The Day A Can-Opener Made Me Question Everything: Based on the Inspiring True Story!
I like to think I’d be good in crisis situations.
Normally one to be overly emotional about, well, just about everything, I have a bizarre fantasy (nightmare?) about how I prove everyone wrong by being the one who stays sharp, focused and decisive when disaster strikes.
So yes, I like to think I handle high-stress situations well.
Then I handle a broken can opener.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure, but opening a can of pinto beans without a functioning can opener is somewhat of a challenge.
I’ve had the same little red can opener since college. It probably cost me all of $8 and SHOCKINGLY hasn’t held up. See, the little round dohickey thingamajig (technical term) at the center of the whatchmacallit broke off and the can opener was officially busted. I’d show you a picture, but my husband threw it away because he apparently does not care about this blog AT ALL. (Or maybe I forgot to tell him to hold onto it for pics. Who’s to say?)
It finally bit the dust, I realized as I practically broke my hand trying to make a chicken taco dish.
Why not abandon the pinto beans?
Because Mama didn’t raise no quitter.
I resorted to individually stabbing each hole with the sharp part of the can opener and going all the way around the can. And with each stab, a litany of swear words punctured the air. I was sweating. I was close to tears. I shouldn’t do these things after a full day of work. Clearly. So yeah, maybe not quite prepped for that crisis situation yet. I’m pretty sure even a pocket knife would’ve been more effective. And it took.so.long.
I looked like the “Before” shot in a cheesy infomercial that’s cut in black and white and usually features incredible over-acting and a giant red X through it.
I come from a long line of overreactors.
Nevertheless, throughout the approximate four hours or so that it took to open the can, I saw a bit of an analogy take shape.
I knew that can opener had been on the fritz for over a year now. Why didn’t I just buy a new one?
Because I hate spending money on stupid stuff like that.
That begs the larger question:
Why am I frugal about the weird things?
I feel like I’m so random in that I’ll turn down a happy hour, but drop $150 on a beautiful dinner date with my husband downtown once a year or so. I turn my nose up at buying cold-pressed green juices for $4, yet will pay $155 each and every month to a boutique exercise studio.
I drive a 2005 Toyota, but am shelling out several hundred dollars to fly to a bachelorette party soon.
Blah, blah. You get it. I have my priorities for my money, and I stick to them.
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I’m mindful, more than frugal. I’ll spend unnecessary money, but only on things I want.
Even if that’s kind of … stupid.
For example, I was saving $13.95 by not buying a new can opener, but I haven’t invested my HSA.
That’s not a required money move, but it’s one we decided was smart for us. And as you might recall, that’s been on the priority list for a while now.
In other words, I am questioning my own sanity for thinking that the $13.95 I was scrimping on for the can opener would somehow make a difference in my life, and yet I am potentially letting thousands of dollars slip through my fingers.
Is your money in perspective?
We must zoom out a little bit, imagine the place we want (and need) to be with our money and “reverse engineer” it from there, to use a phrase that literally every digital marketer beats into the ground.
Figure out the big stuff.
What am I earning?
What am I spending?
What are my priorities in life, and is my money plan currently on track to support that vision?
Do you have a big-picture savings plan that has been broken up into actual attainable tactics? (e.g. “Need to save $100,000. Start by saving $500 per month. To save $500, I must only spend $200 on food per month” — or whatever it is.)
You see what I’m doing with this fancy term “reverse engineer”? It just means working backwards to solve for a goal.
Only you sound like Seth Godin when you say it. Win-win.
So, is being frugal pointless?
Unlike some frugality-focused bloggers out here in the Wild, Wild Web I honestly don’t think you should worry about every single dollar by avoiding all unnecessary spending. I do appreciate the mentality, but I just feel like an all-or-nothing approach is hard to stick to in practice, and when we start to fail, we gain momentum in that failure.
It’s like when you start a new diet and just three hours in, you find yourself eating a pint of Mint Chocolate Chip Talenti (HYPOTHETICALLY!!!!) and decide that the whole day is shot, that you may as well have a nacho tower for dinner, and that you’ll try your diet again tomorrow.
Wow, that spun off quickly.
The same kind of momentum takes place in our money management, too.
Intimidation leads to inertia. Just start.
One of the most popular posts on this blog is this one: Where Should I Start With My Money Problems?
The post discusses exactly what you should do if you don’t know where to start with your finances — and in a way that encourages you not to take an all-or-nothing approach.
With money, it’s unrealistic to think you’ll never splurge, accidentally go over your grocery budget by $20, or make a mistake that costs you a small fortune. It is a great luxury to be able to make mistakes, in fact. Not everyone has the cushion that we have to say, “Oh, screw it, I’ll just get the name-brand Ranch and pay the extra $1.29.”
Instead of getting overwhelmed and chalking it up to a loss, just start where you are. Create priorities, and then tackle them one by one.
Wait, so, I shouldn’t try to save money in little ways?
Let me be quite clear about this frugality mentality* — I do believe in approaching life this way.
I believe in picking up pennies, up-cycling hand-me-down furniture, not turning the heat on unnecessarily and trying to make the most of what you have in the fridge already.
It adds up. All of those little frugal habits — they add up. It’s not for nothing. That mindset makes a difference.
I try my best to cut costs and save on stupid stuff like can openers and heating bills so that I can spend a lot of money on things I want without feeling bad. It’s just prioritizing. It’s why I dole out my money and my brain space mindfully and am stingy in certain areas.
I’m not a Frugal Frannie for the hell of it. I just want to optimize the money I have so I can spend it on what makes me happy.
In sum: Save more money. Eat more tacos. That’s my strategy.
But from an overall net worth perspective, those frugal habits are pretty pointless if I don’t have a bigger plan in place for my money.
Exclusively shopping on-sale items and cutting costs here or there can make a significant difference, but not the kind of difference between having a retirement fund and not having one.
*UMMMM did I just coin the greatest phrase in the blogosphere orrrrrr? Is “Frugality Mentality” already a thing?
Are your money priorities in line?
That’s so great that the Free People leggings you’ve been eyeing forever are 40% off. But all the 40% off sales aren’t going to add up to the same amount of money that you could have if you max out your 401(k) for the next 10 years. It’s just not.
Saving money where you can is not a waste of time. Solely relying on frugal tricks and not putting together a long-term money picture is not a plan.
For me, that means doing my best to save money now while also planning for the future.
Oh, and utilizing the brand-new can opener my husband bought me.
Opens like a dream.