A little while ago, Five Cent Nickel published an article on the limits of frugality in which one of my own frugal activities was discussed:
First up, The Simple Dollar makes his own laundry detergent. He has done the math and for 8 loads of laundry per week, he saves $20 a year vs. the Kirkland brand found at Costco. The math comes out to a savings of about 38 cents a week. Since I do less than half the laundry that he does, the savings are probably closer to $5. The cost of this is the time necessary to mix the ingredients. Also, it doesn’t seem too neat as Trent calls his laundry concoction “a giant bucket of slime.” I’m sure a giant bucket takes up quite a bit of space as well. Perhaps Costco’s scale brings the cost and quality down to the point where it makes more sense to just buy their product.
The “making my own laundry detergent” reference actually refers back to my recipe for making your own liquid laundry detergent at home. According to the calculations on the homebrew formula in comparison to the Kirkland brand from Costco (the cheapest brand that does well on Consumer Reports tests), I found that I would save about $20 a year versus that Costco brand (not including the fee for membership at Costco).
Is $20 a year worth the time investment in making three (or so) batches of this homemade detergent? It takes about thirty minutes to prepare a five gallon bucket of this stuff and to store it, so that adds up to about an hour and a half over the course of a year, or about $13 an hour if you want to look at it as paying yourself for the work. For me, honestly, the cost alone is right on the fine line of whether it’s worth it or not.
But there’s another huge factor that’s being ignored here: frugality can be a lot of fun. In a lot of ways, frugality is a giant game for me, something to follow as a hobby to see how much I can shave off of my monthly expenses. I love doing things like moving to CFLs, clipping coupons, trying out generic brands, trying homemade recipes for things, cooking my own food from raw ingredients, entertaining myself with what I already have, and so on.
For me, frugality is a friendly competition against myself. Can I find new ways to shave some more money? Does airing up my car tires save on gas? Can I control my impatience and only drive the speed limit, thus saving even more on gas? Can I collect even more coupon flyers?
Beyond that fun and self-competitive aspect, the specific type of frugality that the homemade detergent represents meshes well with my other interests. One of my passions is homebrew science – that’s why I was so happy to get a subscription to Make as a Father’s Day gift earlier this year. I love doing stuff like this – making homemade formulas, taking stuff apart, building weird little things. Even more, my wife actually studied chemistry in college and she does stuff for hobbies like making optimized homemade soap.
In short, for me, frugality is fun in many different ways. It’s a hobby that challenges my creativity and, sometimes, it meshes well with other hobbies and interests of my own. For that reason, mixing up a big bucket of homemade laundry detergent is well worth the $20 I’ll save in a year.