This piece is inspired by a Money Saving Mom blog post that details what seemingly normal things her family doesn’t spend money on. Her list included shaving cream, soda, paper towels, movies, dryer sheets/fabric softener, coffee filters/K-cups and cable TV.
I started to think about my family and how we spend differently from the much maligned Joneses. We are obsessively careful about daily expenditures, but we also spend a lot of money on certain wants that another family might consider scandalous.
Eight Things My Family Doesn’t Buy
- Disposable household products such as paper towels, paper napkins, menstrual supplies and disposable dishware. We use cloth napkins, rags and crocheted squares to minimize disposables in the kitchen. I have a $30 menstrual cup that’s been in use for over six years, and is likely to last until I hit menopause. We have enough dishes that we’ve never had to resort to paper plates or cups, even when hosting large gatherings. When my sons were little and set up lemonade stands, we still just used our kitchen mugs.
- Adult Gifts. I couldn’t exactly say when it happened, but my husband and I stopped exchanging birthday and holiday gifts awhile back. We’ve been together for almost 28 years, and neither of us feel the need to go through the motions and shop for gifts we can neither afford nor have much interest in. This was harder for my husband than it was for me, but I really don’t need another set of socks or a teapot. We also had conversations with our adult family members and agreed to stop exchanging Christmas gifts. We all have established households and it had become a meaningless and expensive routine that no longer felt pleasurable.
- Snack Food. We cook almost entirely from scratch, and we always prepare enough food to provide leftovers, which are highly prized. Even though we have two teenage boys, there’s always enough to eat. And if someone is hungry and doesn’t like what’s in the fridge, they can always grab a piece of fruit, scramble some eggs, make a grilled cheese sandwich or toast up some bread. This means no pizza rolls, crackers, chips or any other food marketed as “snack food.”
- Individually packaged drinks. My family almost exclusively quenches our thirst with tap water, although in the summer I’ll make sun tea that appeals to no one except me. My husband drinks coffee, which he grinds and then filters through a reusable gold filter that I bought at Goodwill, and the kids and I drink Red Rose tea. No one drinks milk unless there’s cake or brownies involved. So there’s no soda, juice boxes, adult juices or similar. My husband will occasionally buy local beer, but he’s mostly too tired from work to drink anything alcoholic.
- Fashion. My husband and I care 0.0% about what our clothes say about us. As long as our clothes are clean and well fitting, we’re good to go. Neither of us ever shop for clothes recreationally, and we tend to wear our clothing until it’s fit for the rag bag. Needless to say, we repair instead of replace and there’s been 0.0% negative impact on our careers or social lives.
- Corporate vacations. We’ve never taken our families to anything Disney or a resort. I know these types of vacations are very much entrenched in many people’s family cultures, (and I’m not judging those for whom this is important) but I have zero interest in spending thousands of dollars for a couple days of crowded amusement park. Instead we either stay at a friend’s $65 a night Oregon coast cabin or we visit my sister in New York City when we’re already on the east coast. Last year my husband and I were flown out to Washington D.C. by his employer, so we bought tickets for the kids and then took the Bolt Bus up to NYC to extend the trip. And when I was flown to NYC for The Today Show, I expanded the trip on both ends to stay with friends in NYC and New Hampshire.
- Paying others to do what we can do for ourselves. Although it would be amazing to pay a professional contractor to complete our household projects, it’s simply not worth the debt it would entail. My husband and I do all the work on our house, and we mow our own lawn, prepare our own taxes, bake our own cakes, clean our own house, change our own oil and maintain our own belongings. I cut my husband’s hair, and I cut the boys’ hair until middle school when they started wanting specific cuts.
- Eating in restaurants or getting takeout. Because we rarely splurge on restaurant food, it’s a huge treat when it happens. We used to eat out a lot before we had kids and when the kids were young. It wasn’t something to be savored and looked forward to, because it was usually a last minute decision based on zero meal planning. We were out of control. My mother and father take me out for lunch somewhat frequently, which makes me feel kind of guilty, but I know they can afford it and enjoy being able to do it for me.
Four Ways That We Spend Out
- We have always said “yes” when it came to paying sports fees and miscellaneous lessons. Both kids participated in inexpensive recreational soccer from kindergarten through the end of high school. But my younger son has a passion for soccer, so we started him in club soccer in high school, which costs $1000 a year plus tournament fees and uniforms. My older son does Cross-fit which is also expensive. If either son started complaining about having to go or making excuses, we would cut this expenditure, but that has yet to happen.
- Private Japanese tutoring. Both of our sons were part of a Japanese immersion program that’s through our public school. However, neither my husband nor I speak more than a few words of Japanese and are completely unable to help the kids with their homework. So when they advanced to a level that was truly difficult, we didn’t bat an eye to paying for weekly private tutoring that run $20 to $25 a session. Without this supplementation to their education, I have no doubt that my sons would have fallen behind to a point where they’d have to leave the program. And when my older son graduated last year, I noticed that he was one of only two boys who didn’t have a native Japanese speaker at home.
- Trips to Japan. My older son has traveled to Japan for class trips in 5th, 8th and 10th grade, and my younger son went for the 8th and 10th grade trips. My husband chaperoned a 5th grade trip, while I chaperoned an 8th grade trip. None of this was cheap. But we knew the trips were coming up, so we set money aside for them. And the experiences we’ve all had by getting to know the culture and having the opportunity to stay with host families has been life changing. Worth every penny.
- Soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer, soccer. My husband and younger son are obsessed with soccer, whether it’s supporting The Portland Timbers or their favorite European teams. They have season tickets in the Timber’s Army general seating area, and have traveled up to Seattle to attend games. We have cable TV with a sports package simply so that my husband and son can watch international games, and my husband cycles to work and back to offset the cost. I’ve been to a couple games, but it’s just not my thing. Seriously. Hated it. Wanted the fans to stop yelling so much. So yeah, not a fan of attending games in person. 😉
Other than these categories, we really don’t loosen our purse strings that often. We have one son in college right now who lives at home and will likely move out next year. We need our money so that he can graduate without massive student loan debt, and without keeping an eye on the pennies, the dollars would have dissipated into the mist.
Do you have ways in which you’re super cheap, yet spend out for what’s important in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
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