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The cost of pinching pennies

I played rugby in college. I loved my team and my experiences with an intensity I don’t think I’ve ever found elsewhere, and I vividly remember that first night after a game when I finally put my head on a pillow – the total physical relief, every aching part of me sinking into my mattress.

I ran marathons later in my youth, and found the same feeling after a race. Every joint, every patch of skin, every muscle enveloped by well-deserved comfort.

These days, I feel that way almost every night. It may be because I am an old creaky lady, or because I am living life at a fever pitch. I suspect a bit of both. Being a working mother is hard, being a working mother who is also trying to make every stinking penny count even more so.

I think sometimes we gloss over the parts of “living frugal” that are not just psychologically difficult in terms of self-control, but also complicated, and tiring, and time-consuming. “Go to seven different grocery stores to save 40 cents on bacon” takes an entire day. Call the credit card company to reduce your rate, compare insurance quotes, cut your own hair, grow your own food. It saves you so much money! And costs you so much time. Not to mention energy.

All of this is possible, of course. It’s extra possible if you don’t have kids or paid employment (I think. When I imagine child-free or stay-at-home parent lives, I also imagine a lot of bonbons. And yoga. Maybe some spa experiences.)

Yesterday was a good example of this for me.

Yesterday started at 4:30 a.m., which is about average for me. I took the nutjob puppy for a half-hour-ish walk (I can’t run right now as I recover from surgery, so an off-leash walk is the best I can do. She seems okay with it). My goal for this summer is to finish all of my paid work by 10:30 every morning. That is, in theory, easy, in practice, “mom can you get me some toast, mom I need some water, mom when can we turn on the TV? Mom, will you come upstairs with me to get dresssed? Mom I spilled something, mom, mom, mom…”

I met my goal, closed the computer at 10:15, turned my attention to the kids.

Time and energy suck #1 of frugal living: side hustling. It sounds so fun! It is…not.

Laundry, vacuuming, lunch, go go go. I’d like to hire a house cleaning service. I’d like to pay off debt more.

Time and energy suck #2 of frugal living: doing things yourself that you could outsource (don’t get me wrong, I outsource plenty of things, but some things, I can’t justify at this point). If I didn’t have to clean the house every fifteen minutes, I would have so much more time for bonbons.

This is where I might have been just fine going to bed for the day, but “get that deal” kicked in. I get us season passes to the nearby amusement park each year on Black Friday (half price!). This year, they had an additional “preschool pass,” which was at a deep discount. But you have to activate the pass by June 16, which, for all you playing along at home, is next week. We are having family in from out of town, so next week is a wash.

Time and energy suck #3: to get the best price, you often have to follow other people’s schedules.

The kids jumped in the car and we headed to the park. The My kids can probably recite this little speech from memory: we buy season passes with the understanding that we will get to go a lot, but we can’t spend money inside the park. We buy a refillable popcorn bucket for $5.99 at the beginning of the season, and for the rest of the summer, here’s what we can buy: $.99 refills on popcorn, sometimes as many as three times in the day!

So I spend about an hour each time we are going somewhere – the zoo, the amusement park, wherever – and cut up fruits and veggies, hard boil eggs, slap together sandwiches. The added bonus is that the kids have no choice but to eat things with vitamins, so everybody wins! Everybody except mama, who has to get it all together somehow.

Time and energy suck #4: convenience costs money, and saving money is not convenient.

The kids had so much fun and they ate fruits and vegetables and popcorn, and the house was relatively clean, and I made enough money for the day to make it work. Success!

When we got home, I transferred sleeping kiddos into their beds, and by “their beds” I mean the bed we call “grandma’s bed,” which is where MIL sleeps when she’s here (she’s currently in the motherland). It’s where we sleep when she’s not here, because we don’t have central air and there is a window air conditioner in that room. I kind of love that we make it work, air condition one room instead of the entire house, and still manage to sleep pretty okay even though it’s in the 80s already (and will only get hotter). But it also means we’re playing musical rooms, moving water bottles and pillows and beloved stuffed animals from one place to the next, making sure that the toothpaste and tooth brushes are not more than 8 steps away because the kids will use any excuse not to brush their teeth.

