping materials and still wrap gifts more creatively than with brown paper and yarn. Frugal wrapping does not automatically equal a less thoughtful gift. The premise, which I assume was “Hey, it’s okay to disagree”, was great; the execution was off.

  40. BirdDog says:

    I’m glad to see other readers echo what I’ve been thinking for awhile now. When I first found this blog, I spent hours reading the archives. But it sure seems like it has went down hill as of late. Trent continues to write in that condescending “you” way. Between the Prius and the giant assumptions he makes, it is getting old. I still continue to read out of habit but I haven’t found anything of great worth here lately.

  41. graytham says:

    I must say, I’m rather surprised to see so many people on “Team Johanna.” I usually just skip her pompous, know-it-all, overly critical comments, posted mere minutes after each blog post (I’ve also wondered if she sits at the computer WAITING for each post).

    I’ve said this before- I don’t understand those who criticize a blog that they continue to read on a regular basis. Why the heck are you here if Trent’s posts bug you so much? He has a right to his opinions, whether you agree with him or not. It’s HIS blog, for crying out loud!

  42. KoryO says:

    Trent, please start posting some more original stuff here. This post, especially with the “I understand other people don’t agree with me on this but I know better” undertone reminds me of why I don’t come here as often as I once did. I don’t always agree with Johanna but she has a very valid point.

    I remember when I used to check this blog out on a nearly daily basis. I sort of stopped a while back, can’t remember why. But then when I came back here, it all just seemed like a rehash of stuff that was done before (defending homemade laundry detergent, why I’m buying a brand new Prius because it’s a smart move even though I criticized people who bought new vehicles before, etc.)

    I wouldn’t have found some things that I use frequently without this site. Yes…that includes the homemade laundry detergent. But I don’t really need to read for the tenth time how much cheaper it is, why it is “superior” to even the cheapest brand out there, and anyone who criticizes your frugality by citing it are missing the point and are probably spendthrifts.

    You’re a better writer than that, Trent. At your best, you remind me of some of the great stuff that Amy Dacycyzn (I probably just butchered her name, and if she’s reading this I apologize) used to put in the Tightwad Gazette.

    If that means you don’t post as much, fine. I prefer quality to quantity. Think of it as literary frugality. ;)

  43. friend says:

    @Lenore, I have to say that has crossed my mind… the alter ego, not the bunny slippers! though I will now have that image stuck in my mind. hee hee!

    Glad your dental work was a success. Peaceful holidays to you, too.

  44. Lou says:

    That was interesting! My posts used to sit in limbo for a while & I could have fixed “formal” to be the “former” I meant. Does this mean Trent no longer vets comments? Or have I gotten some sort of free pass?

  45. L says:

    I love this blog, and love the commments – I always learn a lot from both. I do hate seeing Johanna repeatedly criticize the author in post after post after post. If these posts are moderated, I say stop allowing hers so we can keep things honest but upbeat and positive. I read blogs like this for information and encouragement, and it just puts a bad taste in my mouth to read overly critical comments in every post.

  46. marta says:

    @L (#45): wow, this would be a sad, sad blog if Trent stopped allowing some of the best comments I have seen on here (criticism or otherwise). Those comments *do* “contribute to the growth and thoughtfulness” of (some) readers. Now, the empty, cheerleading comments? Or the ones from people who have nothing to say and just want to drive traffic to their own blogs?

    Come on, a blog is nothing if there aren’t any interesting discussions on its comments pages. I tend to learn more from then than from the posts themselves — and that is valid for quite few of the blogs I read, not just this one.

  47. marta says:

    *them, not “then”

    It would be nice if we could edit our own comments…

  48. Beth says:

    I’m going to go with the compromise notion here. I used to work at a toy store where we wrapped using decorative wrapping paper but tied it with yarn. Our customers loved the little loop bunch bows we made as well as the cheerful paper. We also made an effort to use all scraps when wrapping, which also saved money. At home, I’ll continue to put loads of thought into each gift, to shop intuitively, and I’ll admit it–I’ll use dollar store paper. Thus, my gifts are still pretty and thoughtful. Trent, please keep the suggestions coming:)

  49. Johanna says:

    Good grief, people. :)

    @Kathy: You’re right that my comment was not intended as constructive criticism for Trent’s benefit. It was written for the benefit of anyone else who might read Trent’s article and wonder, “I agree with the main point here, so why do I still find this article so irritating?”

