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Have you seen the TLC show Extreme Cheapskates? For those who haven’t seen this series, each episode chronicles the life of an individual who has made decisions that, to the rest of society, seem unreasonably cheap. I don’t just mean frugal, I mean “re-uses old dental floss” cheap. For instance, there is a woman who doesn’t buy groceries, but rather dumpster dives in the Whole Foods trash bins. Her rationale is that Whole Foods throws out high-quality prepared foods that are “perfectly safe” to eat. She’s an accountant who owns her Manhattan apartment outright, so she could certainly afford to purchase food for herself. She also refuses to buy toilet paper, but I’ll let you imagine how that works (one word: ick). The individuals who are featured on this show are employed in well-paying professions, and presumably have the means to loosen their purse strings a little. According to the show, many of these people maintain savings accounts in the six figures, so it is not the case that they are struggling to make ends meet.
In most cases, I try to withhold judgment on the financial decisions that other people make. I think there should be always be a balance between living frugally and maintaining a reasonable quality of life. For each person or family, the balance will be different. That’s what makes personal finance so personal. People have to decide what makes sense for them and their family members. As an outsider, I rarely know the specific circumstances informing those decisions. So long as people have planned for their financial futures and the futures of their loved ones, I try to keep my mouth shut. No one likes unsolicited advice, however well-intended it may be.
I find Extreme Cheapskates quite intriguing. These folks have found ways to save some serious dough. That’s commendable. But I also can’t believe that the decisions and lifestyles portrayed in the show would be appealing to many other people – even people who like to stretch their dollar to its fullest potential. Many of the folks featured on Extreme Cheapskates make decisions that seem to negatively impact the individual’s ability to function within society. Sometimes the behaviors are unhygienic or otherwise unsafe. And in many cases, the individuals featured on Extreme Cheapskates make decisions that fail to account for the needs (physical or emotional) of their family members. The show portrays the cheapskate as the money-management tyrant who refuses to accept input from his or her loved ones. I think this is the part that most bothers me. (Of course, it’s possible that the stubborn, tyrannical aspect is created for television. Without drama, the reality T.V. formula doesn’t work. Maybe all these penny-pinching decisions are made with full buy-in from the families. We’ll never know.)
In a recent guest post on Budget and the Beach, My Money Design wrote about creating wealth that matters. This post resonated deeply with me. At times, my focus has become so narrow that I look only at the bottom line and lose sight of what truly matters to me: my husband, my family, my faith, my friends, the kids we hope to have, and the causes that are near to my heart. It’s easy to forget that the point of saving money is not to hoard a bunch of cash, but to have enough financial stability that we can achieve our life goals.