The Sneaky Way That Frugality Fixes Paralysis By Analysis

Loving the progression of fall!

Loving the progression of fall!

Much of what I own was previously owned by someone else. This is not news to you frugal acolytes and I’d wager your stuff is probably of a similarly second-hand strain. Plus, we recently established that used stuff is decidedly not gross. But did you know that buying used improves your health? And makes your hair grow back? And makes you a more interesting, mysterious individual?

Ok maybe not the hair thing, but I posit the other two are true. Buying used isn’t just a way to save money (although, hoo dogs, it certainly does). Nope. Buying used–and by extension, frugality–is also a way to reduce stress and deliver you from the crippling conundrum of too many choices.

Decisions You Don’t Have to Make

Here’s the thing: we all have to make about 1 billion (scientific number, I assure you) decisions a day. Why heap on the unnecessary burden of which spatula to buy? All around my home are countless decisions I didn’t waste time making. I didn’t have to research 9,867 strollers–I gratefully accepted a free one. I didn’t spend hours of my life calculating the ideal circumference of a wine glass before purchasing one–Mr FW found a free box of glassware on the roadside (hey, hey!). I didn’t laboriously shop for the outfit I have on today–I accepted hand-me-downs from friends.

Free roadside glasses!

Free roadside glasses!

The internet has spawned a generation of people paralyzed by the decision-making process. On more than one occasion, I’ve been one of them!

And now, we will enjoy a vingnette: Mr. Frugalwoods’ trusty headlamp bit the dust a few weeks ago–it was only 10 years old!–so, he set about determining which lamp should receive the honor of serving as replacement. Several hours later, he emerged with a tale of internet research paralysis.

Turns out, like everything else online, there are entire forums of people who feel strongly about flashlights. Like very strongly. Beyond hobby, they verge on luminary obsession. These folks discuss lumens and beams for hours. Mr. FW dipped a flashlight-interested toe in this rabbit hole and realized he could’ve lost days in a world of artificial illumination comparisons. Days, I tell you.

The problem with such granular, detailed information about everything we buy is that we start to believe the only way to do something right is to spend a lot of money. Yes, a $500 headlamp will be the best. It’s the headlamp all other headlamps speak of only in hushed, reverential tones. It’s the headlamp that flashlight enthusiasts will hungrily drool over if ever they see you out and about sporting your epic noggin light. But do we need the finest, fairest headlamp in all the land? Uh, we do not. The level of utility and pleasure we’d derive from a $500 headlamp versus this $75 headlamp* we bought is nominal. Mr. FW had to take a step back and realize that the margin of improvement likely wouldn’t be necessary, or even recognizable.

*While this might sound pricey for a glorified head lantern, we have absolutely zero lights around our property beyond our porch and barn. Thus, when we need to go out after dark, headlamps are mandatory. No streetlights out here, folks!

More fall leaves! Can't help it.

More fall leaves! Can’t help it.

The easy access to massive data sets and consumer reviews in cyber space tempt us down the path of needing to know the “best of x” in every possible scenario. Before the internet, it wasn’t possible/practical to: 1) discuss minutiae at length with others who cared/would put up with you, or 2) purchase the vast array of stuff ye olde internet proffers.

In the olden days, if you wanted to know if a product was good or not, you had to go to the library and look up old issues of Consumer Reports. Or ask your friends. Or just flat out not care. While this approach surely wasn’t the most efficient, spending an entire weekend researching lumen levels is equally inefficient.

I’m an advocate for researching stuff and generally not being an idiot about what you purchase, but there’s a limit. I think the research return on investment correlates with the price of an item. For example, Mr. FW and I exhaustively researched homesteads prior to purchasing one. Since we plan to live here for a long time (and since it’s a relatively illiquid asset), we wanted to make the right choice. Same goes for our used cars–much time was spent ascertaining the ideal intersection of fuel efficiency and rural road capability.

However, these examples are relatively infrequent purchases. Plus, although we invested untold hours researching our home and cars, once we found the right ones, we pounced. There’s something to be said for combining the spirit of analysis with targeted, strategic spontaneity. Without it, we never would’ve made the move out here to the woods. But for the majority of material goods in our lives, we simply don’t require that level of precision.

Choice-less Consumption

Love our hand-me-down high chair!

Love our hand-me-down high chair!

It’s well documented that too many choices decrease our happiness. Not only do we lose time and energy trying to locate the optimal apple peeler/corer, we then suspiciously eye that peeler/corer every time we use it, just waiting for something to go wrong. After all, two of the 347 reviewers heatedly commented that their peeler/corer launched off the counter and broke their toe. You could be next! Thank goodness I found our peeler/corer in a free box on the side of the road. Who know what appendages I could’ve injured!

The cure-all for this paralysis by analysis is used stuff. Whether I buy it from a garage sale, or find it on the side of the road, it all represents decisions I didn’t have to make. When I walk into a thrift store, they either have something I need or they don’t. It’s pretty straightforward and it’s absent the anxiety wrought by Wal-Mart’s 6,000 options for a dinner plate.

And rather than fretting over whether Babywoods has THE BEST highchair POSSIBLY available for babies in 2016, I’m 100% thrilled with our hand-me-down highchair (btw, thank you S & B!). It works, doesn’t it?! Plus, I love how it looks–largely because I didn’t have to spend 92 hours opening tabs of different color schemes, trying to project into the future which colors we might or might not like for any and all potential future children and/or home decor changes that might or might not take place in the next 10 years.

The red sideboard in question

The red sideboard in question (looks better in photos… )

I’ve also discovered that frugality is a form of gratitude. As opposed to looking around my house identifying the faults with my stuff, I’m grateful to have it. I could easily write off our furniture as outdated, scuffed, and shabby–which most of it is–but I don’t. Instead, I’m happy it’s here in my home, meeting our needs. Furthermore, since I didn’t pay much (if anything) for it, my assessment of its performance/appearance is more lenient. Yes, it’s true that my red wooden sideboard is missing a few chunks and a fair bit of paint, but it doesn’t bother me because it was free. Had I instead spent cash money on that baby, I’d be furious with its declining health!

