Just like when I was learning to drive, I am starting to realize my tendency to overcorrect when it comes to personal finance. It is no secret that I fell headfirst into the trap of excessive consumerism. In a lot of ways, it was not a fall, so much as a gleeful swan dive, credit card swipe after credit card swipe. Since coming to the sobering realization that I have too much stuff, I have made it a point to stop buying most things. It should have been the perfect solution; instead, I created a recipe for disaster.
At work, I stand. A lot. If I’m not standing, I’m kneeling or squatting next to my students’ desks. I seldom sit, and that’s completely fine. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I went into teaching. I’m terrible at sitting for long stretches of time. It makes me fidgety, anxious, unhappy. But a few minutes plopped down here or there would be a welcome reprieve most days. However, it just isn’t going to happen. I do cafeteria supervision on my lunch break, and I usually get roped into subbing or doing some other task during my plan period. All of this standing coupled with back problems would lead you to believe that I had taken the time to invest in my feet and my back, but you’d be wrong.
After a particularly miserable day this past Friday, I swung into a shoe store and picked up two pairs of heel-and-arch-support insoles. I used to purchase them frequently, but now that I try to avoid the shoe store at all costs, they just slipped off my radar. As I worked to Macgyver open the plastic packaging in the parking lot with my classroom keys, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. Sure, at first I felt relief that I hadn’t lost a thumb or stabbed my seat by mistake, but I mostly felt guilty as the plastic packaging fell to the floor. $8.87 would be dutifully logged in the general spending category in our expense tracker.
After I keyed in the amount, I slid off my shoes, added the inserts, and stepped back in my shoes to run a few errands. Halfway through the first errand, my back felt better. By the time the second errand was over, I wasn’t even thinking about my back. I cannot remember the last time I stood without at least a slice of my attention zeroing in on the dull throb that usually radiates through my lower back. Suddenly, it seemed as if those $9 were the best dollars I had ever spent.
It turns out this isn’t the only area of my life in which I’ve become erroneously frugal. I have put so much emphasis on not spending that Mr. P is starting to adopt my habits, as well. In general, it is wonderful to be on the same financial page as a partner. However, when the page is all about frugal stupidity, it might be time to reconsider.
Just yesterday, we noticed two of our toilets making noises. Mr. P took the words out of my mouth: “That sounds expensive. Maybe it’s nothing. It’s probably just air pockets.” Just as I started to nod along, we looked at each other. I mean, we really looked at each other. Our water bill is already outrageously high.* Now, we were going to dismiss this problem simply because the thought of a one-time purchase of new parts or even a new toilet seemed cost prohibitive? Somebody stop the madness.
As soon as the hardware store opens, Mr. P is going to scour the plumbing aisle for options. While he is gone, I am going to leave a message for a long-forgotten chiropractor and an equally-ignored podiatrist. If generic BOGO inserts can make my feet and back feel so much better, imagine what real orthotics might do.
As I continue to navigate the world of personal finance, I’ll learn to stay between the lines and avoid this overcorrecting. Sure, there are times–many, many times–when it pays to be frugal. But there are also moments when I can be frugal to a fault.
*True story. I live one city over from my parents, but we have different water providers. Our bill is almost double theirs even though our usage is significantly less.
So Tell Me…What are the areas of your life that you refuse to skimp on? Have you ever been frugal to a fault?