Time and energy suck #5: optimizing the living situation, utilizing space in efficient ways, means shifting and transforming and juggling belongings; how simple it seems to just have designated spaces for only one thing.

So when I hit the pillow, I feel like I did many years ago after those feats of physicality. Truth be told, I love the feeling, like I’m leaving it all on the field. Truth also be told, I look forward to some day when I finish the day not feeling completely spent.

There are many ways that I don’t save money even though I probably could, because the trade-off just isn’t worth it to me: cutting coupons, DIY-ing home renovations, continuously patching up 30-year-old cars. There’s only so much time and energy that can be sucked out of me at one time.

15 thoughts on “The cost of pinching pennies”

  1. Yep, there are plenty of frugal hacks that, as someone with chronic fatigue and depression, I just skip. Clipping coupons proves overwhelming for me, though I do add coupons to my shopper’s card which is a good compromise, I think. Going to different grocery stores to get the best price on something… Well, the price difference had better be dramatic. If I can get strawberries for 99 cents at one place and $2.50 at another, sure then I’ll go to the cheaper place. But to save 10-50 cents? No. My energy is worth more than that, and I have the admitted luxury right now of saying that. I know not everyone is lucky enough to be able to make that choice. (Though once you take in the cost of gas and wear/tear on the car driving around to different grocery stores, it might be close to a wash anyway.)

    I’m glad you’ve figured out the things that work for you. And it’s pretty cool that you’re able to air condition just one room in the house. Here in Arizona, it’s central air, so no option to do that. All I can do is keep the temperature high (82) and rely on ceiling fans to keep me from sweating to death.

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    1. There are approximately 2 weeks out of the year, in the dead of summer, when I think that we should get central air. As long as the temperature tends to stay below 90, we have trees that shade the house and it’s not so bad. But for those two weeks, every year, I’m like “THAT’S IT, WE ARE DOING IT.” And then I regain my senses.

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  2. Love this message. All I can say… is it took me a long time to learn it! I’ve tried to fix and repair and do things myself in so many circumstances where it would have saved more time and been MORE FRUGAL to accept the help of others or purchase something. I think I’m just stubborn or something…

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  3. I totally get you! I’m also a penny pincher in many, but not all areas of my life. It does take a ton of time and energy, and sometimes it does feel like a drag.

    But for me, NOT pinching pennies feels worse! So I do the things anyway, even if it’s hard at times. It helps me to try to focus on the end goal. (But nothing much helps when you’re trying to get something done and the children are nonstop on top of you for stuff. Argh!!!)

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  4. I feel this! I love the feeling of sinking into bed having worked hard, but as a frugal,working mother, it’s very difficult and relentless. I do enjoy the frugality, but I wish I had more time so it wasn’t such a chore!

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  5. I, too, have similar problems (but I only have 1 kid and he’s 3, so not much of the “mooooooom!!!!” requests). This weekend, I bought a robot vacuum- was $20 on FB marketplace…I love it so far. As long as I pick up all the big junk on the ground (lots of toy cars), it’ll do the rest. Worth. Every. Penny. Not that I paid full price for it…because I didn’t. That being said, I do try to make my kid pick up his own toys, as much as a 3 year old can possibly do. But morning times are my quiet times- while he’s asleep, I try to have a cup of tea and relax.

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    1. I’ve looked into those vacuums but it’s the big stuff that is hard! I don’t mind the vacuuming itself as much as getting everything off the floor.

      I also love the morning times. Unfortunately (fortunately?), my middle child gets up around 5:30, so my alone time is limited!

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      1. 5:30! Wow! (not to tell you how to parent…because, I know what that feels like ,but….) maybe your kids can help pick up their stuff?

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      2. Oh, they do, to some extent. But the nutjob puppy does not, and the 2-year-old is crap at it. I get the best results when I say “nobody gets to watch TV until the living room is cleaned!”

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      3. I’m “paying” my 3 year old to clean up his toys in an allowance…it’s one coin. He also does a terrible job. And I had to ban my dog from inside the house. Which is fine in hawaii, because it’s so temperate. I had a friend his parents told him to clean up toys and he didnt, so while he was at school they picked them all up and put them in the attic and told him they donated all of them! He never left toys out again

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