After Helen got her ears pierced we ran out of cotton balls to apply the disinfectant. She and I stood in the Superstore on Saturday trying to figure out which bag was the best buy.
We grabbed a bag of “jumbo” balls; after some quick math (by Helen, no less) we ascertained that this particular bag cost us less per ball than other bags. The price was $1.27.
There were 100 cotton balls in the bag and after helping her apply disinfectant with two of them (as demonstrated by the ear piercing woman) I commented that the balls were a bit wasteful for the job.
We needed, I told Helen, to get a bit more frugal with them.
“What’s frugal, mom?” I love it…she’s walking right to it, I don’t have to lead her at all! Maybe it’s hereditary??
It’s been a while since I’ve defined frugal for myself, let alone for one of my children.
I explained that frugal was using the earth’s resources to the best of our ability without using up all our money. That’s a pretty close approximation of my answer, which I thought was pretty good considering I was standing in the bathroom with a bottle of disinfectant in one hand and two used cotton balls in the other.
I later had to go and look up my favourite definition of frugal, which I cite in my Frugal vs Cheap posting way back last spring. This is the definition from Your Money or Your Life.
Frugality is enjoying the virtue of getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have use of.
I suggested to Helen that we should rip each cotton ball in half to get better value out of the bag. This led to a discussion about how long the bag would last.
Helen was told that she needed to keep cleaning her ears three times a day for six weeks. The bag had 100 jumbo balls.
I have to stop for a minute and point out that Helen is a math whiz (in our humble opinion). She is almost 9 and in Grade 3 and her grasp of math and ability to wrap her head around calculations, in her head, constantly amazes us. Sometimes, she is a step ahead of me!
So she figured out pretty quickly that if we didn’t rip the balls in half we had 50 uses for them (since we were using two balls each time). Then she wanted to figure out how long the bag would last if we weren’t frugal. I prompted her to divide into groups of three (three times a day).
However, she was all over that! She pointed out that for the first four days it was only twice a day since she was in school at midday. AND, when holidays were over it would be back to two times a day. She figured out (on her own and in her head) that the “unfrugal bag” wouldn’t even last her through the Christmas holidays.
She then figured out that if we split each ball the bag would last for twice as many uses. Great! She then started counting up the weeks and the uses, factoring in the three times a day holiday uses and the two times a day school day uses and figured out that even by splitting each ball in two, the bag wouldn’t last a full six weeks.
I could see her mind churning away after figuring this out and she finally blurted out, “let’s split them in three!!!”
I refrained from reminding her that the bag cost only $1.27 (because, after all, it’s not strictly about the pennies involved, but whether we could get full value for the purchase and making the best use of our resources). I told her that splitting in two gave me adequate ball to disinfect with, but we needed to figure out if splitting in three made it more difficult (and, in essence cheapening the experience; see my posting Frugal vs. Cheap).
Turns out a third of a ball also works just fine. And, Helen informed me, now that she wouldn’t need the entire bag for her ears, I could take the remainder and use them on my eyebrows.
What a lesson in math, frugality and sharing. All for $1.27!