Why Being Frugal Might Cost You More than You Save

Eighteen months ago Teresa and I moved into our new home.  With five acres and a rather long driveway, I knew that there was no possible way for me to shovel out of any significant Virginia snow.

I decided to buy a John Deere Gator and a snow blade.  Considering the size of our property, I thought it would be prudent to spend the money on a utility vehicle that I could use to maintain the yard in the warm months and double as a plow when needed.

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In hindsight, this was probably a pretty good strategy.  I’ve gotten plenty of usage out of my gator during the spring, summer, and fall months, and a snow blade is definitely the right tool for my driveway — a blower can cost just as much money and be less productive for a large drive like mine.

Unfortunately, my execution was poor.

After learning that a new Gator can cost tens of thousands of dollars, I decided to use my bargain-hunting skills to find a “good buy” on Ebay.  Sure enough, I found a used Gator, in working condition, that cost 1/20th the price of a brand-new one.

It became evident this morning that I don’t have the right tool for the job.  We have about seven inches of snow on the ground. We expect another eight inches or so today, and my Gator didn’t make it six feet past the mouth of the driveway.

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What did I do wrong?

I was penny-wise and pound foolish.

The Gator I bought is great for perfect conditions, but it has several issues.  It has soft brakes.  It takes forever to rev the engine the first time around — especially in cold weather.  When put into reverse the gears rarely engage without manual intervention — opening the bed and pushing the gear into place.  It’s a one-wheel drive, not a four-wheel drive.

In perfect weather, these are annoyances that I can overcome.  When I’m trying to plow, they are impossible hurdles that prevent success and waste time.

I was reactive, not proactive.

I was fortunate that we had no (substantial) snow last year.  Two months ago I walked out of my office and was thrown through a loop by the four inches laying on the ground.  It hit me — I had never purchased a blade for my Gator.

On the way home I stopped at Lowes and purchased the only blade in the store.  I hoped it would work, but figured I’d return it if it wasn’t the right one. I should have learned my lesson.

The blade sat in the trunk, untouched, until the next snow.  When that one fell, I jimmy-rigged it to work.  The blade wasn’t wide enough.  The tires hang out over the sides and compressed the snow on either side , but it worked well enough for the three to four inches that we had during that snow.

Combined with the lack of traction, this makes for a massive shortcoming.

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I didn’t rely on the experts.

In preparation for my purchase, I watched several YouTube videos to make sure that the equipment I was buying was good enough for the job.  Looking back, the videos were all of brand-new Gators, not well-loved and used Gators.  They also had the appropriate blade, not the only one that Lowes carries.

I should have visited my local John Deer estore, Tractor Supply Company, or Sears.  I should have asked someone who actually knows about these things what a cost-effective alternative was. Instead, I blind “plowed” forward with my own plan.  I didn’t go with the advice of someone who knew.

I ignored the warning signs.

It was painful to plow the snow during that first attempt.  It took way too long.  Much of my time was spent opening the bed and adjusting the motor.  I got stuck several times.

I should have learned from the trial run that I had a problem.  Instead, I ignored it and went into a serious situation with the wrong tool for the job.

I didn’t listen to my trusted advisor.

After my trial run, Teresa told me I should go get a new Gator.  In fact, she has suggested it multiple times now, having witnessed several similar problems in the spring and fall months.  I shrugged off her advice as being too loose with money.

It turns out that I was the one being foolish.  This mishap has cost me hours of time, the inability to get out of my driveway (I’m determined to get out!), and a lot of frustration.

Though it’s good to be prudent with money, prudence doesn’t always mean spending less. Sometimes it means buying the right tool for the job.

Are you prudent – in the true sense of the word – with the resources you have? When you make an investment, do you look for the warning signs, listen to your advisors, and seek out an expert opinion?

This lesson is applicable to your professional life, not just your life at home.  Don’t get stuck with the wrong tool for the job.  It will cost you more than you save.