Saturday, October 31, 2009

Counter-Frugal...or Not

Recently, I posted a comment on my Facebook page that I'd decided using a disposable camera is counter-frugal. (And no, I can't find that word in the dictionary.)

Why? When my digital camera began to malfunction, I began buying disposables for family gatherings: Christmases and graduations. One day my son needed a picture for his homeschool co-op, so off I went to buy another camera (complete with developing costs)...and on top of the expense, my pictures of him didn't turn out very well. That's when it dawned on me that in the past few years I had spent the price of an inexpensive digital camera on buying disposable cameras and paying for developing the pictures...and that I had the money - at the moment - to buy an inexpensive disposable camera.

You could apply that same principle to my car. I drive a 1993 minivan with 193,000 miles...and we spend close to an average of $300 a month in repairs to keep it on the road. That's not to keep it perfect! (My windows won't even open at this writing.) People often tell me I could be making a car payment with that money. Talk about counter-frugal!

So what's the difference? And what's the similarity? When I bought the first disposable camera, there were more urgent uses for the money it would cost to buy a digital camera. More honestly expressed, there was no way I was going to spend a hundred dollars on a camera at that time. Later, that changed, and a few weeks ago I got my digital camera.

My car, on the other hand, gets me from Point A to Point B (when it's not stopping off at the shop), without the commitment of an auto loan, with low insurance payments, and without having to combine monthly payments with warranty or maintenance costs. A $300 car payment is never really just $300; there is always more. There's no way I'm going to buy a car at this moment in time. When the time comes that we are ready to replace my car, hopefully we will know it, like I knew it was time to buy a camera.

One more example where we can be counter-frugal...or not, depending on finances at any given in renting an apartment vs. buying a house. People say, "If you rent, you are throwing money down the drain." Well, first of all, if it's a home (the place where you live and love), it is never wasted money. Secondly, while owning your own home has wonderful benefits, renting can be simpler in some ways, too. When the plumbing acts up, we call maintenance. When the dryer acts up, we call maintenance. When the lawn needs mowing, we don't even need to call anyone. With my husband sometimes working as many as 60 hours a week, and with me working 20 hours and homeschooling, it's nice to not even worry about the yard.

Are there ways that you are frugal that might seem at first to be counter-frugal? Are there old ways you are clinging to that you might be able to change and actually save money? When is it time to scale down - and when is it more frugal to spend a little more and save in the long run? Key to these decisions, I think, is to question the so-called "principles" that we've heard about finances and frugality...and then to question, not once but periodically, whether what we did last year is good for this year.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Elena said...

Hmmm, interesting things to ponder. I myself have been faced with many similar decisions and while I feel I have sometimes been "pennywise and pound foolish", sometimes I haven't really had another option. I do believe renting is much better for me and for some other people. I feel the same as you, I never have to pay to fix anything, exterminators, etc.