Discontentment undermines frugality

By Stew

Last week I wrote about how my discomfort at caring for my children for four days by myself was influencing me to spend more money. I recognized the fact that discomfort can affect the spending of even the most frugal spender.

But there is an even bigger threat to frugality: the desire for more and better and bigger. It is a desire that is never satisfied. A wealthy man was once famously asked how much money it would take to satisfy him, he replied: “just a little bit more”. His response was a wry nod to the human condition. We are never satisfied and the few among us who learn to control the natural desire for more are the happiest – regardless of their socio-economic status.

When I was growing up, one of our Saturday morning chores was to vacuum out the family cars. I used to hate this job, not because of the work, but because of the vacuum we had to use. My dad had this old upright, canister vacuum that was about three feet high with a hose out of the top. The “car vacuum” as we called it was rusted and held together with bits of old electrical wire. The power cord was worn through in several areas and we were instructed to stay away from puddles in the driveway. The latches were loose and sometimes the top of the canister would pop off onto the ground. We would complain and tell dad that we needed to buy a new one. He would smile and reply, “that vacuum is 20-some years old and still getting the job done!” One time, one of my brothers almost wrecked it by sucking up some water, but dad got it running again.

My point is that he was content with that old vacuum – and his contentment saved him a few dollars. As long as the vacuum continued to successfully pull crumbs off the seats and floor mats in our station wagon, he was willing to use it, no matter what it looked like. There did come a day when that piece of junk bit the dust and for as much as we all complained about that piece of junk, I kind of missed the old thing even though the new Shop Vac was a little more hip and you could vacuum up water without ruining it.

I recently purchased a new wireless printer for our house. I got a pretty good deal on it, researched the model that used the least amount of ink and though I had done a good thing. However, the problem is that we did not really need a new printer. Our old one works just fine, I was just not content with having to walk into the other room and plug it into the laptop every time I needed to print. I wanted to be wireless!

It was a dumb purchase and I am taking the printer back to the store. The only reason that I spent the money was because I was not content with a perfectly adequate printer that had the slight inconvenience of requiring me to plug a cord into a USB port.

With food to eat and clothes to wear; content we are in everything.

I Timothy 6:8

Can you get a long a little longer with the clothes in your closet? How about your car? Do you really need that SUV or is the minivan getting the job done? Do we rationalize in order to make that extra purchase or are we content with just getting by with the status quo? Just think, my dad probably could have afforded to purchase a new vacuum for several years before the old one gave out and if he had, he might not have had to listen to as much complaining from his kids and he would have had a new vacuum for a few months before it became “used”. But then I would probably not remember anything about cleaning out the car on Saturdays or learned anything about contentment from my father. To say nothing of not having that memory on which to call for this article.

To this day, that old brown and silver canister is a symbol of contentment. If my dad could use an old vacuum for 25 years, I can probably get another year at least out of my printer.

Article by Stew

Photo by mtungate

10 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Discontentment undermines frugality”

  1. Erik Says:

    Great post Stew! Most of us reading online have such wealth (compared to those who have so little in other countries) that we often are in a consumption society that tears through things with no end in sight. My wife and I have a rule that before we make any purchase, we ask a list of questions like “Could this money be better used elsewhere?” How often could what we are buying be better used to give to those less fortunate? I’ll try to blog on our questions tomorrow.

  2. Gina Says:

    Were you ‘the fly on the wall’ at lunch w/me yesterday? Of course not, but this is exactly what a friend and I were talking about. I am expecting my 2nd child (due Feb 2011) and she was telling me that I “needed” a bigger car. I told her “no that 2 car seats would fit fine in the backseat of my 2003 Camry.” {which is paid off this month – woohoo} And that I was keeping that car until I paid off my credit card debt and saved up for another one. Then she said, ‘well you will need a bigger house.’ I said, ‘Wrong again. The house we have has plenty of room {3bed/2bath}. Besides if the 2nd child is a girl, she and my daughter can share a room. If it is a boy, they can still share a room for a little while or my husband can move his office into the wet bar area.’