The serendipity of used items has retrained my brain. There’s immense peace in accepting the possessions that come my way and exhaling the pressure to have the best, the prettiest, and the newest. I’ve removed myself from the consumer carousel of woe and replaced it with the revolving door of serendipity.

Time and time again, when Mr. FW and I find ourselves in need of a particular object, it somehow comes into our lives. Just last week I noticed that Babywoods was outgrowing all of her little bebe pants and shirts. Hmm, thought I, what shall we do? Lo and behold, not two days later, a friend here in town offered me her slightly-older daughter’s hand-me-downs. Perfect serendipity. And when friends are in need of something we have, it’s the ideal continuation of our possessions. This approach is both spiritual and pragmatic. It’s cheaper to buy used, but it’s also more fulfilling.

I Am Not My Sofa Or My Hemline

View from our driveway

View from our driveway

The compulsion to buy the best of everything is also fueled by our culture’s obsession with appearances. The expectation that we should continually upgrade our lifestyle means we’re dogged by the idea that our stuff is not good enough. And that by extension, we are not good enough. Ours is a culture that often defines people by their outward projections and the things they own.

We judge people in soundbites–miniscule data sets extrapolated to define a person’s entire life. If you drive a beat-up car, you’re poor. If you wear shabby clothes, you obviously lack self-confidence. It’s a pretty transparent trope, but it’s one we adhere to all the same. And let me be clear, I’m as guilty as anyone. After all, it’s much easier to avoid nuance and instead allocate people into pre-ordained boxes.

I’ve been told (often), that people can’t figure me out because I don’t fit into a box. I live in the woods yet I’m a tech savvy internet person (that’s a technical term, in case you’re wondering), I’m a work-at-home mom yet I’m an ardent feminist, I haven’t purchased any clothing in over 2.5 years yet I’m fashionable (in my humble opinion), I’m super outgoing yet I have a quiet introverted heart, I’m frugal yet I have everything I want.

I share this because I suspect most of us do not comfortably fit into prescribed boxes. We’re all a great deal more complex than this type of rote categorization allows for. And we’re all a great deal more interesting than our possessions. I, after all, am not my sofa or my hemline. Once we get past the debilitating position of trying to define ourselves by our things, we can express gratitude for what we have instead of anguish over what we don’t have.

Because, let me tell you what, there will always be things we don’t have. Attempting to keep pace in the marathon of stuff is futile, exhausting, and expensive. We’re defined by what we do and I refuse to be defined as a consumer.

How do you combat paralysis by analysis?

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107 Responses

  1. I hear you on that! My little one sits in a high-chair bought for just a few dollars at a garage sale. When we are watching tv after Jr goes to bed, my wife and I are sitting on a 20 year old hand-me-down couch (still a nice couch I add). A lot of our furniture is from our childhood days and we have no problem not buying anything too nice around the house, especially with little kids running around and beating stuff up anyway. I would be much more stressed out if a brand new expensive end table was dented or chipped when indoor golf gets out of hand, but our super old stuff…no problem.

  2. Pidge says:

    I just love your blog! I really appreciate the voice of reason in our consumer culture. Than you for what you do!

  3. Sometimes I just go to Goodwill and buy the one they have. For a smaller purchase that I am going to buy new (think cheese grater–I had a hankering for a better one after I gave away the old one in my divorce), I sometimes just buy the highest rated one on Amazon under $20.

    I was just at a big Arc thrift store the other day. Instead of researching flannel sheets to find out which were the softest, I just got what they had ($8). Lost my stock pot in the divorce. Just bought the one they had ($13). i also got an ice bin and some other odds and ends, none of which I saved much money on but all of which I I kept out of a dumpster and saved a new one from being manufactured.

    Thrift stores are also a good way for small kids to blow their allowance. Of course they blow their allowance–they do not know any better, and how else will they learn that money is finite? At least at the thrift store, you can contain the environmental damage. (Big Brother bought what appears to be a bag of Halloween party favors and Little Brother bought kind of an awesome stuffed turkey. Pretty sure it was meant as a Thanksgiving decoration, but he likes to snuggle with it.)

  4. Really interesting side effect that I’m sure most people do not consider. (At least, I know I had never considered that). With the lengths that people go these days to avoid decision fatigue, this could be an interesting route to suggest for people. I know that when I switched my mindset for new purchases to be an default “no” for which I could make exceptions where necessary, it felt a whole lot less stressful not needing to make the decision of whether or not to buy over and over again.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  5. Most of our furniture are actually hand me downs from a departed relative. I can also verify I have alot less stress from these then the new things I buy. I’m less worried about the kids that inevitably will scratch the Dining room table or drop the dishes we bought at a yard sale then I am them scratching the new couches we bought even 5 yrs after we did so.

  6. Emily says:

    We recently had to (wanted to) buy some new flooring for our new place. The sun faded, beige carpet that was so loose I was tripping on it was something I could justify replacing!

    After more than an hour in a carpet store, with a sales-man barking “Not that one!” every time I touched a carpet that he didn’t deem good quality, we left and went to Costco. Cheap, good quality (family reviewed and approved) laminate and we walked out of there in 10 minutes. I thought it was because in my heart I wanted laminate and I didn’t like the salesman, but I think it was the lack of choice! 4 colours, same prices, easy choice. Of course the euphoria didn’t quite last through 4 days of installing said laminate, but it’s worth it now!

  7. I combat the analysis paralysis by going with my good ol’ gut feeling. It hasn’t led me astray yet, so I tend to trust the feeling more than anything. One option will present itself and I go with that one. No second guessing allowed. Just grab it and go!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      So true! I need to be better about listening to my gut… otherwise I get seriously caught up in deliberation!

  8. Nora says:

    I like buying used because it feels less precious but it’s often better quality. My tv stand in my living room is an antique (very cool marble top) hand-me-down from my mother. The bumps and dings bother me far less than when the cat scratched my purchased sideboard (though it was on sale).