    @Courtney: True, being a white married man in rural America doesn’t necessarily make you less worldly, but in my experience, white married men in rural America are far more likely than any other demographic to assume that everyone in the world is exactly like them.

    @Henry, Sam, etc.: I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that the articles here lately aren’t as good as they used to be. I was a big fan of the instructional and number-crunching posts too, but we haven’t seen so many of them lately. It’s partly out of habit that I keep coming back, and partly because of the intelligent and interesting discussions that occasionally arise in the comment threads.

    @My team: No plans for a Johanna Blog at present. But I’ll think about it.

  50. Courtney says:


    “True, being a white married man in rural America doesn’t necessarily make you less worldly, but in my experience, white married men in rural America are far more likely than any other demographic to assume that everyone in the world is exactly like them.”

    This statement of yours is so silly. I would love to see the evidence you have to back up this theory. Seems to me that you and NYC reader are both very prejudiced people.

  51. Todd says:

    I just have to jump in and say that today’s exchange has made me truly like everyone who regularly comments on this site. It’s like spending the holidays with one big, relatively well-adjusted dysfunctional family. Cheers to all of you!

  52. Henry says:

    @Courtney #50 We should stop discussing white married men in rural America in the hypothetical. White married men in rural America are not on trial here, just one. Johanna and NYC have their opinions and give us great supporting statements to persuade us to agree. Courtney, instead of dismissing other readers without providing supporting statements, why don’t you provide details as to why Trent, a stay at home dad, elbow deep in second-hand cloth diapers, is worldly and holds a perspective that reflects the Zeitgeist of America?

  53. Courtney says:


    Let me refresh your memory with a couple quotes.

    From NYCreader: “…the universe doesn’t consist of a white American family headed by a white male in the rural heartland of the US, and that maybe, just maybe, Trent needs to expand his horizons a bit.”

    From Johanna: “…in my experience, white married men in rural America are far more likely than any other demographic to assume that everyone in the world is exactly like them.”

    These two are not just talking about Trent. They are blatantly disparaging white, married, rural males. Replace those words with, oh, let’s say, “female”, “black”, “Asian”, “Jewish”, “homosexual”, and it would be considered racist, sexist, homophobic…

    It’s ironic that as they are accusing Trent of being unworldly, they reveal their own prejudice and closed-mindedness.

  54. David says:

    Let us test the above hypothesis.

    “The universe doesn’t consist of a black American family headed by a homosexual female in the rural heartland of the US.”

    Does that sound racist? sexist? homophobic? No, of course not – just as Henry’s original statement, it sounds emotionally neutral and entirely true. Since what it says has already been firmly established by most cosmologists, it does not contribute a great deal to the sum of human knowledge, but neither do most of Henry’s statements.

    “…in my experience, Asian Jewish lesbians in rural America are far more likely than any other demographic to assume that everyone in the world is exactly like them.”

    Does that sound racist? sexist? homophobic? No, of course not – it is simply a statement about the writer’s experience. As such, it is not a “theory”, nor does it exhibit “prejudice”, which implies a statement made without experiential or other evidence. As it stands it is not very helpful, since one cannot gauge how wide the author’s experience of Asian Jewish lesbians in rural America may be, but it is not in any way evidence of a closed mind.

    For would-be bloggers, the following pairs of words are not synonyms:

    “demographic” and “group”;
    “utilize” and “use”;
    “aesthetic” and “appearance”.

  55. Henry says:

    Johanna and NYC’s statements were made and certain people took issue with them. Those statements have opened a door, and made some of us question if their statements are accurate. Those statements have led some to avoid examining the questions and spend their time attacking others.
    This should be settled by answering the questions they raised. Are Johanna and NYC ‘worldly?’ I don’t care. That is not the question. Whether they are will have no impact on how I view this blog. They made me think about the blog, and that is what I am concerned with, not a pair of readers who may be here today and gone tomorrow. If Johanna and NYC are, in fact, unworldly, that is of no consequence to me. Perhaps they are here for inspiration that has, as of late, waned.

