Guest post Rachael of Mumbling Mommy
Our living room couch is sprinkled with Popsicle drips and old spit-up stains. It’s so lumpy that when I lean back, the cushions push back like they have minds of their own. The seams are strained and the color is slightly faded.
I’ve never been fond of our couch, but it was purchased 16 years ago during my husband’s bachelor days — long before I met him. After we married, I convinced my husband the couch needed to go at some point. We keep a list of things we were saving up for on our fridge and this list included a new couch!
But we’ll celebrate our tenth anniversary this summer, and we continue to live with the old couch.
It’s not that we can’t afford a new couch. If the legs fell off our couch today, we could buy a new one and our family wouldn’t have to survive on Ramen Noodles. Our attitude at this point is something like, “We’ve survived this long with the old couch. Why change now? ”
While most people might feel the pressure to keep up with the legendary Joneses, the bar among our close friends and neighbors in this category is not very high. Most of our friends with kids – people who are in the same life stage as us – have old couches, too. Some of theirs look worse than ours!
Our couch isn’t the only old thing we choose to live with to save money. My husband drives a Toyota that is the same age as our couch. Again, there is no peer pressure to buy something new and shiny because our next-door neighbor in our middle-class neighborhood drives a Toyota that’s about 20 years old.
I appreciate the fact that most of my friends, family, and neighbors are not concerned about having the newest, nicest stuff. We do our best to take care of what we own, making sure everything is clean and repaired, but we shop thrift stores and garage sales together.
We let each other know about upcoming kids’ consignment sales or the new Goodwill outlet store. Our modest-sized homes are filled with secondhand furniture, and our kitchens are stocked with groceries purchased with coupons or at Aldi.
It helps that we, like most of our friends, live in solidly middle class neighborhoods, where the expectations are not so lofty. One of my good, thrifty friends lives in a modest home that borders the wealthy part of town where the pressure to keep up appearances is real. When she runs into locals she knows at Aldi, some people make excuses for buying groceries at a discount store. “Oh, you shop here, too?” they say with raised eyebrows, then add in a hushed voice, “I can’t resist the prices.” It’s considered more socially acceptable to run into people up the road at Aldi’s upscale cousin, Trader Joe’s.
We’ve learned that our friends can easily make or break our efforts to live frugally. My friends and I make no excuses for our shopping habits, or our old couches, cars, and gently used clothes. Life without the pressure to have new stuff leaves us with money for savings and emergency expenses, and for family camping trips or tickets to reasonably priced live theatre productions, which my kids and I love. Those experiences are things my children will remember more than a new couch.
So when I visit a friend’s home and she apologizes for her saggy couch that sports a few juice stains, I am eager to reassure her. “Oh, you are in good company. Your couch looks like ours,” I say, “And that’s completely all right!”
Rachael is the managing editor for Mumbling Mommy, a blog featuring true stories from the front lines of parenting. She lives with her family in the St. Louis area and enjoys gardening, camping, reading Charlotte Bronte novels, and helping to edit her husband’s science fiction books.
Hope Ware says
I am right there with you! Our couch is 20 years old and last year a spring broke, tearing a hole in one of the cushions. I sewed up the rip, turned the cushion over, and periodically remind the family that the cushion can’t be turned over. I could replace it, but really it still functions and I have other things I need more (like braces for our youngest son.) Frugality isn’t about depravity. It’s about choosing when, where, and how we will spend our money. So, until the other cushion develops a rip, I’m keeping the couch.
That’s such a great way of looking at frugality! -Jordan, MSM Team
I used to not mind second hand couches. But after I learned about toxic flame retardants used on furniture, I am saving up for a new one that’s made without the chemicals. Several retailers have stopped using flame retardants on couches last year. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/ct-flame-retardants-furniture-20150123-story.html
More information on places you can buy a couch without flame retardants. Hint: IKEA! Check the labels though. http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2015/03/five-couches-without-flame-retardants-you-can-buy-right-now
It’s good to hear from others with old couches. Honestly, if we had the money to spare, I would buy a new one. Ours is over 20 years old and looks dated. The piping in the cushions is showing through in some places. However, I strategically place throw pillows to make that less noticeable. I have decided to be thankful for what I do have. Even if my furnishings have age, I can still keep them and my clean.
I love this article. I bought my couch before kids. Three kids and dogs later, it is stained and the vinyl on the back is peeling. This year, we designated our tax refund to house repairs and fixes. I thought I might replace the couch, but I couldn’t find anything as comfortable and I really didn’t want to spend the money on a new one. I learned that I could clean it with inexpensive Fels Naptha soap and I have a few ideas of how to repair the vinyl. We repaired our heating and ac unit. We did some DIY projects. I ripped out old carpet and replaced it with a paper floor. Instead of replacing damaged wood laminate floors, I patched one and installed a peel and stick plank floor over the other. The cost of a new couch would have been more than all these repairs.
