the fine line between frugality and obsession

September 10th, 2007

The fine line between frugality and obsession

Earlier this week, I was nursing my 10 month old daughter while sitting at my computer and my 3 year old son ran into the room holding a cardboard roll that looked suspiciously like it came from a roll of paper towels. I followed him into the kitchen to find that he had “rescued” the (almost completely full) roll of paper towels from its holder on the wall, and proceeded to unroll them all over the kitchen floor while my attention was elsewhere.

I calmly took the cardboard roll away, explained why we don’t climb without mommy and take things without asking, and proceeded to have my son help me fold up all the salvageable paper towels so we could put them on the counter to use later. But my very first internal reaction upon walking into the kitchen had been a very sharp feeling of anger, not about the climbing or the destruction exactly, but about the waste of a dollar. I controlled this feeling and did not take it out on my son of course but in my brain I kept coming back to “A whole roll of paper towels totally wasted! This can’t be happening!”

Yes, our rolls of paper towels cost about $1 each and at first glance I thought we would have to discard the mess he’d made and my internal reaction was to get all worked up and upset over the $1 waste. We did manage to salvage most of the unrolled towels so it ended up not a huge waste at all, but still. All this internal angst over the possible waste of a single dollar.

I wonder if I am starting to cross some line between frugality and obsession. The fact that my initial response to something is calculating the money just wasted might be useful in some circumstances, but it seems a bit… odd. Weird. Strange. Off. I need to find a balance. I still don’t know what that balance is. I don’t think its this.

I’m going to further ponder this phenomenon. Insights welcome. :)

~J

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19 Responses to “The fine line between frugality and obsession”

  1. My question is this: how do you find time to write these thoughts down with a 3 year old and a 10 month old? Perhaps your calling is time managment not frugality!

  2. Not enough sleep? lol

  3. For myself, it’s not so much the wasted dollars I get mad over, it’s the blatant disrespect my children show towards me when they ruin something that we paid good money for. (my children are 9 & 7, not littles, they know better). I feel like we give our children everything under the sun, and they can’t or won’t take care of the things we give them. It’s disrespectful and to be honest, it makes me very angry. Angry enough to never buy them another bike or trampoline or skates or gameboy or whatever again!

    It seems like when we were children, we had very few things, and we took care of them because we KNEW we wouldn’t be getting a replacement. We also didn’t have disposable cash like my own children do, so there would be no repurchase of thing with my own money.

    Can you tell I’m dealing with this issue on a daily basis around here?

  4. I can’t pretend that I would respond any differently. I actually don’t like to purchase paper towels because I feel like I’m wasting money every time I use a sheet (now that’s overboard).

  5. I’ve been thinking about this lately too. I got really upset yesterday when one of my hair products spilled in my luggage. Nothing was ruined, but I found myself on the verge of freaking out over the wasted product. Kind of silly, really. Accidents happen. I have money to pay for it (sort of), so why shouldn’t I buy more of something I need? I think that focusing so much on my budget and saving money could be going overboard. I’m also working to keep a balance.

  6. I was on the verge of calculating how each napkin costs versus each paper towel. After about 5 seconds, I thought to myself, “shut the heck up and just wipe up the mess.” That was the end of my attempted frugality.

  7. @ Paula – I hear ya. My 3 year old has similar issues. He destroys DVDs and doesn’t seem to care. I know part of it is he is young but part is he won’t follow directions and have us help him. Stubborn boy.

    @SavingDiva – my spouse just won’t use fabric kitchen towels. I do, and cloth napkins, but he is enamored of paper towels. Men. lol

    @Mrs M&P – Good to know it is not just me trying to figure this out.

    @Brian – You just keep making the money and have your wife tell you how to spend it ;)

  8. I find myself getting angry with my kids (4 + 3) when they take too long choosing their yogurst from the fridge. I mean, they’re standing in front of the open door for 15 seconds instead of 5- how much electricity are they wasting, and why can’t I get a grip!

  9. It’s funny because we have the same problem with our “super enthusiastic about dissassembling” one-and-a-half year old. I read something, however, in “The Summerhill School” by A.S. Neill that impacted my thinking about this type of situation. You should never, ever let children believe that you are angry about the loss of things. Why? It teaches children that things are too valuable, too precious for them. It’s similar to Gollum and his ring (showing the LOTR geek flag there). Paper towels are just a thing. Explain about money, fine, but make sure that you never make your children feel that you value things so highly, or you’re setting them up to be hyperconsumers who treasure “stuff”.

    You could argue whether that’s psychologically proven, etc. but I try now not to get too upset when Little Buddy unrolls the toilet paper or drops something or takes apart a brand-new toy. I explain to him how these things should be properly used, then move on. It took some doing, but it’s helpful. Ignore the cost. Teaching about the value of work and money is fine, but it has to be secondary to a child’s natural desire to play and explore at these ages.

    That’s my 10 cents of pop psychology for today…

  10. @ Kelly – glad to know it isn’t just me :)

    @Brip blap – love the geek flag lol.

    I like your perspective. Paper towels are indeed just stuff. My 3 year old should know better though lol. But I did cut him slack. I just don’t cut *me* slack. heh.

  11. I think we all do that a little…because it is completely wasted. Like when my son sprayed the toilet paper roll with the shower hose. How much does a roll of toilet paper cost? Not enough to worry about, but it is completely wasted and completely preventable.

    And really, from the child’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if it is fifty cents or fifty dollars. They don’t know about that stuff. I don’t think the consequences (if you deem them appropriate) should be greater if the dollar amount is greater when dealing with small children.

  12. @Dana – I agree the money aspect doesn’t matter to the child — I am just… concerned that such small amounts seem to matter so much to *me* lol

  13. havethesameimpulses Says:

    May 6th, 2008 at 9:22 am

    for me it would be related to a loss of control i think.

    i mean, you spend your whole life trying to be a “functional” adult, making things work for you and then someone throws a kink into it for no apparent “good” reason, even if it’s just some paper it screws up your “system” for what you pay for, how things get used, how the house is kept in order, and so on.

    another thing to explore potentially is the meaning you assign to money. almost everyone experiences money as something more than just a medium of exchange and assign it certain psychoemotional powers (I read a good book a few years ago which posited that most people equate money with one of four things, i think they were: power, love, freedom, or security [or some combination thereof]).

  14. Princess Buttercup Says:

    June 16th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I thought I’d share my thoughts with you from the completely opposite perspective. My sister drives everyone crazy in our family and at work with her constant — and I mean CONSTANT, like 10 comments an hour — talk about how she saved 50 cents on this and she NEVER eats at THAT restaurant b/c it’s too expensive or she would never buy clothes at THAT store b/c it’s too expensive. Saving money is fantastic and I truly do admire her for her money management skills. It’s just that at some point, her comments come across as judgmental of others; such as, since I DO eat at THAT restaurant or shop at THAT store, I’m a fool that’s wasting my money. I find myself being extremely careful about what I tell her in regards to my own life b/c I don’t trust her. I feel like she’ll go behind my back to other family members, friends and co-workers and disparage me for my spending habits. She has spoken to me in that way about other family members. I don’t feel like I can have a normal conversation with her and I am really getting to the point where I don’t enjoy being around her b/c the conversation completely revolves around money. I don’t like feeling this way about her b/c I love her dearly, but I hate the way I feel after I’ve been with her.

    BTW, I’m not a careless, shopoholic, spendaholic, maxed-out credit cards kind of person. I’m actually very good with my money and have savings and retirement well in hand.

    Just the view from the other side of the coin, if you’ll pardon the pun.

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