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Irrational frugality
Old 08-27-2016, 12:49 PM   #1
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Irrational frugality

A few days ago while at the grocery store, I had one of those little moments of sudden clarity where something I was doing struck me as what I’ll call “irrationally frugal”.

I was shopping for paper towels and was trying to decide between the generic store brand and the fancier “more absorbent” name brand. The store brand cost $2.99 and the fancier brand cost $3.99 for roughly the same square footage of paper towels.

So I stood there and thought about it, and I picked up each package and read the marketing verbiage printed on the side and tried to decide which one seemed like the better value. Of course, the frugal shopper in me was leaning in favor of the cheaper store brand. But then, I had the epiphany…

“You know, self, you only buy paper towels like this maybe 5 or 6 times a year. It’s not like you’re making this purchase on a weekly basis, so even if you buy the fancy name brand every single time, you’re only spending an extra $6 per year. That’s $60 per decade. That’s less than your monthly satellite TV bill! So maybe, just maybe, why not buy the name brand this time… or every time!”

So, guess what I did. I bought the cheaper brand! As someone with a science and engineering background, I like to think of myself as highly rational in most aspects of my life, but it seems like frugality wins out when it comes to paper towels (and many other things, too). For some reason, I find it very hard to pay a premium for something that seems so basic and common. Same goes for things like toilet tissue, shampoo, aluminum foil and foods like rice, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, etc.

Do you have any "irrational" frugalities like this? If so, have you just accepted them or do you find yourself struggling to be more rational and loosen up the purse strings whenever you notice them?
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:04 PM   #2
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Do you have any "irrational" frugalities like this? If so, have you just accepted them or do you find yourself struggling to be more rational and loosen up the purse strings whenever you notice them?
Yep, I'm like you, looking at the "cents per sq ft", etc. (Same with TP, but only between a few "acceptable" brands).
Sure, on one level I could forego all of that and probably save the same amount with more careful tax loss harvesting, playing the credit card "special offer" game, etc. But on another level it doesn't >bother< me to look at the shelf tags, and I feel a mild satisfaction with each thrifty purchase. It's habit now, and not an excessively burdensome one to indulge.
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:07 PM   #3
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Similar problem here, though I am willing to occasionally splurge for better quality on something we use frequently... like TP. At the end of the day though it is just highly likely that I am splurging with our kid's inheritances... and I'm ok with that!
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:17 PM   #4
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I think we all have these tendencies which separate us from others. Thus all the poor millionaires on this board.


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Old 08-27-2016, 01:21 PM   #5
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Do you have any "irrational" frugalities like this? If so, have you just accepted them or do you find yourself struggling to be more rational and loosen up the purse strings whenever you notice them?
You deem this frugality irrational, and certainly no retirement is going to fail because you buy Brawny paper towels instead of store brand.

But so what? One benefit of retirement is a clearer mind, and one way to get a clearer mind is to have default procedures in many common situations. It may not even matter what the default is, but for it to help it should be reasonably consistent. Go with perceived or assumed quality would be one default, go with the store brand another. Most of us are certainly not truly wealthy, regardless of what we might like to imagine. So most practical might be "go with the store brand, unless experience has taught you to avoid it in this store or this category or whatever.

I happen to really like fish. I will always buy where I know the fish to be bright fresh, and I will only buy frozen when I am sure it compares well with fresh, wild fish. This is rare, but there are examples. My favorite money saver here is Trader Joe large Sea scallops which seem better than the ones sold in even a pretty fair fish market. They do however cost $18/#.

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Old 08-27-2016, 01:24 PM   #6
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All the time! My thoughts are that as long as the problem can be reduced to an objective measure (pennies per square foot), then THERE IS A RIGHT ANSWER. I am always much more uncomfortable with subjective evaluations where there is no right answer. I keep telling myself that "there are good choices and bad choices, there may not be one BEST choice". This helps, but doesn't make the issue go away.
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:27 PM   #7
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As part of my efforts to eat a healthier diet, I have been buying more organic produce. Sometimes. Logically, I can afford it and know that it is better for my health. But then, in the store, when I see the much higher prices, I sometimes buy the lower priced non-organic variety.

Sojourner, I'm glad started this thread. I have been struggling with this and thought I was the only one out there.