    I do argue that being neat and presentable in some areas (clothing at work) help contribute to fashionableness. Simplicity also helps keep it frugal if you have to buy new clothes. Not everything needs to be precious (apple corer can have a few dings and scrapes) but it’s generally expected to be stain free and clean in my line of work (especially when client facing). My house can be a bit more private.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You make a good point about needing to appear presentable in certain situations–something that can definitely be accomplished with used/hand-me-down clothes! Also, great note about used being of higher quality–that’s absolutely the case with our stuff.

      • Tara says:

        I would argue that sometimes, new is a must with business attire, especially if one’s size is hard to come by–but that is where preparation is key (as long as it’s not a last minute need) so a person can buy new when a store is having a major sale. As a tall, plus-size female, finding flattering business pants that fit me in a modern style second-hand is a rare occurrence (I can find wide-leg business pants galore, that’s for sure) so new is often the way–but I always opt for mega-sales and buying in neutral colors so I can re-wear and can just buy one or two that hopefully last a while. (not a fan of skirts at work… “chub rub” is a real pain lol)

        • Gina says:

          I practically live in hippie skirts. I don’t like feeling my thighs rubbing together, so I wear the body shaping shorts under them. Perfect solution and you will feel so free!

  9. This is one of the many reasons I love thrift stores and Costco. The options are limited, and (at least at Costco) they’re good quality. Done and done. Especially after a long day at work, I can handle a trip to Costco but not to the normal grocery store with 17 rows of different kinds of peanut butter.

  10. Lee says:

    ” It’s the headlamp all other headlamps speak of only in hushed, reverential tones,” made me lol. Thanks! hahaha

  11. Thanks for “Shining The Light”, even if “only” from the $75 headlamp. Plenty of lumens for me! Love your post (fyi, I gave you a shout out this week in my “Do You Have Green Acres Syndrome” article), keep up the good work! And….More pics of leaves!!

  12. Hi Frugalwoods, love your blog. Keeps me enthused. I heard on a radio show that if you are given more than three options, the enjoyment of purchasing something is lessoned. When I worked at a major Airlines reservation desk, we were trained in the choice method. Which do you prefer, A or B? Apparently if given too many options, people get confused and then they don’t stay on task, messing up the whole buying process. Recently, I started working in a retail store, because the hours and benefits were great. What I didn’t expect was being overwhelmed by the racks and racks and racks of duplicates in the store. I felt like I was drowning in stuff. After shopping at garage sales and thrift shops, where one or maybe two identical items are the usual, suddenly having dozens was incredibly stressful. Over time, I have accustomed myself, but still am amazed by it on a daily basis. Love all your photos, can’t wait for snow!

  13. Carol Reiman says:

    Hurray for not fitting into boxes! The most interesting people seem to be combinations of various traits, often perplexing the sociologists. I so enjoy your blog and photos. Frugal Hound seems an engaging enigma as well.
    All the best.

  14. Bob. Frugal+as+dirt. says:

    Wow, love this line of logic. For us men, the example of a headlamp is so great because they can be the epitome of overly engineered needlessly expensive man-trinkets along with watches and knives.

  15. Carla says:

    Love this, as it is so true! Thanks for your wonderful insights and fun writing style!

  16. Ms. Montana says:

    Oh I feel all these things are so true! Sometimes there are just too many choices. I just can’t care that much about all of them. I need some easy wins. Finding things that are free or very low cost makes the choice easy. Ding, Ding Ding, we have a winner! The $5 baby walker it is!

    It is also so freeing to not feel like I am my stuff, or really that my stuff has much to say about me. It really doesn’t. Yes, I knew there was a better option. Yes, I saw that other one was nicer. But I don’t really want to buy the $4,000 refrigerator. By the way, when did those things start costing as much as a used car?! They keep some food cool and the other food cold. We knew that custom cabinets for our kitchen would look nicer, but I preferred paying $2000 vs $6000. If my things say anything about me, it would be I like freedom more than fancy.

  17. Sharon says:

    Thanks for this. Made me laugh a bunch of times. Often I’ve felt “not good enough” because we don’t have the latest things or the newest clothes etc. I feel released! LOL

  18. Couldn’t agree more frugalwoods. I could spend days analyzing purchases, reading reviews, and otherwise wasting time researching a new purchase. Or I could just get the used version (or free) that does 95% of what I need and serves me well enough.

    It’s pleasant to think about how much easier ‘used’ makes my life. Sure, I probably look weird to my neighbors…but I could care less.

    Now, my biggest problem is trying to control the mountain of free toys we’ve collected in recent years…it’s threatening to take over!

  19. Rae says:

    Thank you for yet again a fabulous blog!

  20. I really relate to this post. I remember just a few months ago, Ms. FP’s mom was looking for a desk for her condo. She’d done some research and she was planning to look at a bunch of desks that she might want. Suddenly, Ms. FP and I stumbled upon a desk that looked perfect for her, right on the side of the road. Brought it over to her and she thought it looked great. So now she has a free desk and didn’t have to get stuck at the store analyzing the different costs and materials and looks of a ton of desks.

  21. Barb says:

    Wow – you hit the nail on the head. A few years ago we bought a piece of property in the country (on a lake, gorgeous) and set about trying to figure out what to build on it. We were tied up in knots for months, and it was surprisingly stressful.. We desperately did not want to make the wrong decision – but what was the right one? Then – tada! – we found online an older cedar cottage that had been disassembled and the logs were available. We even managed to get the original plans for it and we rebuilt the 30+ year old building on our site. Not only did all the stress immediately go away, the resulting building has a feel of always having been there which we find so appealing.

  22. Susan says:

    You might like The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. He argues that the more time you spend researching something, the harder it is to appreicte it. Why? Because you expect the value to match up to the amount of time that was invested in it. So while it makes sense for say, a car; the spatula, not so much. So fewer choices may also help you to be more satisfied with what you have.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for the recommendation! Sounds like something I’d enjoy. I totally agree with that analysis of research time.

