Nov 262011

A Facebook conversation of a week or so ago got me thinking again about the mindset of frugality.

Not just the practice. But where your head is.

I had asked online for a recipe for baked beans. I said my family was used to the canned variety, so I was hoping to find one with a somewhat similar flavor from which to start.

One friend noted that Bush’s doesn’t have HFCS (knowing that would be a key issue for me), and that “cost would only be an issue if you were feeding an army.”

Now, I do understand her point - canned baked beans aren’t very expensive.

But what she said is frighting — essentially that the savings doesn’t matter, because it’s small.

The cost always matters.

I wish I could remember where it was that I first read something that really clarified this for me (maybe one of you can help). I’m pretty sure it was either Everyday Cheapskate (Mary Hunt) or Tightwad Gazette.

She was talking about the dangerous habit that people have of thoughtlessly putting a second “regular” stamp on a letter weighing over an ounce, or putting a letter stamp on a postcard.

It’s a slippery slope, if you do that and casually say, “It doesn’t matter, it’s just a few cents.”

Once you have allowed that mindset to take root, it’s easy for it to spread. A few cents here, a few cents there. A few cents a gallon… which adds up to more than a dollar, but that’s not so bad. A dollar here, a dollar there…

And what about this:

His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
~ Matthew 25:21

My point here is not that canned baked beans are cost prohibitive.

There are times when other considerations do outweigh the cost. Not just in this case, but overall, it may be a question of storage, or convenience, or nutrition, or availability, or a cost trade-off with something else, or preparation costs, or even taste preference.

Today you may choose to put a second regular letter stamp on that heavy card, carefully weighing the fact that a trip to the Post Office will use more gas than that costs, and the fact that the card needs to be mailed immediately so we don’t miss Grandma’s birthday. I have no problem with that. Tell Grandma “Happy Birthday,” and put second-ounce stamps on the shopping list for next time you’re out.

You may not always choose the absolute cheapest option.

But that’s making a choice.

It’s very different than saying it doesn’t matter.


(Coin image is from Life Frameworks, a website I know nothing about. Stamp image from

  One Response to “Making Cents”

  1. “A Penny saved is a Penny Earned” Period.

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