Checking In; And, Being Minimalist Does Not Equal Being Frugal

I’ve been so tired the last couple of weeks — not in a bad way, necessarily. Things at work have just been really absorbing, to the point where, when I don’t have an evening event (we’ve had several since the semester started), I tend to just stagger home and fall over with the dog. Also, I’ve been reading a really fantastic book that a friend gave me recently, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza. It’s beautifully written, fast-paced, and even made me meditate on some classic PF topics, like the value of “stuff.” The word geniza, as the authors explain early on, can have a lot of different meanings, but it came to mean a hidden place where Jewish communities would put worn-out sacred books, something like an above-ground burial. For some reason, around 1000 AD, the Jewish community of Cairo started to store not only scripture, but anything written with Hebrew letters, and when the geniza was emptied out in the late 19th century it turned out to contain a thousand years’ worth of letters, business records, and other documents that in and of themselves were nearly meaningless in their own time, but now tell us modern people what it was like to be a medieval Jewish resident of Cairo like nothing else could. (The geniza also contained sacred texts like the original Hebrew version of Ben Sirah, which people had thought for centuries did not exist.)

Historians tend to rely on pack rats of various kinds to do their work, but I am not a pack rat by nature at all; I’ve actually intentionally destroyed things like the letters I wrote back and forth with friends as a teenager, because I’m terrified I’ll turn up in a history book hundreds of years from now sounding like an idiot 🙂 But sometimes I do think I have a tendency to let things go too easily. I kind of like the idea of the geniza — you can get all the stuff out of your own house and just pile it up in a hidden room at the synagogue….

The other problem with my natural minimalism is that it really does not equate to natural frugality. I’ve been struggling with this a lot this summer. Take my skin care routine. I have pretty sensitive skin, and have never found a drugstore product that didn’t feel too rough or make me break out a bit, even supposedly gentle lines like Burt’s Bees or Neutrogena (though I do use Neutrogena sunblock.) I never wear makeup, of any kind, so that’s pretty frugal! But I do plenty of damage to my bank account with what I spend on a facial cleanser, a facial moisturizer, and an eye cream. I get them all from Fresh (well, actually, I get them from Sephora these days, using ebates to spare myself a little financial pain (<–affiliate link for ebates, just in case anyone isn’t using them yet, seriously, they are amazing and I can’t believe I didn’t sign up earlier) but they’re made by Fresh) and they are pricy. They do last a long time, but still, $38 for a facial cleanser? $42 for a moisturizer? It’s a lot. My medicine cabinet is nearly empty with just a tube and two jars in it, but I could have basically half the drugstore for that.

It’s not just the skin care stuff either. I’ve been struggling all summer with the cost of buying all the fruit and vegetables and interesting other ingredients I want, and the cost of doing things like going out to dinner a bit more and buying tickets to shows, but I haven’t been doing a great job and it’s really caught up with me now. For the last few months I’ve been borrowing ahead from the next month’s budget, vowing to be really cheap the following month and get back to baseline, and every month I’ve failed to be cheap enough to do that — plus I’ve been frustrated by putting off purchases like face cream and a few other things. It’s just annoying. I started September $140 in the hole, and I think I’m going to end it about $100 over budget.

Sigh, I dunno. I really wanted to make it to the end of the year with a 50% savings rate, both because this is supposed to be the Year of Saving and because, hello, I want to save up a down payment by early next summer, why am I buying $42 face cream on the internet???????????????????????????? I’m at exactly 50% right now on the year, and it turns out that secretly I really wanted not only to “officially” save 50% of my income in savings accounts and retirement accounts, but also to “unofficially” rack up slush reserves. And that’s just not happening as of right now. I know I should be really happy with my “official” savings rate, but somehow it’s hard not to want to blast that out of the water with a 60% or even 70% savings rate.

Blah blah, you are all at FinCon, probably nobody is even reading this right now 🙂 Back in a couple of days with a more cheerful post about my visual motivation for the down payment savings.



21 thoughts on “Checking In; And, Being Minimalist Does Not Equal Being Frugal

  1. Give yourself a break! I find when I shame myself for overspending and try to make it up later it just snowballs cuz I feel bad leading to bad decision making leading to overspending etc. I say reset the personal deficit and try your best but don’t get too beat up over it. If only because if you push yourself it won’t be as sustainable.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I think that’s been kind of happening to me — I was resisting buying some things for months and then all of a sudden I was like “screw it.” Sigh.

  2. I’m sorry you feel frustrated, but I think it’s cool that you are wrestling through what some of your normal purchases are really worth to you. Being willing to continually question and re-evaluate is a sign of a truly frugal person.

    P.S. What happens when you don’t use your face creams? I have sensitive, acne-prone skin & have found I do best by putting nothing on it. (Except I wear foundation maybe once a week, which I’m sure doesn’t help, and facial sunscreen.) Even prescription creams have failed to improve my skin and sometimes make it worse, so I just do nothing.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thank you! I’m trying not to be obsessive, but I am also trying to question stuff.

      Part of the reason that the stuff I buy lasts so long is that I don’t wash my face every day. With no makeup to get off, I find that it does best if I don’t wash it constantly (like my hair, which I do about twice a week.) BUT, when I do wash it, if I don’t put moisturizer on afterwards, it feels really dry and tight. Plus, in my late 30s I’m starting to notice tiny wrinkles, and that’s not a huge problem for me, but I feel like paying attention to the moisturizing helps.