    Is Trent ‘worldly?’ In this context, I take that question to mean: Does Trent’s statements, practices and beliefs reflect a certain, narrow segment of the population, or do they encompass many different social classes, races, regional groups, household types, etc?

    It is my argument that ‘worldly’ is not a term that would jump to my mind when asked for a description of this blog. This blog would apply to people who have money. People who have children, own a car, are married, own their own home and also have or did have a handsome monthly payment on the home. Further and more specifically, people who work about three hours a day from home (Trent has stated he spends about three hours a day on this blog, half emailing and whatnot, the other half writing and editing). Trent may have had a ‘financial meltdown’ three years ago, but I’m sure he still had quite the stream of income coming into the home. He may have been squandering that money, but did he ever live through electric disconnects, a landlord pounding on the door for the rent, or have his car breakdown and leave him absolutely stranded because he couldn’t have it repaired or buy another? No, he still had lines of credit available to him and he kept his home, wasn’t without transportation and didn’t starve to death. Did Trent receive W.I.C., Food Stamps or Transitional Assistance For Needy Families? Was he hitting local food banks and church pantries for assistance? Don’t call it a meltdown until you’ve hit those points, and even then…

    That situation is a far cry from a single parent working full time, being threatened with eviction, having a broke down vehicle and no transportation, utilities facing disconnection and having no one that will lend them money, no credit card to put charges on and not a dime in the bank, and payday two weeks away. And that person is not spending their limited cash on hats, shoes, books and eating out (like Trent was), they are juggling bills and buying groceries. Dealing with being told that they make $12 too much each month to receive food stamps. The fact that Trent had a cold reception for the book “Nickel and Dimed” and advised us to not buy it demonstrates how well he can sympathize with the lower class in this country. And the lower class is the group that could most use Trent’s help, he wasting his time trying to tell people why they should buy a Prius and expensive French cookware. Surely anyone with deep cash reserves would use their own judgement on how to manage them or find more credible advice elsewhere before relying on some blog.

    The people who can most identify with this blog as of late are people who have money to begin with and a desire to retain even more money. What type of person makes up the majority of that group? Is it white, married men that live in rural areas? Are white, married men living in rural areas historically known for embracing other lifestyles and cultures? No. Not to say anything specifically about Trent’s beliefs on race or sexual orientation, as I have no personal knowledge of that, but white married men from rural areas are known for racism and homophobia. They are not known for being open-minded, not known to quickly embrace other cultures and ethnicities; and if not open-minded, then not ‘worldly.’ You cannot try a person and the group you have assigned him to together, they must be judged separately.

    I’d rather read about how to make laundry detergent, find coupons, use coupons, methods for shopping at a warehouse store, and the like. Those are topics that I will risk only a few dollars on if I choose to take Trent’s advice. I don’t want to be told how to buy a car, where to invest my thousands, or how to do anything else that may wind up being a multi-thousand dollar mistake. I refuse to make huge wagers based on the advice of a blog that has “This site is for entertainment purposes only. Trent is not a financial advisor and no information found on this site should be construed as financial advice”
    posted on every page.

  56. Courtney says:


    Henry, how much time and energy have you spent whining about Trent? Trent’s blog is free and you’re reading it of your own free will. If you don’t like it, why not just stop reading instead of incessantly complaining about it? Why not start your own blog to help those lower-income people that you think Trent is neglecting?

    You say that “white married men from rural areas are known for racism and homophobia.” Now, do you personally know any white married men from rural areas, or is this belief of yours just something you were spoonfed by others?

    The reason I ask is because I am surrounded by white rural males all day long. My husband is one and so are my sons. I have several employees who are white married rural males, and many friends and family members. And you know what? They are not more racist or homophobic than any other group I’ve ever known – and I have lived in several cities and traveled all over the world and known all kinds of people. As NYCreader would say, I’m “worldly” :)

    I’m speaking from personal experience, Henry – can you and NYCreader and Johanna say the same?

