I have to be honest; I despise the word frugal. Or more accurately, I hate the way people tend to use it. The exact definition is “characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources.” According to that definition, I suppose I am frugal – usually. But in order to define me that way, you have to think about that definition accurately. I’ll give you an example. When I was a child in a lower middle class, single parent household, washing the dishes included washing the little plastic lunch bags so they could be reused. I would say Ziploc but I can guarantee you we had the off brand ones. I still feel my blood boiling at the number of my living, breathing moments I spent doing this. The things cost a fucking penny. I don’t care how low anyone is in life; we live in the richest country in the world and even the most hopeless person’s time would be far better spent doing almost anything else. And I will prove it. Assuming the process of washing, rinsing, and eventually putting away takes ten seconds per bag, which is almost certainly an underestimate by half or more, the person doing it is valuing his time (or having it valued for him by someone who didn’t really think it through) at six bags per minute, which ultimately extends to $3.60 per hour when processing $.01 bags. Even a twelve year old can earn more than that delivering papers or mowing lawns. I know because I did both.
What I just described isn’t frugal. It’s insane. But hopefully now some folks I occasionally frustrate will have a slightly better understanding of why it can be difficult for me to spend money at times, even when it would be nothing to me. That scarcity mentality was drilled into me very young and I fight it every day. I legitimately believe it is a form of mental disorder. But anyway, that is an extreme example of the type of ridiculous bullshit people associate with the word frugal. Aside from the occasional extravagance I manage to grant myself as a man who is already on pace to be financially independent well before 40, I do believe in using resources efficiently. The infuriating lunch bag example above is actually the opposite of frugal since there are is an almost infinite number of better ways one’s time could be used.
When used correctly, frugality can make life better. One way is that it allows you to have better quality products. For example, I own a Vitamix blender that cost $500. After nearly six years of daily use, it still works like it did the day I got it, which means it could blend a boot into fine powder if I could fit one in. The thing is probably more powerful than some of those sad, go cart looking hatchback things some people call cars these days (seriously, why?!?). It is still under warranty for the remainder of year seven and that is irrelevant because less than 1% of Vitamix blenders are ever repaired under warranty. I will actually be shocked if it doesn’t last another decade. So what did my $500 get me? It got me a blender that blends a combination of fruits and vegetables into a very drinkable smoothie on a daily basis (and often blends other things as well since I enjoy cooking) in an incredibly efficient manner and will continue doing it long enough that by the time it’s on its way to blender heaven, I will have paid significantly less than a dime per use. There are probably only a handful of blenders on the market that can even do what this one can a single time. Most of the ones I’ve seen take much longer and don’t blend nearly as thoroughly. More time equals more strain on the motor and a shorter lifespan. Plus, more time equals more investment on your part with each use. Believe it or not, there are also blenders even more expensive than the Vitamix. I haven’t done the math and couldn’t without making significant assumptions that would render the exercise pointless, but I would be very surprised if there is another blender that can match the Vitamix in a true apples to apples, dollar to dollar comparison.
Yes, $500 is a lot to spend on a blender. But when you evaluate it holistically rather than on a simple cash flow basis, it was a frugal purchase. The key is to do your homework. For example, I was recently looking to make another “best money can buy” style purchase in the form of a coffee making apparatus. I used that word because for the kind of money that can be spent, I think a fancier word than “maker” or “machine” is necessary. I quickly learned that I could spend well over $1000 for a contraption that ultimately pours hot water through ground beans. And after fairly thorough research, I concluded that I shouldn’t. I couldn’t find a single high end option that didn’t have mixed reviews at best, with most of the bad ones referencing durability issues within only a few years. Apparently it is simply too difficult a task to produce a coffee maker that can match both the quality and durability of my blender. I ultimately ended up spending around $50 total on a solution that is producing great quality coffee and appears that it will do so for a long time to come – a handheld burr grinder and a French press, both in attractive stainless steel that makes them counter worthy. Oh. And an old electric kettle that probably cost $10 ten years ago is also part of the ensemble, although its appearance keeps it relegated to a cupboard. Had I spent 10 or 20 times as much on a setup that had ultimately let me down way too soon, I would have been making a terribly un-frugal decision.
So there you have it. Frugal isn’t quite the dirty word its colloquial use would have you believing. If you do it right, you get the best possible outcome in every situation and ultimately pay less for it, even if you have to put more cash into the deal on the front end. And to save you the analysis on one purchase, go buy the 7000 pack of high quality, Ziploc lunch bags at Costco for maybe ten bucks and don’t ever think about them again. That’s all for now. I have a morning workout to get to and business deals to discuss. Have a lovely day.