This is a guest post from Amanda, a Colorado tech writer and an activist for children with congenital heart disease.
I grew up poor: single-wide trailer-house, shared-a-room-with-two-sisters, garage-sale-wardrobe, government-cheese, worked-full-time-in-high-school, and paid-for-my-own-cap-and-gown poor. You might think that growing up poor would have made me frugal. Not so. While I do have an overwhelming urge to get the “most” for my money, I often see “most” as only quantity, and that's not smart financially.
Quality trumps quantity
There was a time in my life when I thought fifteen pairs of $10 shoes purchased over a year at Target or Wal-Mart were great. But I had a closet full of shoes that hurt my feet, so I never wore them. Plus I was out $150. Back then, it would have appalled me to spend $150 for a single pair of shoes, but this spring I did just that. I was sold the minute I tried them on. They didn't hurt my feet anywhere — a rare find. I waited for my tax refund to arrive, and then called to order a pair in my size and color. (This was all I spent from my tax refund; I saved the rest.)
My daughter sleeps on my old bed. The bed is about 100 years old, but not the kind of quaint antique that people love. It actually fell apart once when I was reaching for a toy, and I hurt myself pretty badly. She's safe for now because she's so little, but the bed has got to go before she gets much bigger. I've decided to buy a $800 captain's bed with room for clothing storage. She also had my old dresser, but it too broke this summer, so we're using an old craft caddy for her clothes for now. When choosing the bed, I went to the store and abused the floor model, checking for dovetail joints and solid wood.
I don't have the bed yet, but I just sold some stock options on Friday, and will buy it when my check arrives. If I didn't have any stock options and had to just save for it, I would do that. If my daughter's current bed became entirely unusable, it would go to the curb, and I'd put her mattress on the floor until I could afford the $800. I could buy a cheap bed that would fall apart, or find another used bed that I hate, but eventually it would be replaced, so better to have her sleep on the floor and keep her PJs in a craft caddy for a few months until we can get something that meets our long-term needs.
The difference between frugal and cheap
Does this mean I would never buy used furniture or garage sale finds? No, I absolutely would buy a used desk or dresser in good condition. But my daughter's room is small, and she's only three, so she'll be using this bed for a long time in limited space. I don't have the time or the skill to repair badly damaged furniture, and I don't have the space to store it. Keeping something around that I couldn't use would only make me feel depressed and frustrated. I did originally repurpose all of my old furniture for her, but it's past its usefulness.
A free piece of furniture that falls apart is no bargain; it's a danger and a waste of space. A free piece of furniture that is an eyesore just makes you feel poor and unhappy. A free piece of furniture that looks nice with a little paint and is very useful is a treasure. So is an $800 extremely functional bed that will survive the childhood of one very sweet little girl and eventually allow room for a desk in a crowded little bedroom.
By the same token, my husband and I are taking $20 to set aside every time we get “paid” in our cash allowance to save for some nice sheets. We only have two sets of sheets, and the nicer fitted sheet ripped earlier this summer. So we have one fitted sheet, and we wash the bedding and return it on Saturdays. I am committed to buying expensive sheets, using my Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupon, and sleeping comfortably for several years. Expensive sheets will cost up to $200, and it may take us a few months to get there, but unless our one remaining sheet tears first, I'd rather stash the cash then spend $50 for cheap sheets that keep me from sleeping.
Making the most of your money, I believe, is surrounding yourself and your family with only things that are usable, comfortable, and give you pleasure. Whether it's free or costs a fortune, if it's unusable, uncomfortable, and gives you no pleasure, it's junk. Quality is worth the wait.
This guest-post hits home for me. Like Amanda, I grew up poor. Like Amanda, this did not make me frugal. It's only recently that I've begun to value quality over quantity. If you have an idea for a guest post, please drop me a line.