  57. Johanna says:

    You want me to speak from personal experience? Very well…

    I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in a semi-rural setting. There were cornfields adjacent to my school and dairy farms within a mile of my house. In my high school graduating class of about 170 students, there were exactly two who were not white. And homophobic? Yes, we were. There was a teacher in the English department who was gay, and he was mocked relentlessly by the students and even by some of the other teachers. One of my classmates would speak with pride about how his father killed a man for hitting on him. (Whether his story was true, I do not know, but the point is that he felt so strongly that killing gay people was a good thing that he assumed the rest of us would feel the same.)

    I don’t remember there being a lot of racism, at least not to the same degree, but as someone else wisely pointed out in another comment thread, if the few black and Asian families in town did experience racism, there’s no particular reason why they would share that experience with me. And besides, we had the luxury of not having to decide whether we felt threatened by people of other races, because there were so few of them around that we could pretty much ignore them. That is, we could and did view the world as if everyone in it was white like us.

    Which gets back to what I originally said. Which was not that white, married men in rural America hate people who aren’t like them, but that they’re inclined to assume that everyone *is* like them.

  58. Johanna says:

    And regarding the inclusion of “men” in that list: In our culture (and maybe others as well) there is a tendency to assume that a person of unknown sex is a man. For example, when thinking about the driver of another car, when there are no explicit cues that the driver is female, most people will envision the driver as a man, and refer to the driver with words like “that guy” and “he” rather than “that woman” and “her.”

    Both men and women do this. But only the men are assuming that the driver is *like themselves*.

    I can think of three examples on this blog of the default assumption of male-ness:

    On March 8, 2008, Trent said, to no one in particular, “Tell your wife that if you guys together can bank $10,000 this year, you’ll spend $4,000 of it and take the family to Disneyworld (or some other prize).” Then, in the comments thread, he implied that I was unintelligent for not accepting his entitlement to refer to all his readers as if they were just like him.

    On April 7, 2008, in reader mailbag #5, a woman named Allie asked a question about preparing for the child she was expecting. Midway through his answer, Trent seemed to forget that he wasn’t talking to a man, when he said, “For the first six months, your child will eat either milk or formula, period. Is your wife planning on breastfeeding? If no, then you’ll need some bottles…”

    On July 22, 2009, Trent talks about Dave Ramsey’s theory that “ladies” have “security glands” that make us want to have bigger emergency funds and such. Dave could just as well have formulated the theory in terms of men having “risk-taking glands,” but he didn’t. Apparently, what men do is normal, and what women do is weird and different.

  59. Courtney says:


    How long ago did you go to high school? Do you really believe that homosexuals were only mocked in rural schools? That type of thing went on all over the country, regardless of whether the area was rural, suburban or urban.

    Just because you thought a certain way when you were growing up does not mean that tens of millions of rural white males think that way. Seems that you are the one inclined to assume that everyone is like you.

    I live in a very small rural community. While the majority of the population here is white and heterosexual, there are also plenty of openly gay people, Hispanics and blacks living here. All are accepted as a part of the community.

  60. Henry says:

    Courtney, you really do a great job of avoiding the topic of the discussion, which is Trent.
    But to answer your questions, I am a white gay man, and my father has a child with a black woman. I grew up in a rural county, and the county seat had a population of 838. Rural enough for you? I had a lot of friends as a child (I am only 27, so no, I did not grow up in the ’50s), and would spend a lot of time at their houses. After some of the fathers found out about my mixed family, I was no longer welcome. Others had enough class or couldn’t bring themselves to outright ban me from their homes, but I would often hear thinly veiled racial references directed at me. After my friends and I left high school and were in college, we would still return to the homes of their parents for parties and visits. That was when the fact that I am gay became widely known to everyone who knew me. I was blatantly barred from being in two of my friends’ households after the fathers heard that I was gay. These were men that I used to socialize with, take guidance from, go on trips with and everything else you do with childhood friends and their fathers. And they did like me as a child. But as soon as they were told I was gay, I was no longer welcome. I left the one friend behind and never worried about going to his house again. I received an invite to spend the night at the other house from the friend’s mother, as she explained her husband was out of town and would never know. I cordially declined.

    Tell me Courtney, how many gay or black friends does your husband have? How many have been to your house to socialize? It’s easy to say you’re not racist or homophobic, as long as you don’t have to be around ‘those types.’

