Choosing what — and whether — to buy.

While visiting my dad recently I enjoyed a whole bunch of regional delicacies. Although I get irritated with those who claim it’s my job to uphold the economy by spending lots of money, I do believe in supporting small local businesses.

Or so I said every time I visited a South Jersey custard stand. Rationalization is a wonderful thing.


Here in Seattle I’m a fan of the farmers’ market, where I’ve spent as much as $5.99 for a pound of cherries. Normally I won’t spend that much per pound for meat.

But I knew that an actual farmer was profiting, rather than an agricultural middleman or a supermarket chain. I grew up in a farm region and know how hard it is for small growers to make a living.

I could spend $5.99 on a half-gallon of ice cream that’s actually become 1.5 quarts thanks to downsizing. Or I could spend $5.99 on something that’s healthful as well as delicious.

Besides, I can afford it because I’m careful the rest of the time. As I’ve said before, my approach to frugality is to save where I can so I can spend where I want.

In other words, I’m willing to soak a lot of pinto beans if it allows me to travel, or to shake loose $6 a week during the Washington cherry season.


An uncrowded life

Soaking those beans doesn’t make me stingy. Hesitating over a purchase, whether it’s shoes or a soda, doesn’t mean I’m joyless. It means I’m mindful.

It means I’m thinking about what I currently have and deciding whether it will suffice.

It means I’m not crowding my life with things that won’t make any difference in it.

And often, it means I’m making the decision to appreciate what’s already there.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who spends like there’s no tomorrow. Because there usually is a tomorrow, and it generally costs at least as much as today did.

Of course, this is only partly about wise use of resources. Underneath that mindful mode is simple wariness.

Probably the most useful thing I’ve learned in 52 years on the planet is that life holds no guarantees. Your job, your health, the economy – any or all of it could go south with dismaying rapidity.


Caveat emptor

That’s not the only reason I don’t buy, say, a $3,000 purse. I’m appalled at our culture’s emphasis on acquisition and constant lifestyle upgrades that may not match our ability to afford them.

Buy now, pay for a long time? That just doesn’t sound attractive unless you’re talking homes. I can’t live in a handbag.

So yes, I do think it’s a good idea to decide what, when or if you should purchase. You may find you can do without. And if you really need something, you may find ways to get it without spending a fortune.

The second most useful thing I’ve learned? If you do decide to buy something, then for heaven’s sake enjoy it. Even if it’s only a large chocolate custard. You’ll be back to pinto beans soon enough.

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  1. Now I want cherries. Man…

  2. Well said. This should be included in every newly-wed’s card envelope. karla

  3. I’m with you on the enjoyment! But I am offended by your dissing of the humble pinto bean. We love pinto bean cuisine and would choose a burrito over many other things.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Frugal Scholar: I currently have 25 pounds of pinto beans in my kitchen. Far from dissing them — I rely on them. My point was that a departure from the everyday ought to be enjoyed to the utmost.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. Donna, I’m being a big old copycat today, but I did leave a link. 🙂

    Great post!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Iamtheworkingpoor: Thanks! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. 😉

  5. $5.99 a pound. I hope they were Rainier cherries – they are definitely something to behold here in Washington….I wait every year for them to come out and then pay whatever the going rate is just to enjoy.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Susan: Yep, they were Rainiers. Worth every bite. And I’m having pinto-bean chili all this week, so I’m back on the wagon after summer and South Jersey.
      Where are you in Washington? I keep thinking I should organize some kind of meet-up for readers of this site and the MSN Money stuff. I’m having one in Chicago when I’m there for the conference in a couple of weeks. Hope somebody shows up! It’s like planning a party and wondering if anyone will be there.
      Thanks for reading.

  6. LOVE THIS Donna! You are speaking my language. It’s only taken me 48, almost 49 years to figure it out…if only i knew this when I was 20? I’d be rich indeed, and not just because of wealth. I would have know what truly makes us happy, and it’s never stuff. I hope you enjoyed your custard!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sharon: Thanks. And yeah, it was pretty tasty stuff. Now all I have to do is take off the weight I put on thanks to custard, cheesesteaks, Herrs potato chips, Tastykakes….All the stuff I can’t get in Seattle, and got too much of in New Jersey.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. Great post! The part that really grabbed me was “And often, it means I’m making the decision to appreciate what’s already there.”

  8. LovesACat

    I really liked the phrasing, “I’m mindfull, not joyless.” Good way to express sit.

  9. “Besides, I can afford it because I’m careful the rest of the time. As I’ve said before, my approach to frugality is to save where I can so I can spend where I want.”-We need shirts made with this on it or maybe something embroidered.

  10. Donna, My hometown has custard too. A little shack at the beach with lines a mile long all summer. Thinking about it. Yum. How about custard with cherries on top? Now that is a gift made for the gods.

  11. ImJuniperNow

    Thank you for this piece. I’ve just spent 18 months “away” from my version of frugality, which turned out to be deprivation. You can get pretty depressed and resentful of others when you think you can’t spend anything and that’s being frugal. So I bought pretty much what I wanted when I wanted it, and you know what I found out? I STILL funded my retirement accounts, STILL used coupons and looked for bargains, STILL gave to charity, STILL put gas in my car, even though I spent $1.25 on a bar of peppermint soap at Whole Foods that lasted me three months, and the world didn’t end.

