The Obsessive (And Maybe A Bit Weird) Sacrifices I Make To Save Money

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
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I don’t generally share how obsessive I am about saving money. It’s embarrassing. I’m little “extra,” as the kids say, in this regard. And yet I see no reason to change. I like my compulsive money-saving, even if my methods are a bit much. I save money at the micro level every day so that I have money later for larger purchases I otherwise could not afford. It works for my family.

But … how “obsessive” are we talking, here?

Well, for starters, I don’t run the water one moment longer than necessary when doing dishes or brushing my teeth. I always wash my laundry in cold water. I don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softener. I don’t do “small loads” of laundry. Every load is a full load.

I don’t have cable — just an inexpensive smart TV with a couple of basic streaming services. I don’t have a landline phone, and my smartphone plan is through Mint, which is only $20 per month. I buy phones outright, via Ebay. I can usually find the next-to-latest model for half of the lowest sale price you’d find in a store.

I keep my AC at 78 (77 if I’m moving around a lot). I grocery shop at Aldi. I buy most of my clothes at Goodwill or thrift shops and nearly all of my furniture/art/decor is from Facebook Marketplace. I only buy lotion SPF, never spray, because the lotion lasts much longer and is therefore much cheaper over time. I unplug appliances when not in use or devices when they don’t need to charge.

But none of the foregoing is that weird, right? Oh, it gets weirder.

I coast up to red lights to conserve gas. Actually, no. It’s weirder than that. I do this thing where I time my approach to a red light so that my vehicle never comes to a complete stop before the light turns green. Because a car uses less gas to accelerate from a coast than from a complete stop.

I avoid running my car’s AC, except when on the highway, because the cost of running the AC while on the highway is less than the cost of loss of aerodynamics due to having the windows down.

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I use every last molecule of toothpaste/shampoo/soap from the tube/bottle. I will literally cut tubes open to get to the last drops. I only use bar soap and a wash cloth because it’s cheaper than using body wash and a loofa (and better for the environment). I take cool to lukewarm showers.

We use only cloth napkins for mealtimes. It takes us ages to go through a roll of paper towels. But the napkins make so much extra laundry! No, they don’t. They’re small enough that they hardly make a dent in my laundry. Reusable everything, whenever possible. “Disposable” means you have to buy more.

I save money by wearing my contact lenses longer than the package suggests (I know, it isn’t ideal, but I do keep them clean). I use less than the recommended dose of my prescription topical acne medication. (I take my antidepressant exactly as prescribed; not good to fool with one’s brain chemistry.) I never get manicures or pedicures. I taught myself to cut my own and my kids’ hair.

I rarely buy coffee out, and when I do, it hurts my soul. I can’t help but think of how a single coffee from a coffee shop costs almost as much as I pay for a 24 oz coffee tin from Aldi, which yields almost FIFTY cups. A single cup versus 50!? The pleasure of that fancy cup of coffee just doesn’t quite make up for it being 50 times more expensive.

Why am I like this? I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, though I do remember being about 11 years old and studying the menu at the skating rink concession stand and trying to calculate which offering yielded the most food mass per dollar. Who does that?

Freshman year of college, I opted out of the meal plan. As someone who didn’t usually eat breakfast anyway, it didn’t make sense to pay for three meals per day via the meal plan, even if the per-meal breakdown was technically cheaper than if you were to buy three meals per day without a meal plan. I probably saved $2,000 on food my freshman year.

During my master’s program, which I attended only thanks to a generous scholarship, I could make as little as $12 stretch the rest of the month left over after paying rent (this involved a lot of rice and soy sauce). I calculated the per-ounce and per-pound price of groceries long before grocery stores put those numbers on the shelf tags.

Still, why? Is it because I saw my parents struggle? I have memories of snooping through my parents’ bills, my heart sinking when I saw the garish red “OVERDUE” stamp, the paralyzing number in the “owed” box. My sister and I were in charge of answering the phone and telling whichever bill collector was calling that our mom or dad was “in the shower.” My dad’s construction job rode the volatile waves of the housing market.

Even during the years I had more than enough, when I was married to someone who had a well-paying job and I was also working part-time in addition to being the on-call parent, I still hung on to a lot of these compulsions. Spending money frivolously has always felt terrible to me.

To be fair, I do pay for a couple of things that others may consider a luxury. Lawn care, for example. The number of hours this crew saves me is worth it, and I don’t mean in terms of my peace of mind. I mean I can write an article in the time it takes these folks to mow my lawn once, and that covers my lawn care for the whole month. If I were to mow and weed whack and edge and leaf blow by myself, it would take me six times longer than it does this experienced and meticulous crew. Plus I’d have to invest in all those tools. It doesn’t make financial sense for me to do the job myself. That’s part of the obsession, though — doing that math. I can’t help myself.

Some of my methods may seem a little over the top, but I’m honestly okay with this aspect of my personality. My obsessive saving and sacrificing is the only way I’m able to manage larger purchases. This past April, I bought a violin for my daughter. In July, we rented a cabin in the mountains for a week. I max out my IRA and ROTH IRA most years.

Maybe some people will think the measures I take to save money are extreme, but maybe others can relate. Maybe I’m not the only one who believes that pennies add up over time. Truly, I do believe that. I know, because I’ve crunched the numbers — obsessively. And I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

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