When someone feels guilt over buying something a bit expensive for the house, they sometimes try to justify it to others by saying its an investment, or a tool. When you're buying something new for your house, do you ever have a moment of anguish over whether or not this purchase is worthwhile? Do you ever think to yourself, "maybe this is just a new toy"? And how do you decide if it's a toy or a tool?
I used to feel guilty about buying just about anything that would help me to get my work done. That is, until I came to what, for me, is a brilliant conclusion -- a worthwhile tool is something that helps me with my work, so that I can get on with even more productive activities, and thereby increase my productivity.
My new mixer is pretty, but that doesn't mean that it's just a toy. It's a tool that helps me to mix and knead the week's bread dough, with about 5 minutes of hands-on time. When I was mixing and kneading the bread dough by hand, I was spending up to 1 hour mixing and kneading the dough each week. Now, I am able to move on to the next productive task in minutes, instead of an hour. And because the mixer makes this work so easy, I am less likely to procrastinate.
An argument for "toy" or "tool" could be made for most items in our houses, depending on how you use it, and what it allows you to do sooner, and with more energy.
You and I surely would agree that a hammer is indeed a tool. But there's probably someone out there who would say, "what do you need a hammer for? When you can pound a nail in just as well with a rock from your yard?" Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration, but what about this example:
How about a clothes dryer? Is that a tool or a toy. In my mind, a dryer couldn't possibly be a toy. I don't wake up in the morning eager to find something I can toss into my dryer. Yet, on another frugal living blog, the blogger was criticized for no longer hanging her laundry to dry. She was accused of being unfrugal, as if using her dryer was somehow akin to having a toy.
Yes, in the perfect frugal world, we would all hang our laundry to dry. And there would be no nasties like pollen, rain, birds, time or human energy. We'd probably also all be merrily jogging down to the creek to pound our clothes against a rock, on laundry day.
Fortunately, we do have the option of machines to do some of our work for us.
For the frugal living blogger, mentioned above, using her dryer is actually a very productive use of her possessions and time. By doing so, she can more quickly move on to other frugal activities, and increase her productivity. This is where something becomes a tool in my mind, when it can enable us to move more quickly on to other productive work.
I sometimes do like to hang my laundry. I enjoy it when I have time for a "slow" activity. And I can just enjoy the slowness of it all. But most of the time, it's much more efficient for me to toss everything into the dryer, so that I can move on to gardening, cooking from scratch, earning a small income, mending clothing, repairing furniture, etc.
You could drive around in the ungliest thing sold as a car. And because it was uber-cheap, you might consider yourself more frugal than others.. But I don't think that's the only thing you could be driving and still call yourself frugal. I think frugal means buying what fits your needs, purpose and size, in addition to affordability. Clearly, a single woman who hauls around nothing more than her purse, on decent roads, in good weather, doesn't really need a 13-passenger van. But a very large family very well may. Most of us are driving around in "tools", something to get ourselves from point A to point B. And you know, I think it's okay if you choose the pretty "tool", with a nice color, shape and overall design.
A lawn mower is definitely a tool. In our house, no one starts the weekend with a shout, "yay! It's Saturday! I get to mow the lawn!" Ours is an electric mower. You may think, "why not a human-powered push reel mower?" Well, our electric mower means that anyone in our family can do the mowing. We did have a push reel mower, but only the men were strong enough to use it. Our yard is just large enough to need some assistance with the mowing, but not so large to need a riding mower. So our electric mower is a reasonable tool for the job. And yes, we still call ourselves frugal. We bought the mower that was the right size and power for our needs. (And we got a deal on it through a county "green" promotion!)
With my recent stand mixer purchase, I was really tempted by the commercial model at twice the price. I was even more tempted by the Hobart mixers. But really, unless and until, I start up that candy shop or bakery, those mixers are overkill. The right tool is the mixer that suits my needs and purposes, which I believe is the one I chose.
So, a tool is something that helps you to be more productive in your work hours. A clothes dryer certainly fits that description, as does a reasonable car, a stand mixer and yes, a hammer.
And what about toys? If you have toys, can you still call yourself frugal? In my book, someone who has no toys isn't frugal, they're deprived.
What is a toy?
A toy is something designed to bring joy and/or recreation to the lives of those who use it, which may or may not have any productivity value.
A game is a toy, there's great enjoyment in playing a game. Musical equipment may be viewed as a toy (if it's just for your pleasure) or a tool (if you make a living using it). A surfboard is a toy. For the woman who just likes to polish the shiny things on her kitchen counter, and never really use them, well, a stand mixer is probably just a toy.
And toys are good! Without them, life would be dull, and we would soon wear ourselves out from lack of recreation. Some of our favorite toys include a piano, a TV, a radio in the kitchen, many computers, games and puzzles, and an outdoor fire bowl.
I don't think for a single second that anyone here has been critical of my choices (at least not out loud!). But I do think it's important for us all to understand what it means to ourselves to be frugal, and just what is a toy vs. a tool. We need to appreciate that toys are desirable too. I think understanding this will a) give us all more freedom to make our choices without guilt, and b) spot the lunatics on other blogs who criticize frugal living bloggers for the choices they make.
So tell me, what was the last "tool" you bought? Did you feel any guilt buying it? How did you get over that guilt?