These Boots Are Made For Walking

Frugal$I used to think frugality was the same as being cheap. My mother shopped at garage sales and did not spend money on herself beyond necessities. She wasn’t into clothes, jewelry, or girly pampering. My dad, in stark contrast, was a spender. He bought whatever he wanted, which mostly meant man toys: electronics and gadgets and tools. He also liked to sail, so we had a sailboat and a slip at the yacht club. My mom made me earn what money she gave me. I got a weekly or monthly allowance, and in exchange, I had to empty the dishwasher, fold the clothes, and iron the sheets. My dad, on occasion, would slip me a $20 bill with no chores attached. Since my mom had tight control over the purse strings, she always knew when this happened and would make me pay my father back. Or deduct it from the following month’s allowance. Until recently, I thought my mother was a tightwad and my father was a deliciously free spirit who didn’t live in fear of turning into a bag man.

Since my father died (nearly a year and a half ago), my perspective on money has shifted dramatically. I realize now my father was a spendthrift, and were it not for my mother, my parents very well may have been broke when my father died. As it was, they didn’t have a whole hell of a lot to show for all his hard work building and running his business for over 30 years. (In retrospect, paying his two alcoholic sons a salary when they did next to nothing didn’t help matters, however uncharitable that may sound.) So here we are–my brothers are dead, my father is dead, and my mother has a small amount of savings and two modest houses on which to live for her remaining years. My dad’s business is still operating, albeit with a skeleton crew, so that might be a source of income for her once they dig out of the hole they’re in. Even so, I find myself worrying over my mother’s medical and living expenses, and whether she’ll outlive her savings. And if things get bad, whether she’ll outlive mine.

This is the context in which I’m currently living. Some people might call it reality. It’s a big change from my prior existence. For years, I’d spent money freely, like my dad. I had the idea I’d work until I keeled over (like my dad), and so money wasn’t ever going to be a problem. But when people around you start dropping like flies, you begin to see life through a different lens. I no longer relish the idea of working until I die. In fact, I don’t want to work at my current profession at all any more. So I spend a lot of time with this retirement calculator working out different scenarios as to how I can get the hell out of corporate America and not waste my life, my precious time on this earth, sitting in my office. If only I’d followed my mother’s example from the time I got my law degree, I might be in a position to walk away now.

But as my great grandmother would have said, “Don’t worry about it. Do something about it.”

So I am doing. And I’ve discovered it’s easy to live on a lot less if you consume mindfully. To that end, I’ve begun asking myself the following questions:

Question 1:   Do I really need this item? Or do I simply want this item?

Let’s say I see this terrific pair of cowboy boots. They’re on sale and I’m desperate for them. They’re not trendy and they’ll last for years. Despite the multiple pairs of boots in my closet, I tell myself I need them. I then go to Question 2.

Question 2:   How much do these boots really cost?

Let’s say the boots are $250. I plug that number into a calculator assuming an annual rate of return of 10% over the next 10 years. Those $250 boots become $648.44. If, after performing that calculation, I’m still able to delude myself into thinking I need the boots, that $648.44 isn’t really all that much, I proceed to Question 3.

Question 3:   Are these boots worth my freedom?

Are these $648.44 boots worth the time I’ll spend earning the money to pay for them? This question has a bigger impact when I ask it sitting in my office. Are these boots worth the money I could instead put into my retirement account to escape my office? Are these boots worth my freedom?

Usually, Question 3 puts an end to the analysis, and I realize not only do I not need the boots, I no longer want them. These questions have not only changed the way I see boots, they’ve changed the way I see the world. For example, when I drive through my parking garage at my office each morning and evening, all those shiny new Lexus and Mercedes and Audis flash nothing more than “Stupid!” at me when I imagine their owners slaving away in their offices to pay for them. We’ve all heard the story of the multi-millionaire who drives an old beat-up truck, as if his driving that beat-up truck when he has millions is silly. I now understand that millionaire has his millions because he didn’t buy into consumerism. Instead of feeling deprived while driving his beat-up pickup, he feels smug.

The other day the sole came loose from the bottom of my old boots. My office manager suggested I take them to the shoe repair shop down the street. I asked her why in the world I would do that, when there was a tube of superglue in the supply room. She suggested I was taking things too far. Not only was I not buying new boots, like I would have done a year ago, I was being cheap about the manner of repair. I picked up the glue, slathered some on the inside of the sole, and pressed it firmly for a few minutes. Voila. Good as new.

