The Key to Being Frugal

Let me tell you a story about the time we almost spent $6,000 on landscaping changes that were mostly cosmetic and not exactly an urgent need. This happened not long ago, about two weeks to be exact.

The side of our home has had poor drainage for the past year and a half since we’ve purchased it. The left side gets rather wet and pools when it rains. The area isn’t ideal to plant a large tree to soak up the water, but it could host a rain garden or other better-suited plants than the ivy currently there just “covering” the water puddles.

Our neighbors like their ivy and tree, so whatever we do we’ll still be battling the ivy growing into the downhill space. We’d like to do something about it, but since the water pools next to a garage and has had no effect on the foundation for 50+ years, there isn’t an urgent need to fix it. It’s just a nuisance.

After spending half a day removing rocks from the landscape and dealing with all the labor that goes along with it, I hit a moment where I suggested to Chris to call a landscaper and find out what a french drain along the side of the house and ripping out our current landscape would cost. He jumped at the chance, exhausted and sweaty, scheduling a quote for later that evening.

This is the before photo of one small section of our property in the front we worked on together that morning.

This is how we left it until we’re ready to redo the area with fresh dirt and plants. We moved the rocks to an area of the backyard to make a better-established garden bed around our deck. We didn’t want to move the rocks anywhere we’d have to move them again.

Chris and I had different ideas for how we’d like to handle the front landscaping. I told him to talk to the landscaper by himself and asked for the big idea project numbers; for all the things he’d love to have done and not have to do himself.

After their meeting, he presented me with the plan: $6,000 for the drain along the side, filling in the ivy with low cost sod (but not the type of grass we currently have which is more expensive), ripping out all the front gardens, replacing the walkway with a stone walkway, and ripping out the other side of the house garden beds to replace them with similar plants and fresh garden beds.

Now, that all sounded fabulous! We looked through the stone walkway sample booklet and thought about how we’d make this all happen. We couldn’t agree on the front walkway stones, and we wanted to make sure the drain wouldn’t be impacted if we ever wanted to widen the driveway (which is a future plan). We went back and forth, I ran the numbers, but I just didn’t feel right about it.

Chris suggested I meet with the landscaper to find out more pricing options (maybe just the drain by itself) and to understand the landscaper’s whole vision. I met with the owner myself, discussed pricing with just the drain which came in at half the cost ($3,000), and then learned more about his plans for plants and other items around the house. I got him to knock a few hundred off of the total, too. Though, it just didn’t sit right.

In a moment of exhausted impulse one evening I told Chris I think we should call the landscaper the next day to finalize the deal. I was tired of moving rocks, digging in the dirt, and loved the prospect of walking out to a finished front yard. I still didn’t know what walkway stone to pick, but I figured whatever Chris wanted would be fine.

That next day, Chris didn’t have a chance to call the landscaper and I was relieved.

The cost for something aesthetic like this just didn’t feel right. We’re able-bodied adults who just are limited on time and imagination right now to do it ourselves. When he got home, I said, “Don’t call him to schedule the work,” and I explained more about how I felt and why it’s not the right time for us to spend our income in that way.

This is the mess of the front porch we still need to dig out completely.

While we have “good debt” to most, it’s still debt. We have other financial goals that are important to us we’ve been working towards for years. It’s taken the past year and a half to begin to reset our financial situation after putting our all into our home in down payment and renovations. We have smaller projects we’d like to accomplish this summer, which this price tag would put to a halt for months to come.

This was, on a whim, an exciting prospect to get done and not to have to do it ourselves. In the end, taking a step back and reviewing our goals and our physical abilities, this just didn’t fit into our current picture. It may one day, but not right now.

The key to being frugal is making financial decisions after much thought and not giving into impulse buys. When a decision that will impact your finances needs to be made, don’t make it in haste, impulse or panic. Take a step back and assess the situation and remember your goals.

Being frugal is about prioritizing your needs and wants. We want to be financially free. We also want a gorgeous looking outdoor space. Our desire for financial freedom outweighs our immediate need to relieve our frustrations with our ugly outdoor space

After talking more about it, we realized if we did a little each weekend our outdoor space will look great in no time and we can put in place a rain garden or something less invasive to the wet areas. It won’t be done in two days, but who do we have to impress?

One of the biggest detriments in personal finance is making quick decisions through impulse. Had I went with my impulse in this situation, we would’ve been on the hook for almost $6,000 in landscaping costs. It would have been an entire year’s IRA savings for one of us whipped out for flowers and lots of dirt.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, consider only one day ago our couch broke. If we had put this money into the gardens, we wouldn’t have had the financial cushion to afford a nicer new couch. After impulse shopping online for a new couch, Chris decided to fix the couch part that snapped and we are happily continuing on until we truly need to replace our beloved couch.

In the end, impulses will always be hard to tame and control, but through practice I know it gets easier. Slowly, the feeling of spending and borrowing money feels less “normal” and planning for your goals feels more comfortable. If I’m not buying new clothes for a year, I definitely shouldn’t be spending our savings on quite a bit of dirt, either.

Your turn, tell me about an impulse buy that you made or didn’t make and how it changed your path to your goals?