Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rethinking the Non-Negotiable

I've written before on frugality creep, and the incremental changes that happen when saving money becomes a mindset, a way of life. It's very difficult - and very uncomfortable - to shift too quickly from an average endebted, consumeristic lifestyle to severe pennypinching. In our lives the shift from spending to saving has been gradual and is ongoing.

For me there were certain big changes that happened early on, mostly the obvious ones: keeping and using a price comparison book, switching to CF light bulbs, hanging all my laundry up to dry, eating out less and less, learning to bake bread, selling off extra vehicles. But even as I enthusiastically set aside old habits and took up new ones, there were certain exemptions to my spending habits that I wasn't even willing to consider giving up. I think that's normal, and if you're new to frugality I think it's okay to devote your energies to learning new habits and skills for the time being. But when the new habits and skills have become routine, and the frugality bug has still got you bad, there comes a time when those exemptions start looking more and more profligate. Then it's time to reconsider them.

Confession time: I'm vain about my appearance in one particular way. I always wear foundation makeup when I'm out in public. I don't wear lipstick or eye makeup more than a few times per year, and most of the time I couldn't care less what clothes I'm wearing (so long as they're clean and warm enough). But for many long years I've spent good money on a cosmetics counter brand of foundation. I go through about two and a half bottles per year. That probably adds up to about $100 per year.

This was something I just wasn't willing to consider cutting out of my budget for quite a while. It quietly held non-negotiable status, and was paid for out of my mad money budget. Now you may argue that $100 per year isn't very much money, and that's the exact argument I made to myself. But $100 is $100, and there are lots of efforts I make to save us even smaller amounts per year. Why turn around and blow that much on a non-necessity? So recently I decided that I needed to at least consider some alternatives. If I couldn't simply give it up and let the world see my splotchy skin and the occasional zit, then I would at least try a cheaper brand. Off I went to visit the drugstore cosmetics aisle, a trip I hadn't made since high school.

You know what? On my very first try I found a product that matches my skin tone, has a good SPF rating, and works just about as well as the high end stuff I've been buying for years. It's a little bit thinner than my usual brand, so I may use a little more each day. But it costs less than a third as much for the same size bottle of the expensive stuff I've used for so long. I feel pretty foolish for having let a mental prejudice get in the way of saving money for all these years. And I feel silly for still refusing to be seen without foundation. But I do feel good about finding a cheaper alternative that works. Now I have no reason to go to the mall, ever.

We still have some non-negotiables in our budget. I'm not thrilled about these, but unless and until the feces really hits the rotating oscillator, my husband isn't giving up his beer, and my dirty little canned soda habit will continue.

What are your non-negotiables? Have you managed to overcome any? Please share in the comments!


Unknown said...

I know how you feel, it is really hard to give some things up! I'm glad you found a comparable product :)

Anonymous said...

This is a timely subject. I've just started thinking about going to a beauty school for a haircut (which should be less expensive than my regular hair dresser), or maybe even just letting my hair grow (even cheaper!). Thanks for your thoughts on a similar dilemma. It helps.

Anonymous said...

About the only thng left for me is hair gel (not an expensive brand, but still, a brand) and real, brand-name Birkenstocks. But I have to have the good shoes or I get achy joints and feet, darn near disabling, so that actually is a defensible expense. I try not to be frumpy, but frugal and frumpy sure go well together.

Anonymous said...

Excellent move, to check out the drugstore cosmetics counter.

Many drugstore cosmetics -- especially foundation! -- are the same as what you pay through the schnozzola for at the department store. Try out L'Oreal: it's the same as Lancome.

I'm with Jessica on the Birkenstocks and Birkenoids: it's not worth making your feet to save a few bucks. And you don't have to be frumpy to be frugal: one of my research assistants is always gorgeous...she buys every stitch in thrift shops. Just stay in good physical shape (okay, okay: this woman would look great in anything) and look for the thrift shops near upscale sections of town. Two others whose bodies are less spectacularly toned look very cute in things they buy at Old Navy.

Dawn said...

I get non-negotiable about eating out and activities that cost - there is so much that can be done for free or the cost of gas that is fun around here in Colorado

Anonymous said...

Pop. I really like drinking pop. No, I don't want the sugar, or the cans or the expense, but there's something about the fizz that just does it for me! So -- I discovered "Soda Club" and use it exclusively to provide fizz to my low-cal drinks (water, iced tea and watered-down fruit juice.)

Hair-color. This is something I don't care about, but my family is fairly insistent about. I'm 46 and would be totally gray. My husband is 54 without one gray strand in his full head of hair. My daughter, who's 10, says she doesn't want her mom looking like her grandma. Ok. Oh well. I won't go to a salon, but at least the store-bought hair color isn't too expensive. Only could someone recommend brands to me?

Hot showers. There -- that's my one indulgence which makes life worth living -- that and a warm, clean bed. In order to cut back, I simply wipe off with a washcloth, washing my hair in the sink, every other day or two and still savor my hot shower when I can.