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.
These are all great points, Stefanie! I think about this when it comes to paper towels. I know I’m not sounding “green” by saying this, but every time I try to cut down on them or cut them out completely, I wonder if the tradeoff is worth it. The extra water and the heating of the water for washing extra towels. The laundry detergent. Drying them in the dryer (I have no place to line dry them). Is all of the extra electricity and water really better than using paper towels? And then, of course, the employees at the paper towel factories. What about them? Anyway, I’m glad you made it safely on that bus(?). Wow, you are a brave woman, indeed! 🙂
I try to be green too, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up paper towels entirely- and certainly not toilet paper!
1. I won’t do anything that wastes my time: it’s more important than few bucks – example: am using disposable diapers, so that I can spend more time with the baby and not caring for them.
2. I won’t eat anything that’s not fresh. We do cook at home, since we can control the ingredients and their quality, but we don’t purchase crap. our groceries bill is still pretty high, but healthy and quality food is one of our priorities, so no, I won’t save money on this.
3. I won’t re-use dirty water (from the washing machine for instance) to clean other stuff, I won’t turn down the heat in the winter, I won’t live in darkness, I won’t buy second hand clothing.
I’m with you on the eating fresh for sure and the dirty water and heat, but my wardrobe is probably 80% second hand and I love it.
I do worry about you a bit, Stefanie, when I hear of your couchsurfing adventures, I have to admit, but glad they’ve all been good so far. 🙂 I think you’re right on the mark here, especially when it comes to the groceries and food. So many of the “cheap eaters” out there have nutritionally void meal plans. We work hard to keep our food costs low, and do pretty well for our big family, keeping it at less than $100 per person per month. We could spend less, but I won’t compromise our health to do so.
Thanks for worrying Laurie, though fear not, I’m pretty rockstar about assessing and mitigating risk 🙂
I know you’re a pro at eating well on a budget!
I’ve given up a lot to save money while being in college, but I think it led to me doing more worthwhile things that don’t require money. Win win situation if you ask me.
Totally. I’m always grateful for the times when I’ve had limited income because it allowed me to adopt behaviors that will save me money for the rest of my life.
Glad you made it back to your home share safe. I know I’ve missed out on a few experiences here and there for the sake of saving a buck, but I try not to do that so much anymore. I have a 3 year old, so I do indulge in some things for her sake.
I don’t have kids, but I tend to indulge when my boyfriend is around- maybe too much even.
I was brought up in a cook-your-own household so the only time I eat ready-made or processed food is when I visit friends, and the difference (in flavour and in the quality of the ingredients) is amazing. I much prefer cooking my own food from fresh ingredients, even if those ingredients are a little more expensive. In my experience they don’t need to be though. And of course there are the health benefits…
Agreed. Fresh is a zillion times better- taste, health, everything!
When I was school I gave being social because going out was expensive. I try not to go out to eat but I learned how to keep my expenses down in order to have a little fun
I try to balance my fun but it can be challenging- especially now that everyone I know is getting married now, haha.
All good points. I definitely won’t sacrifice healthy foods to save a buck. That being said, we’re able to eat really cheaply and still have fresh, usually organic fruits and veg every day. I think it’s all about what you prioritize in your shopping cart.
My shopping cart is definitely a priority too- I wish it were for more people.
I won’t skimp on a car. I watched my parent’s cars break down over and over and one time stranded us in the middle of Nevada in the night only to see my dad hitchhike with strangers and we wondered if we would see him again (and I was a little kid). He did come back. But between break downs and constant repairs you spend as much as you would buying something better. It only makes sense to spend a little more money to buy reliable and safe cars than to cut corners and pay the price. Sometimes you don’t learn until you go through the experience to say “it’s not worth it.”
Interesting. Having lived in NYC my entire adult life I’ve never had to buy a car, but this is certainly something to keep in mind if I do.
I’m a very tall, thin (before kids, anyway) woman and so I have big, skinny feet. I tried recently to get second hand shoes, but all the shoes were stretched badly…
I bought cheap shoes with no support and now I have cysts on both big toes and plantar fasciitis. Happened quick!
Back to shelling out some $$$ for quality (vegan) shoes so I don’t have to pay a podiatrist a fortune!!
But I’m also all in for spending $$$ on high-quality whole-foods.
I’m not a huge coupon clipper either, BUT I do take a few minutes to go through the ads and grab the coupons for items I know I’m going to buy anyway. I usually do it while I’m watching TV so it isn’t a time hit, and usually I can save about $10 on my grocery bill. $10 a week adds up….
Good strategy. I look for coupons on mobile apps in store. I shop at Trader Joes for groceries- they subscribe to the everyday low prices rather than coupon philosophy, which serves me well.
Healthy food is the last place I’d cut my spending! Buying cheap, processed, pre-packaged food and thinking it saves money is very short-sighted, I think. You’ll pay a financial price in the long run through higher health insurance and care costs, and an even more important price in lower quality and length of life. Many people in the know attribute the epidemic in the US of chronic disease like diabetes and obesity to what’s sadly become our standard diet.
I’m with you Kurt. I wish more people realized that!
I used to be really bad about spending time to save money, until I calculated how much I believe my time is worth. Now that I know, I would much rather have the time than money…usually.
I think calculating how much your time is worth is a good practice- that way you can properly evaluate everything.