As April 18 approaches, you might be in touch with your CPA, financial advisor or some other professional buzzkill who will tell you how bad your financial instincts are. Financial planners are always saying stuff like “Cutting back on that daily Starbucks will add up over time,” or “Please don’t buy that authentic samurai sword,” or “Perhaps one Puddle of Mudd Party Cruise per year is enough.” But you can’t constantly deny yourself small pleasures. Like my tattoo says: Leaf is shirt. I got a great deal on that one, and I invested the money that I saved into a low-cost index fund. Psych! I bought a Garden Yeti.
So perhaps I’m not an expert on financial matters, but I do know that there are three areas where you should stop trying to save money, because the savings will never justify the sacrifice. And I’ll tell you what they are if you give me a dollar. No? Right answer. Because I was going to tell you anyway. See, you’re pretty financially savvy already, despite what that sword appraiser said.
Speaking of blades—smooth segue alert!—you might be tempted to go cheap on razors. Gillettes are so expensive that my unused blades are in my will. When I get a new Fusion cartridge, I use it until it looks like a scrap from a Civil War ironclad. So a few months ago, I bought a humongous pack of Rite-Aid Renewal razors. They look pretty much like Fusions, with five blades and a wear strip, but a year’s supply was only about $20. Which still seemed like a lot for some little pieces of sharp metal.
The Renewal, despite its similar aesthetic, is no Fusion. It feels like you’re shaving with the side of Frankenstein’s shoe. When you’re done, your face is all bloody and you somehow have more of a beard than when you started. I’m not sure how the women’s version works, but I’m assuming it would leave your legs looking like Chewbacca got in a hedge trimmer accident. I got halfway through my supply of Renewals before I gave up and bought a four-pack of Fusions. I wiped out my kids’ 529 plan, but my face feels great.
I bought the razors on impulse at a conventional grocery store, where I seldom venture now that Aldi’s in my life. If you’ve never been to Aldi—there’s one in Medford and they’re quickly proliferating further out in the ’burbs—it’s Trader Joe’s relentlessly basic cousin. Aldi boasts that more than 90 percent of its products are “exclusive brands,” which is another way to say knockoffs. At Aldi, you have to bag your own groceries and pay a quarter deposit to get a shopping cart. If Aldi could figure out a way to make you help unload the trucks at the shipping dock, they’d do it. I’ve never been to rural Azerbaijan, but I feel like I have, because I’ve been to Aldi.
All that said, the food is generally pretty good and you can’t beat the prices. But there are certain cases where you should avoid the Aldi house brands. For instance, you can argue over Heinz or Hunt’s, but Burman’s Tomato Ketchup does nothing except make your food red and wet. Benton’s Steak Sauce is like A1 if all your taste buds got burned off. And Willow toilet paper might make you weep. The obvious question is this: If a conventional grocery store is filled with products made by hundreds of different companies, how can one company be equally good at making all those products? It can’t. That said, the Savoritz Woven Wheats indicate that someone at Triscuit must be guilty of industrial espionage.
If groceries present an obvious opportunity for frugality, it seems that clothing can’t get much cheaper, and I’ll happily wear inexpensive duds. The exception, though, is jeans. I’m sure there are people who’ve had good luck with Old Navy or H&M or Faded Glory, but every time I’ve gone cheap, I’ve ended up looking like a performance artist making a commentary on the strangeness of butts. Put me in a pair of Old Navy jeans that have been washed a few times, and I could stand on a pedestal at the ICA and have people debate the meaning of my pants. One person might say, “The way the hem falls above his ankles, he’s saying that humankind needs to prepare for rising sea levels.” Another would argue, “I think that the way they’re tight in the thigh but somehow loose in the crotch is an indictment of wealth inequality.” Another person might think it’s about manatees, but he’s unclear how.
I’m all for making prudent financial decisions, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Are you really gonna go through life in ill-fitting pants, dribbling Benton’s steak sauce onto your Rite-Aid razor burn? Come on, you’re not running for office in Maine. So don’t worry about ketchup, of all things. You can steal plenty of that during the next Puddle of Mudd cruise.