I teach high school German, and one of the best ways I’ve found to connect with students is to tell them stories about my life. These range from things as simple as what I did over the weekend to how I met my wife.
Once, while teaching vocabulary for household items, I told a story about how I got my bed from some random person I’ve never met in Park City Utah. I was still in college and didn’t feel like spending money on a new bed, so I went to Craigslist and found a mattress. I still sleep on it, albeit uncomfortably.
That first story inspired many more and we even made a list of all things I didn’t pay for that I have in my house. It filled the board.
My students know I don’t like to buy things and routinely make fun of me for it by asking me how much I paid for my outfit. My response is usually, “I got it off a dead guy.” This is gruesome but often accurate.
So what’s the point?
I feel like many of us struggle with wanting things. We covet. It’s nice to have a new car or couch, but we often don’t really need it. You probably wanted something similar to these items, but have you ever said something like, “Man, I really want some new socks instead of the ones I got from somebody else”? If you haven’t, you’re probably normal.
If you have, you probably practice the art of “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” The phrase became popular during the great depression, and it has stuck around in my family. Elder Allen Packer, son of Boyd K. Packer, said it was one of his father’s favorite phrases to quote to family members (see “Late President Boyd K. Packer …” by Jason Swensen, 9 July 2015).
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without
To implement these principles into our lives, I think we have to reduce our desire for things, or in other words, covet less. Following these principles has helped me not spend a lot of money, which is a crucial step to financial independence. That being said, here are some tips from my experience.
Use it up
It’s better to use what you have before you buy something new. This doesn’t always apply, but lots of times it really can. One way we effectively do this in our home is with food. Eat all the leftovers, even if you’re sick of them.
Eat those expired Cheerios. It’s not like a week is going to hurt. I may or may not have had cereal this morning that expired last summer. It may or may not have tasted fine. Substitute ingredients in recipes. You don’t need everything that’s in a dish. Use up what you do have and call it good. It works for food and lots of other stuff.
Wear it out
Last week some of my students were talking about how their clothes were old. I interjected that the shirt I had on was from tenth grade (Class of ’05). The shirt isn’t worn out, so I still wear it. People get rid of items long before they’re worn out. Wear out what you have and check yard sales and Craigslist so you can wear out other people’s things. It’s kind of fun.
Make it do
Making it do and doing without take the most self-control and test our ability to covet less, but they are probably the two most important things we can do on this list. The shed in my backyard is old. The floor has a big hole in it, and the roof just started to leak. I put some plywood over the hole, and it seems to manage.
When my two free lawn mowers start to get wet, I’ll readdress it. But for now, it’s good enough, and it doesn’t decrease my quality of life. I think that’s the most important question to ask. If it doesn’t decrease the quality of your life or dramatically increase it, then make it do.
So how dedicated to frugality and decreasing spending are you? (That’s a nice way to ask if you’re a cheapskate.) There are too many things to list that we really can do without so the take away from this is that you can and should do without more. Evaluate your situation and decided what you really don’t need. Then, do without. Fair enough?
Here is how you can tell I’m a cheapskate. My thermostat stays at 60 all winter. Before we had kids, it was set at 50. You’d be surprised how nice it is to sleep with a hat on, or how just a few push-ups really warm you up. In the summer it’s usually 80 in the house, and if the A/C is on, it’s just to cut the humidity.
How much does your data plan cost you? I don’t have one and can’t see getting one in the future.
Home internet? I had to go to my mom’s house to post this.
Cable TV? Ha.
Gym membership? Bike to work, do push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. It’s enough.
Second car? See bike to work.
More than one light on in the house? You better not!
Whether or not you decide to implement these ideas, they have to be yours to make them work. Somehow I lucked out and found a wife who was on board with much of my frugality. Together, we have learned not to covet, and that has helped us.
Lastly, reading this blog post didn’t cost you much, so take it for what it’s worth. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without, and you’ll be closer to your financial goals.