Here at Sustainable Personal Finance, we’re all hippies who love the environment, but there are just certain things that we’re not going to give up. Rather than giving up our cars, let’s just focus on driving them less and getting maximum gas mileage. This both lowers the cost of operating the car and prevents a few pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. You save a few bucks, and the environment becomes slightly cleaner. Everybody wins. Go ahead and have a steak, champ.
If you want to take your environmental passion to the next level, you can buy a used car. One less new car gets produced, and we often overvalue reliability. Newsflash folks: a car with 100,000km on it is about 95% as reliable as a brand new car, and you’re paying at least double for a new car. You have to make a lot of $500 repairs before you get close to making up that gap.
But we’re not talking about cars, we’re talking appliances. Specifically, washers and dryers.
My washer is approximately 5 years old. It’s a front loading washer, since apparently front loaders use less water and cut down on drying time. That’s all fine and good, so I bought it. It was a $300 premium over the plain top loading model, but I went ahead and bought the premium brand because that’s what frugal people are supposed to do, right?
About a year ago, it started making a loud low-pitched whine as it went through the final rinse cycle. It’s slowly gotten worse, so I called the appliance repair guy. He came over, had a look, and told me the bearings were close to worn out. Okay, how much would it cost to fix it?
He quoted approximately $400. I was looking at $250 for parts and $150 for his time to put it in. Oh, and I paid $50 to have him show up and diagnose the problem.
In the meantime, the price of front loading washers have gone down. I can buy a basic unit for $500. There’s no way I’m going to spend $400 on repairs when I can buy a similar machine for $100 more.
I complained that parts were expensive. It’s almost like they don’t want you to fix it. He confirmed that and took it one step further: retailers are putting pressure on the manufacturers to do exactly that so people just throw up their hands and buy a new one every five years. They’ve intentionally brought the quality and the price down and jacked up the price on parts, just to discourage people from getting their appliances fixed.
This makes sense for the company too, since they don’t have to keep producing parts for machines that are years old. There are companies that make generic parts, and they’re happy to come in and produce these parts. But why would they discount their prices when there’s no competition?
He then came up with an interesting suggestion. New machines aren’t worth fixing, he said, but old ones are. Parts are considerably cheaper, since it isn’t a tiny computer running the thing. They were made using better quality materials. They were much simpler machines back then, meaning there are less things that can break. A well-maintained machine from the 1970s or 1980s will last forever.
My Dad has a Maytag washer/dryer combination that he bought in 1979. In the past ten years, he’s put a little over $200 into repairing both machines, once each. Yeah, they’re an ugly off-white color, and they’re probably not very energy efficient, but they are a significantly cheaper option than buying new.
As for me? I went on Kijiji, looking for a replacement machine. I quickly found an ad from somebody who had upgraded their washer to a front loader unit, and wanted the old one to go away. I went over and had a look. It was a Maytag, it looked about 20 years old, and it worked. I paid $50 for the machine and paid my buddy pizza for letting me borrow his truck and his lifting power. Total investment, $50. My backup machine can suck power faster than a 400 watt space heater and I’ll still be hundreds of dollars ahead of an energy efficient machine that isn’t going to last a decade.
Sometimes, when it comes to saving money, you’ve got to look outside the box a little. I got a washer that still has plenty of life left. It’ll still be going long after my front loading machine has started rusting away in a landfill somewhere.
I am not a frugal person. Even when I had to pinch pennies while my husband and I were in grad school, I hated being frugal. Now that I don’t have to worry as much about being frugal, I…don’t worry about being frugal.
And the world hasn’t ended.
While there’s nothing wrong with being frugal if that’s your preference, I don’t think the world will end if you aren’t frugal.
Getting the Best Value
This doesn’t mean that I just spend on whatever I please, without paying attention to value. My husband and I are big on getting the best bang for our buck. We want to make sure that we are getting the most for our money, whether my husband is scouring eBay for a good deal on dress shirts (the mid-range brands, not the cheap brands), or whether I’ve signed up for a loyalty program with our favorite hotel chain.
Value is about more than just cost, too. When I say I want the best value for my money, I don’t mean that I’m going to stay at the cheapest hotel, or buy the least expensive shoes during a BOGO sale. For me value also includes the following considerations:
- Time: My time is a big thing. I value my time as much — or more — than I value money. If paying a little more saves me time, then I’ll happily do it. Sometimes that means just buying a convenience item while I’m the grocery store so that I don’t have to spend another hour driving to another store, parking, and finding the item — just to save $2 or $3. I want that hour to play catch with my son, or to go to lunch with my husband.
- Convenience: I don’t like catching red-eyes. Usually, it means that I can’t take my son into school before I leave on a trip, or it means that I’m exhausted when I arrive. I’d much rather pay for a more convenient flight. It’s why our organic milk and produce items are delivered to our door, and it’s why we pay the “convenience” fee to buy event and movie tickets online.
