Facing The Frugality Trap

Frugality is the art of resource conservation. In the financial arena, it’s the art of reducing expenditures in areas you don’t care about so that you can allot the savings to areas of your life that you do care about.

In our society, however, once we become labeled as “frugal,” people tend to lose their minds if you spend money for anything other than the basics. Frugality is lumped together with “tightwad,” “cheapskate,” and other derogatory terms to the point where people cannot conceive of the fact that a frugal person can spend money and will willingly spend in the areas of their life that they deem important.

I’ve spent the last few decades living an extremely frugal life. My goal was to work at a physical job as little as possible in order to spend as much time as I could being a mom to my children. In order to fulfill that objective, I reduced all of my expenditures to an extreme degree. About the only thing I would allow myself to spend on was on the computers and devices that allowed me to work from home and generate enough money to meet our living expenses.

Very few people noticed that fact. I didn’t advertise it, and since I kept the items I purchased for several years it slipped beneath the radar for most of my physical acquaintances.

My life has changed now. My children are now grown so I find myself in the position where I can work away from home as much as I desire in order to attain my new goal of a comfortable retirement, or at least a comfortable life until Covid or some other thing decides to end my time in this world.

In order to achieve my goal I wanted to maintain a simple existence, minimizing the amount of mental overhead and physical clutter while having the ability to travel with a minimum of fuss wherever I wanted to go. While my town is eminently walkable, I found I did not want to invest the time it would take to walk to the type of jobs I had decided to work. I wanted the monotony and security of a factory job. It would have taken several hours out of my day to walk to and from those positions since the public transportation options available in my area are riddled with imperfections.

I needed a reliable vehicle. Before I seriously began to shop for a vehicle to meet my need, my daughter offered me her old car. She had decided not to take it with her when she moved to California and it met my immediate needs, so I accepted her offer and purchased the vehicle.

Being an older vehicle (22 years old), I knew that, in time, that car would need to go to the shop for repairs. In order to avoid walking to work, I needed to acquire a secondary vehicle as a backup.

I did not want the headache of maintaining a second vehicle. Not only do cars need to be driven regularly in order to avoid falling into disrepair from disuse, they require extra space to park them along with the myriad needs that all vehicles require.

I prefer simple.

I realized that if I invested the money in a brand new vehicle with a very good warranty plan that I could limit myself to owning a single vehicle. If I arranged for said vehicle to have a “loaner” plan, I would be able to meet all of my transportation needs without issue in the event that my vehicle needed to be in the shop overnight, an essential need since that was the problem I wanted to solve.

For months, nothing stood out. Every vehicle I investigated lacked something on my mental checklist. If I was going to spend such a large amount of money on an item that would depreciate in value, I wanted to spend that money on a vehicle that would meet all of my needs. This vehicle needed to be a hatchback (this would allow me to haul the supplies from my stock-up trips home easily along with any larger purchases). It needed to easily handle winter driving, and since this was going to be the vehicle I owned for several years, it needed to possess a myriad of safety features. I also decided that it needed to possess features designed for maximum comfort because if I was going to spend so much money on a single item, by golly I would check off as many boxes on my “ideal vehicle” wish list that I possibly could because F it; in our current age I could die tomorrow so I may as well enjoy today.

One day I came across an advertisement from Cronin Hyundai in Nicholasville, Kentucky that indicated that they may have a vehicle that met every item on my list of features. I called them, explained my needs and received confirmation that yes, they had vehicles in stock within my price range that met my specifications. By the end of that day I had purchased a Crossover SUV with an extended service plan that I can only describe as “Apple Care” for cars, a service plan that would eliminate vehicular headaches for 10 years or 100,000 miles. The way I drive, that translates into almost a decade free of having to deal with the things I would rather not deal with. While I did take on an auto payment, it is well within my budget and easily affordable on both my current and projected income for the life of the loan.

