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.

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.

gator 3

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.

gator 4

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.


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  • Mark Kalpakgian

    Great story with definitely some lessons in humble confidence!

    I too have found that often the most prudent strategy is to “do it right the first time.” The investment not only in money but also in time and energy can be enormous and draining.

    There is also a spiritual application to this lesson. Often in business, people are frugal with “the good” because they don’t believe it to be useful. So they skimp–less pay, less time off, less freedom etc. Analogous with your story, in the end investing up front always proves to be useful and productive. Don’t skimp on cultivating, spreading, and sharing goodness with others or you may just find yourself stuck in the snow some day.

    • David DeWolf

      Great point Mark. . .Living from a position of abundance (generosity & gratitude) is a mental perspective, not necessarily a financial state. Everyone can do it. In my experience the biggest “payback” is the joy that comes from knowing that you’ve done the right thing and have blessed others — not the safety net of counting favors.

  • Tony Orlando

    Such a true story!
    I had the buy the right tool philosophy for many years.
    Now with 45 years of experience, 3 teenagers that can be expensive, obligations and looking towards 3 college educations, I find that I have reverted to good enough is often enough for all but life’s most regular and frequent needs. Not sure where a Gator falls for most, but I think with a property the size of the DeWolf’s, it would have to be a New Gator.

    This blog just brought clarity to a decision and process that weighed on me for so long, that I delayed actually making a decision and taking action until it was almost too late.
    I just had a similar experience with cars. The car that I’ve been threatening to get rid of for over a year now had every malfunction light possible lit up. It was paid off, 7 years old and with 2 teenage drivers, I thought older cars were better for insurance cost. Well, last Saturday the Transmission light lit up like a christmas tree and stayed on…This was not good.
    My last 3 cars had been used vehicles, letting someone else take the depreciation and I always thought new was simply a bad finance decision. Albeit, used often came with a price of unexpected maintenance.

    ASK THE EXPERTS:
    I called my car guy who shared the prices on late model vehicles in the size and manufacturers I thought would be a good fit for my needs. (Wow, used cars are holding value today because they are in demand.) I also called my finance guy who reminded me of total cost of vehicles today: Cost of vehicle, maintenance, insurance, gas, cost of money, etc. “If it were my money, I would use someone else’s money and buy a new car. New car loans are near 0% interest. New cars today come with near 100% covered maintenance for 2-5 years, are more fuel efficient and you won’t be investing in brakes, tires, engine repair on a used car that you have no real idea the condition it is in. If you plan to keep a car for more than 4 years, buy new AND keep your money.”

    EVALUATE THE NEED:
    I drive a car nearly every day for work, school, kids events and trips. A reliable and efficient car is a necessity in Northern Virginia.

    HUMBLE CONFIDENCE:
    Well, I ended up taking the new car advice from my brother (my finance guy!). I used someone else’s money at 1.49% interest. Took a $1,500 rebate that more than covered the interest fees. Dumped my broke down beater before it cost me $8,000 in estimated repairs and got a more than fair trade-in value. Am now getting 5-7 miles to the gallon better gas mileage on regular gas – no more premium gas fees on the old car. No longer have to worry about breaking down on I-66 taking my kids to school. AND, to top it all off, the insurance on the brand new car, even with teenage drivers, is actually $400 cheaper annually. Oh, and my money is invested at a return on investment greater than 1.49%!!

    Used would likely have been a much more expensive option over the life of a vehicle….
    Sometimes Frugal Does Cost More Than You Save!

    • David DeWolf

      Great to hear it was helpful. It seems we all have those preconceived notions that sometimes need to be interrogated by an outside party!