Take a peek in my closet and the only pair of pants you’ll see hanging (pajama pants excluded) is a single pair of mint-condition jeans I bought at the Salvation Army store for $4.99. Take a few steps down the hall into my bathroom and you’ll find a pink-handled bamboo toothbrush that also cost me $4.99. That’s right: I spent as much on my toothbrush as I did on the only pair of leave-the-house pants that I own.
If you’re as frugal as I am, you might have been nodding your head in approval at the great deal I got on those jeans. Then quickly switched to shaking your head at the outrageous cost of my very simple toothbrush. “You paid $4.99 for a toothbrush!” you exclaim. “Doesn’t she know she can get a great toothbrush on sale for a buck apiece?” Yes, I know, and here’s why I won’t.
Frugal Doesn't Mean Cheap: Aligning Budget and Personal Values …
Often we’re reminded the difference between being frugal and being cheap is a cheap person cares only about price, but a frugal person will care about true value. Here, I'm talking about cost plus quality, lifespan of a product, enjoyment, etc. of a product or service. What we don’t hear often enough is that part of a product’s true value is how it lines up with our own personal values.
Personally, my number one value is veganism. So I’m always willing to shell out more for the cruelty-free version of a product, no matter how tight my budget. That means, for example, that I pay up to five times more for a tube of toothpaste than the average frugal consumer, but that's not something on which I’m willing to compromise. Beyond that strict core value, shopping decisions require a bit of a balancing act.
My other values as a consumer include environmental responsibility and healthfulness. There isn’t a single grocery trip when I don’t have to weigh those two values against dollar value when making my choices. One sad example my husband can relate with a tear in his eye is how we came to be a margarine-less household after that delicious, fatty product ended up on the wrong side of the balancing scale. Was it cheap? Yes, at $2.99 per tub it was totally affordable. Vegan? Yep, no lactose in the store brand version! Healthy? (Well, um, at least it’s sugar-free?) Environmentally packaged? Nope, just another plastic container that would end up in the recycling bin twice a month. In the end, the price tag and animal-friendly ingredients couldn’t outweigh the thought of all those plastic containers piling up in our recycling bin just so we could add more empty calories to our diet.
Thankfully, being frugal, healthy, environmentally conscious and vegan (or any combination thereof) is usually pretty easy. Staples such as dried legumes and grains such as brown rice and oatmeal are healthy, cheap, vegan and environmentally responsible choices, especially if you source them from the bulk bins and fill your own reusable bags. However, it gets a little trickier once you get to purchasing those personal care products, like my plain-Jane $4.99 compostable toothbrush.
By saving as much money where I can and when I can on the foods I buy, I give myself a little more leeway when it comes to buying products that line up with my values but never will be “cheap,” such as my totally awesome toothbrush. I scour my go-to websites for sales, scan fliers as they show up on the Flipp app and use coupons whenever I can. Thereby I enable myself to stay within my budget without compromising my values.
Whatever your personal values may be, whether you’re a weird granola girl like me or someone who can’t stomach the idea of buying anything other than organic produce, take heart in knowing you’re doing what you can with the money and time you have available. Maybe you can’t afford to buy all organic because your budget won’t allow it, or you can’t buy the fair trade coffee unless it’s on sale, but that’s OK. The worst thing we can do is beat ourselves up for not living up to our own standards when we simply don’t have the means. Instead, we do what we can with what we have now and know that in the future, when all of our diligence has paid off and we (hopefully) have more money to work with, we can afford to buy only products we believe in. Until then, I’m more than happy to brush my teeth with a $5 toothbrush while wearing $5 pants.
What about you? What items have you decided not to compromise on when making reductions to your budget?
Kelly is a stay-at-home mom in British Columbia with two wonderful little girls under the age of four, and hopes they grow up to be as weird and opinionated as her. Someday she'll buy more pants, but still won’t spend more than $4.99 a pair.