A Tale of Frugality Over Excess

Coffee MugI’ve been broke. Like pretty much as broke as can be. But America broke. Like, never out on the streets or even close to that. Just not able to do what everyone else seems to be doing broke. Paycheck gone as soon as it hits the bank account broke. Like, just barely keeping from getting evicted, cabinets literally empty, can’t drive anywhere because I can’t afford to fill the tank, scouring the house for pennies to dump in to coin star, living-the-Los-Angeles-dream broke.

I labeled myself as being bad with money. And I also punished myself because I valued staying home with my kids and that meant being broke. But the truth is, we were broke before kids came along and I didn’t want to face the real truth of why I was broke for so long. It has a little something to do with a bad partnership and being a doormat rather than taking some control of my finances when I decided to pool them with a certain someone.

When I was cut loose from that partnership, I had lots of reasons to mourn, but there were also lots of reasons to rejoice. Facts started to become clear now that denial was no longer clouding my view like a bad, hazy nightmare. I remembered that before I ever joined finances with someone, I wasn’t actually so bad with money. I wasn’t the greatest, but rent and bills were always paid in time and in full with a bit leftover for some fun. I managed to save for a trip to Europe once. I managed a few trips to Vegas each year. I managed to support my single self and I had no credit card or other debts.

So, fast forward a decade or so, and I am living in my single mom world. I am far from well off, believe me. There are debts to be paid for years to come. There’s debts leftover from my marriage that I didn’t even know existed, but because I took his name, they are mine, like the opposite of wedding presents. Divorce presents. Jointly and severally mine. ‘Til paid do us part.

Still, I’m back in control of my finances, just like I was before marriage, and lo and behold, I have the skills to pay the bills. I still know how to keep my belt tight because I’ve had to keep it tight this whole time. Money may have been more plentiful in marriage on paper, but that paper flew away to places that had nothing to do with me and my kids. Phony business trips, as it turns out, aren’t on the company, after all.

I’m not living large, but I am living in charge. I’m embracing frugality where it can and should be embraced, and splurging in a place or two because, darn it, I work my rear off and I deserve it. But splurging isn’t splurging if you’re always splurging. I am restrained.

Example: I drink one cup of regular coffee and one cup of decaf each morning. Though k-cups are pricey, because it’s just me, when bought in bulk, this is the cheapest route to go. Unfortunately, I went a bit too inexpensive with my knock off Keurig single cup coffee maker, and the part that pierces the top of the k-cup broke off after so much use. I got what I paid for and got my money’s worth, but I realized I’d probably want to go a little higher end if I wanted something that would last.

Here’s where proud frugal Jen comes in, though. For months now I decided I am going to get every last bit of life out of this thing. Throw away a still mostly functional coffee maker before it’s time? Never! So, I figured out that I could use a wine corkscrew to pierce a small hole in the foil top of the k-cups.

Was this a foolproof plan? No. Sometimes I pressed too hard and ended up with a jagged hole, much too big. Sometimes, not enough water seemed to get through into the grounds and the cup was under brewed. But the worst part of it was that most cups ended up with a lot of grounds in them, sunk down at the bottom of my cup, hiding, waiting to strike during my last few sips.

The first time this happened was during class. I took a hasty swig of my comforting elixir and was met with a mouth full of coffee grounds. Not only was it disgusting, but I was paranoid for the next hour that I had coffee grounds in my teeth and on my lips.

Still, I wasn’t ready to make another coffee maker purchase. I had to decide what was right for me and my budget. MY budget. (It has a ring to it). I still had so many k-cups left, as well as a ton of disposable, fillable k-cups I had found on clearance at a kitchen goods store that made those single brew coffees even more cost effective. However, if I went with a k-cup compatible machine, it would have to be a good deal because that’s what frugal people do; we make due and wait until a sale, and only then do we strike.

And so that day came yesterday. I found a Mr. Coffee k-cup compatible brewer that was $20 off. I didn’t agonize about buying it because I knew I could afford it. I felt good about the price, and I felt good about the fact that I had waited, even if it meant dealing with some grounds in my coffee for a couple of months. Frugality conquered over excess, and my slow and steady approach led to the same finish line. Except that I think I enjoyed the finish line more than if I had rushed to it.

As I write this, I take my last sip of my first cup of coffee brewed in my new machine. It is blissfully free of coffee grounds, perfectly brewed, and I earned it.