Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Frugal active waiting

My new expensive shoes next to my beloved $1 shoes,
hanging out on the bookshelves.
I'm one of those people who likes to wait before I buy something.  I'm one of those people who likes to use things that I already have.  Don't buy stuff; don't trash stuff.  That's me.

I know the dangers of this approach.  Y' know, I had some sweet elderly relatives who covered their good sofas in plastic to preserve it for the day that the truly fancy event would happen . . . but no event ever was fancy enough to pull that plastic off the couches.  I've known more people than I can count who live amid piles of scraps and odds and ends, closets cluttered with buckets of miscellaneous tools, because they just might be able to use this some day . . . but they never do use those scraps and tools.  This past year, I had to grieve the death of a sweet guy who didn't bother going to the doctor until the coughing and weight loss were so bad that the cancer had grown to an 8-pound mass of evil within his belly.  We all have to wonder whether we'd still have him around if he'd just gone into his doctor's office right away.

So I'm well aware that procrastination can lead to a life where we always act as though now isn't enough, where we live amid the clutter of "maybe someday", or where we can jeopardize our own well-being in the name of patience and self-sufficiency.

And yet, I do believe we should wait for what we think we want.

Waiting doesn't have to be passive.  Waiting doesn't have to be avoidance.  Here are some ways I like to wait actively.

Have a deadline.  
I really want to have a matching set of silverware for my table, instead of the mis-matched, bent, and broken set I currently use.   But there's no way I'm going to buy a nice set while the boys are still living here:  not only are they hard on silverware, but when they get in a sneaky mood they'll take food (jars of peanut butter, cartons of ice cream) up to their bedroom at night, and then throw away all the evidence, including the spoons.  So I'm waiting until the day they move out to get the new stuff.  I'll even help them stock their new apartments with what tableware we have left.  Hah!

On a shorter time-table, I am often willing to nurse along a pair of shoes, or to do without a crock-pot, or to hold off on buying other household items until summer rolls around.  That's when the yard sale season opens, and I know I can often find what I'm looking for for nearly free then.  If I don't find, for example, shoes for the boys at a summer yard sale, then I'll splurge and go to a so-called thrift store where their shoes cost several dollars.

Use the waiting time to experiment.
I got frost bite on my toes when I was a kid, and ever since then, my feet have been really sensitive to cold.  This winter I started having a bunch of trouble with cold feet, mostly because of all the new/increased exercise I'm doing.  Biking 25 miles in 35°F weather makes my feet turn yellow.  I even had trouble after a 6-mile run on a cold day.  So I knew I was going to need to get different shoes, but the heck if that meant I was going to rush right out to the mall and buy some.

Instead, I paid attention to my feet in a variety of shoes.  Do plastic bags over my socks help?  (No).  There was a theory that having cold calves constricts blood flow to my toes -- did bundling up my legs help?  (No).  Extra socks?  (Not that, either).  Did the expensive neoprene bike-shoe covers that my non-miser husband splurged on solve the problem?  (Nopers).  Thick soles helped -- the hot pink running shoes I've done several long races in keep me warm, but they don't have good traction in the wet or snow.  Eventually I realized that my feet always managed to stay warm when I'm wearing a pair of boots with really thick soles, with leather uppers, and fuzzy lining.  Even when I biked around in 20°F weather, my feet stayed toasty in these babies.  This is different from my running shoes (which have a canvas mesh on top) and from my thin biking shoes.  So now I know what I'm looking for.

Practice gratitude for what is already there.
Most of our houses are already overfull, to the point that it's hard to clean or organize them.  So while I wait for that summer crock pot, I marvel at the odd assortment of pots and pans I already have.  I think of X-son down in Haiti, and I'm more humbled than ever at my shelves full with food from around the world.  I get ready to run, and I'm grateful for my health, for the clothes I managed to pick up for cheap at previous yard sales, for friends who run with me and encourage me.   So instead of thinking about my cold feet, I try to cultivate a warm heart.

