Two Steps Backwards, One Step Forward

by Katy on September 1, 2013 · 24 comments

I will do most anything to save a few dollars. Hell, I’ll do anything to just save a few cents! But that doesn’t mean that I’m not also spending money left and right.

Does my obsessive thriftiness layered with spendy behavior make me a hypocrite?

Absolutely not.

Because when I am intensely frugal with the stuff that doesn’t matter, then the money is there for the stuff that does matter. I like to think of it as two steps backwards, one step forward. Take last week as an example.

Here’s what I did to save/earn money:

  • We spent three days/two nights at the beach. We stayed at a friend’s $65/night cabin that’s cheap but requires us to put up with some grubbiness and a bat or two.

  • I made sun tea using tea bags that no one will drink as hot tea, yet are pleased to drink when it’s presented as iced tea.

  • I did multiple loads of laundry using my hand-me-down and unattractive washing machine and hung everything to dry on the clothesline.

  • I assembled last night’s hasty dinner using homemade pesto, spelunked frozen shrimp and dried Trader Joe’s tortellini.

  • I put together four Craigslist listings to sell thrifted finds.

  • I put together two eBay listings to sell additional second hand finds.

  • I walked or biked for most of my errands.

  • I read a library copy of Walden on Wheels.

  • I cut my husband’s hair.

  • I picked up at least four pennies from various locales.

  • I fed the neighbor’s cats, (which helps to foster a close neighborhood community) and nibbled (with permission) from her vegetable garden.

  • I helped my mother clean one of her guest cottages, and brought home a bag of food that the previous tenants had left behind.

  • I made waffles to use up the last of the gleaned 2% milk and most of a container of soy milk.

Here’s how I spent money:

  • I made the switch from a regular to a smart cell phone. It’s my husband’s hand-me-down iPhone, and will cost us an extra $25 per month. However, there’s no contract, and I plan on using it to support my reselling and the GPS function. (Eugene’s geography and road closures threw me for a loop!)

  • I paid $90 for my teenage sons to attend the three-day Kumoricon convention. (Anime, manga, cosplay event.) I had originally planned on paying half, but I felt that the price was actually super reasonable, so I ate the entire cost.

  • I handed each kid a twenty dollar bill. I told them it was for food, but I know they’ll spend it on junk.

  • I bought a pack of ping-pong balls so my older son could make a necklace that looked like it was strung with eyeballs.

  • We splurged on a delicious seafood dinner after checking out of the cabin.

  • My husband stopped by Costco after dropping the kids at Kumoricon today. He filled the car with cheap gasoline and bought a tremendous amount of food. I have no idea how much he spent, (probably pretty high) but it was all real food, none of it convenience food and supports our goal of brought-from-home work and school lunches.

  • Watched cable TV, which we have because my husband and younger son are unapologetic soccer super fans. It’s almost all my son talks about, and is deeply important to him.

Even though we have no current debt beyond our mortgage, our daughter will starting college next fall. This means I am maniacally intelligently putting extra money toward this goal. But that doesn’t mean that we’re holding back from what is important in the here and now.

I’m picking up pennies, cleaning up after strangers and cutting my husband’s hair so that we won’t have to scrimp when it comes to the important stuff, like education and food.

Two steps backwards, one step forward.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Trish September 1, 2013 at 5:34 pm

what did you think of Walden on Wheels? I adored it! Ken Ilgunas is someone who shares my sensibilities completely. I wish I had come across this type of thinking in my 20s. I was definitely that girl in a Ph.D program because it seemed like the thing to do.


Katy September 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm

I really like Walden on Wheels, although there was much to criticize about how he kept himself from forming relationships due to the secrecy of living in his van.



amybee September 3, 2013 at 9:29 am

I had mixed feelings about Walden on Wheels. On the one hand, I thought it was a very interesting experiment and enjoyed reading about it. I especially liked the parts when he contrasted the life he’d chosen with that of his best friend who was a telemarketer for an educational institution.

On the other hand, I really wanted a better explanation about why, after spending so much for his undergraduate degree, he decided to pursue a master’s in liberal studies. I thought he would be a little more targeted with a graduate degree. He still sounded like he was adrift and unfocused at the end of the book.


Sharon September 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I admire your spirit, and your choices. Thank you for sharing them with us.


JJ September 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I always find inspiration in your postings…thanks for sharing!!


Katy September 1, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Happy to oblige! 😉



Barb September 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm

okay, gotta see a pic of the necklace…says the girl who is already planning her fall flower arrangements in vases inside other vases with layered candies and peeps in the middle!!


anexactinglife September 2, 2013 at 3:04 am

Now I’m curious – what character has an eyeball necklace? I used to pay for my kid to attend anime conventions as well – the anime community is very welcoming and supportive.


