Frugal, not Cheap
I’m really happy to see the FIRE concept (Financial Independence Retire Early) resonating with a lot of young people; I am however concerned about some choices people are making to get there. A well thought out practical approach to FIRE involves being Frugal, not Cheap… and there’s a difference.
No Chinese Toothbrushes
I was looking through a couple of Personal Finance Facebook groups the other day and stumbled upon some disturbing questions. On at least two posts I saw the same basic question, “Where is the cheapest place to get toothbrushes?” The only thing more disturbing than the question, were the answers. “You can buy them in bulk on Ebay for 20 cents each from China!” someone exclaimed.
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Easy there turbo… I realize you guys are trying to maximize savings in order to retire early but these are just the sort of decisions that can backfire on you. When thinking about savings we have to think long term. Smart people are frugal, not cheap.
Being Cheap is Expensive
In this example lets first think about just how expensive dental care is. According to NerdWallet a single cavity costs about $200 to fill, and more complicated procedures just cost exponentially more. Are you telling me you’re only willing to drop down 20 cents to prevent potentially thousands in medical bills? Not to mention brush your teeth with God knows what from China? This is not practical; yet I see it over and over again in those forums. People will buy the cheapest item, which inevitably costs them more later.
This isn’t just about toothbrushes
This post isn’t really about toothbrushes, it’s about how being cheap costs more. I see people buying $100 mattresses that cause them back pain and don’t last even 12 months. I see people looking for the absolute cheapest place to get LASIK surgery, and then surgery to correct that surgery. I am not joking when I say I have seen people trying to find the cheapest place on the planet to find condoms. Yikes! Of course you should always look for the best value…. and while buying condoms in bulk from China may be cheap at first… it may end up being very expensive when Mr. Stork lands on your porch.
The Tortoise wins the race
The moral of the story is to be patient and think long term about your decisions. A 20 cent toothbrush is great in a pinch, but is it a good investment in your health? That $100 weed-eater looks like a good deal, but do the customer reviews sound like the $150 weed-eater will last 10 times longer? If you think a little farther down the road, your frugal decision will probably turn out to be cheaper than your cheap decisions.
Featured Image (toothbrush) by George Becker
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