  23. Steph says:

    We moved into our current home around the same time my parents were downsizing. As a result, nearly half of our furniture it hand-me-downs from them. We were thrilled! We’d moved into a bigger place, so we needed more furniture anyway, the stuff we were given is all really good quality (read: we could not have afforded it new) and my parents are happy knowing their old possessions are both appreciated and cared for. Added bonuses: I still get to eat at the same dining table I grew up with, and my parents’ Dachshund adjusted to our new house faster with a familiar sofa to lounge on. 😊

  24. Love this perspective on buying used! You don’t have to waste time making the decision and you don’t have to worry if it gets one more ding or scratch either. I’m in a conundrum with our kitchen faucet. Just bought it a year ago – it was reasonably priced with okay reviews, but it’s dripping already! Do other people go through kitchen faucets as often as we do?! Hubby thinks if we spend more, the next faucet will last longer, but I think that could be an expensive assumption. Should we really spend hours trying to find a faucet that won’t leak in a year or two? And will it leak despite the hours spent researching!? I don’t have the answer.

  25. I love that you say the process is both spiritual and pragmatic of sharing. One of my new favorite things to do is go through the kid clothes that are too big and make bags of hand-me-downs for the nieces and nephews. Since we’ve purchased about 1% of the clothes I’m handing down the line, it does bring a tremendous amount of gratitude for the social support of friends and family. Growing up, I was the youngest of about 12 cousins that all had matching outfits every summer. I LOVED outgrowing mine and getting the next size up (FOR YEARS) and thought I was so lucky to be the youngest and have them all! Heard the song “Second-hand Rose” – my mom taught me to sing it when I was very young. 🙂

  26. Crazy how many choices we have as consumers these days. My favorite example is the menu at Cheesecake Factory. Oh how it drives me nuts (which is why I’m glad we opt to eat at home over 95% of the time.)
    For used stuff, it just makes sense to “go there” considering the environmental impact of our throw-away culture. The floating plastic island in the Pacific. Terrible. Thank goodness for eBay, CL, and thrift/consignment shops, especially for the kids’ stuff!

    • Deb says:

      Love your example. A couple yrs ago went there with friends and had so much trouble deciding, barely had anything. Got a drink while everyone else ordered, and finally settled on an appetizer while everyone had their meal. Thought I may be saving my appetite for dessert, but when that time came I could not deide either and was full. Ugh.

  27. S.G. says:

    Good points, but I’ll share some thoughts I had while reading:

    1) When you have enough money to buy anything you want [within reason] gifts become super hard. So I use decision making *as* the gift. If I need something I put it on a gift list. Even though I can purchase it for myself the gift is the time the person spent choosing it. I have been very happy with everything that has come to me like this. I might put a couple requirements (like the time I told my husband I wanted a waterproof digital camera).

    2) I appreciate shopping at Amazon and Costco. Amazon because the ratings can help me quickly narrow down my options to the top handful I can choose from. Costco because they’ve already done it. If I need something I go there first because I know their buyer has put a lot of thought into what would appeal to people like me, and that person is usually right. I am almost always happy with what I find at Costco.

    3) I always use an “80% solution” mentality. You will hear different portions, but the most prevalent one I’ve heard is 20% of the work results in 80% of the correct answer. Since 80% is usually good enough for me there’s a point where I just stop thinking about it and make a decision (when I get overwhelmed or bored with the research).

    4) No matter my decision I know I’m stuck with it, so I try to make the best of things. This is more about attitude than shopping. While your point about buying used is valid, there are still people who resent buying used if they are forced to, and there are people who are grateful for everything they have. This is about outlook.

    5) I can’t usually buy clothes second hand (36″ inseam) and I don’t know anyone to swap with, so I do the same thing with sales. Near the end of the season I go to my favorite websites and I’m restricted to what is left that I can get a good deal on. While often the styles make me laugh (there is often a REASON they are still left) there are usually really good classic items that only have a few colors left. But it’s the same effect of limiting choices so it isn’t overwhelming.

    • Allie says:

      Love doing this at the end of a “fashion season” too!

    • Leah says:

      Your #3 can also be considered “satisficing” (maybe spelled satisfycing?). It’s the idea of getting “good enough” and then moving on. My husband and I actually did this with most of our wedding decisions and were so pleased. We met with a florist, liked her work, and thought prices were reasonable. Done! Same with our cupcakes, venue, food, hair etc. Our only big splurge was flying out friends to be our photographers (they’re pros) because I was picky about photogs in the area. We had a wedding for 125 with a sit down dinner for somewhere around $10k — yes, pricey, but cheap for what we had. My relatives have spent far more for comparable or less fancy weddings.

  28. Dixon Downey says:

    I am so guilty of consumerism but I am in the process of liberating myself- we finally found a house in Vermont that passes the frugality test! It comes fully furnished with lovely maintenance free vinyl siding, metal roof, newer septic and -drum roll- brand new high efficiency propane boiler!!!!! (the existing one did not pass inspection) We even got a canoe, mountain bikes, generator, 2 chords of split wood and two newer fire place inserts out of the deal!

    I have been dreaming about my humble VT mountain abode for years from my rapidly depreciating McMansion in CT and after studying the area, I really feel we have a foothold in this new phase of life. Hopefully someone will want to buy my house in CT!

  29. Kate says:

    Yesssssss. I recently purchased a pair of nice looking all-weather boots for winter and travel and researching them was the WOOOORRRRSSSTTT. I’ve been checking thrift stores for years and finally realized that this might be one item I would have to buy new. But thank goodness that is over and I can just go back to buying whatever jeans that fit me from Goodwill.

    *Also, analysis paralysis is a big part of the strategy board gaming world and I was secretly hoping you had written a post to get my husband’s friends to just hurry up and play already! 🙂

  30. Sarah Deacon says:

    Absolutely love this post. Paralysis by Analysis can take up our lives if we let it! Reminds me of another benefit of my vegetarian diet… so much easier to choose menus and meals when I eliminate so many options for health and ethical reasons. Simplifies my life.

