I was recently introduced to Erin Chase, “The $5 Dinner Mom” – not in person, just online via her popular site 5dollardinners.com. This lady has been blowing up, from The Today Show to The View, she is inspiring folks all over the country to save money by eating in! Awesome, right?! In theory, yes, but in practice, my feelings are a bit more mixed.
She posted a photo on Facebook recently of her latest Costco haul, and I didn’t spot a single fresh ingredient. Oh wait, maybe there’s a bag of potatoes in there… Anyway, you get my point.
I’m all for saving money and inspiring people to cook their own food, but I worry about the trade offs. When your produce comes exclusively from freezers and cans and your meals are overly carb heavy and processed all for the sake of saving a few bucks, what kind of health cost are you incurring? Is it really worth it to give up whole foods (not the store, the actual foods) to save money?
The five dollar dinner revelation got me thinking about all kinds of other trade offs I, and other people I know make for the sake of saving a few bucks here and there.
Sometimes the time and effort required to save money simply isn’t worth the amount saved. Before I commit to any savings strategy, I try to objectively assess the value of those savings in relation to the time investment required. For me, that means no clipping coupons. Sorry, but saving fifty cents off of a bag of chips I neither like nor need is simply not worth my time.
I have been known to skip out on occasions and events for the sake of saving my precious pennies. While avoiding social and peer pressure to spend beyond my means is probably a good thing 99% of the time, I sometimes worry about “missing out” or, as they call it these days, #FOMO. It’s not just the fear of missing out on a good time, but also the fear of missing out on opportunities. I know from my own experience that future work prospects are often fostered in those off-hours, money spending environments. Is it worth it to save $5 on a happy hour drink if I’m missing a chance to earn thousands down the line?
I think about FinCon for example, the conference for personal finance bloggers I attended last weekend in New Orleans. Yes, it was a sizeable investment to fly down there and attend, but was it not worth the many income generating leads I’m now benefitting from?
This is one I struggle with. I have a tendency to put myself in potentially compromising situations for the sake of saving money. For example, at FinCon, I stayed at a Home Exchange rather than the host hotel so I wouldn’t have to spend money on accommodations. There was no threat to me or my safety at any time during my stay in the home and there never has been in any of my other cost cutting travel adventures like couchsurfing, but there potentially could be. While I’m usually pretty great about assessing and mitigating risk before implementing a cost cutting solution like that, I occasionally find my safety at risk.
For instance, at FinCon I was using public transit to get around town and to and from the host hotel to save money on cabs. While that was all well and good during the day, it wasn’t my best move one night after partying late on Bourbon Street. Luckily, I made it back okay, but during that uncomfortable bus ride, I truly felt unsafe and had the thought of “this is isn’t worth it”. Suffice it to say, I cabbed it back the rest of the nights.
Saving money isn’t always as clear-cut as it seems. Sometimes the things we have to give up to put an extra few bucks in the bank account aren’t really worth it.