- Experience: I know exactly what I need to do in order to engage in frugal travel. I do very little of it. I want a fun, worry-free experience. So, I’m willing to pay. I also like the experience of having someone else do my nails, so I don’t give myself manis or pedis. A good experience is part of good value for me, whether it’s at the restaurant, the campground, or somewhere else.
Of course, not everyone thinks it’s worth it to pay for the same things I do. And that’s fine. You need to decide what works for you, and what constitutes the best value for what you spend. For many people, the best value is expressed mainly in terms of money. The lower the cost, the better the value. And that’s fine.
But if you aren’t the frugal sort, you can take heart, too. Value doesn’t always have to be about price.
What do you think? Are you frugal?
Recently, a blog written by Bea Johnson, called Zero Waste Home, came to my attention. I was fascinated with the lifestyle of a family of four whose trash amounts to about a quart-jar’s worth a week. And I thought my family of three was doing well with our small garbage bag of trash a week, and a slightly larger amount of recycling.
Clearly, we have a long way to go.
Many of us are doing what we can to live more sustainable lives when it comes to our finances and to the environment. We want to be conscious of the environment, and teach our children to respect the ecosystem as well. But how many of us could live the zero waste lifestyle Bea Johnson does with her family?
Working Toward Zero Waste
In order to get her family to the point of zero waste, Bea Johnson takes these 5 steps — in the following order:
The item I found most interesting was the first: Refuse. Too often, we take what we don’t need, especially if it’s a freebie. But I also liked the first item because it really resonated with efforts we are making in my family.
A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that I really prefer experiences to things, and that I wasn’t happy with all the clutter in the house. I stopped buying things that I didn’t want or need. I got rid of a lot of the stuff I didn’t care about. Even my husband has started coming around, deciding that he doesn’t want to buy action figures any more, and proclaiming that, before we buy something, it needs to have a place/use in our home.
We’ve bought much less as a result. And this has translated into a less cluttered home, as well as a fatter bank account. We have more money to spend on the things that really matter to us, and we don’t have to worry as much about whether we can “afford” the things that are most important to us.
Zero Waste Requires Planning
As you might imagine, the zero waste lifestyle requires planning. In order to reduce the amount of waste you have in your life, you need to take active steps to get reusable containers, buy in bulk, avoid pre-packaged items, buy second-hand, and do any number of other things.
The fact that recycle is so far down on the list of things you do with a zero waste lifestyle is telling. It’s not enough to recycle containers and packaging, especially since in a lot of cases the recycling process, though better than the landfill, comes with its own resource problems (like the amount of water used).
In order to get into a zero waste lifestyle, you need to think ahead, and change your mindset about what you need, and what’s “normal” for you. As a society, we have become used to disposables and consumables. It’s a matter of course to buy things new and packaged. This state affairs usually means higher costs for items, as well as great consumption of resources.
Even if you don’t go completely zero waste with your lifestyle choices, there is still a lot you can learn from this lifestyle, and some good ideas to be had.
Do you think you could go zero waste?
I have a sweet tooth but I don`t like eating ingredients I cant pronounce. For me the best way to do that and on a budget is to bake my own treats. And I know people often say “I don’t have time to bake”, I say it myself sometimes but then I remember that if I make a big batch of goodies, freeze half, have the other half as snacks in my lunch then next time that sweet tooth is crying out, I have something on hand, no work required to make my sweet tooth happy!
If you are really stretched for time, especially around this holiday season, organize a baked goods exchange with some friends and/or colleagues. You each make 3 dozen (so for say 6 friends, each person gets ½ dozen) of your favorite cookie, square, etc, then get together, exchange the treats and everyone walks away with a couple of different goodies! I was introduced to this idea in an office I worked in a couple of years ago and think its a great idea! It is especially great to do around the holidays. You can show up to Christmas dinner with tins full of a variety of scrumptious goodies and let everyone believe you are a domestic goddess!
Bake your own … granola bars, muffins, cookies, you name it!!!
Green and health reasons to bake your own – make that sweet tooth happy:
- reduce packaging (no individual wrappers, no cardboard box or plastic clam-shell
- no artificial sweeteners made in a lab in some far off land
- no extra shipment (in addition to the ingredients) of product across the country)
- ingredient control – we don’t add trans fats
Financial reasons to bake your own:
Cost to make your own oatmeal chocolate chip muffins
|bag of oats
||$5 for 2.25 kg
||$0.55 for 100 g
|egg (local, free range)
||$2.85 for 12 eggs
||$2 for 1 Kg
||$5 for 10 kg
||$2 for 450g
|melted butter (local)
||$4.50 for 2 cups
Total = $2.53 for 12 muffins! Where we live you usually cant get 6 muffins for less than $5 in the grocery store. So even if we made these muffins with all organic ingredients which would double the cost, we would still be saving money!
So, for me personally the financial incentive is a great one, and of course avoiding those weird sounding ingredients, but the best part is the wonderful smell that fills our house while baking and nothing beats fresh from the oven muffins to go with your afternoon tea on a cold winter day.
Please share your baking creations and habits so we can all benefit from your great ideas!