Spend Money to Solve Problems

Sweep the Floor With a Broom? What Are We, Farmers?

A version of this essay was originally published in Tom's newsletter.

Despite being a cisgendered heterosexual white male from America, I did not grow up with infinite privilege. My family was lower-middle class at best, with mom teaching public school and dad doing all kinds of not-highly-paid blue collar jobs. We weren't destitute—we did have a house and cars and television—but everything we had was modest, and we had little disposable income.

Growing up kinda poor, I picked up some habits that don't make sense when you've become a gainfully employed programmer. My wife, having grown up in a rural Chinese village, has many of the same habits.

Specifically, we are both cheapskates.

I don’t mean frugal. Yes, we’re frugal. But we often speed past the exit to Frugal Town, straight toward Stingyville. Many small problems in life can be solved by spending a modest sum of money. Sometimes it takes years of being annoyed by these problems before it occurs to us to solve it with money!

The latest example: we finally bought a robot vacuum cleaner. I am very bad about procrastinating when it's my turn to sweep the house every other week. It's been a recurring annoyance for years—but no more!

Now that we've got a robot servant, the house gets vacuumed every single day! No effort on my part! And wow, this house is filthy. What was I even doing when it was my turn to sweep? The robot collects as much dust daily that I swept up once a week.

This isn’t an advertisement for robot vacuums. It’s a reminder that you should consider if you might be stuck in a scarcity mindset that isn’t justified. Where are you wasting money on cheap items you always replace, instead of a costlier item that lasts? Where are you trading your valuable time just to save a few dollars? Faced with the choice between spending a bit of cash to solve a problem, or saving it but suffering a constant annoyance, maybe you should part with the cash.

Addendum: I cannot claim my wife and I have fully learned our lesson about when we should spend money to solve problems. The night before I published this, we stayed up until midnight assembling a new storage cabinet. The value of the time we spent, based on our combined salaries, was $362. For any amount less than or equal to that number, we should've hired someone to do it. And they probably wouldn't have made so many mistakes while doing it, either.