Frugal Burnout: Fad Or Portent?

Guest post from Abigail who blogs over at I Pick Up Pennies. She and her husband are in debt from health-related expenses, and she talks about getting out of debt on relatively low income.

I’ve seen several articles lately that indicate spending is up. We could take this to mean that the recession is receding, and certainly that is what the media seem to believe. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the real cause. I think we’re in a round of frugal burnout. People have been frugal too long (or so they believe), and they simply can’t take it anymore. They start to indulge here and there. The purchases are small, of course, but they will grow exponentially. And the spending is indicative of a big problem: entitlement.

Americans got into this mess by believing that we are owed certain things. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen commercials use the word “deserve.” It’s patently untrue that we deserve any material goods all, beyond the basics needed for survival ““ and even those aren’t assured. Still, the public is smitten with the idea that people are due a certain amount of possessions and luxuries. It’s understandably alluring. It’s just not true.

In the wake of massive layoffs, rampant foreclosures and the economy teetering on the brink of destruction, people finally seemed to wake up from the dream of entitlement.

The problem is that Americans have very short attention spans. And we’re even worse at delayed gratification.

Anyone who has paid off a lot of debt (or is in the process of doing so) knows that frugal burnout is a natural part of the cycle. It’s natural to get sick of doing without. You have a small relapse: a fit of spending or one too many meals out. Then you get over it. It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the process. The trouble is that you have to work hard and be responsible ““ and dedicated ““ in order to get over frugal burnout. Because, let’s face it: The old ways were a lot more fun, at least until you go the bill. I think that the average American just isn’t dedicated and disciplined enough to pull out of a spending tailspin.


Whether the spending comes from frugal fatigue or new-found, steady employment, the result is the same. Once frugality isn’t strictly necessary for survival, I’m betting that these new habits start dropping off. And why will this happen? Because we don’t want to believe in Newton’s law (financially speaking) that what goes up must come down. We’re all for the boom, but we’re still perpetually flabbergasted by the bust.

I’m afraid that, by and large, we just don’t have the stamina for true frugal conversion. As frugal burnout hits, especially if the recession is easing up, more and more Americans will gladly resume spending. We’re simply too immersed in a culture of instant gratification (and far too many cool tech toys) to do anything else. I think it’s noteworthy that, during the recession, plenty of technological innovations ““ Blue Ray, the new iPhone, etc ““ were successful. If we were truly bent on changing, don’t you think those lines to the Apple store would have been a lot shorter?

Please don’t mistake me: I don’t doubt that there are reformed souls out there. Nor do I doubt the sincerity with which the rest of the country claimed to have seen the light. I’m sure they truly meant it at the time. I just believe that Americans, like Oscar Wilde, can resist anything but temptation.

Photo from Shutterstock


Money Quote Friday – Stupid Enough To Want It Edition.

To be clever enough to get all the money, one must be stupid enough to want it.” — Gilbert K. Chesterton

I am enjoying reading them myself, so I hope you guys are enjoying the guest posts this week. I have a few more for next week while I finish my visit to California. Have a fantastic weekend!


11 Tips For An Accurate Vehicle Repair Estimate.

My car knows when I get paid. Like clockwork it demands a new repair with every paycheck. As a result, I’ve had to gather estimates for such big jobs as replacing the timing belt, repairing all four brakes (including replacing pads, shoes and rotor).

Much to my chagrin, I learned that although a timing belt costs just $55, estimates for replacement ran as high as $850. Why so much? Because two out of three shops recommend also replace the water pump, front engine seals, drive belt, idlers and tensioners.

Likewise with the brakes. One quickie brake shop said I had to replace pads, shoes and rotors on all four brakes. A visit to CarTalk.com revealed they may have been trying to take me for a ride.

1. Get Recommendations

The best referrals usually come from family and friends who have had positive experiences with a repair facility. Ask the mechanic for references and follow through. There are several places you can check online, including your local Better Business Bureau and (my favorite) NPR’s Car Talk “Mechanic Files,” which includes customer reviews by city and state.