Diane September 2, 2013 at 4:22 am

You spoke to me today! I live on a very minimal budget and have enormous debt, but yesterday splurged on something very dear to my heart….a family lunch at one of our favorite eateries. It’s not often that 3 generations of my small family get together and I cherish those moments. Worth every penny spent!


NMPatricia September 2, 2013 at 4:52 am

This posting inspired me more than so many. It gives a great reason to be so frugal. Thanks so much, Katy.


Katie September 2, 2013 at 5:54 am

I think of this as being the difference between “frugal” and “cheap”. Cheap won’t spend money on anything, where as frugal is mindful spending on things that mean a lot to you.


Susannah September 2, 2013 at 6:01 am

This weekend I decided that my spouse and I will go to Dublin next Feb. for our “honeymoon”. We live in Vermont and have had a civil union for 13 years but now we’re going to get married since the repeal of DOMA.
We have Avios points to use up for the flights so I can cancel the card before the next yearly fee, will stay in a private room using AirBNB (very reasonable and we will meet the locals), do and see all we can for free or very cheap.
So what a great inspiration to tighten the purse strings and tuck every penny extra away! Guinness awaits!
Katie, I love your blog – thanks for writing.


Katy September 2, 2013 at 7:46 am

What a wonderful trip, and a great reason for taking one! Lodging through Air BNB will so much of a richer experience than staying in some sterile hotel.




Susannah September 2, 2013 at 11:13 am

Thanks Katy! We’re putting at least $20 cash a week in a jar to cover lodging. We used AirBnb in Paris in 2011 and were really pleased with the experience.


megyn September 2, 2013 at 10:15 am

This rings so, so true for us! Some people see what we’ll shell out for food, and think, “No way, is she frugal!” But then I get a haul at Savers or reuse Ziploc bags until their death (except for raw meat ones…those end up in the trash), so it evens out. For me, frugality lends more towards “do what’s best environmentally”; thus the pricier bulk and organic foods but used clothes, etc.

P.S. Thanks for the tip on cloth napkins for kids’ lunches! I bought 2 sets of 4 at Savers and plant o cut them and re-sew them into smaller ones. A whole $3 for what will end up being 32 cloth napkins for home and school!


Su Mama September 2, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Megyn, if you can get your hands on an old tablecloth, already soft and broken-in, you can cut it up and make nice napkins out of it. I’ve done it with a couple of the traditional red and white checked ones, and they’re really cute — and last forever! Also, the checked pattern makes it easy to hem in a straight line. I cut a napkin’s-width down the long way, then make a narrow hem all along the length of it, then cut into napkin sizes and keep hemming, Eezy-peezy!


Ann Y. September 2, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I did this years ago with a table cloth I think my mom got for a shower gift in 1939…really ! The table cloth wore out, lovely blue and white checks, we made napkins, I use them to this day. Frugal and great memories !


Sara B September 4, 2023 at 7:46 pm

I’ve had great luck finding beautiful napkins at thrift stores— usually small local ones have a better selection of linens in my area.


Betsey September 2, 2013 at 11:24 am

I did spend today. I bought a lovely bright new quilt for the bed, thinking that light colors are more fun for winter. I paid $60 on sale for it.
I have been purging lots and lots, so I stopped by my consignment shop and found that I had made $75 on my stuff! I found curtains for $3 that match my new quilt, so I am ahead. I put the remaing in the tank.
This week I shall sell my old curtains & bedspread with other stuff and see what I can come up next!
Thanks, Katy, for brightening my day. You are a good writer.


Heidi September 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm

We have a similar approach to life – save money on the unimportant things, so we have money for the important things. In our case, we spend money on kid’s activities like hockey and horse riding and we are able to do it by entertaining ourselves, growing a lot of our own food, buying second hand and keeping life as simple as possible.


Heidi September 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm

We have a similar approach to life – save money on the unimportant things, so we have money for the important things. In our case, we spend money on kids activities like hockey and horse riding and we are able to do it by entertaining ourselves, growing a lot of our own food, buying second hand and keeping life as simple as possible.


Allotment adventures with Jean September 2, 2013 at 6:49 pm

I have just done a spring clean of my home (last Sunday being the first day of spring) and you have inspired me to use e-bay and Craig’s list to move these items.


Lynda September 3, 2013 at 1:29 am

For some people, the bats would be a unique selling point 🙂


Coral Clarke September 4, 2023 at 7:41 pm

Maybe some of the anime convention people would consider bats a bonus?


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