  3. I think you have to find the most comfortable savings rate/spending style for you. If 50% savings, plus pricey face cream and lovely skin works for you, then go with it! It’s your money (and face)! I love reading PF blogs from different viewpoints, but I have to be careful not to let the extreme frugality ones make me feel badly. That’s what works for the authors, but not for me. I want to pay off debt and have a nice cushion of savings, but I want to balance that with being able to purchase some things I want for myself or my family.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I guess you’re right — it’s easy to feel bad. I guess my angst comes from wanting to sacrifice to meet ambitious goals — but then it turns out that secretly I want to not only meet them, but surpass them! Sigh.

  4. I just came across your blog, but oh my god I could not identify with this more if I tried. I’m (just, just) starting out with the goal of saving 50% of my income, and I’m already in the “stress about it! No, don’t stress about it” place over things like birthday gifts and fruits and vegetables. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not worth it to stop buying spinach just to hit an arbitrary goal. Spinach is good for me! Same goes for skincare.

    I just wanted to say you’re not alone in either the worrying about bigger purchases like that when you’re up against a lofty savings goal (because holy moly 50% is amazing, good job you!) and also not alone in not being at FinCon 😉

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Hi Des! I love your blog title, amazing. Glad you found mine 🙂 It’s hard, because obviously 50% IS an arbitrary goal (what exactly is so wrong with 48%? Huh?) but it’s the kind of arbitrary goal that makes you really sweat to get there, which I guess is why it’s worth setting up. And honestly, getting to 50% has been relatively easy for me, since I live in a very low COL city and have made certain other choices (roommate, cheap old car) that get me there without having to think too much about it. It’s the “actual sacrifices” part that’s hard!

  5. Autumn says:

    A 50% savings rate is amazing!!

    Still, I know what you mean about wanting to push yourself. Aggressive goals make you work harder, but the downside is the guilt when you don’t quite reach them. Even with the guilt or feeling like I failed, I find it’s better to almost achieve a big goal than it is to surpass a goal that was way too easy. There’s just less satisfaction.

    And on a final note – moisturizing is always worth it. And so are fruits and vegetables. The long-term benefits are much more valuable than a 1% increase in your savings rate now.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I just wish the moisturizing were cheaper 🙂 But yeah, I know, it’s better to be ambitious probably — I get forced into saving more than I would have if I’d had a simple goal of 25% or something.

  6. Hannah says:

    I am a natural minimalist, but I don’t try to trick people into thinking I’m frugal. I’m forever paying people to just solve my problems. Plus, I never buy anything on sale, and I hate even thinking about shopping sales.

    My husband and I could probably achieve a very high savings rate if we tried, but we would rather spend money on new floors and cabinets and other very expensive things.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      OMG paying people to do things is the best. And there is something nice about problems that can be solved just by throwing cash at them.

  7. Jordann says:

    Don’t be too tough on yourself! I’m running into the same issue right now with my week-to-week spending on groceries. I’m always overspending on healthy food, local meat, etc. My solution is that starting this week my husband and I are going on a cash diet. We’re literally only going to operate with cold hard cash. We’ll see how it goes!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It is so easy to spend so much on really great food — without ever even going out to eat! Good luck with the cash experiment.

  8. ARBM says:

    I’ll echo the other comments here… Don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t beat yourself up. You are doing a great job at saving, and you also need to take care of yourself in the “now”, not just the future you. Of course, it is always easier for those of us removed from the situation to tell you all this… 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      LOL. Well, I want to take care of myself, I just wish I knew how to do it with cheaper face cream 🙂 Thanks. And btw, happy marriage! I haven’t had much time to comment on other blogs lately but I have been reading and saw that you’d done the deed 🙂

  9. That book sounds so interesting! I totally understand, especially with the 50% goal. So why not increase it little by little, and see where you can get to by the end of the year? Instead of aiming for 70%, why not 51%, and then 52%? Little victories certainly help motivate me along the way.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It is a *really* good book — I super enjoyed it. And huh, I like the idea of the slow and gradual increase! I may have to try that one out. Thanks.

  10. First of all, I totally get where you are coming from. I often feel the same! But I think it is so much better to have 3 really quality items (in this care skin care products) that make you feel really good and work for you rather than have a million crappy items (in this case half the drugstore). So, don’t be too hard on yourself. If these products are really worth it (and to me it sounds like they are), you’ll find other areas to cut back. Stop using your dryer? Can your cell plan be reduced? Cut cable and get Netflix? Host a few potlucks instead of dinner out with friends? I know it is sometimes easier said than done 🙂

  11. Ah! I wrote a long comment, got side-tracked, timed out, and lost it : (
    I think you’re doing extremely well, and I wish you felt that way. The bottom line is that you are meeting your goal of saving 50% even while allowing yourself to have selective and at times expensive tastes in certain areas. Value-based spending is unique to each person, and it’s just fine. You are winning at this game! The slush fund was a sort-of goal. Forget about it. 50% is the real, out-there goal. And you’re doing it!
    I’m concerned because you said you’d write again in “a couple of days”. It’s Oct. 1. Are you OK?

    1. thesingledollar says:

      And I totally missed this comment! Oof. Well, my post is up. thank you again for checking in with me!

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