No Longer Just About The Money

by Katy on December 9, 2009 · 18 comments

Although I have only been a Compacter, (buy nothing new) for three years, I have been a tightwad for ages. I remember making my childhood allowance last forever, and I saved so much money from babysitting and $3.35 per hour minimum wage jobs in high school that I was able to travel abroad for a year and still not need a student loan my first year of college.

What can I say? I prefer hanging onto my money to mindless shopping.

When my kids were little, I reveled in sewing creative patches onto the knees of their thrift store jeans. I obsessively went through Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette with a fine tooth comb, and made a lot of gifts by hand. I also stocked up on 28¢ boxes of macaroni and cheese and scored cheap toys from Target and Wal Mart.

Things have changed — my life is no longer focused on saving money at any cost.

I now refuse to buy boxed macaroni and cheese, preferring instead to cook wholesome meals from scratch. I want no part of cheaply made products and there ain’t a big enough bargain on this green earth to entice me into a Wal Mart. No Siree Bob!

Don’t get me wrong, I still geek out on frugality, but not if it grossly counteracts the sustainability.

I do love saving money, but that passion is definitely playing second fiddle to the big picture these days. Excessive packaging, whether it be for household packaging or food is a complete turn off. And that three pack of lotion that my husband picked up at Costco last week? Getting returned, as the non-recyclable blister pack is beyond ridiculous.

Saving money is definitely more fun than making sustainable choices, but that’s okay, I don’t need to be having fun at all times. And I would still sew decorative patches on my the knees of my kid’s jeans, if they would only let me. Silly style conscious teenager.

Are you finding that frugality is not the end all, be all that it used to be? Are you willing to spend a little extra to make the sustainable choice? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlotte December 9, 2009 at 3:06 am

“Are you willing to spend a little extra to make the sustainable choice?”

Absolutely. For me, the prime example is milk. We drink a LOT of it in our family of 5, and I insist that it come from reasonably happy cows. So I buy it from a local dairy that is organic and that gives cows lots of space to roam about (and most importantly, invites anyone to come and visit and check them out; I haven’t actually been but hopefully will some day.)

The milk is horribly expensive ($10/gallon), and eats near a quarter of my total food budget. I could get it lots cheaper if I went for conventional milk (especially with dry mixed in), but no, I won’t.

I wish I had a bigger lot and our zoning would allow for a miniature cow…


Mary December 9, 2009 at 7:49 am

I agree with Charlotte – we buy as much as possible from our Locally Grown buying club even though some of the items are more expensive than going to the grocery store. It feels great to know you’re helping a local farmer/friend instead of paying for produce to be shipped 2,000 miles.
To me it’s all about what I want to support with my money. If I need something other than food I go to local resale shops first.
I really enjoy your blog, I read it everyday!


Meg December 9, 2009 at 8:52 am

This is exactly how I feel!

I consider myself very money conscious, but there are certain things I will not do to save money. I try to avoid products that poison me or the environment. I’ll pay a bit extra to avoid excess packaging. I use reusable bags. And I much prefer to buy fresh, whole, and often organic foods from the farmers’ market and our locally-owned grocery store than use coupons to buy processed crap from Wally World.

Frugality isn’t just about saving every penny. That’s being cheap. Frugality is about not being wasteful. And for me, that includes not wasting my health or this planet, two resources that are far more important than having a little more in my bank accounts.


Melissa December 9, 2009 at 10:45 am

I think milk is the perfect example. I buy organic, because my kids drink a lot of milk, but it does cost quite a bit (not $10 a gallon, however – yikes! That’s dedication.) But I always find myself wondering if it does any good if I don’t go all the way (I don’t buy organic cheese, for example). I do think about packaging, too, and try to avoid over-packaged items. I’m not sure I’m doing such a great job this Xmas, though. Most of the toys I got have some sort of package (which, I’ve heard can be opened with a can opener, and I hope is true). I guess my sustainable ideals are seasonal. Boo.


Queen Lucia December 9, 2009 at 12:06 pm

We consume so much milk and eggs that it makes sense to buy them organic/local – sustainable sense, that is. It’s definitely more expensive and sometimes I get a pain when I put them in my cart, but I focus on the good and just breathe. I also buy organic shampoo bars and soap – also more expensive but I HATE seeing the packaging in the garbage or recycling bin.

For Christmas this year my daughter wants a Barbie Dream House, so we’re buying one off Craig’s List. Although it’s a better buy because it’s used and comes with all the accessories, it’s still fairly pricey (it’ll be her only under-the-tree gift). But more than the cost, I just couldn’t face walking into Toys R Us and buying a big new plastic THING. When my daughter outgrows it, we’ll also pass it on. What goes around, comes around!

As a side note, this year I noticed Costco changed their pumpkin pie packaging from a cardboard box to a big plastic tub – I wouldn’t let my husband get one and this was a major sacrifice, as he loves their pumpkin pie. I mean, was the cardboard box really that much of a concern?


Angela December 9, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Queen Lucia- Make your husband a pumpkin pie with the recipe on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can (not pumpkin mix, just plain pumpkin puree). It’s so easy, especially if you use a Pillsbury roll-up crust. I always get loads of compliments, and I just laugh and say “It’s Libby’s!”

I’m always balancing the frugal/sustainable scale as well- we drink organic milk and organic/free range eggs, try to cook from scratch and avoid packaging, etc. But when I go to Whole Foods or a market like that, some things are WAY out of my price range.