  31. Penny says:

    I love the way you write and how, always with humour, you touch important subjects. You’re so right, consumerism and the perceived lack of self esteem often go hand in hand.We have been lead to believe that our worth is measured by what we buy. Slogans like “You’re worth it” only reinforce the idea. I hate the idea that buying equates happiness and well being and expressions like “retail therapy” are a perfect example of that warped way of thinking.

  32. Justin says:

    Ugg, yes. So much truth here. For most consumption items, I really don’t care what it looks like or where I get it as long as it’s safe, reliable, and it works. If there are two competing items that appear largely similar in functional terms, the lower cost one is what I’m going with all else being equal. Similarly, free stuff is way better than stuff you have to buy, even if it’s not your top choice (but still gets the job done).

    In other words, I don’t like wasting mental energy on decisions when most of them are solved by frugality. 🙂

  33. Michelle says:

    Oh my gosh Mrs. Frugalwoods, I’m SO glad you like writing. Because I love reading what you write! “It’s the headlamp all other headlamps speak of only in hushed, reverential tones.” I laughed OUT LOUD. Keep it up!

  34. Lindsey says:

    I tend to do research only on the big things, but for the most part, if I’m comparing something small as shirts it’s really not worth sweating over. I feel like if the free one doesn’t work out, the worst you are out is what $0 anyway?!

  35. Josh says:

    I appreciate the perspective that this post brought to me. I have yet to fully embrace the second-hand culture yet, but in my head I know that it’s a great way to help not only save money, but also to help stem the tide of rampant over-commercialism. I will be on the lookout for some new prized possessions on the side of the road and in my friends’ garages!

  36. Craig Ritter says:

    “Spiritual and pragmatic” really hit a chord…how true. When I was in college we often went swimming in nearby lakes and rivers. A fraternity brother gave me a pair of Levi cut-offs, cut short (about the size of a swimsuit). He told me they were given to him by a friend when his friend outgrew them, he gave them to my fraternity brother. He went on to say that he had used them for many years, but he now has outgrown them. I don’t remember how many years I enjoyed those shorts, but when I outgrew them I gave them away along with the story. It has been over forty years since I was given those cut-offs. Your blog article brought them to mind and I still fondly remember enjoying them.

  37. Sandra & the 2 Spaniels says:

    You are so correct in that too many options make people crazy. I enjoy wandering the stores, especially at Christmas, but I won’t be buying retail. Clothing thrifts, especially in larger cities, are full of clothes worn once/never by someone. I have a pure Alpaca wool coat that I purchased for $49 at my favorite resale. If you have ever priced these babies, you know what I saved. I got a cashmere sweater for $6 last Friday. Neither of these garments had a rip, pulled thread, or looked worn. The sweater is black, usually not a color that I would choose, but I will make it work!
    I am getting notorious for becoming cheap! 😊 I have saved squeakers from ripped up dog toys, and repurposed them into a baby toy from the thrift store. Dog toys: $6 at HomeGoods versus $12 at Petsmart versus $1.25 for said baby toy. The spaniels could not care less if it’s a dragon, a bear, or a blue elephant. Your life should not be about how can I pay more bills? I feel a whole lot more peaceful since my Frugalwoods makeover last August!
    I look forward to reading a fresh Frugalwoods every month!

  38. SharonW says:

    Used things have also proved that they wear well. If you find a nice dress at the thrift store, you don’t have to worry that it will fade or fall apart when you wash it for the first time. New things can have poor quality that is hidden in the store.

  39. Merryl Chantrell says:

    OMG I think I have found a ‘kindred spirit’. I have never fitted any of the ‘preordained boxes’ thankfully. Even as a kid I never fitted ‘the norm’. As I grew up I was always a bit different. Not weird different but I just walked to the ‘beat of a different drum’. I felt as if I never quite fit. However I am now 63 and have found many people are just like me. It feels good to know I am not the only one. As you said in your post I most definitely am not my sofa or my hemline.
    I most definitely do not have to purchase something because it is the latest gadget or the latest fashion. I have never followed fashion trends anyway.
    We live in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and we are retired from work but not retired from life. We often drive around and if we find something on the roadside we can use we will accept whatever it is gratefully. Like you I have found that if we need something then a ‘signpost’ will come into our lives pointing us in the right direction. We have an eclectic mix of household goods and furniture and yes some of it is scuffed and worn and that’s fine because it has been loved and used and is still being loved and used today. I thoroughly enjoy reading Frugalwoods.

    • Jane says:

      Ah, a fellow Aussie Frugalwoods lover! Greetings from Sydney. 🙂

      • Stephanie says:

        Another Sydney Frugalwoods fan here!
        This is one of the reasons why I love shopping at Aldi – less choice makes for a much more positive grocery shopping experience!

        • Jane says:

          Oh, wow! Nice to know there’s more of us over here! Yep, I love Aldi, too. I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief sometimes when I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff and it adds up to about $30 at the checkout. 🙂

  40. Jackson says:

    I need carpet recommendations. i have a severe case of paralysis when choosing carpet and when every time I do I make mistakes. .

    Our high quality carpet came with the house and is 27 years old and still looks okay when cleaned. But not great, just pass-able.. It is a dark green semi-shag carpet and it doesn’t show dirt much and we have winters.

    We’re very frugal but this time we’ll go for quality and stretch the budget if necessary. Any recommendations? Brand? We still want a darker color or a mix of colors that work,with a brown Mexican tile entry way floor.

    • Anne says:

      You can sometimes find really great used carpet – someone will have decided they just want to redecorate, or bought a place (maybe re carpeted for sale) and decided to put down hardwood. You can get great quality stuff for next to nothing!

