Michael on August 27th, 2008
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While it’s important to be fiscally responsible, it’s also critical to not be cheap. Life is too short to feel like you’re constantly depriving yourself. Instead, live in balance. By following the top 10 saving strategies, you won’t need to budget for everyday expenses (Strategy # 10) and you can spend with comfort on the items you truly enjoy (Strategy # 8). As I approach my 250th post on this blog, I thought it was an appropriate time to share 10 examples of how I, personally, am fiscally responsible without being cheap.

This list is a little different from most top 10 lists in that it’s really two top-five lists: The top 5 ways I am fiscally responsible (and perhaps, to others cheap) and the top five ways I am cheap (and to others, perhaps, completely reckless with my spending). You can be the judge.

To me, it’s all about balance.

Top Five Ways I’m Fiscally Responsible

1. I reuse sandwich bags.

We recycle practically everything possible in this house, including sandwich bags. Sure, it’s mostly for the envionment, but we spend a lot less on sandwich bags (not to mention freezer bags and printer paper) than we otherwise would.

2. We have just one car.

My wife and I now have more kids (two) and, therefore, car seats (also two) than cars (one). While this wouldn’t work for everyone, it could for many people who currently think otherwise. Do I have to rent a car every so often to make it work? Indeed. Does the occasional rental car expense come close to the cost of owning a second car? No way. We have no payment, no insurance, no maintenance, and no gas on a second car.

3. The car we do have has been around a while.

The one car we do own, a Saturn, is 7 years old. That’s as old as our first car was before it died. So in 14 years we’ve had just two cars. Leasing can make sense if you’re going to acquire a new car every three years, but if you can allow yourself to keep a car longer, a funny thing happens: you’ll have extended periods of time where you have a car but don’t have a car payment. When that occurs, you can easily and automatically begin to save more. A lot more.

4. We genuinely enjoy cheap thrills.

There are many weekend days when we spend virtually no money. Just this past weekend, we went to the public pool (a huge thrill for my girls) and brought a picnic lunch. Cost: $2 total admission plus some small amount for the groceries. Later on in the weekend, we went to the beach and took a zillion pictures of the girls. It was sunset and the results (and the emotions) were spectacular. Total cost: $0, although I’ll confess it will be 12-cents or so a picture to print them later. Spending time with friends (their homes or ours) is another minimal cost and usually winds up being among the highlights of any weekend.

5. We drink store-brand soda.

When it comes to soda (or, as my midwestern friends say, “pop”), I don’t care if it’s a Pepsi product, a Coke product, or a store-brand. I refuse to pay more than $0.99 for a 2-liter bottle of soda. I just can’t do it. So, when the store brand ginger ale is 77 cents, I buy that, not the $1.33 7-Up. I wouldn’t call store-brand soda a thrill and it doesn’t make a big dent in the grocery bill, but when you’re buying 45 cent strawberries, you’ve got to do something to balance out.

Now, the flip slide.

Five Ways I’m Not Cheap

1. I spend a lot on experiences that others wouldn’t want to do even if they were paid to do them.

Like paying airfare for a trip to Detroit and the expense of a rental car for the drive to Ann Arbor just to see a 3.5-hr long University of Michigan football game. Since I moved from Michigan in 1996, I’ve done this every year except two (and some years (read: pre-kids) up to five times a season). The cost varies for the weekend, but $500 is a reasonable average – and the only reason it’s not a lot higher is because I can usually crash with friends who still live in the area. The weekend is an absolute thrill so, to me, it’s worth every penny. However, this would be an absolute waste of money for most other people to spend just 48 hours in Ann Arbor – especially, for example, to Penn State fans.

2. I don’t camp.

On vacation, you can save a lot of money by camping instead of staying at a hotel. That’s a non-starter in my family. I’ve gone camping once in my life (with a bunch of b-schoolers in Utah during a week of non-stop rain). I came home and announced that the experience was the most fun I ever had that I never wanted to do again. It costs more to stay in a hotel but, for us, doing so dramatically increases the value and the effectiveness of the “re-charge,” making the additional expense totally worth it.

3. I drink Tropicana orange juice.

Yup, that’s what the guy who wrote Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck drinks nearly every morning. “Liquid gold!” a friend of mine once called it. I realize that the OJ flies in the face of the 77-cent soda decision, but it works for me. I don’t drink coffee (I’m allergic to caffeine) and this is my in-the-home splurge. (But if we’re out at a restaurant for breakfast, it’s water, thank you).

4. Outerwear matters in New Hampshire (and Michigan, Boston, Chicago, and New Jersey).

Although my monthly clothing spending approaches zero, I own one pair of Timberland boots, an L.L. Bean raincoat, and a phenomenal winter coat. None of them were cheap. The boots I purchased before the aforementioned trek to Utah in 1998, the raincoat in 2001, and the winter coat way back in 1996. The boots still make hiking (the ultimate cheap thrill) even more enjoyable and the raincoat has saved me at many a rainy Saturday in Ann Arbor. When I went shopping for the winter coat at Filene’s in Boston, I told the clerk that I walked to work and that I wasn’t into style. Rather, I simply wanted the warmest coat they sold. She showed me the coat. I put it on. Within seconds, I started to sweat the coat was so warm. It cost what it cost. Twelve years later and it still keeps me toasty. Worth every penny, especially when you amortize it over many very cold winters.

5. A diamond really is forever.

I knew that diamonds lacked intrinsic value even before I handed over a sum of money that exceeded the value of my car. But the engagement ring for my wife wasn’t a financial decision. I wasn’t talked up by the jeweler either. I didn’t buy it at TIffany’s, I bought it in Boston’s diamond district. I figured I was only going to purchase a ring once in my life and, more importantly, I knew my girlfriend (soon to be wife of 10 years and mother of my two children) would wear it everyday. Every single day. For the rest of her life. So I splurged. Call me crazy. But I still smile when I see it on her finger.  It was (and still is) totally worth it.

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So what do you think? Cheap? Fiscally responsible? Care to share an example of each from your life (or that of someone you know?)

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2 Comments to “Five ways to be (or not to be) fiscally responsible”

  1. That’s a great anecdote about making all those trips to University of Michigan!

    I live near Ann Arbor and DTW (Monroe is my city, not my name) … but I’m not a UM fan. I grew up in Ohio. Nuff said!

    Now a trip to Cleveland? Hmm. Count me in.

  2. Michael says:

    I remember Monroe as a “border town”, one where allegiances towards OH or MI could go either way. Bet there was a lot of fights in your high school!

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