This purchase was not only logical, it eliminated a huge concern that had been weighing upon my mind. It also met my need to have some sort of long-term payment plan on my credit report in order to boost my credit score even more. I have plans to utilize that in the future, and simply paying off my credit cards every month was insufficient for my plans.

It threw my inner circle for a loop, however. In their eyes, frugal folk like myself do not invest in new vehicles. They buy old cars, drive them until they drop, then move on to the next one. While that works for many, I realized that, for me at least, I would have ended up spending more money than I would by purchasing new. It would have also endangered my employment choices for the future because attendance is key when one works at a factory. You will get fired if you are late or miss work, after all.

I almost didn’t make this purchase. Despite the fact that the vehicle met every single criteria I had set, even my personal notion of frugality protested. It had been drilled into my head that frugal people buy used vehicles. Logic won out, however. Every person that I know (including myself) that purchases a used vehicle invariably encounters that time when their vehicle requires repairs; they not only face the financial headache of paying for repairs along with their financial obligation, they struggle to get to work while their car is in the shop. Even if I had paid cash, I would have been in the same position I was in with my current vehicle, rendering the financial expenditure moot.

Due to my decision, I now find myself dealing with questions from those who cannot conceive of the fact that frugal people do indeed spend money. While my family is overjoyed at the fact that I finally opened my “moldy wallet,” others who do not know my true financial situation are not so supportive. Their comments and questions have ranged from “midlife crisis” to demanding financial specifics that I have no desire to answer.

How does one handle this situation? Do you simply smile and ignore the snide remarks and invasive questions or is there a polite way to tell people that your finances are none of their business? While I did take the step of not advertising the purchase, it is rather difficult to conceal a new vehicle when your friends see you driving said purchase or notice it parked in front of your house.

Have you ever made a purchase that didn’t fit in with other’s preconceived notions of frugality? If so, how did you handle the invasive questions and snide remarks? Please share your stories in the comments below.

15 thoughts on “Facing The Frugality Trap”

  1. When my husband was in Viet Nam we spent all our savings so I could meet him in Hawaii for the six days of his R&R. I returned home to discover my aunt had burned up the engine in my car because she couldn’t remember that she was supposed to put oil in it as soon as she started driving it. And I no longer had any savings with which to get it repaired. I was lucky, though, that I could take a bus to work while rebuilding those savings.

    1. I’m so glad you had that nest egg, because it meant that you could visit your husband! It stinks about your car but you made it through; that is all that matters. Did anyone give you grief over spending your savings to make the trip in light of what happened?

  2. Good for you for doing your research and taking action to make your life better.

    I’d go for Smile and Ignore for the invasive questions. Or perhaps I’d stick with a jokey non-answer, like “I have a secret worm farm under the house and it pays big bucks.” or “I made a bunch of money selling my beauty secrets to Kim Kardashian.”

    For the snide remarks, try Agree and Change the Subject. Them: You must be having a mid-life crisis. You: Yes, I am! And I would have had one much sooner if I had known what fun it is to have a new car! [pivot to subject change]. So, how is your [hobby, garden, etc.] going?

    However, people who KEEP giving me a hard time about my choices would see me less, if at all, unless they learned to keep their negative opinions to themselves.

    Go forth and enjoy your new car. You have more than earned it!

    1. You have given me a serious case of the giggles. Thank you so much! I will definitely take your advice. You are awesome!

  3. I was in the same situation a few years ago. I had to have a good reliable car to get me back and forth to work. I was tired of putting repair money into my old clunker, that could kill over at any minute, so I bought a brand new car after months of research.
    I bought a 2015 Honda Fit that got 40 – 45 mph. I have taken really good care of the car over the last 6 years and have done all the recommended maintenance on it.
    I still have it and it still looks and runs like a new car! I plan on keeping it 12 – 15 years.

    1. That is wonderful! I am so happy for you! I looked at the smaller hatchbacks myself. If not for how dangerous it can get here in the winter at times, I would have went with one. They get excellent mileage. Good on you!

