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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Frugality (Part XVI): Reconsidering Convenience

I had another thought about living frugally: This is more of a mind over matter issue. I really think that people need to reconsider what they think of as convenient if they want to live a more frugal life. There is definitely a trade off of convenience or time when we are trying to save money. Not always, and not always in hugely demanding ways, but there are compromises made with every choice. Part of the reason that we eat well is because I have committed to cook nearly all of our meals and do the budgeting, grocery shopping, and menu planning that I do to make it happen.

Yes, we all know that time is money, and that our time is valuable, but if you don't want to spend the money on something, or if you don't have it to spend, then you need to spend the time. I take about an hour a week to plan our menus - after I have shopped the sales at the store and farmers' market (when it is open), and checked what's in our pantry. I don't simply plan our menus and look at the best price I can find for what I want (though I do that, too, sometimes), I see what I have to work with and what is a good price and plan our menus based on that. That time could be worth whatever we assign to it. In our family, it is worth about $300 in savings each week. Yes, it takes time, but the payoff is huge to us. I spend a good portion of my day on food preparation and cooking. That's where the hours really add up (though, now I also have older children who can be given a recipe or some specific tasks to cut down on my time doing it). Doing this means we aren't eating more expensive (and usually less healthful) convenience foods or eating out. It means that our health care costs are lower as well as our food bill. This is just in the realm of food.

This year, we tried an experiment, mostly because we didn't want to move a huge, heavy bookcase in our living room, which was blocking the heat control for the room. We bought what we normally bought in fire wood for the year (we've always had extra in prior years) and heated the living room entirely with our fireplace. Even on the coldest days here (and we have very cold days here), we were warm. And our electric bill was much lower. We also used up nearly all of our wood, including what was left from the prior two or three years. The savings, though, was still worth it. Even if we had to buy double, which we probably would, to do this next year, that is a cost of about $360 over seven or eight months. Our electric bills over those months were reduced by more than that. We normally pay an average of $250 a month in fall and winter here. We had that average down to $175 this year (we usually pay closer to $150 in the fall and $300 in the winter). This year, that was a savings of around $345 over the past seven months. Next year, if we do this again, that would be a savings of around $165. If we were too cold, or if we ran out of the wood earlier, we would have moved the darned bookcase, and paid more, but it was interesting that we didn't have to do that. This meant that we had added chores each day. The kids had to bring enough fire wood in for the day, I started the fires early in the morning, Rich banked it at night. That was about half an hour of extra work each day. It was well worth it to us. And it doesn't hurt that we like wood fires.

Delaying gratification also does this. In general, we don't go out and buy what we want right away. We wait and see if we really want it. We see if we can find it at the library and determine if it's worth buying to keep. This reduces the clutter in our home (though we really need to work on reducing it more!), keeps us from spending frivolously, and makes it more likely that what we buy we will be happy with in the long run. Letting ourselves be inconvenienced by extra time, work, or delayed gratification makes it possible for us to use our money as we like, and free it for uses we especially want.

One of the benefits of this way of life, and this compromise, is that we are able to better bless others. When friends or family have an illness, a death, a hospitalization, a new baby, a lost job, we are able to provide meals, supplies, sometimes even money, to help. We are able to donate to charities and charitable programs more often. We couldn't do this if we relied on convenience meals or eating out for a significant portion of our meals for the family. This was one of the most important things we wanted to do with our money and time. God has blessed us with better and better circumstances financially, and it is our responsibility to be wise stewards of it, both to provide for our family and to assist and provide for others.

Likewise, we are able to afford lessons and activities for our children because we have chosen to utilize the library for many of our media wishes, we also use Paper Back Swap (they deal in hard backs as well) and Swap a DVD to empty our home of those books and dvds we don't want or need anymore and to replace them with those we do want. We belong to a homeschool co-op here, which opens up some more elective options for our children, but there is a cost associated with that, especially for a family with eight children. Two of our daughters are in ballet, with another likely starting in the fall, two boys fence, one boy does t-ball, these all cost money. When we are wise about our entertainment choices as a family, only spending where it is absolutely necessary or when we have an event or occasion to mark, we have more money free to provide the activities our family enjoys and wishes to pursue.

Another great benefit to our choosing time and effort over convenience and expense, to our delaying our gratification somewhat, is that when we want to take a trip back "home" or Rich and I want to go on a date because life has been crazy, or we have a little celebration, we can do it. Living frugally does not mean depriving yourself (unless you are truly in dire straits, which we've had to navigate before ourselves). Even in the toughest circumstances or tightest budgets, there are ways of setting back a dollar or two and using buy one get one coupons, while exploring free activities in your town or area, to allow you a date or a treat when you just need that break. Since we've been paying off hospital bills from Nejat's stay, we've been a little more careful about our outings. So, one night this winter, Rich called me from work and asked if I could give him 10 minutes extra so we could go on a mini-date. We had to take Amira in to ballet, so he got popcorn and cookies from one of the FBOs at his work (they have them out for their clients/customers, and were glad to let him take them), some hot chocolate packets that he mixed with coffee, and had me bring a play list of our songs. We dropped off our daughter, drove around town listening to music and enjoying our treats and talking. It wasn't a huge thing, but it was a bright spot in winter, when I'd had a tough day, and it only cost us a little extra gas than we normally used.

I challenge and encourage you to reconsider what you find convenient or time consuming. It can help you, not only financially, but allow you the freedom to help others, to cut down on the excess in your home, which helps reduce what needs organizing or cleaning as well. Streamlining your life and home this way helps you have more time and energy for the things that will truly permit you to live within your means, serve the poor and needy (or some other group or individuals you wish to serve - I know someone who makes dinners for veterans, for instance), save for a trip, allow your family to do some activity that has been outside of your budget, or give you a date night fund.

One other thing: We are about to enter Lent. One of the practices our family does each year is to try to come up with 40 bags for the 40 days of Lent. We sort and eliminate each day and come up with a bag or box of items to donate or give away or to throw away if it is truly of no use to someone else. This frees us from our attachment to material goods, from the time and energy necessary to keep up such items, and allows us to give liberally to those in need, or just offer something nice that someone else might have wanted, but not been able to justify buying.

If you can't do it all at once, join the club! Trust me, we live in as much or more chaos as you do. Our home is still in need of so much decluttering, so much streamlining, but having an idea of what matters and where our energy and time should be focused helps us to work at it little by little. In this way, we can take the time or do something "inconvenient" that will help us and others in the long run.

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips
Storing Bulk Purchases
Turn It Off
Grow Your Own
Buying in Bulk
Entertainment on the Down Low
Finding Fun Locally
Holiday Shopping

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