    It felt nice to say all that, with confidence, and she (of course) thought I was crazy, which Dave Ramsey says will happen. I couldn’t have said that 5 yrs ago. Great post!

  3. Stew Says:

    Gina, we had a perfectly good four-door sedan that was just about paid off when we had our second child. Of course, then we just had to have a minivan . . . and that was the beginning of trouble .. .

  4. supermom_in_ny Says:

    Totally know what you mean. As a mom to 7 kids, I’m always hearing about how this kid just got this new phone and then chucked it the next month for a newer model. Luckily, my kids are not like other kids. They think it’s wasteful, which it is. The part that most adults don’t see is that their kids are watching, learning and exhibiting their behavior. The day that they can upgrade to the latest tech toy, they are going to reap the harvest of the seeds that they sowed…

  5. supermom_in_ny Says:

    Oops, that should have read:
    They day that they can’t.

    Sorry for the typo!


  6. Kate Says:

    For me this comes under “counting my blessings” and being happy with what I have. And all too few people “get it”.

    For instance, my little economy car is 20 years old. It’s great on gas, it carries far more cargo than you’d think to look at it, it’s reliable and comfortable, easy to drive and park. Yet almost everyone who sees it tells me I “need” a new car, and they’re baffled when I reply “Why? There’s nothing wrong with this one!”

    I may not have a job right now, I may not have much money to spend … but I am richer than 99% of the people on this planet in material things, and blessed with loving family and friends. I have everything I need and almost everything I want. How could I be less than content?

  7. kseahag Says:

    I am a very frugal person. I bought my car brand new and had it for 14 years and would still have if it wasn’t totalled in an accident. I to bought a new printer my old one worked fine had it since 2000 but it only printed. My new one scans, faxes and copies as well as prints and was one of the best purchases I made. I save tons just in faxing and not paying postage. I had a coupon plus was credited $50 for my old printer and $6 for my ink cartridges that were in my printer, they didn’t fit my new one. I love the wireless aspect of it as well.

  8. BD Says:

    “The “car vacuum” as we called it was rusted and held together with bits of old electrical wire. The power cord was worn through in several areas and we were instructed to stay away from puddles in the driveway.”

    Not sure if this is the best example of frugality!
    Sometimes one can be penny-wise and pound-foolish. If something is so old that it is a significant safety hazard, you have to weigh the consequences of something going wrong against a few pennies earned.

    What if you children had been electrocuted because of the old worn-through cord? A trip to the emergency room, or the possible loss of a child’s life costs infinitely more than replacing a $50 car vacuum.

    Likewise, refusing to replace a faulty toaster or other piece of electrical equipment in the house because “it still gets the job done” could likely result in your entire house being burned down. How frugal is that?

  9. maggie.k Says:

    Of course, he was content with it. He wasn’t the one who had to use it. My husband and I have had more than one fight over his trying to save money by increasing my hassle and workload. I’m pretty frugal, and pretty good about being content without the latest, greatest thing, but this sounds like frugality at someone else’s expense.

  10. Heather in WV Says:

    I agree with maggie.k in that my kids are always willing to go along with frugal measures if they don’t have to do the heavy lifting. Now that they are older and expected to hang out laundry, cook from scratch, get jobs to pay for their “toys”, and go along with me while I show them how to grocery shop frugally-they seem a lot less content. For me, safety aside (and that vacuum was not safe), often quality is remembered long after price is forgotten. That said, I got an old, enormously heavy blender from Sears’ Lady Kenmore line (I’m guessing 60s vintage) for $5 at the thrift store. That machine is made so well that my kids will have it when I’m gone. And we are having a ball making milk shakes and smoothies, etc. I’m hoping my kids will have learned not only contentment, but cheap family fun too.