  41. Allie says:

    Do you know about the Front Porch Forum in Vermont. I am not sure exactly where your ponderosa is, but I have a feeling it is not terribly far from Burlington. “Google” it and you will find more information about this wonderful on-line newsletter that comes out several times a week. Folks use FPF to sell and give away stuff (and sometimes to perseverate on one issue or another!). And you can post your needs too. We bought and sold tires, found cord wood, advertised my new business, and generally loved the concept. Check it out…it’s FREE!!

  42. Yay! Nice introduction you got there, Frugalwoods! Buying used things improves health, actually! Because you can get to buy more healthy food from the money you saved and gives you less stress. I used to have problem buying used items, but now that I have a family, I have a priority and buying such items is not a problem at. It’s all in our mind. Haha!

  43. Lisa Jenkins says:

    I love love this post…So so true, and everyone could start thinking this way…I feel a lot of people would have much less stress in their lives and actually enjoy daily their families and adventures together…I love you site…Hoping we can retire early too…..

  44. Mr. Grumby says:

    This is brilliant. Tool libraries are also a great way to access used things without having to own them. Portland has several and you can borrow any tool you can imagine; rakes, bandsaws, leaf blowers, socket wrenches, etc; for free.

    Do you have any ideas on how to impart this wisdom to our mid-20s nieces and nephews who can’t buy new stuff fast enough?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I am so envious of your tool library! We keep wishing we had one here… we’ve even considered starting one (although we don’t have that many tools!)

  45. TomTrottier says:

    Ouch! $75 on one headlamp? First, you need 2. Second, you can get a very bright headlamp on eBay from China for well under $10 – eg http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=(%22t6%22%2C%22u2%22)%20headlamp&LH_Complete=1&LH_Sold=1

  46. Leah says:

    One of my favorite items is our credenza that cost — wait for it! — $10 at a garage sale! I know that’s pricey if one can live in a city and pick up good furniture at the side of the road, but that does not happen here. I am still in shock and awe, especially since I googled and found out it’s a mid-century semi antique worth a bit. It smelled like smoke, but a few months of airing out and liberal vinegar treatments that took me perhaps 2 hours over 4 months was totally worth it. It mostly just sat on our porch and got scrubbed down periodically.

    I too love hand me downs, especially with clothes. Shopping is the bane of my existence. But give me a huge bag of stuff to sort, and I am happy. I keep what I want and pass on what doesn’t work for me. Ding!

  47. Linda says:

    Wow, I can relate to this so very much. The feeling of paralysis over too many choices is a constant struggle. The feeling of overwhelmed paralysis is actually my default stress reaction. That feeling where I can’t even answer a simple question about what to eat for dinner. I have gone down the rabbit hole of Internet searches for the perfect thing in the perfect size in the perfect color at the perfect price. Never ends well.

  48. jestjack says:

    Thank you for another interesting post. I swear I never new $500 “head lights” existed. I am a bit of a novice I guess, as both of my “head lights” are made by Energizer and are powered by rechargeable batteries from Duracell. So when it comes time for replacement I’ll have to check them out. Ten years for a head-lamp….pretty impressive IMHO. And I have observed that “frugal folks” by and large tend to be unique and very interesting people. Just imagine the amount stuff you have kept out of the landfill with your “road-side finds” and frugal ways….

  49. Rory says:

    Ugh, I have spent far too many hours in analysis paralysis, and thankfully recognised it as a problem. My first approach is always the minimalist ‘do without’, followed by repurpose/borrow/thrift, but sometimes that still fails and I find myself trawling reviews to find something reliable. I wasted 3 hours of my life trying to choose between different camping mats last year, trying to discern which reviews to go with. I avoid shops, set autosearches with very narrow parameters on eBay and try to live with as little stuff as possible. I look forward to the days when my nephews want money for birthdays and christmas. I cannot understand how anyone can list ‘shopping’ as a hobby.

    Your writings always make me think, thank you.

  50. Christine K says:

    This side benefit of frugality is something that I never actually considered. My favorite store is the side of the road/dumpster, followed by yard/estate/church sales and thrift stores. I just figure that the universe sends me what I need, and that’s what I was meant to have. The side benefit of not having to agonize over purchases is so true though! It still amazes me that I can realize that I’m on the lookout for something and then it magically materializes in my path…a lot of times for free, no shopping required 🙂 Oh, and I found my headlamp in a dumpster. It was move-out dumping I think, so someone researched that baby for me lol. Works great.

  51. Vicki says:

    I love this post! (Of course it ties right in with decision-making and that’s my “thing”!) We have ended our analysis paralysis by taking time to really define our “end goals” in life – those things that matter most to us. Your’s appear to be clearly defined and you so generously share those with us here on your blog. This post is also a lot about satisficing vs. optimizing (maximizing). People spend forever searching out the “best” instead of having clear goals about what they need. As Justin pointed out above – safe, reliable, and works – is what he needs. When you find that – you get it without wasting time searching out the “best”.

  52. Bev says:

    Well said…as usual. So glad you are still enjoying Vermont. Didn’t we have a beautiful fall? Rain today, but we need it. I love seeing your pictures and reading your stories about adapting to your new life here. Your daughter is beautiful…and such a happy baby it seems. Wishing you all well. Bev

  53. snowcanyon says:

    Maybe it’s just the difference between youth and middle age, but how DO you look so nice on a budget? Alas, I could do that in my twenties, now not so much. Perhaps a seminar? Personal shopping service for your readers? Wardrobe analysis?

    • Leah says:

      I believe the personal shopping service run by the Frugalwoods would go something like this: don’t.

      • snowcanyon says:

        Lol- alas, I can’t wear my work uniform everywhere!

        • tess says:

          Try a brutally honest teenager, LOL. My 14-year-old daughter gave me unsolicited fashion advice and tough love by saying, “that’s not pretty” to top with spagehtti straps and asking why I wear pale colors that wash me out. She constructively suggested blue and gray as color that work. Casual “uniforms” can work for weekend and at home situations. If you sew, you can tailor things to fit nicely or sew from scratch. Janice Riggs of Vivienne Files and Fiona Ferris of How to Be Chic have good advice on composing wardrobes for home, travel, and work.