    Now, about that $7,000 Prada bag my office manager has that I can’t stop drooling over . . . . .

    Where in South Jersey were you? We have custard in North Jersey, too.

    • Donna Freedman

      @ImJuniperNow: I was in Cumberland County, way down near the Delaware Bay.
      I’ve also found “custard” in Wisconsin and recently in Seattle. It’s not soft-serve. It’s “soft scoop.” I refrain from further comment.
      And I’m with you on making the purchases that are right for you — I just want to avoid mindless consumption.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  12. average or less

    keep the pintos.
    i prefer aduki (red) beans.

  13. bone65536

    Hi Donna,

    Been reading your MSN work for a while, just subscribed to your web posts. Wife and I have good earning power, but like to live as you do. Debt free, we buy what we need, a few things we want, and always for value. Our filter for any purchase is “Will it make my life better?”. Don’t use credit cards, contribute to our community, have great grandkids, and scour like maniacs your advice on how not to pay more than necessary for anything we give our hard earned money for.

    Keep up the good work.


    • Donna Freedman

      Pat: Thank you so much for your kind words. Your life sounds wonderful: You have each other, and you have enough.
      I’m honored by your comment.

  14. eemusings

    enjoy your holiday! A well deserved one, I’m sure.

  15. While I cannot abide pinto beans, I am crazy for black eyed peas and navy beans. Okay, I do like Great Northern beans and never feel I am eating poor or being denied when I get a craving for either. Actually, I don’t think I had ever HAD to eat them because I could not afford anything else. However, I am always mindful that they are relatively cheap and nutritious. Life is really full of good things if we close our minds to voices that make us feel poor. When I have had plenty of money, I have chosen to cook a pot of beans. That’s living rich.

  16. donna gagne

    Hi Donna, One time a friend of mine who makes great cookies used to
    us a spoon to put the dough on the sheet. Well, she thought there must be a better way, so she bought herself one of those contrap-tions that you put dough in, and squeeze the stuff out onto the
    sheet. She said “that wasn’t very smart cause now I have to put the
    stuff in & have 9 parts to wash as well. She went back to her spoon
    I will go into a fabric store, pick up fabric, go get notions, trim
    a new pattern, walk around and keep picking stuff up. You have to
    have matching material ya know. Then I keep looking at stuff and de-
    cide I don’t like this material, that pattern, won’t need those notions, etc. So by the time I get to the registers in front, I have
    just what I had when I went in with. NOTHING. except the girls who
    work that looking, wondering what I pocketed.
    Another day at hard shopping. Wish I could do that w/mag, tho I do
    look at the price first. If it is over 6.99 it stays right on the
    shelf, not even looked at.
    Here I go, rambling again.

    • Donna Freedman

      Ramble on, as much as you like…And I’m right there with you: Got the JoAnn Fabric ad next to my backpack, so that I can go in tomorrow and cruise the $1 section with my 50%-off coupon. I’m looking either for stocking stuffers for next year, or for small things to put together a gift box for my nephew’s birthday in August.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  17. What do you make with beans? I think of myself as fairly frugal person but I do not think I have eaten anything with beans. Why do people consider them cheap food and what do you cook with it?
    I mainly use potatoes, rice, buckwheat, corn…but never beans…
    interested. look forward to replies.

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m not terribly imaginative, so here’s what I make:
      –Bean soup (with a ham bone or the last few bits of ham left on the platter) and cornbread
      –Pinto beans with salsa and cheese, wrapped in a tortilla
      –Leftover pinto beans added to homemade soup
      –Cook pinto beans, drain and turn into chili
      –Black bean soup
      –Cook black beans, drain (saving the liquid to freeze for future soups) and when cool ladle into quart-size Ziploc bags, massaging them flat so they take up less room in the freezer. When thawed, turn them into black beans and rice, or eat with salsa and a bit of cheese, or make enchiladas or burritos.
      I also do lentils (just 25 minutes to cook!) in two ways:
      –Cook, drain and marinate in the vinegar from our homemade pickled cabbage or from sweet pickles (never throw that brine away when the pickles are gone!); add whatever diced vegetables I have on hand and it’s a lentil salad
      –Cook and drain; meanwhile, saute some onion (and shredded carrot, if you like) until soft, then add a small amount of diced ham. When the ham is crispy, add the lentils and some squirts of vinegar and mustard* and cook until heated through. Crack an egg on top, lower the heat, cover and let the egg poach for two or three minutes. Chop it up into the lentils if you like.
      Don’t throw away the broth from the cooked lentils or beans. It can be used for one of those rustic “bread soups.” I like Tamar Adler’s recipes in her WONDERFUL book, “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace.”
      There are soooo many bean recipes out there; do an online search. And so many types of beans! (Although we stick mostly to pinto and black.) On the “Budget Bytes” website/cookbook there’s more than one recipe for black beans, including one for enchiladas (with a homemade enchilada sauce so simple you won’t believe how much they charge for it in the store).
      *We make our own “mustard vinegar” when a mustard bottle is nearly empty — just pour in some vinegar and shake. When that’s nearly used up, add more mustard from another bottle and more vinegar until it tastes the way you like.
      Happy frugaling!


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