Kathy Petersen’s Blog

Frugal thought of the day

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 2, 2008

I read this post at beingfrugal.net, which was based on another post at The Simple Dollar, which had this quote:

Every time you spend a dollar, you sacrifice a bit of your future.

Wow. Please go read the original post at “being frugal” because she discusses this in more depth, but I want to just go off on another tangent of my own.

You have to spend some money some times, unless you resort to stealing. But just because you need food doesn’t mean you have to order steak and lobster at the most expensive restaurant in town. Just because you have to have a place to live doesn’t mean you have to get the most expensive mortgage you can afford. Just because you have to buy clothes doesn’t mean you have to get all designer stuff. You’ll be just as fed by eating home-made rice and beans, just as sheltered in a place half as expensive, and just as clothed getting stuff from yard sales and thrift shops.

Every time you spend a dollar, you sacrifice a bit of your future.

The point of this statement is to make you think about your long-term goals, and what you are doing to meet them…. or not. It got me to thinking–“how low can you go?” While not everybody is going to have the same goals, and different people are going to have different priorities, phrasing it in this way really makes you think about how much of the future are you sacrificing for a little bit of “I want it now!”

My sister is this way. She and her husband had a few years on two incomes without kids, and they spent everything they made, and had everything they wanted. Then my sister had my niece and she cut down to working one day a week. Instead of saving their money like crazy when they had two incomes, they spent like crazy. Then when the kids came along, they kept spending (because by that time it was habit, if nothing else), and they spent a lot on “kid stuff” they needed, or found useful, or just wanted. When my niece was about a year old, she was big into Teletubbies. So my brother-in-law bought her all four of the big Teletubbies talking stuffed characters. They probably cost $20 apiece–maybe more. A year later, my sister sold them at a yard sale for maybe $1 apiece. I think just about every time the kids go to Walmart, they get something. Their birthdays and Christmases are huge blow-outs, but they “need” to be, in order to make them stand out from the constant stream of new stuff they get–toys, computer games, movies. For Christmas they got a Nintendo Wii plus a bunch of other stuff, but then the next day my sister had to go out and spend a bunch more money, because there weren’t enough controllers, and there was only one game. “The gift that keeps on taking” is what that is! When the movie Cars came out, the whole family went to the movie theater to see it–the first day it was out. Then the first day the DVD was released, my sister bought it for my nephew. She got every car in the series for him–even going on eBay to get the ones she couldn’t find at the store. This wasn’t for his birthday. It was just because he liked Cars.

So what’s the big deal? Well, they have credit card debt they can’t seem to pay off–but that isn’t the biggest thing. The kicker is that they’re trying to build up a down payment so they can build a house. You see, when they were planning on getting married, my parents decided to build a garage-apartment, and my sister and her husband were going to live in it just for a few years until they could buy or build their own house. That was 15 years ago. They’re still there. They’ve outgrown the space, but haven’t saved any money. They are going to be building a house soon, but the down payment won’t be with money they’ve saved; it’s the money my sister is going to inherit from my grandma’s estate. (My grandparents left each grandchild a portion, which we don’t get to inherit until we’ve turned 35 [thirty-five]. I guess they were afraid we’d blow it foolishly in our youth. They were probably right.) What happened to all the money they should have saved? They spent it–most of it “just five dollars” at a time. I wish I had as much money as I’ve heard my sister say they spent, justifying the amount by saying, “It was just ___ dollars.” Sometimes it’s 1, sometimes 5, sometimes 20 dollars. But if my brother-in-law goes to Walmart once a week, and gets a movie or toy for the kids that costs $10 average (apiece), then that’s over $1000 per year. Add in what my sister spends, and you probably double it. This doesn’t count what they spend on themselves for stuff that they don’t need. They are drowning in “stuff” in their house–which is the main reason they want to build one of their own–they have no room to put all of their stuff. But they have no down payment (although they could easily have lived on my brother-in-law’s income and saved all of my sister’s), because they spent it all on disposable and immediate-demand items. They have sacrificed their future for the present… or should I say, for the presents for their kids.

This is not to say that I don’t get my kids presents. I get them stuff for their birthdays and Christmas. I have gotten almost everything at yard sales. It’s amazing what you can get for a five bucks at a yard sale. Just amazing. I also occasionally get them things for no reason–much of the time, just because they are with me when I’m at yard sales, and they see a toy and it’s a quarter. [Lest you think our house has one toy apiece for the kids–think again! I’ve got a few boxes of toys in our storage shed (that our kids haven’t even missed), because I was tired of cleaning up all of the toys, and there was nowhere in their room to store them. They’ve got a room-full of toys, and I’d still like to down-size–but most of the toys are sets (building blocks, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc.), and I don’t want to separate that.] But when I shop at Walmart, I get necessities. Children’s toys are not necessities. I try to avoid even going past the toy section, but when I do, we breeze through and I acknowledge the toys they see (Oh, yes, that Thomas. Look–Dora!), but we don’t get them. Most of the time, they don’t even ask. I think that’s a good habit to get into. Perhaps I’m being reactionary, but the conduct of my niece and nephew bothers me. Their attitude about stuff rankles me. I can’t help but think that it’s due to the fact that they’ve always gotten everything they want, and they think that’s completely normal. Which teaches them that it’s abnormal not to get everything they want. Which is sad. And will not serve them well in life.

I may need to lighten up (my husband gets our kids more stuff than I do), but I’d rather that my kids have the necessities–which includes me being at home with them full time–than for them to have everything they want, but not what they need. Their needs are more than physical. They need training and discipline, and the knowledge that although they may not have everything they want, they have everything they need and then some, and that’s just fine.

Every time you spend a dollar, you sacrifice a bit of your future.


One Response

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