  54. Jackson says:

    I gave a question. Nearly everything in our home that would have been a major purchase was bought at garage or estate sales or were hand be downs. Living room furniture. Beds. Even brand New, unused mattresses.

    Noe I’m wary of upholstery, perhaps even used carpet. Here’s why: a friend had a double whammy. hit by both bedbugs and lice in the SAME month. The lice came from her son’s school. The bedbugs? They aren’t sure but they definitely took up residence in a recently purchased garage sake couch. It could have been the culprit.

    How do any of you screen for this? I never gave it a thought before.

    • Christine K says:

      I’m 100% terrified of bed bugs. Lice need a host, so 48 hours and those are dead…I don’t worry about those in used items. As for bed bugs, if it can’t be washed, it sits in my garage for 30 days. We live in FL. Nothing can survive that kind of heat. Also, I avoid all bedding unless new and sealed. Wood furniture can be a culprit with bed bugs also, so anything questionable gets the garage treatment. Unless I know it came from a clean, bug-free home, it’s sitting in my garage for a month. You can also use a hairdryer on every inch of something if you are worried about bedbugs and don’t have a 50000 degree garage due to a cold climate.

  55. Well said! This culture of having to research purchases for weeks on end, no matter how small they are, is just maddening. Just give me a choice of 3 things, and I’ll probably pick the pretty one (I’m that shallow), and I can be on my way!

  56. Moira says:

    Thanks for this! I feel like it’s only when you stop being an ‘on autopilot’ consumer that you start to realise just how the pervasive message of ‘buy buy buy,more more more, now now now’ is. It’s been conditioned into us almost from day one, and breaking free from it is not easy, but when you do, you realize that not being a slave to anything is where the real joy and freedom in life lies.

  57. This is a very refreshing reminder. I have these values too…but having quite a few friends who aren’t so similar in this mindset…it’s easy after a while to start reverting/thinking in those consumer ‘gotta keep up with the Joneses’ ways. 🙂 This was a nice back to reality and ‘live for what’s truly important’ post! Thanks! 🙂

  58. Mr. RIP says:

    Amazing post as always 🙂
    Problem is: this is the same argue anti-frugalists use justify their anti-frugalism: “I don’t want to care about small and unimportant stuff”. they can find tons of examples where being frugal will force you into analysis-paralysis. How would you reply to them?

  59. I like what Mr. Money Mustache says about having a low-information diet. The less overwhelming information that’s present in your life, the simpler you can live. I think this certainly applies to shopping!

    Buying used is basically a “take it or leave it” situation, which is perfect for living on a low-information diet. You want a spatula? Here is one for 25 cents. There are no bells and whistles; no silicone handle or fancy alloys–just a spatula, like you needed.

    I think we also need to stop obsessing about having the best new toys/gadgets in our homes. Usually what we have is already good enough; no need to replace the functional used spatula with the Spatulatron 2000.

  60. Helen S says:

    Getting freebies spoils you (in a good way), but its a bugger when a free treasure finally gives out. Our 20+ year old (to us, no idea how long my friend’s mom, who gave it to me, had it before she decided she didn’t need it) freebie salad spinner bit the dust and now I’m having problems with the idea of paying for an inferior replacement. Everything new I see seems far less sturdy. No way is anything new going to make it 20+ years of twice a week use.

  61. Lynn says:

    Oh, man! I wish the world felt this way about baby stuff. I had a ton of it, and I couldn’t seem to get rid of it for the world. Everyone wanted to pick out their own stroller, baby clothes, high chair, etc. I did manage to unload a nice sidecar crib on a friend, and hopefully she will do the same when the time comes. Everything else went to GoodWill, which is fine, but seems somewhat ridiculous when I had at least a dozen friends having babies. But I guess it makes sense. I didn’t get used baby stuff–I didn’t buy it, either. It was all gifts from very well-meaning people who were thrilled about my baby girl. So I really shouldn’t complain.

  62. Kerry says:

    This article speaks to me in a big way! I think this is your best post yet. This has put into words something that I have loved about frugality for a long time without fully realizing it. Thanks for these thoughts, I feel like I will now be better able to help the non frugal weirdos in my life understand the magic of second hand goods.

  63. Angela says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I so appreciate your reminders to hold fast against the stream of consumerism. It is so easy to fall into that trap that I need a nicer, bigger house or car etc. I really enjoy your blog. Please keep sharing!

  64. Centsai says:

    I loved your article! I struggle constantly with paralysis by analysis and always end up spending hours on hours researching for a new item and never end up buying it! I can always count on your blog to reassure myself that it is okay to be frugal and that being frugal can be helpful in my everyday life! Thanks for sharing this with me!

  65. I love the concept of having gratitude for the frugally found items as contrasted to angst over the meticulously researched purchase.

    In our household, I’m a notorious researcher and those handful of 1 or 2 star reviews always seem to derail me. Thanks for giving me some logic to with through those situations and too maybe even avoid them altogether!

    • S.G. says:

      You always need to question those 1 and 2 star ratings because nothing is foolproof for a determined fool, and said fool usually leaves a post on amazon. I usually read those to determine the types of things that can go wrong with a product, or features that might bug you. Sometimes they have valuable information, but often it’s just fools being fools.

  66. Brook Hart says:

    Tomorrow I have to drive several hours to see a doctor, ( not my choice but dictated by my insurance company) I will use up a good bit of this weeks allotment of gasoline. On the other hand, I will make the most of my trip. I have footnoted several thrift stores from my last appointment. Now instead of sitting in rush hour traffic on the way home. I will thrift shop. We have several things we need for the winter. Usually we have a good couple of months where we use minimal electricity when we use no AC or heat. Sadly, it was hot way into the year and then cold the very next day. I am hoping for wool socks, long johns and some type of hat. My bedroom is the coldest in the house and I sleep with a beanie hat on my head. Pride and appearances are not an issue under my blankets.