Maybe I should just not look at the prices... Fat chance.
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:30 PM   #8
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You have to realize your time cost money , too.
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:33 PM   #9
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Sometimes you can have it both ways.
The Kirkland brands at Costco are frequently superior to the national brands, and cheaper as well.
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Old 08-27-2016, 01:40 PM   #10
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You have to realize your time cost money , too.
Exactly, and this was another thing I was thinking about while in the grocery store. "Is saving $1 on the store brand worth spending 3 minutes wandering up and down the paper towel aisle checking out prices and comparison shopping?" But this leads to some fuzzy math, because what is the actual dollar value of an hour of my life, or 3 minutes of my life? Certainly even 3 minutes seems like it's worth more than one dollar. But there's no objective way to quantify it, so it's easy and simple to fall back to using money as a yardstick.
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:03 PM   #11
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I am trying to teach my young daughter (so far unsuccessfully) to shop like you did with the paper towels....


And I am also trying to teach her that it is NOT just the paper towels.... IOW, if you start to let yourself 'go' buy buying the more expensive towels, then the next purchase you make you can rationalize that purchase and then the next and the next...

Soon, you are spending big bucks on big items and saying 'I deserve it'... you are no longer LBYM...


I try an limit my 'I deserve it' purchases to only a few items.... if you can narrow them down and stick to them then it will not become a problem... if not, then you might be in trouble....
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:09 PM   #12
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I follow a simple heuristic. Try the cheaper brand or generic first. It'll probably be fine. If it's not, no big deal as it's cheap anyway. Next time buy the name brand that's higher quality or suits your needs better.

Works flawlessly. Occasionally we'll hit a dud (the frozen broccoli at Aldi comes to mind). Take note, make a correction, move on.

I don't think saving a buck is irrational, but it is irrational if you spend more than several minutes to do so (unless you have a low value of your time). If I buy 50 things at the grocery store and save a buck on each thing, that's $50. Maybe it takes me 40 minutes to shop instead of 30 since I have to comparison shop a bit, but I'll take $300 tax free earnings per hour all day long!
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:11 PM   #13
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No I do not save money on such items.

Majority of household spending is on Housing and Transportation. The rest is peanuts unless you eat caviar and drink 100 dollar bottles of wine.

I am frugal in housing and transportation.
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:13 PM   #14
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<snip>
Do you have any "irrational" frugalities like this? If so, have you just accepted them or do you find yourself struggling to be more rational and loosen up the purse strings whenever you notice them?
Oh yeah.

While shopping for a couple of plants one day, I was stressing over buying the ones that were $3 each and the others were $5 each. Finally in mock desperation, my DH said...'Can we not afford the $5 plants?"

Old habits are hard to break.
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:13 PM   #15
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Sometimes you can have it both ways.
The Kirkland brands at Costco are frequently superior to the national brands, and cheaper as well.
As far as paper towels... Costco has better quality (I am not sure it is cheaper)
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:35 PM   #16
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Similar problem here, though I am willing to occasionally splurge for better quality on something we use frequently... like TP. At the end of the day though it is just highly likely that I am splurging with our kid's inheritances... and I'm ok with that!
This line of reasoning has also crossed my mind. When I really think about it, I do feel like buying the bargain brand of paper towels will ultimately just result in a larger estate for my heirs. And like you said, that's not exactly a problem that keeps me up at night. I do wish, though, that I had better control over these "hyperfrugal" tendencies, given that I know spending a bit more here and there on some name brand, premium items will have virtually zero long term effect on my overall wealth.
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:36 PM   #17
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I'm an engineer too, and I have this self discussion about purchases all the time. I'm not necessarily trying to spend the least money, but to get the best "value". Wasting time over very small amounts is a poor value too, though.
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:40 PM   #18
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I certainly don't sweat the small stuff. Life is too short.
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:41 PM   #19
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While shopping for a couple of plants one day, I was stressing over buying the ones that were $3 each and the others were $5 each. Finally in mock desperation, my DH said...'Can we not afford the $5 plants?"
This sounds like something I also would do, but the problem with the "Can we not afford the $X item?" approach is that my answer would quite often have to be "Sure, I can afford it." So if I used that line of reasoning too frequently I would end up always buying the more expensive stuff. I suppose it just comes down to splurging on a limited number of things that really make a difference or that matter to you. When choosing paper towels, I don't splurge since they all seem roughly the same.
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Old 08-27-2016, 03:46 PM   #20
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I've been known to walk in the gas station and pay cash to save $.10/gallon.
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