  61. Amateur says:

    As I’m reading this post, I’m getting the sense that some personal e-mails Trent is receiving from this readers is causing him to hammer out defenses on how he does things and why he does it. I’ve learned from experience not to hammer out anything to passionate immediately, to let the thoughts simmer and cool down until something rational comes out. The post seems pretty defensive and I can sense that feeling of annoyance when writing it. Maybe I’m not interpreting it properly, but it feels like something written to justify how someone behaves. I’m not quite sure if that is even necessary as this is a personal blog with personal views.

    I don’t exactly come here for financial advice since Trent is still a young man and has not seen his investments and plans out for the longer tail of things, like 15-20 years into professional life, marriage, etc. But I do come along for cool stuff like laundry detergent recipes which I never intend to use, and other bits of cool info I wouldn’t have known myself.

    Please, Trent, write some more posts about highly detailed and cool stuff you really put elbow grease into refining the process/recipe instead of these defensive posts. You’re way better than having to defend yourself even if you write some contradicting things. I’d hate to see you develop a vomit-inducing writing voice where you come off as someone smarter than the reader and come off like your method is always better, even if you said one method was bad but it is good now that you’ve done it. If I wanted to feel bad and stupid, I’d watch the Suze Orman show to listen to her yell at callers and guests. Go back to your roots, Trent, your old stuff was awesome!

  62. KH says:

    I buy all of my wrapping paper, ribbon, etc. either after the holidays at a steep discount, or throughout the year if I see a good price at a craft store. Therefore, I have plenty of paper and gifts tags, and loads of ribbon, gift bags, tissue paper and so on. I choose gifts thoughtfully, and then spend time on the packaging to make the gift beautiful.

  63. Shevy says:

    Trent may not be like Henry (other than that they are white males living in the US) but neither is Henry like me and he certainly doesn’t speak for me. I am an Orthodox Jewish female who spent 16 years as a single parent (starting when my kids were 5,3 and newborn). I spent 3 or 4 years receiving financial assistance (including when I first went back to work because day care cost about as much as I made). There were years when we got hampers at Passover from Jewish Family Services. A fellow single mother shared food she got from the Kosher food bank. I had to give up my fancy car at one point because I couldn’t afford to fix it and used public transport until the buses went on strike and I had to walk an hour home from work for weeks (2 wonderful co-workers came out of their way to pick me up in the mornings once they realized what I was doing). My kids were heavily subsidized at their schools and for years every penny extra I made was divided between the increase in my taxes, my subsidized rent and my kids tuition. I made some huge mistakes when my income improved (the car I bought, for example). I lost my good job in the last recession and took a job flagging for far less money. Then I got into admin work for the non-profit sector and have been working in this industry for at least a dozen years. I remarried and have a child in Grade 1. I feel somewhat qualified to comment on Nickeled and Dimed. I loathed the book. It was shallow, superficial, condescending and totally derailed by her rant about Wal-Mart. You can like the store or hate it but none of that belonged in a book about trying to live like people on minimum wage in various industries. There was no objectivity and the writing was very poor when you consider her supposed journalistic skills. I would never suggest anyone buy it. Take it out from the library if you must, but don’t give her any sales. People who are struggling need a lot of help in different areas, but the book was just ridiculous. As for worldly, I’m not secular (a word some people consider to be synonymous with worldly) but I’ve lived in 2 major metropolitan areas (the last one for the past 25 years) and I’ve travelled the world extensively. I’m not living some cloistered life.
    Just my .02 cents.

  64. stella says:

    I don’t believe it’s necessary to take “sides” here.

    Johanna, I don’t always agree with your comments, although on the subject of gift wrapping, I’m with you and your thoughts on Trent’s take.

    However, I do not think you are crabby and I do not think you are sitting around waiting to pounce on Trent.

    Folks, you can like a lot of what trent writes, or not. A comment is just a comment. It holds a much “weight” as you give it or any article, no matter who has written it.

    personally, I like seeing a blog with comments that don’t agree with or challenge those of a writer.

    I think some of the other commenters who don’t like what some folks have to say are far more thinkskinned than Trent. Hey, if he can live with it, why should the rest of you care?

