Friday, October 12, 2007

The Monkey Wrench Factor

I think I've begun to pin down what exactly makes people give up on frugality. I've deemed it the "monkey wrench factor." Here's an example of it in action that happened to me only yesterday.

After work, I went through the fridge and got out all the greens I could find, except lettuces, and began steaming and freezing them. My fridge was getting clear, my freezer was getting full and I was feeling good. I had plans to move on to turnips when I realized I had to pick up Kyle from intramurals, a free afterschool gym program.

I left the kitchen a work in progress, or a mess in progress depending on your perspective and headed to pick Kyle up. Since I was already out I planned to head to the DMV to pick up the driving manual for my daughter, who's been begging for it since 9/19. My daughter was in the car because the plan was for her to run in and pick up the manual while I looped the block rather than pay for parking and walk a huge distance in the rain.

The plan went off without a hitch. Tasha was waiting for me as I came back around. Just as she got into the car, Jim called. This was odd since he should have been 2/3 of the way home by that point. He was driving home when his alternator died and could I meet him at the service station 45 minutes away? So much for turnips.

I stopped home, dropped off Tasha, told the girls to eat the leftovers for dinner, made a few sandwiches for the road, let the boys hit the bathroom and away we went. The boys happily ate sandwiches and played travel Uno as we drove. We picked up Jim and reversed the route stopping briefly for a roll for each of the boys and an extra large coffe for Jim & I to share. (There's no time to brew coffee yourself when you know your honey issoggy and waiting for a ride.)

Once home, we too ate some of the leftovers. Jim supervised homework while I finished with the greens. Forty five minutes later the boys were in bed and Jim was making plans for how to get to work today. In the end, despite my promising start, I didn't get half of what I wanted/needed to get accomplished done.

The monkey wrench is not the car repair or the tow bill as you might suspect. The monkey wrench is the event itself and the time spent rectifying it. In frugal living time is a precious commodity. When time is short, we become tempted to do things we wouldn't ordinarily do for the sake of convenience, like get takeout. Throw a few monkey wrenches into your week and frugality can go out the window.

I confess, I pondered takeout when Jim first called. Then I quickly thought about ways to avoid it. We don't enjoy takeout enough to spend money on it and I had leftovers at home that would work for a late dinner. The sandwiches would tide us over, the rolls were a little treat for the boys and the coffee was just plain necessary. I was willing to make a $3 investment but not a $30 one. Questioning your first reaction to a situation is the first step in living a frugal lifestyle.

All of this brings me to the decision I made back in June to dramatically cut my work hours and responsibility. For me, having more time, even though it is coupled with less income, makes it easier to be frugal. I think too many people are fearful of trying to do things because of just the kind of day I had yesterday.


Chile said...

That's a great observation, Katie, and I commend you on getting through it on $3! I am quite familiar with days that go like that, and I agree that cutting into the time available is the main challenge. We do end up getting takeout almost every weekend, but for $11.04, it frees up more time and energy to get important projects done. It's also become a nice, relatively inexpensive way to treat ourselves. (And I'm doing very good at not caving in to expensive coffee out anymore!)

Melanie Rimmer said...

I think the key question is "Is it really worth it?" There are times when the answer will be "Yes, under the circumstances, takeout is the best option", and other times when, like you decided today, "No, there's a better option".

It's obviously not frugal to always go with the easiest option, always get takeout when you have a monkey wrench day. But it's also not frugal to have rigid rules, such as "No takeout, ever, no matter what". Frugality is about taking responsibility for your own choices, setting your own priorities, and thinking your options through. That's exactly what you did.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for putting into words something that plagues many families. So many people feel they have to get takeout, when another option could be better. As Melanie stated, takeout can be the right answer, but isn't always. So many times we just feel too frazzled to be frugal. Maggie

Katie said...

I agree sometimes its worth it to free up the time to get a big job done. We have a family tradition on birthdays where the birthday person gets to choose where we get dinner from. This year (since my daughter's bday was 9/2) we asked if we could do her dinner on Labor Day so we wouldn't have the stress of cooking as soon as we arrived home from the Adirondacks. She agreed and it made for a much easier transition.

Well said Melanie!

Your welcome Maggie!