My internet router sucks. Every so often I’ll be checking my email or finishing up some really thoughtful comment on someone’s blog and the moment I hit “submit” everything disappears. “Error: no connection found.” I breathe a frustrated sigh and march into the living room to reset the router.
As much as it annoys me, I only consider my crappy router a minor inconvenience. My boyfriend on the other hand, can’t stand it. The inconsistency of the router infuriates him (and he’s not easily angered). He’s been politely suggesting I replace it for months now, but for me, resetting it every day or every other day has always seemed like a much more attractive option than spending $100 on a quality router- at least until I can’t find a more useful way to spend $100. So who really suffers as a result of my rationalizing? My boyfriend. But more importantly- our relationship.
This ridiculous piece of technology that I stubbornly refuse to replace because I don’t want to spend the money creates an ongoing problem. It seems small and stupid, but for the most part, those small and stupid points of contention are where big relationship problems form.
I’d like to say the router has been the only instance of my frugality creating tension in my relationships, but that’s simply not the case. Any time we go out to eat and don’t have a specific place in mind before leaving the house, it turns into a frustrating process. I want affordable, healthy, and vegetarian- a shockingly difficult combination- even in New York City. So we walk around, from menu to menu, as I try to find that perfect balance. Meanwhile, the boyfriend just wants to sit down and eat something (preferably meat), growing increasingly annoyed at my indecision.
I’ve always been an advocate for frugality, and on my own, I fully support my behavior above, but there are increasingly more ways to measure value when you involve more people in the process.
For example, in the case of the router, I have SO many more important projects to spend $100 on right now- the redesign of my website, new professional photos for work, marketing for my new book, etc.- so taking a couple minutes every day to reset that sucker when it goes down is a small sacrifice for keeping that cash available for other higher priority projects. However, the value I’ve failed to weigh in this assessment is that of my relationship and my boyfriend, both of which easily trump any of those aforementioned needs. And because frugality is about maximizing value- monetary and otherwise- replacing the router needs to top the list.
So while I’m all for frugality, I want to make sure I avoid it at the expense of others, because that’s when it becomes cheap. For me, that fine line between frugal and cheap has always been an important distinction. Admittedly there are times when I get so caught up in cutting costs, that I fail to maintain my perspective and teeter on the edge of losing the things I value altogether- like my relationships.
Luckily my boyfriend, though sometimes frustrated by my frugality, understands and respects my values. From date one I’ve been entirely transparent about my financial priorities, to the point that many of my values have rubbed off on him, mostly in a positive way. But when it comes to my darker moments, he’s also there, reminding me to keep things in perspective, making sure I remain frugal rather than regressing to cheap.
By making frugality a common goal from the start of our relationship, moments like the router or looking for dinner become a lesson rather than a threat to our relationship. We learn from one another and help each other grow. Then one day, you come home to a brand new router because there’s no better way to say, “I love you”.