Cheap, or frugal? I’ll ask her that question again when I walk out the door wearing those old boots on the day I retire.


  • Either way I will take repairing what I have instead of buying any day of the week! Good stuff! That for the insight in the realities of saving!


  • A number of years ago..when the economy tanked in 08….I learned very quickly the difference between wanting and needing. Living frugally is not as dreadful as it sounds. It can give us a much different perspective on what is important in life.


      • I was fortunate to have retired in 07 and therefore did not lose my 401K investments, which currently is the only income I have to pay taxes on at a much lower rate! But, of course I had no way of knowing what was about to happen. A year before retirement, I placed myself on my ‘retirement’ income, and banked the rest to help me over the 2 years before I could collect SS. I retired at 60, collected SS at 62. I did not suffer any. I became more aware of those wants and needs. My needs are well taken care of and my wants are simple. I get 3 checks a month! No $$ worries. Yes, I am fortunate, planning is the key to it all, and being thankful for what you have.

        Great post!


  • This post came at the perfect time. My pub, who owns 7 pairs of high quality boots (8 if you include old uggs) has been pining over a pair of Frye Veronica Slouches. PINING!!!!! This hurts, but she is not going to do it, thanks to your infinite financial wisdom. Probably a good time to sell your stock in Frye, which was once local to us and is now owned by some Hong Kong conglomerate, as she is moving on. xo, LMA


      • we’re back to report we no longer have urge to buy the Veronicas. In fact, thanks to your site and comments from other bloggers here, we are buying nothing we don’t need. In our minds, we’ve already turned those boots into 2 days of retirement bliss. Every “fun” purchase will be viewed that way. A pair of Veronica’s do not measure up to two days of sleeping in and doing what we want, many thanks, LMA


        • Kudos! I love it! And you’ve given me another layer to add to the analysis–divide annual desired income in retirement by 365 and you can calculate the number of days of freedom those boots would cost (after doing the compound interest calculation, of course). That sure shifts your perspective for every purchase. Thank you, LMA!


  • My thought process isn’t as elaborate as yours, but the result is the same. I just finished repairing my PC instead of buying a secondhand one…



    • That’s impressive. And surely takes skills I do not have. But I can do glue. As for elaborate thought processes–you do go for the more direct , simpler approach. Like cat-plonking rather than formal, time-consuming introductions.


      • Yes, cat-plonking is a pretty direct approach. I am due to cat-plonk again, Cloro still hasn’t surfaced after four weeks, so I am looking for a new cat to plonk; the house is empty, needs a feline type.



  • Friday I had guests, three of my friends. And one of them told me, she would love to retire in 5 years – then she will be 50. I will not be able to retire any time before my 67th birthday. She will have to live frugal, but that will not make any difference to her. She is doing that most of the time anyway.
    Thank goodness, I do not dislike my job now. I am not a spendthrift, not much into nice clothes or expensive vacations, but I like to spend money on my friends or my cats. And having some money left to buy another mug just because I laugh about the sentence on it. Or buy lots of calendars to decorate my walls. Or buy a video game, just because I like it. Or buy organic. still I save an Euro or two at the end of the month. Not having a car helps …


    • Retire at 50? Now that would be something! Maybe complete retirement isn’t what I’m looking for. I’d just like to be doing work I enjoy. I do agree with you–I will not forgo the little things that really bring me pleasure. But the purchase of a new pair of boots, or a car, would be the result of being brainwashed by the culture of consumerism.


  • Interesting post and makes a lot of sense – your mum sounds quite remarkable and has obviously taught you a lot about values and principles. Best wishes.


  • I used to say the same thing, about working until I drop. What else would I do with myself, I’d think? Yeah, well, I’ve got that figured out. And I do like my job – I work for a terrific couple, it’s interesting and busy, without pressure. But if I could retire tomorrow I would. There’s other things I want to do that I don’t have time for.

    I really need to pay attention to the way I spend money. I’m glad you’ve been writing about this – it’s been in the back of my since you have.


    • You are so right, Denise–there is so much to do and working takes way too much time. We can grow that retirement account a lot faster than previously imagined with a little mindfulness. And by not paying a financial advisor a percentage. Try or the app. It’s easy to set up and it tracks spending and savings like magic. I love the little pie charts. Yummmm pie.


  • Love that retirement calculator. I just bookmarked it. Thanks for sharing. And you have very VALUABLE advice, perhaps you can make some money with that…


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