2. Get It In Writing

If repair work will run over $100, make sure you get a written price estimate. Deal face-to-face with the facility, not over the phone. Research prices on Internet auto-repair database to make sure you’re not being overcharged. Once you receive an estimate, the repair shop legally can’t charge you more than 10 percent above the estimated costs without your prior approval.

3. Estimates Should Include

* Vehicle Information: Including year, make, model, mileage, etc.
* Car Parts: Including description, quantity and price. This portion of the estimate also should detail whether replacement parts will be new, used or rebuilt (see #4).
* Labor: Work is usually charged in 15-minute increments. Ask about the estimated speed for each shop. You don’t want to end up paying more because of the shop’s slow repair speed.
* A Clear Explanation: Many work descriptions are poorly written and difficult for the layman to understand. According to the Car Guys, A clearly written estimate should read something like, “Performed 30,000 mile tune-up in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications. Changed oil, oil filter and air filter. Installed new cabin filter and performed all necessary checks, controls and procedures, including road test (miles 30,123 – 30,125). Performed lubrication services and confirmed proper operation of the vehicle. Set tire pressure and checked fluids, belts and hoses. Note: car pulls slightly to the left. Needs Alignment.”
* Summary of Charges: This is the total cost for all labor and parts. Check the math to make sure it’s accurate.

4. Parts

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts usually are the most expensive as they’re designed for your specific vehicle. Aftermarket parts are manufactured by a third party for use in a variety of vehicles and usually are less expensive. If you’re vehicle is an older make, used or rebuilt parts are even cheaper and could last the remaining life of the car without trouble. Just make sure you won’t experience bigger problems down the road with the cheaper options.

5. Miscellaneous Charges

These costs may include but are not limited to shop supplies, including chemicals, rags, hazardous-waste disposal, waste oil, etc.

6. Flat Fees

Flat Fees are services not broken down into parts, tax and labor, making it difficult to compare prices. While most flat fees are competitively priced, mechanics also might use flat fees as an opportunity for “menu selling.” In other words, a tune up might be listed at $100 or a transmission flush at $90. Ask what is involved for each item and confirm the shop will actually provide the service based on the car manufacturer recommendation.

7. Warranty & Recall Coverage

Ask if the repair might be covered by an existing warranty or recall and, if the repair shop won’t honor these terms, shop around or go directly to the dealer. You’ll still want to get a written estimate for any costs not covered. When having recall work performed, make sure you won’t be charged if the recommended remedy doesn’t work. Ask in advance if there is a diagnostic charge for which you’re responsible.

8. Avoid Open-ended Questions

Ask some shops, “Do I need a tune up?” or “Do I need a new starter?” and the answer will always be yes. Such questions imply you don’t know your car and may be open invitations for unscrupulous mechanics to recommend unneeded services. Check the vehicle manual for the manufacturer’s recommended schedule of tune-ups, oil changes, tire rotations, etc.

9. Is it Necessary?

Is the recommended repair really necessary or could it be postponed? Some fixes are necessary for safety reasons or to prevent future problems. If your car may well go to the scrap heap before the repair truly is necessary, then why throw away the money? When in doubt, follow this list of priorities: Engine and suspension work first; tires second; extras like stereo and air conditioning next; and appearance (minor dents and dings) last.

10. Don’t Be Forced

Even if you had your vehicle towed to one shop after it died, make sure you get an itemized estimate from a second shop. You may find another mechanic offers a better price and will tow your car to the second shop for free.

11. Know Before You Leave

Make sure you understand exactly what work will be performed on your car before you leave it at the shop. Never provide carte blanche to do any work they find necessary; you might as well hand some mechanics a blank check. Provide the shop with your contact information and ask them to call you if they run into any problems not listed in the estimate.


Why You Need And Should Already Have An Emergency Kit.

Although this post is not directly related to personal finance issues, it does have something to do with it in terms of your financial security. For a long time now, I have had emergency kits in my car and in my home in case I suddenly had to vacate the house or got trapped away from home. After 9/11, the tsunami in Thailand, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, I figured that if it can happen to all of those people then it can happen to me. We all go through life figuring that the bad stuff always happens to other people, but someday the other people could be you and you better be prepared.

