Two weeks ago, I slunk out of the grocery store feeling ashamed.
Why? Because I’d wanted strawberries, and saw that they weren’t on sale. And I got them anyway. (!!!)
This isn’t how frugal people shop
All of my adult life, I’ve shopped the sales cycles as much as possible. I was taught that you wait until something goes on sale, then you buy a bunch to tide you over until it’s discounted once again.
Of course, you can’t reasonably load up on too much fruit. But since it’s more of an add-on than a staple, I was taught to just stick with what’s on sale. Or to do without until the fruit I wanted want was on special.
So I felt criminal spending retail — which, let’s be clear, was only $3.29 — for a bunch of berries that could easily go on sale the next week.
Silly mental math
Never mind that they were absolutely delicious and thus well worth the cost. And never mind that, outside of strawberries season, “sale prices” on strawberries are often still $2.99. So if I’d waited for a sale, I’d likely have saved just $0.30 a carton.
But the fact is that I would’ve been saving something. And that assuages my frugal fretting. Of course, I’m keenly aware that this is the exact kind of rationalization that groceries count on when putting fruit “on sale.”
Regardless, it makes me feel better. And less like a frugality fraud. Which is how I felt scanning those full-price berries.
The lesson here
The point of this tale is that frugality can make us rather irrational when it comes to spending on certain (usually small) things.
For example, if I’m going to be gone for the evening for trivia or whatnot, I don’t turn off all of the lights, in order to make it look like someone’s home. After all, it’s just for a few hours, so it doesn’t feel like a big deal.
But then I started doing overnight stays at He Who No Longer Wishes to Be Named’s place. Which meant using all — “all” — that electricity for as long as 17 hours. So I’d be wracked with guilt as I left.
In my defense, it wasn’t just one light. No sir. My house is rather dim, so I extravagantly flipped on two of lights. (Feel free to clutch your pearls.)
Like some sort of maniac, I just let the living room and dining room overhead lights beam away for most of a day. And five of the hours I was gone were peak times!
It felt so wasteful that each time I left the house, I’d debate just switching off one light at least. Would-be robbers would probably believe that someone would sit in a dim room, right?
(Fun fact: I just found an online calculator and determined that all the fretting I did was for about $0.36 of electricity each time.)
This is just silly
Many of us are lucky to not have a razor thin difference between our income and necessary expenses. So instances like these just highlight how weird our brains can be about frugality. Especially when you consider the things we don’t stress about.
I have no compunction (well… very little, anyway) about going to a bar and paying for two to three pricey specialty cocktails, which generally run $13 to $15 a pop. And if I’m drinking hard alcohol, I’m probably also paying for an Uber.
But when we’re talking about leaving two lights on all night? My brain screams, “What, are you a Rockefeller now?!”
I’m not alone
I’m hardly the only frugal person who deal with this dichotomy.
Frugal people will make decisions based on just a few cents’ difference. They’ll scour for deals and/or put off purchases while they wait for a sale. They’ll suffer a hotter house in the summer/colder one in the winter to save a few bucks.
Then they’ll turn around and buy a pricey phone, take up an expensive hobby or drop $1,000+ on a trip.
And that’s actually the way it should be.
If you’re in the fortunate position of being frugal by choice rather than necessity, then the whole point of frugality should be to saving where you can so you can spend on what matters.
Lots of value
I can attest that fresh strawberries matter to me. I cut them into quarters (both to keep my front teeth from taking the bulk of the acid and to make them last longer), then I sit in my chair watching TV and intermittently “mmmm”ing.
Oh and I suppose there’s value in that whole “strawberries are healthy” thing.
Similarly I very much like spending time with someone I’m seeing. And $0.36 of electricity is far better than my $1,000 insurance deductible if the house did get broken into. So I get a lot of value there too.
And if you’re getting value out of something, it’s not a waste, is it? So my fretting is just plain silly. But seemingly unavoidable.
How I calm myself
If I can’t avoid it, then I just try to put it all in context.
Do I get a lot of value from this spending? Yes. Do I serenely choose to spend way more than these amounts in other parts of my life? Yup!
Well then, why is this small unnecessary expense such a big deal? Answer: It really isn’t.
Unfortunately, this only deals with the guilt of the specific situation. The next time I’m looking at paying retail or leaving lights on, I’ll once again wrestle with low-level guilt.
I don’t know that there’s any permanent way to shake this silly and rather sporadic guilt. But at least I don’t let it stop me from eating/doing the things I enjoy. That’s a small victory, I guess.
What’s your irrational frugal guilt? How do you deal with it?