Not everyone who buys new stuff is trying to “keep up.” I don’t want to come home after work to a duct taped couch. If I come home to a house full of old junky looking stuff, and that’s where I spend my leisure time and family time, what am I working for? There is such a thing as overspending, but spending money to have a pleasant living environment is OK.
I agree, Allison! Everyone has their own priorities and, of course, their own level of financial security. Sometimes I think why am I saving so much for retirement? Maybe we should use some of the money to enhance our family life now, while the kids are at home and everyone is healthy.
Crystal Paine says
Such good thoughts here! Thank you for sharing!
Definitely do what works for you. I don’t fault anyone who replaces an old, worn-out piece of furniture. On the other hand, having one, or a few, old pieces of furniture doesn’t mean your house must be full of junk. In fact, much of our secondhand furniture given to us by relatives is in great shape and actually makes us look like we have more money than we really do. Every family’s situation is different, and we all have to find balance between spending for the present and saving for the future. Thanks for your thoughts.
Couldn’t agree more! I often think about what an empty prize “appearances” are.
Awesome post! Thanks for the encouragement that we’re not “the only ones”! 🙂
I was driving down the interstate the other day and we passed a van that was practically held together with duct tape, and I really wanted to give the guy driving a high-five. We live in a world where people are so concerned with appearances, and honestly, when I see it, it just makes me sad.
At the same time, however, it’s tough sometimes pulling into the parking lot at church in the oldest car on the lot, or seeing my kids in clothes that are a little more dated- and occasionally more raggedy- than the ones their friends are wearing. But then I think about how in just a few months we’ll be in a position that most of our friends won’t be in for another 15-20 (or more) years, because we will have our house paid off and be 100% debt-free. And I smile. Because I know we’re doing the right thing for our family and that’s all that matters. 🙂
Oh.my.goodness. This is so timely for me. I have been feeling the pressure lately to have the new car and newer and better everything. I am surrounded by upper-middle class neighbors and church family.
We are a pretty average somewhat comfortable middle class living on a budget and living frugally but i often feel like the weird one who needs to explain my frugal ways to others who don’t live that way.
Thank you for reminding me we are still normal and giving me the proper perspective that I’ve seemed to lose over the past few years!
Same here, Livi! Most of our friends and family live a more upscale life than we do. No one puts us down for it, but I always feel self conscious. Especially when we are asked to go do things that we can’t afford. I’m always having to say no which makes me feel “poor” in comparison, when (without that pressure) I’m actually completely content with our lifestyle.
It’s good to have good friends! My couch has brown duct tape where the bonded leather has started peeling. We could so easily pay to replace it; I just can’t find one that I want. So it works.
Cathy Patterson says
Rachael I really enjoyed this article. It connected with me since I shopped with Josh for the couch. It was part of a college graduation present from his dad and me. I remember saying “Josh, I think this couch will last a long time”. I have a feeling the next one may not last as long. 🙂
We bought our couch the summer before we got married, it’s just about 20 years old and is the most used piece of furniture in the house. There is not too much support left in it and I’ve looked a million places for a new couch. I just hate to spend a lot of money on something new which will probably fall apart in 5-7 years. I don’t know why I keep putting it off but it seems that all furniture made today is just made terribly and I hate to spend money on that. The old couch will make do until I can come to terms in spending money on a new one:)
I agree. It’s a shame that items made in the last few years are all made to be disposable.
I hate to buy new any more. 7 1/2 year old washing machine that cost more to repair than to replace, 7 year old chest freezer (that was supposed to last at least 10 years!) hand mixers that last a few months, crockpots that lose their PLASTIC lid handle in a couple of years, etc. My folks’ 1961 freezer is still running for us. The cats clawed a hole in one spot of our almost 20 year old couch. I will get or make a slip cover if it starts to bother me; it still has decent support and it took almost 5 years to find one that sits comfortably!! If I need any more furniture (not a likely thing) I will look for real wood in used furniture stores or auctions, or ask around and see if anyone is moving or downsizing. New is only better with a mattress or shoes!
Joy A says
I found this to encouraging and refreshing!
Lori Ewart says
We choose to love frugally in our 60’s. We can afford to buy things, but we have chosen relationships and blessing others over the “newest and best.” I shop Aldi, coupon, and thrift because God wants me to be a good steward over His resources.