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My parents kept the same old blue trash can for 20 years, and it taught me a money lesson

  • My parents kept the same trash can for years. It worked fine so they didn’t see a need to replace it.
  • That taught me a lesson: There’s no sense in replacing things I own that still work.
  • I’ve kept many household items that are “outdated” and it has saved me thousands.

I attribute my favorite money-saving hack to my parents’ old blue trash can. 

It was nothing fancy — round, blue, fairly inconspicuous. It didn’t even have a foot pedal to open it. You had to manually open and close the lid with each use. But it worked, and my parents used it for close to 20 years, even though they could have easily afforded to replace it. 

The lesson stuck with me: There’s no sense replacing something you already own — especially if that item still works just fine. 

That goes for the old builder-grade washer and dryer that came with our house, my chipped mixing bowl set, the battered cookie sheets I’ve had since our wedding day, the dining room set that my kids have absolutely wrecked with paint, markers, and the occasional pasta sauce spill (Folex, friends), even the TV that hangs in our playroom that my husband purchased for his first apartment in New York, circa 2009, which predates even me. I refuse to replace any of these items.

While this trait may seem like I’m being needlessly frugal, even cheap, it’s saved us thousands over the years. 

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How much we’ve saved by keeping old items

Even in pre-inflation days, replacing something I already owned with a newer model added up.

For instance, when we moved into our home, it came with a builder-grade washer and dryer. While I don’t particularly love the machines, I already own them — I consider the set something that came “free” with my house. Compare that to a new, middle-of-the-line washer and dryer set, and that’s a savings of $2,000, easily. Will I replace my washer and dryer eventually? Probably. But one (or both) of them will have to completely stop working before I do. 

The same goes for my old mixing bowls, cookie sheets, and dining room set. While replacing the first two probably won’t make a huge dent in my bottom line, maybe $60, a new dining room set would be, at the very least, $1,500 plus taxes and delivery. With a 2- and 4-year-old at home, replacing my current set for something slightly better just doesn’t make financial sense.

We also refuse to replace our playroom television, the circa-2009 Panasonic that my husband purchased on Broadway in New York City when he got his first finance job. Replacing it would cost maybe $300, but that’s an extra $300 in my pocket, even 13 years later. 

We’ve saved on fees, too

While some companies will haul your old stuff away for free when you make a big purchase, like furniture or a new appliance, that isn’t always a given. Plus, with new items, you’ll almost always pay delivery and setup fees, which can sometimes run in the hundreds of dollars. For example, Costco’s white-glove delivery fee runs anywhere from $50 to $200. 

It even applies when you purchase things secondhand. I was recently eyeing a used dining room table on Facebook Marketplace. But once I factored in the cost of renting a U-Haul, ($19.95 plus gas), coordinating pickup with the seller and my husband, and potentially having to pay to haul away our old set, I nixed the whole idea. 

Keeping old items teaches our kids an important lesson

Growing up, I was taught to take care of my things, from toys to clothes to the dollhouse that my grandma gave me for my second birthday. (It’s still intact today.) Like any kid, or bratty teenager, sometimes I’d get upset that I couldn’t get that new American Girl doll or new pair of sneakers, even though my parents had just bought me a fresh back-to-school pair. 

But as I grew older, I realized what an important lesson my parents taught me. Taking care of your things means they’ll last longer. And not immediately replacing something you’ve been careless with means that you’ll appreciate what you have that much more. It’s a lesson I’m passing along to my own kids. 

My budgeting skills aren’t perfect. Like anyone, there are areas where I could cut back, instances where I’ve been irresponsible or spent too much. But every time I’m tempted to replace something I already own for a slightly “better” model, I remind myself of my parents’ old blue trash can and put away my debit card.

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