WilliamB December 9, 2009 at 5:01 pm

I prefer healthy foods to cheap ones, ingredients I can pronounce to ones I can’t. Um, generally. Hillshire Farms Turkey Kielbasa is still a regular in my house. And I go to Walmart only under the greatest duress (three times in my life, so far). I wish that happy eggs were more convenient to buy cuz I’d definitely pay $4/doz for them.

OTOH, industrial organic is of questionable value because a lot of it isn’t sustainable, and most of the animals aren’t happy animals. So I don’t go out of my way to but it. YMMV on this decision but I heartily recommend Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to learn more about industrial organic.


Rachel December 9, 2009 at 7:07 pm

I agree. I felt the same way about The Tightwad Gazette – it was my bible. These days, however, I’m increasing leaning towards locally made and/or grown products with less packaging. It’s been a pleasure to find and subscribe to your website.


wendy December 10, 2009 at 4:06 am

Like some of the others, we feel buying locally is important. We buy all of our beef and pork from a local farm. It’s nice to pick up our order and see that the cows have plenty of room and are grass fed. Our poultry and eggs are even more local, since we raise our chickens. We don’t avoid grocery-store meat to save money; rather we like to see first-hand that animals are being treated humanly and feed a healthy diet. We offset the higher expense of organics by avoiding most big-box stores and making homemade cleaners. There really isn’t anything that household items like vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda salt, and olive oil can’t clean and/or sanitize.


wendy December 10, 2009 at 4:11 am

WilliamB, you’re practically a Wal-Mart virgin. I have only been there once myself a number of years ago. Honestly, I don’t think they sell anything that I can’t live without but maybe I am wrong. Many people I know are dedicated Wal-Marters and imply that they could not afford to make ends meet without it.


wendy December 10, 2009 at 4:19 am

I appreciate Queen Lucia’s mention of organic shampoos and soaps. Since I made the switch two years ago, gone are the chronic bouts of dermatitis and yeast infections. I have saved a small fortune on RX treatments by buying soaps made from ingredients I can pronounce rather than ones that are better suited for waxing my car.


magdalena December 10, 2009 at 5:51 am

I hate shopping at Walmart or any big box store. But since I almsot never shop except for food, I’ve been able to avoid it lately. Still, in some places it is the only retailer where you might be able to find pciture hangers, or white socks, or cheap toilet paper. For those who have farmer’s markets and downtown shops, patronize them or you will lose them! Although, I will add, those downtown shops better have good merchandise at a reasonable price…I’ve been in small shops in nice shopping districts where the merchandise was dusty, out of date, even expired (tea products, spices) and it was still at full price. So small retailers have an obligation too.


Marie-Josée December 10, 2009 at 10:31 am

Both my husband and I are deeply committed to a sustainable lifestyle. I began eating organic foods when I left home at 18. My husband and I where members of a CSA in 1990! It turns out the farmers were involved in a sect and several of them were murdered in a group suicide, but that’s another story. We have always used organic/natural/biodegradable personal hygiene and cleaning products. We even washed our babies’ diapers out of environmental conviction. All of this commitment has a big price tag. I live in Quebec, Canada and the growing season is short. Greens and fruit (organic or otherwise) are imported and pricey. We spend way more on food, shampoo/soap, cleaning products, and supplements (vitamins, minerals and nutraceuticals) than anyone we know. Before buying most items, I research and we almost always decide to purchase the sustainable, greener and almost always pricier product (beeswax candles instead of regular, for example).

I am dying to travel to Europe, but we haven’t managed to save the money to go, and I can’t bring myself to buy non-organic, non-green cheaper products out of health and environmental convictions. This is a real conundrum for me. Most of our friends are traveling extensively, and I am so envious….


Sierra Black December 11, 2009 at 6:22 am

I’ve always been willing to spend a little extra on sustainable choices, especially when it comes to healthy food. My challenge these days to spend a little less on those choices, without compromising my values. Often that means simply doing without. Your motto has been a big inspiration to me in knowing what I simply can live without.


Ashley December 11, 2009 at 9:40 am

I am a newly wed/ nursing student and can’t always afford to make the most sustainable choice. We don’t eat much meat which is a more sustainable choice as well as economic and I do buy organic produce when possible. We have a small garden so I am currently not having to buy lettuce, carrots, or peas! For clothing Goodwill is my home away from home! My husband rent or borrows his video games instead of buying so that saves on the plastic packaging.


Alisa December 11, 2009 at 11:12 pm

For my family, buying organic food fits into this category.


Rosa December 12, 2009 at 2:16 pm

For me, all those years of scrimping and saving – eating out of dumpsters, only buying used clothes, learning to cook well on the cheap – have really paid off, both in setting sustainable habits and in now having the money that we buy organic/sustainable food & clothing when we do buy new things.

Since I habitually *don’t* buy things, I can really focus on spending the money we have where our values are.


Dogs or Dollars December 5, 2011 at 11:19 am

You are speaking my language! For me it’s all about voting with your dollars and your feet. If we are ‘just consumers’ then we need to utilize that power as our voice. If you don’t like factory farming? Don’t buy those products. Not a fan of deplorable labor conditions? Don’t shop at Wal Mart. Think about what you bring into your home. You will spend more money on the items you do get, yes. But it will also minimize your choices.


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