  67. I totally agree with your comments on being satisfied with imperfect things when they were free.
    It all comes down to the concept of value. All purchases should be evaluated based on their value proposition. Like your headlamp example; the $500 light is better than the $75 lamp, but is it six times better? Almost certainly not. It’s probably 10% better, which definitely doesn’t justify the huge increase in cost. Almost everything reaches a point of diminishing returns, and finding that point usually allows you to find the best value.

  68. Laurie says:

    “We’re defined by what we do and I refuse to be defined as a consumer.”
    Amen, Sistah!!
    All of my life I have strived to be known for the things I do BESIDES what I do to earn money and how I spend money. I rejoice in the frugal, simple life. I love the challenge of finding ways around the consumer frenzy. I eat simple, healthy food and do almost all of my grocery shopping at Aldi, which I can walk to from my apartment. I use Aim toothpaste, because there’s only one kind of Aim, as opposed to 47 different kinds of Crest or Colgate. My clothes come from thrift stores , or I sew them myself from fabric found at thrift stores (good quality sheets make awesome, durable clothing!). My favorite way around decision fatigue is this: When I need or want something, I don’t go right out and buy it, I simply keep it in mind for awhile. This accomplishes three things…one, it gives me time to discern whether I truly do need or want this thing; two, it gives me time to think carefully about what would work just right, or give me the most satisfaction; and three, in time the item in question invariably comes my way! I’ll find exactly what I want at the thrift store, or a yard sale, or for free on the laundry room table in my apartment building (people are always leaving stuff when they move out, for others to take). I love the serendipity of this. In the past year, I’ve gotten some very specific items, including a pair of pinking shears, a copy of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” (the library’s two copies were always checked out!), excellent quality measuring cups made in U.S.A. of recycled plastic, and hot pink gauze to make a crinoline for my sister’s Halloween costume. It’s so much fun to have something in mind and watch it come my way, for very little money or for free!
    Thanks so much for your blog…I love the nice long posts, and I love your writing style! Keep up the great work as a fresh voice in the simple living world 😃

  69. Messalina says:

    Quote from a 1938 essay by British writer Jan Struther (http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/struther/try/try.html):

    ‘Economy has been called a habit of mind, and certainly it is not until it has become a habit that it can cease to be irksome. For some natures it never does cease; but for others – and they are not always the naturally prudent ones, either – there is a queer satisfaction to be got out of being in a State of Economy. It is hard to analyse this feeling: the main ingredient, perhaps, is a sense of relief at the sudden simplification of life, at the narrowing of one’s field of choice. Much the same effect could no doubt be obtained by joining the Army or the Roman Catholic Church. One spends far less time, for instance, in making up one’s mind between the equal though differing attractions of sole and herring, wine and beer, silk and gingham; between going out to a film and staying at home with a book; between giving a party and not giving a party; between the excitement of new shoes and the familiarity of old ones.

    ‘Of all the many factors which used to affect one’s decision – time, effort, digestibility, chic, comfort, and so on – there remains only one: cost. To weigh the alternatives in this balance alone is the work of a moment: and there are all the more moments left for the life of princely expenditure, of inexhaustible revenue, without tax or toil, overdraft, usury or distraint, which is lived in the secret kingdom behind the eyelids.’

  70. TheBeard&The Bohemian says:

    We recently went to a wedding that was pretty formal not wanting to spend a bunch money on clothes for the wedding we went to a thrift shop the day before and got my shoes dress shirt and pants for about 15 bucks no one knew The difference except our bank account

  71. Linda Luke says:

    This is so true! Shortly after reading your post I experienced the same thing. I recently moved from So Cal to a small town in MO. I have 21 trees on my property and now that leaf season is here I realized a leaf blower would be a great investment. It took me 4 hours over 3 days researching all the options before I made my decision. I thought I wanted cordless, but they weren’t as powerful. Should I do 20v or 40v? Stick with the same brand as my edger so batteries are interchangeable? What about weight, reviews, etc., etc.? I actually found the reviews sometimes made it more challenging. In the end I bought a simple, powerful corded one and a cord with a reel that can be used for other things as well. Not what I imagined but I know it’s the best choice. I just wish I had some of that time back that I spent online researching and feeling overwhelmed…

  72. Analysis paralysis is a struggle for me, because I don’t want to buy something only for it to need to be replaced, especially as so many things are hard to recycle when they’re beyond their shelf life. I got bitten by not researching a washing machine and I can’t tell you how happy I was when it gave up, it ruined so many clothes over the years.

    I’m not one to turn down a bargain or freebie if it’s something I need, the best is a working strimmer that a guy took to the tip. Borrowing my dad’s for 5 years paid off! Sometimes you can’t wait that long for something to just turn up though.

    The one benefit of all the time taken to analyse spending decisions is that you don’t have as much free time to spend money on other stuff!

  73. Gigi says:

    You are so right! I’m a late starter embracing simplicity and frugality and have starting to let go of wanting the “perfect” thing. It’s absolutely true that for most of what we need, the adequate thing will do. Why waste our life energy on unimportant choices. Love your blog by the way. I’m staring down a retirement of relative poverty but you help me view my options in a different light.

  74. I have to admit I get a little shocked when I hear about people redecorating their houses and buying new furniture. My attitude, when I bought my sofa at an estate sale in Houston, was, “Whew. I can cross ‘sofa’ off my list for the rest of my life.”

    But I am cheap and lazy and hate spending money on stuff. I would rather travel and then, one day, retire.

  75. Erith says:

    I don’t think there ‘s anything wrong with new, as long as you keep hold of it… My sofa is 20+ years old, bought new. Since recovered free by sister-in-law (thanks Sam). 2 chairs inherited from my Mum, 2 chairs bought new about 5 years ago because they suited my husband’s bad back! Mine is a 20 year old leather chair still going strong. Table and sideboard were a wedding present (new 40 years ago). TV >10 years old. Jacket I was wearing today, inherited from aunt 6 years ago, but was bought new by her. Sweater was 10 years old at least, but new when I got it. You get the idea.

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