Accidental past frugality

I’m somewhat of a natural spender. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love watching my net worth go up and watching credit card balances go down. But when it comes down to it, I have no problem spending money, and I have no problem doing it on a whim.

Case in point: earlier this year I woke up with a completely random desire to switch out the stud I’d had in my nose for about five years for a ring instead just because, and lo and behold I stopped by a tattoo/piercing place on my way home from work that day. (Turns out I had to try three days in a row at two different places in order to have someone there who could switch it out for me so I had plenty of time to reconsider this whim of mine, but the point remains that I would’ve done it that first day if I’d been able!)

That particular bit of #treatyoself indulgence cost me $30: $20 for the ring and $10 for the lady to switch it out for me, which was worth it because I’d never have been able to get the damn thing in myself. Luckily most of my impulse purchases tend to be fairly small like that—I’ve never been able to justify spending large amounts of money on a whim—but they certainly add up. It’s a thing I’m absolutely working on.

However, despite the spending tendency, looking back on my pre-blogging/pre-FI-journey days, I can see a couple of instances of frugality. I wasn’t necessarily aware of them at the time, and it for the most part it wasn’t frugality for frugality’s sake. Now that I’m on the FI track, it’s really interesting to look back at these pre-FI-journey occurrences.

Frugal beginnings

I come from a family that’s fairly frugal: neither of my parents grew up in households where there was a lot to go around, at least while they were still living at home. One of my grandfathers still has some very Depression-era tendencies even though he’s been investing for years and is now a millionaire on paper (although he’s a textbook example of frugality crossing the line over into just plain cheapness. That’s a whole can of worms I’m not opening).

My family appreciates the value of used items. I’m the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family, so there were no hand-me-downs for me. However, it’s really entertaining to see my cousins still wearing clothes that were mine many, many years ago (and damn, I actually had fairly decent fashion sense for an awkward, gangly teen who couldn’t find any clothes that fit her!). I didn’t really appreciate going to yard sales with my grandmother when I was young, but unbeknownst to me it instilled in me an appreciation of buying used. If she were alive today, I’d absolutely go yard sale-ing with her.

My frugal ride

My car kinda sorta doesn’t count because I wouldn’t have a car if my parents hadn’t given me one of theirs (they were upgrading to a (used!) Prius anyway, the damn tree-huggers). I sure as hell couldn’t afford to buy a car a year and a half ago, even a beater.

But I accepted that used car with enthusiasm, even though it was 10 years old at the time and my mom had put a ton of miles on it. Because damn, I loved that car when it was my mother’s. I was that totally cool kid who drove a minivan to school because it was our only available vehicle; nothing like feeling like an 18-year-old soccer mom! Although it wasn’t until senior year of high school when I had a ton of things that meant staying at school late that my parents finally relented and let me drive to school instead of taking the bus. So the van was actually a huge upgrade in terms of transportation…

I totally schemed to find ways to drive mom’s car instead, and not just because it wasn’t a minivan: I loved the way the car drove and it was so nice and small (and had such a great turning radius!) compared to the van. The days my mother (and thus her car) came home from work before I had to leave for dance or soccer were the best.

Turns out I won in the end because that car’s now mine instead of my mother’s, hah!

My thoughts on excessive a/c, let me tell you them

When it comes to utilities, frugality is a win for both my wallet and the environment. Dad brought home An Inconvenient Truth from Blockbuster (remember those days??) years ago and had the family watch it. And thus was born a budding and absolutely horrified hippie liberal tree-hugging (*insert the rest of the relevant disdainful adjectives here*) environmentalist in the form of me.

We had a conversation about the documentary after it was done, and Dad mentioned that he kept the house warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter originally because it was cheaper that way, but it was also a good way to save energy, and now he thought that was the more important reason to do so. My habit of turning off the light every time I leave the room started that day. I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand why people wouldn’t think saving energy was a good thing in itself, but definitely didn’t understand why people wouldn’t do so for the monetary savings if nothing else.