Use the experiments to identify temporary alternatives.
I found I could do a lot of my bike errands while wearing my fuzzy boots.  While I was looking for a good new pair of running shoes, I could (temporarily) avoid the coldest days, do shorter runs.  While I'm waiting for summer yard sales, I can use the stove instead of a crock pot.  This is NOT a permanent solution; it's a matter of cost-benefit analysis.  If using an admittedly second-rate alternative 5 times allows me to buy the thing I want for $50 less, that's $10 per use.  Often that analysis makes the wait worth it to me.

By the same kind of analysis . . .

If waiting means extra damage or danger, don't wait.
The leaky roof that could lead to internal water damage: call a roofer.  The twitchy brakes: go to the mechanic.  The strange cough: get it checked out.  That termite: bring in a home inspector, and if needed, an exterminator.  Save those waiting muscles for those things where waiting saves, not costs, money or health.

When you can't save money by waiting, buy a bit at a time.
When I started riding my bike a lot last spring, there were a lot of things I knew I would need.  But that didn't mean I needed them all right away.  Instead, I gave myself the "reward" of one new thing per month.  Each of these gave me a bit more bicycle freedom:  first, the bike lock so I could actually do errands.  The lights, so my boys and I could travel together at dusk.  Eventually, the shoes and clips.  These were all fairly expensive (by my standards), but by spreading them out I got to extend the fun of the new purchases.

Know the market.
There is no way I would buy a coffee pot for more than $5; I know I can get one at a yard sale for that much or less.  Women's shoes size 7 and 8 are everywhere for cheap.  But it's harder to find larger shoes, or boys' shoes, and the kind of bike equipment I've been looking for is almost non-existent on the second-hand market.

So when I found a pair of size-9.5, thick-soled, fake-leather-upper running shoes at a so-called thrift store for $11 last week, I knew that was a decent price.  Even more importantly, these shoes were just what my experiments told me I was looking for, and my past yard-sale experience told me I was unlikely to find a pair like them again, even during the summer.

Stop waiting.
The point of active waiting isn't to wait for the perfect moment; the point is to help me make the best decisions I can with my limited amounts of time, money, and knowledge.   Spendthrifts blindly throw money at a problem; cheapskates blindly throw time at it.  But wise waiting involves opening up our eyes, and that will eventually mean opening up the wallet.

So yes, even though those $11 shoes cost five-to-ten times as much as I normally spend, I bought them anyway.  My buddies and I ran 10 miles the next day on slushy, icy roads in 15°F weather, our coldest, longest run of the year so far.  And my feet were still fine at the end.  Huzzah!


  1. I think the Gambler quote sums up this post: "you've got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em; know when to walk away; know when to ride."

    One caveat: I'm pretty sure those are rocker shoes that are designed to tone up your rear. They work fine for some, I've heard, and cause muscle pain in others. So watch for signs of muscles issues to see if the shoes and their rounded sole aren't working for you in the long-term. If nothing else, though, hopefully they tide you over until the weather is warmer and you can go back to your usual shoes.

    Also, while I don't always advocate stockpiling, perhaps this summer would be a good time to pick up 3-4 pairs of running shoes in a variety of thicknesses. Training for a triathlon can be tough on shoes, and you wouldn't want your shoes to fall apart unexpectedly and delay training.

    1. Ah, yes! All good observations, and I should have mentioned something about this. In fact, I now have 4 pairs of running shoes (the two pairs I use most often weren't pictured), and I do move between them a bunch so that I don't put undue strain on one set of muscles. This means that my running shoe collection cost me upwards of $15!

      I also lift weights and do cool knee exercises, because I've found that just makes all the rest of my running go that much more smoothly.

      Yeah, these new pairs are "rockers", and they feel different than the rest of my shoes. Not bad, but different. I'm glad to have them in my mix of shoes, but I wouldn't want all my shoes to be like this.

  2. besides waiting for warm weather yard sales,
    check out freecycle and the free section of craigslist,
    good for acquiring and giving