Step 10: Saving by Spending · Step 4: Cutting Costs

My Nonsensical Budgeting Brain

Sometimes it’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in here! All full of Oompa-Loompas and trained squirrels…

Check it out:

Where I live, rent runs $1600-$2000 and up. I pay $500, all inclusive, so my house-choosing strategy is awesome and definitely one of my primary successes.

I own a car. I didn’t until I was 38, and now I do, primarily for disability-related reasons so I’d have it even if I didn’t need it for a commute.

So far, so good, yes?

Here’s where it gets tricky:

My home is a 30 minute drive from my son’s new school. There is no school bus, so I need to drive him there and back. Each return trip costs me about $5.

Over and over I get the idea: What if I move us closer to the school, so we can save that gas money and driving time? Over and over, I seriously consider giving up my preferred environment and spending considerably more on rent in order to save time and gas money.

Then, luckily, I check myself: If I drove into town 6x per week, my car fuel cost would increase by $93/month. It is cheaper to drive 6x per week than to rent in town. Plus, a disability program actually refunds me part of those fuel costs (but not my rent costs).

Optimizing our budget is smart, smart, smart. But we need to be watch how all the numbers play out, ensure we are not being “penny wise but pound foolish,” and not budgeting according to assumptions.

  • Do I assume government housing is cheaper than private?
  • Do I assume that transit is cheaper than driving?
  • Do I assume that if I lived in town, I would feel free of a need for a car?
  • Do I assume that eating in is cheaper than eating out?

I need to check my beliefs—make sure I’m aligning my spending with reality, not with ideas and fantasies.

In a subsequent post, I’ll give a tip for what to do if I start to feel squicky seeing a “luxury” budget line increase by an uncomfortable $93/month.

Where have you had a money assumption that proved to be false? What was the wiser move?

4 thoughts on “My Nonsensical Budgeting Brain

  1. There was a money-saving blog I liked where the writer had what seemed me to be an irrational hatred of smartphone-users. He was very insistent for a while there that they’re always a bad choice and a waste of money.

    I need one professionally, so I wasn’t going to follow his advice on that one, but I did try to puzzle out where he was coming from because he was really good at challenging ideas about what we need versus what we want. Eventually I decided that probably what he was really saying was, “Don’t waste money on redundant services.” That made sense to me. For example, he has GPS navigation installed in his cars, so having it on a phone seemed silly to him. I’ve never had GPS in my car, because while I love GPS navigation for personal safety reasons, but I have it on my phone, so I’m not about to pay for it on my car.

    But then he seemed to be arguing that it’s not just redundant services, but that smart phones were always the most expensive way to get the services you can get on a smart phone. That puzzled me, because that wasn’t how the numbers added up to me.

    When he finally published numbers on his phone services and ISP, I started laughing, because his phone bills and equipment costs plus ISP costs plus GPS map upgrade costs were significantly more than I was spending on my phone bills and equipment costs plus ISP costs, even with my fancy smartphone.

    He did change his tune when someone explained to him that many young people’s only ISP is on their smartphone, so compared to how he gets internet plus phone plus GPS navigation plus a graphing calculator, a smartphone becomes the cheap option. And it’s a pedometer and a book to read and a star atlas and a whole library and all kinds of stuff.


    1. Great example, Helen Huntingdon! I would say that any advice that is “certain” is advice to be cautious of. My preference is “it depends.” In the book, I give an example of car ownership. Does it always cost money? Always save or make money? It depends!

      Like your account above implies, every aspect of our finances exists in *context*. I’ve had so many people declare they “don’t waste money by relying on a cell phone like [I] do.” Instead, they rely on a landline, a back up cell phone, home internet service… while I pay $32 month for all my telecommunications combined!

      Very well said 🙂


  2. I know this is an older post, but I finally remembered that I wanted to put my two cents in here.

    A Dr had recommended that I get an IUD to help with my extreme menstrual cramps. (Umm… should I have warned people first that I was going to talk about menstruation?) It would also help with my very low iron levels, which I have struggled to get to come up via supplements, as it reduces amount of blood loss.

    But it’s $500!!!

    So I decided not to even bother looking into the IUD any further.

    Then my boyfriend asked how much I had spent this year on iron supplements and meat (specifically pate, liver, etc.) Ohhhhh…..more than $500!

    So, I could continue spending $80/month for as long as it takes me to raise my iron (it’s been 1.5 yrs so far) or I could go get the IUD and spend the $500 once. The Dr said by the time I would need to replace it I would probably be in menopause, so might not need another.

    Also, I spend about $10 a month on a prescription painkiller that barely puts a dent in the pain. I forgot about that till just now.

    So, $500 sounds like so much! But only until I realize how I’ve already spent more than that this year! Ugh!


    1. Patricia, what a wonderful contribution to this thread! I’m really glad you came back to share it 🙂 It’s a perfect example, and also touches well on the matter of short-term spending vs long term spending or “investment.” As I explore in the book, not every expensive thing is an investment -but some sure are!

      I sure hope your uterus feels well very soon.


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