    I don’t have time to ascribe motives to people. I read what they say and it goes in/out.

    FYI: Trent is NOT a journalist. He’s a blogger. So it’s ridiculous to keep wanting him to adhere to those standards. And anyone, including good writers, makes typos, grammatical errors and even factual errors, unless they’ve hired someone to root those things out.

    Of course, I don’t take anyone’s word for anything but their opinion. It’s up to me to research something further, where needed, to determine what “is” or “isn’t”

    I think what’s at heart here is concern that Trent might not be aware of his own biases. Which is quite common, for anyone.

    Cause you know what? We all have them and we all come with our own “prejudices.”

    Me? I can’t stomach people who attack others because they disagree with them.

    And why should somebody stop reading a blog just because they don’t always agree with the writer?

    THAT is what’s wrong with a lot of the world. We expect people to just either agree or go away. The world is a far better place when we learn to open up to what other people think and have a polite way to engage in constructive inquiry.

    You may not like Johanna’s comments, but why do you have to be nasty and judge her? Trent doesn’t need you to defend himself and he doesn’t need to defend himself.

  65. Henry says:

    Shevy, if you were still paying for a private school that you couldn’t afford, you weren’t that down and out. If everything was as tough as you say, those kids would have been in public school.

  66. Bill says:

    @#63 Shevy

    Think you for sharing. It put’s these discussions in context.

  67. Lisa Owens says:

    @#55 Henry: We live paycheck-to-paycheck. Savings? What savings?…I started reading Trent’s blog to get concrete tips on saving money. The posts that apply more to those who have money such as his tips on investing are read and stored away in my mind for a (hopefully) brighter financial future. Do you know anyone who writes a blog for people like me? I’d sure love to read one…And no, I’m not being sarcastic – it’s a serious request.

    Ahem. Did anybody read the paragraph below the box where you type in your comment? “Constructive comments of all kinds are welcome. Negativity is not. If you’re going to criticize the statements of others, supply supporting information that backs up your statement or your comment *will* be deleted. Comments that don’t contribute to the growth and thoughtfulness of other readers will be deleted.”

    I take that to mean that I’ve been warned – by the person whose blog this is, and who therefore has the right to do so. So I’ll take it to heart and I hope everyone else will, too.

    That said, I have to agree with some of the others here Trent, that your posts are deteriorating both in content and attitude. Lately it seems as if you’re struggling to come up with subject matter; the trend seems to be that the posts are becoming more shallow (like this one). I, too, like the older posts where you delve into the specific how-tos of living the frugal life.

    And I believe that you don’t intend to sound as condescending as you sometimes do these days. Do you read your posts aloud to make sure the tone is accurate? I do that with mine. It seems to work well.

    Well, enough said. Happy holidays, everyone!

  68. Jonathan says:

    Before reading this post I had never heard of Robert Pagliarini. After reading his article, I have to say that I can’t imagine being able to take his opinion on personal finance seriously. If he believes that cutting your own hair or brewing your own beer is a waste of time, then he’s definitely not someone I’m interested in taking financial advice from.

  69. Henry says:

    Courtney, what happened?

  70. Danielle says:

    I’m going to disagree with Trent here. For most people who I actually give a tangible gift, it would be less-than-desirable to wrap it in plain brown paper. This tactic is great for white elephant exchanges, or when exchanging with adult relatives or coworkers, but to stack a small bunch of brown packages under the tree is not going to get the same pre-Christmas joy that colorfully wrapped gifts do… and I have a theory that my 2 year old would not get nearly as excited about them.

    However, this doesn’t mean that I can’t still be frugal with my wrapping. I buy after Christmas. I maybe spent $3 on wrapping supplies this year that will, in all honesty, last another 3 years minimum. At least one of those rolls of paper is not holiday themed and would be pretty for any other gift occasion in the meantime.

    And I do find it mildly offensive that your post implies that if I find colorful wrapping more aesthetically pleasing, my gift must be less thoughtful. But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one and assume you didn’t mean any offense and were just defending your choice.

    As for other readers… we do actually use a budget with a set dollar amount. We don’t count the cost of wrapping paper, but would you if it only cost an average of $1/year?

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