Now that I’m living on my own, I could blast the a/c during the infernally humid DC summers if I wanted to, but nope, I keep the temperature in my apartment to relative extremes. It helps that I’m a cold-blooded lizard person who spends what seems like 80% of her life freezing her ass off, so I don’t mind if it’s warm in the apartment in the summer. Okay, I’m not actually a lizard person but I am solar-powered and my body temperature does run a good degree or two below “normal.” I spend most of the summer seething about the ridiculous level at which most places feel they need to blast their a/c, and I legit eat lunch outside even when it’s 90+ degrees so I can thaw out a bit before going back inside for the rest of the afternoon.

My roommate turned the a/c on last week for the first time after something like three wonderful weeks of keeping the windows open, and it was a sad day for me.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I told my roommate about my general reluctance to blast the a/c before she moved in instead of springing it on her. I’m not a huge fan of a/c but I’m also not a jerk! I definitely asked people who came to look at the apartment what their temperature preferences were, which made it easier to weed out the weird people who enjoy being cold like my first roommate!

As for winter, well, I hate the cold. I hate winter. There’s something to be said for cozy sweaters and warm blankets, but that shit gets old after about a week. It’s a good thing it would be prohibitively expensive to heat my horribly insulated apartment to a comfortable-for-me level or I’d have to think really hard about whether not having cold feet even while wearing fuzzy socks would be worth the energy outlay.

I typed up this post while sitting in a used armchair

My apartment is almost entirely furnished with used items. I didn’t intentionally set out to have that happen three years ago, but I couldn’t have done a better job with that than if I were in the same position of needing to furnish an empty apartment today.

I spent all four years of college living in a dorm and moved to a furnished apartment for three months the summer after I graduated, so there was time to prepare for the big transition of living on my own and needing the general accoutrements that come with that. As a graduation gift, my parents came up to DC to help move me into my apartment at the end of the summer, and they also bought me all my furniture. My summer internship was ending (and I obviously didn’t know I’d spend two scary months unemployed afterwards or I probably would’ve moved back home), so this was a huge help as I started Real Adult life.

You know how much they spent on all the furniture? Approximately $600.

My parents live in central NC, where there are a bunch of universities and therefore a bunch of college/grad students desperate to get rid of their things as they move out. My mother spent a few months happily (and I mean that—she was super into this. She still comments on how nice my apartment looks when she comes to visit!) scouring the university version of Craigslist for good deals. I did get some say in the matter: she’d text me the links to various couches or beds she thought looked good so I got to choose some things. It never honestly occurred to me that this could’ve happened any other way, because of course my apartment was going to have used furniture in it. Buying new furniture was not an option.

There are a few things I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen on my own, but you know what? They were free, and they work perfectly well in my apartment! One of the funkier pieces of furniture has actually grown on me over time.

I am also not missing out on the ubiquitous 20-something Ikea lifestyle either! I did buy a desk from there, as well as a small coffee table for the living room. But I even have used Ikea: both the table my tv sits on and the one I have just inside the front door are Ikea tables my mother picked up from someone else! I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not that this feels like an important rite of passage, but nonetheless I’m having my Ikea cafeteria cake and eating it, too.


Okay, that last sentence clearly indicates that it’s way past bedtime and I need to stop writing, so I’m going to do that. Does anyone have any similarly fiscally responsible things that happened in their life pre-FI track? Let me know in the comments!

2 Replies to “Accidental past frugality”

  1. I grew up in a pretty frugal household. We always thrifted our clothes and my mother got furniture second hand from clients moving out of their houses (and let me tell you, her interior design skills were *bomb*). To this day, most of my belongings are either hand-me-downs, gifts, or from thrift/consignment.

    1. That’s an awesome way to get furniture, and I’m jealous of your mom’s interior design skills, since there was a time in high school I thought that’s what I wanted to do in life!

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