I noticed a hole in my shoes about five months ago. And I ignored it.
No big deal
It was just in the fabric top of the shoes, and it was far enough up on the foot that you couldn’t see my sock through it. So the hole wasn’t apparent unless you were looking hard at my footwear.
Meanwhile, the shoes still had a good amount of support, and who really does more than glance at someone’s (non-collector) sneakers? Not many folks. Plus, I alternate shoes every other day — to let them completely dry out before the next use, thereby increasing their lifespan — meaning the hole was only a problem three or four days a week.
So I coasted along with a small hole in my shoe.
Hole-ier than thou
Then about two weeks ago, the hole widened. Now you could see the white sock, making the hole far more noticeable.
Still, I put off doing anything about it. Did I mention that the shoes’ support was still great?
About a week after the hole widened, my knee started to hurt a bit when I was wearing the other pair of shoes. But it only happened the once, so I rationalized that it was probably just my knee hurting randomly. (It may still have been. I’m pretty sure your 40s is when things just start hurting for no reason.)
But this wasn’t the first time something had hurt to indicate that I should probably buy new shoes. Before this set, the previous ones gave me knee and back pain until I finally replaced them — at least a month after the pain started.
I’m not crazy (mainly)
I mean, what with the hole and the knee pain for the current shoes, I thought about getting new ones. I thought about how the present footwear was kind of scuffed up. And how it’d been (as it turns out) two years since I bought them. But overall… Well, as I may have mentioned, the support was still (at least mostly) great.
So I told myself that I didn’t need new footwear. Sure a hole is inconvenient and a tad unsightly, but it’s not like it rains a lot in Arizona. So what was the harm, except to my vanity?
And besides, I only wore the shoes about three times a week and had three pairs of black socks, which make the hole virtually unnoticeable. Since I do laundry about once a week, I considered the problem solved.
Until it wasn’t
Then I lost one pair of my black socks somehow. I swear I had three and FinCon but can now only find two. This means that, at least once a week, I’ll have to wear black shoes that show about a quarter inch of white sock.
Annoying, and it reminded me I really ought to replace the shoes. But I still put it off. I didn’t want to spend the money.
Then about three days after I noticed my decreased black sock count, Shoes.com sent me a $40 off $99+ coupon.
“Fine, universe,” I said. “I’ll buy the damn shoes.”
I’m happy to report that with the coupon I managed to get two pairs of Skechers for $86.22 after tax. That’s pretty good for Skechers, which normally run $60 a pair pre-tax.
A cautionary tale
I tell this story… Well, partially because I’m happy with the deal I got. But more importantly, it’s a look at just how ridiculously far we can take frugality. To our own detriment — potentially physically, if the knee pain really were caused by the shoes.
For most people, a hole in a shoe, let alone knee pain, is an automatic disqualifier. That’s a signal that it’s time to replace the footwear. Heck, some people would replace two-year-old shoes on principle alone.
But I didn’t get new ones because I felt I didn’t need new, nicer shoes.* The money I spent on new shoes could be put into savings — and what was more important than that? Certainly not a small hole or an isolated incident of knee pain!
And yes, that’s just silly. But the problem with being frugal is that it can lead to tunnel vision, where all you can see is the savings you could get if only you skimp on something.
Now, that can be a good instinct overall, but it can lead to ridiculous extremes and a sense of desperation. Like the time my mom considered replacing the zipper on a 25-year-old coat just so that she wouldn’t have to buy a new one. (A new zipper might’ve been a fine idea if the coat had been in good shape. It wasn’t.)
But her laser focus on frugality made her feel broke, as though she couldn’t afford a new coat even though she had the money.
* Some of you may protest that I did buy myself other new shoes on two separate occasions in the past six months. True, but in both cases they were about $20 and came out of weekly funds. It didn’t impact how much I could save out of my paycheck. New Skechers would be a different, more expensive story.
Deprivation is habit-forming
Mom developed a sense of desperation/a habit for deprivation for good reason. Remember, she used to live on $12,000 a year. So it made sense that she’d stick with old things. Like, say, shirts that had small holes in them.(See? I come by the holes thing honestly!)
But her situation improved — she started writing for MSN Money for goodness sake — and she still didn’t buy herself new clothes. Or even many new-to-her clothes from the thrift store. She’d really only go to Value Village when her jeans wore out.
As for me, my backstory isn’t much better.
Before disability (which was itself not very much) I was struggling financially. I had multiple part-time jobs in an effort to cobble together a living. It wasn’t going well, so money was extremely tight.
In that time, I bought a pair of Reebok that started to wear out in a month. I wrote an angry email to the company. Customer service apologized and told me to send back the sneakers; they’d send a new pair.
I didn’t. Why? Because I couldn’t afford a new pair in the meantime. I just wore the things until they finally gave out completely, then bought a new pair that I could barely afford.
So when my shoes were intermittently causing me knee and back pain two years ago, I did nothing for more than a month.
Sure, some of my reluctance was inertia. But I think a lot of it stemmed from an unwillingness to spend a significant amount of money on myself (or at least my feet). Even to avoid pain.
All this is especially ridiculous because I have no trouble spending on myself in other ways: $10 takeout once a week, the occasional $10-20 at a thrift store for new clothes. No, my issue seems to center around sneakers.
Meanwhile, Mom has arch issues, so she has no trouble spending on Rockport shoes, which aren’t the cheapest. (Though of course she hits sales and uses Mr. Rebates for the best deal.) But dollars to donuts, she’s still wearing some of the same shirts, at least around the house. And that they now have more holes.
So we all have our frugal foibles. Anecdotally, they’re funny, but in reality they’re problematic. Because they point to unhealthy extremes, an unwillingness to spend on things that most people would consider necessities — like shoes and shirts without holes in them.
Frugality is great in that it forces us to question purchases and not spend mindlessly. But sometimes we mind too much. We overthink the word “need” until it nothing fits that meaning.
We need to remember that frugality isn’t just about saving money. At least, it shouldn’t be. It’s about spending consciously. About, as Mom likes to say/write, saving where you can to spend on what matters. And while clothes can be dismissed as not mattering to everyone, solid footwear is important for all.
So the next time my shoes wear out — may that be in another two years! — I pledge to take action in a more timely fashion. For my own health, even if it’s at the expense (as it were) of my frugal sanity.
What about you: What do you have a mental block about spending on?