I figured listing what was in my kit would help others prepare better for any kind of emergency. I have a backpack that I can grab and go in case of an emergency regarding my home or neighborhood. Here is what I have in my backpack:

Cash – $200 in small bills if not more. If tragedy strikes, banks and other electronic payment systems may be down and if that happens, cash is king whether for food, water or gasoline.
Food – MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) that could last 2 weeks if I ate them sparingly. These are loaded with carbs and calories to keep you going, and they last on average of 5 years.
Water – Besides a bunch of small water pouches (think Capri Sun or the like), I also have a bottle for water and water purification tablets if I run out of my own water and need to sterilize water from another source.
Clothing – A complete change of clothes consisting of socks, underwear, sweatshirt and hat. I also have gardening gloves in case I need to deal with something rusty or sharp. A rain poncho was thrown in for good measure as well.
First Aid Supplies – Band-Aids, Neosporin, gauze pads, wrapping tape, razor blades, small sewing needles, a compass, ace bandage, etc. I also have candles, lighters and matches, glow sticks, etc.
Medicine – If I have a prescription medicine, I make sure I have a bottle of it in my kit. According to my doctor, pills that are solid (not the gel liquid kind) last WAY longer than the expiration date on the bottle. So I make sure I have backup pills in the bags that will last until I can get my hands on more.
Personal Documents – This is where the personal finance aspect of this post comes in. In my bag, I have a small ziploc baggie filled with photocopies of my driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, a few of my credit cards and a contact list. I also put a USB thumb drive in this bag that has the same info on it as above but also has all of our financial account numbers, phone numbers, insurance cards, first aid info and local emergency information. This usb key is the key to your recovery after an incident, as it allows you to have one place where all your information is stored.
Communication – I carry a windup emergency radio that has weather and other bands, and also has a flashlight attached. I also have a solar battery charger to charge my cellphone in case the juice runs out before I can find power.
Protection – I have mace and a rather large knife that can cut food, wires, etc etc in case I need it. You never know what may happen once the SHTF!


In my closet, stored in a big old WWII trunk my grandfather gave me, is all the stuff I would need if I had to stay in my house with no food, water or electricity for a while. I have a duplicate set as above, but with way more water, food, blankets, candles, an old telephone that doesn’t need electricity to work and assorted other things. Oh, and I have a giant axe, too…just in case.

Some of my friends think I am a little over the top, but I would much rather be over the top and ready than not have anything and depend on the kindness of strangers in an emergency. You do not know how people will react if something really bad happened, and I do not want to find out. I want to be completely self-sufficient and ready for anything. Living through 2 pretty big earthquakes back in CA has taught me that stuff can happen at any time and you are never ready for it. But having the backup materials just in case is definitely a start. The way I am set up, if I lost everything, I still have everything I need to re-start my lives… I can get on the phone right away with my financial/insurance companies and get the ball rolling on any help I might need. I cannot stress enough for people to be ready….and if you still do not do anything, be sure to have backup copies of your important documents in several places. If a fire struck your residence, you might lose everything. So be sure you have a backup you can turn to to start getting your life back in order. Buy yourself a USB drive, put your docs on it, encrypt it, and throw one in your desk at work or your daily bag you carry. But that is the bare minimum; think of the people that went through Katrina and then imagine something like that happening to yourself. Would you be ready?

This infographic was created by the good folks at Go Banking Rates,
bringing you informative personal finance content and helpful tools, as well as the best interest rates on financial services nationwide. Follow them on Twitter at @GoBankingRates.


Money Quote Friday – Frugality Established In The State.

If frugality were established in the state, and if our expenses were laid out to meet needs rather than superfluities of life, there might be fewer wants, and even fewer pleasures, but infinitely more happiness.“ – Oliver Goldsmith

If only…

Hey, My Two Dollars is looking for guest posts for the next few weeks while I go on vacation. So if you are interested, feel free to email me or use my contact form to get in touch. Thanks!

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