  4. Good for you! I too, have always had and believed in used cars, etc. Now that my husband is selling cars, he’s really got me understanding the worth and benefits of new cars. I like your writing because I feel I’m also moving from the realm of frugality towards the realm of abundance. I’m a cradle Catholic so I’ve had to overcome a lifetime of “rich people are greedy” mentality. Have you discovered the teachings of Abraham (Esther Hicks)? I can’t explain it but the more I just listen to her talking about the law of attraction the better my life gets, including financially. Well, all the best and congratulations!! Enjoy the heck out of that brand new car 🙂

    1. I have read several of Esther Hick’s books! I also discovered videos of her talks on YouTube that I listen to regularly.

      To be honest, the way things have fallen into place over this past year make me believe that the LoA played a major part in things. On the car, I’d done research but could not locate what I wanted at a price I was willing to pay. Everyone around me advised me to settle for used. I reassured myself that the perfect car, a car no one had driven before me, would come. One day I heard an ad on the radio and I knew.

      My car had just arrived on the lot. It had less than 10 miles on the odometer before I took it for the test drive. It had every single thing I’d ever placed on my wish list, a few features I didn’t know I’d love, and I ended up with the payment being one penny more than I had visualized.

      It wasn’t even the first car I ended up looking at, but I felt a tingle when he walked me over to it after a random question. I just KNEW.

      That’s a bit much to dismiss as coincidence.

      1. Great story! And really curious how your good fortune came so rapidly. Something similar happened to me about six months ago.

        So, we left Bolivia in 2019 and completely started over in Florida and my husband can’t be an engineer here like he was there. Also, I’m home with two littles.

        We were living in an apartment with a terrible landlord and mold problem. My husband was getting sick, there was no place for the kids to play. But it was all we could ‘afford’. I started imagining my dream house by looking at nice houses online and imagining myself sitting in one looking at beautiful wooden floors and wood paneled walls. I kid you not, out of the blue I saw a house for rent on facebook marketplace, I was the first to look at it. It’s a 100 year old rehabbed house with original wood floors and walls. It’s a retreat. A gorgeous 3 bedroom house with huge deck, fenced backyard, an empty field in front of our house, landlords are our neighbors, five minutes from the beach, best neighborhood in town. I actually cried when we got the place. As I sat in my living room chair with my coffee and looked around at the gorgeous wood work floor, walls, AND ceiling I just shook my head like ‘oh my god, this is so crazy how fast and easily I got what I wanted’. We pay a little more, of course, but the landlords could easily get $1000 more a month for this place because of the location. They said they just wanted ‘the right people’. Life is incredible. Now my husband is selling more cars than anyone at his dealership with no previous sales experience! We can definitely afford the rent now!

        1. Sarah, enjoy it. You deserve it. As for me, I wonder what to dream about next. Have you picked something new?

          1. Thank you 🙂 I do dream of a beautiful house and boat right on the gulf here where we can drop our boat right in the water from our dock. Then I never want to move again. Oh, and also a passive recurring income so my husband can spend more time with us! You?

          2. I haven’t decided what to aim for next, Sarah. I’m still riding high from achieving my last goal so I plan to relax for a bit while I figure it out. I do know that I’m getting the itch to write a bit more, so there’s that. The rest will take care of itself, I believe.

  5. * Typo above. It should say the car got (& still gets) 40 – 45 miles per gallon (mpg).
    Keep up the good work! I enjoy your blog.

  6. Good for you! You shouldn’t have to explain your purchases or income to anyone. I have noticed that when people have a lot to say about how someone else spends their money, they generally are not happy with how they are spending their own. Being a single woman (I assume), it’s wise for you to have a vehicle that’s dependable and suits your terrain. Enjoy your new vehicle and your confidence is shining in the pic of you! I also love your shoes, you where those wedges well! 😉 xoxo

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