Frugality vs Frupidity

There is frugal, and then there is frupid.

I’ll be honest – I got genuinely surprised when I realized that Merriam-Webster has no definition for “frupidity.” Ditto for its less fancy sibling, Dictionary.com. With all the trendy new words being added to official dictionaries, I’d always assumed frupidity would have its own entry. I guess that makes this blog post even more necessary, eh?

Frupidity is an attempt at frugality that ends up being remarkably stupid, as well as counterproductive and possibly more costly in the long run. There are lots of examples, especially in large corporations and bureaucracies: I’m sure you encounter them almost every day. Frupidity is also an ever-present factor in personal finance.

Personally, and speaking solely for myself, I bear some mental scars from being utterly broke for a huge part of my life. There was the overcrowded childhood apartment back in Russia, sure (cue sad violin music), and everyone is somewhat broke when they go to college, but graduating just as the world economy collapsed in 2008 was not a good move at all. For years, my diet mostly consisted of the cheapest stuff I could afford: spaghetti (with ketchup, because spaghetti sauce was too pricey), boiled eggs (olive oil = also pricey), and apples. Sometimes I’d add whatever nuts were on sale. Moving from city to city while chasing all those relocation bonuses meant zero furniture, and I’d estimate I spent about three years sleeping on an air mattress, which had to be replaced pretty damn often.

I think this Terry Pratchett quote is the best way to sum up the mental trap of buying shoddy cheap stuff that costs more in the long run:

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

The same holds true in just about every part of life. The worst part is that if you ever spent a few years in that scarcity mindset, when every dollar counts and you legitimately worry about making enough to pay rent and student loans, then parts of that mindset stay with you for the rest of your life.

Here are just a few examples:

Frugal: looking for good deals on quality furniture – not necessarily the fanciest out there, but sturdy and functional, with great reviews from other shoppers. Frugal furniture means walking around Ikea with a measuring tape, checking different deals and prices (and celebrating with a dirt-cheap hot dog and juice afterwards!), making a shopping list, renting a Uhaul truck (or borrowing a friend’s truck), and doing all the shopping and moving in one day. The total price tag is pretty high, but you end up with everything in one place – that project is now over.

Frupid: going on a local classifieds site, figuring “meh, I can probably carry a small/medium piece of furniture home by myself,” searching for deals in 1-mile radius, finding a great $40 coffee table (round and wooden and with a glass top!), and then amusing all the locals by doing your human crab impression as you slowly, ever so slowly lug your 50-lbs purchase back home for about an hour. I like to think that I made the world a better place by making all the locals point and laugh (I deserved it!), and hey, that was an amazing deal for an excellent table. On the other hand, that was the exact reason why women generally live longer than men: I risked a serious back injury by lugging that thing all the way home (and down a very long flight of stairs), I did not have fun with that impromptu workout, and even paying a local kid $20 for his help would’ve been a better idea.

 

Frugal: learning how to cook, making cool new recipes out of basic food staples (mmm, omelets…), eating whatever healthy delicious food is on sale (this week, it’s $1 for 1 lb of grapes!), and giving up expensive junk food (and soda) in favour of cheaper and healthier options.

Frupid: eating ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can buy 10 servings for $1, sure, and your grocery budget will be impressively small, but you’ll end up sabotaging your body with all that sodium and lack of actual nutrients. 

 

Frugal: finding the cheapest gas station in your neighbourhood (even if it’s not the cheapest one in your town) and getting your gas there. After you calculate how much your free time is worth ($1/hr? $10/hr?) and how much gas and money it’ll take you to drive to the cheapest gas station 20 minutes away, you might actually end up losing money.

Frupid: driving all the way to the other side of town to buy gas while saving a few pennies per gallon. You might end up saving $1 or $2 (maybe even $3!), but if it takes you almost an hour of driving, you’ll probably end up spending just as much – or close to it – on gas. This might make sense in some very limited situations (i.e., if you’re filling up your RV), but for most of us, it’s the human equivalent of running in a hamster wheel.

There is frugal, and then there is frupid. The examples I listed are just a drop in the bucket, and I’m sure you can add a lot of your own. Like I said, I still struggle with that broke mindset that makes me do stupid (but funny – to observers, anyway) stuff like lugging furniture across the city to save a few bucks. It’s an ongoing and difficult battle to question my own ideas and try to figure out if I’m just being frupid. Finding fault in oneself is always one of the most difficult things one can do.

There are no foolproof ways to avoid frupid decisions: they happen even to the best of us. Just about the only piece of advice I can offer is this: whenever you think of some cool new life hack, ask for a second opinion. Your friends might fall in the same cognitive trap, or they might tell you that your plan to eat Ramen noodles 24/7 might not work out that well. You can also post your question on social media: create an anonymous Reddit account if you’d like, but do try to ask other people before you doing something potentially frupid.

What about you? What remarkably frupid things have you done or observe in real life? Sound off in the comments – I look forward to your stories!

The worst decisions always sound fun at first.

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