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If you landed on my blog and are reading this post, you might have some sort of interest in being frugal.
As for me, I just love frugality.
Frugality has brought Mr. FAF and me together as a couple, allowed me to save for a rainy day, motivated me to seek free resources for my own education, and make the best of everything that I have in life.
However, sometimes my frugality goes a bit to far and becomes detrimental to my emotional, physical, and financial health.
Below are the three most recent incidents that show me that being frugal to an extreme can hold me back several steps in life.
The food poisoning
You might not want to read this story if you’re eating something.
It was 11 PM on a Sunday night. Like every other night, I was sitting at my desk trying to edit a post I had written the day before.
But something wasn’t right. I felt like the food I had eaten at dinner was trying to find its way out of my system through my esophagus.
My stomach had gotten increasingly painful since 9 PM. But I tried to forget about it, thinking it would just be like another run to the bathroom due to my IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
In fact, I knew exactly what was causing the pain. Earlier that day, my mother-in-law (MIL) and I were cleaning out the freezer when we found some fish that had expired on October 16, 2016. The fish technically had expired 9 months before although it was frozen.
I suggested we throw it away. But as a frugal person, my MIL pointed out that most of the fish still looked fine, and that she would cook it for dinner. Not wanting to argue with my MIL, I let her do her magic.
I was hesitant to eat the fish at dinner. But I felt bad for having my MIL make the dish, so I tried two small pieces. My MIL and Mr. FAF also had some. We didn’t feed it to Baby FAF. It wasn’t bad, but Mr. FAF insisted we stop eating it and throw it away.
I went on with my life that night although I started experiencing some pain half an hour after dinner. At exactly 11:30 PM, I couldn’t stand the abdominal pain or stop the food from making its way out of my system anymore. I ran to the bathroom and started throwing up. I thought that was it for the bad fish. I cleaned up and went to bed right after.
Little did I know that I would make roughly 10 more trips like that during the night. It was painful and exhausting to experience the power of two pieces of stale fish on my grown-up body for 8 hours straight.
I woke up at 7:30 AM the next day with a heavy headache and felt so nauseated that I couldn’t walk straight. I tried to comb my hair to go to work, but I just couldn’t do it. I was running a fever. I needed to lie down. I called in sick and slept pretty much the whole day on Monday.
I couldn’t go to work and couldn’t make hundreds of dollars because I was trying to save some fish that was worth at most $1 the day before. What kind of math would make that right? None.
My MIL felt guilty the whole day and kept apologizing. She made me porridge and black chicken soup to help me recover. I didn’t blame her at all. After all, I chose to eat the fish. She didn’t force me.
Mr. FAF and my MIL made this black chicken soup for me to help me recover. Black chicken has medicinal value in Chinese culture.
I had to stay at home for another day to fully recover from the food poisoning and saw my productivity plummet to an alarming level. I was not happy about being inefficient with my time. Two days of my life just went down the drain because I was trying to save money.
Lesson #1: Do not eat seafood that’s been sitting in the freezer for almost a year.
The cheap fridge
After Mr. FAF and I bought our first home in DC, we wanted to buy a backup fridge for extra food and put it in the basement. We made our happy first-time-homeowner trip to Home Depot and brought back a $266 Vissani white fridge – the cheapest full-sized fridge we could find.
We hoped that it would last us for years to come. The fridge worked well for a year and 4 months, and decided to stop cooling on a Thursday morning. In an attempt to save money, I posted in our community group asking if any neighbor was an appliance electrician and could help us fix the “uncool” fridge (of course, we would pay them, but I also hoped for a reliable electrician and a discount).
To make the long story short, we were told that the control board was broken, so we bought it on eBay and waited for more than a week for it to arrive because of July 4th.
Our neighbor said that we could pay them however much we wanted since we are neighbors. He said he usually charged $60/visit (I always have to pay $100/visit in DC) and would be happy to receive $60 in total. I decided to give him $100 for trouble-shooting the fridge and installing the control board later (2 visits).
It seemed like a perfect deal until the next day when the fridge stopped cooling again. My neighbor couldn’t figure out what the problem was and stopped returning my calls. During this whole ordeal, I was trying to take care of a sick baby since Mr. FAF was still in another city. After almost a month of stress and anxiety over a broken cheap fridge, I gave in and decided to buy a new one.
Mr. FAF and I agreed that investing in a good fridge would save us a lot of trouble in the future. We bought a $475 fridge together with a three-year warranty for $80 and paid $15 for Home Depot to hall away the old fridge. It was almost $750 in total including tax.
I wasn’t too happy to see our joint account afterwards, but I was relieved to have peace of mind about the fridge for the next three years.
Lesson #2: Do not buy cheap fridges for long-term use.
The used chair
This incident happened three years ago before Mr. FAF and I had Baby FAF. I was much more frugal when I was single living on a $1,000 stipend/month in DC.
After getting married, I tried to make Mr. FAF live on a similar budget as mine and soon realized it just didn’t work. In fact, it backfired a couple of times. And the chair incident was one of them.
My roommates at the time and I had just moved into a new apartment and had almost no furniture. I was secretly hoping that we would find some good chairs on the curbside somewhere and hesitated to buy new chairs.
Mr. FAF, while visiting me in DC, was getting impatient and insisted we at least check out a nearby thrift store to see if they had inexpensive chairs.
We found a $5 chair that, in my opinion, was hideous and definitely not worth the money. I also kept hoping that we would get some chairs from friends for free or from a dumpster instead. Mr. FAF, however, just wanted a chair and insisted we buy it.
We ended up getting into a heated argument on our way home. Mr. FAF got really upset about not being able to reach an agreement with me about something as cheap as a $5. He almost left DC to go back to his city that day until I apologized for being stubbornly frugal.
My effort to save $5 that day did damage to our relationship and made us unhappy for days afterwards. The money definitely couldn’t make up for the unhappy moments in our lives. Since then, we have never fought about something so cheap anymore.
Lesson #3: Arguing with my spouse about a couple of dollars here and there can do damage to our marriage.
Frugality has become part of my personality and mindset. I can’t picture myself getting this far in life without careful budget planning all these 12 years of living in America by myself. Frugality has enabled me to be independent and best-equipped to cope with unexpected events in my life.
However, extreme frugality has also put me in situations where I do more harm than good to my own well-being and relationships, especially my marriage to Mr. FAF.
I once tried to make Mr. FAF a frugal copy of myself. I’m so glad I stopped because I can tolerate the physical and emotional pain from food poisoning and broken appliances, but not the damage to our relationship.
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