Why Patience Is A Virtue in the World of Personal Finance

hourglassAlthough I haven’t conducted a scientific study, I suspect that most people of modest means who are successful in managing their personal finances understand the importance of being patient.

Let’s face it: Most debt-free people aren’t impulsive shoppers, or insistent on instant gratification — if they want something but don’t have the cash, then they wait until they’ve saved enough.

An Unexpected Milestone

Patience has certainly played a ginormous role in allowing me to build a healthy nest egg — not to mention keeping my debt to a minimum. I was reminded of that again last week after the Honeybee and I bought beautiful new end- and coffee-tables to cap off our recent remodeling project: As we were loading the car with our old tables to give to a local charity, it dawned on me that we originally bought that furniture second-hand from friends of ours a decade earlier. Even more momentous was the fact that, 13 long years after buying our home, we were only now getting rid of the last of our hand-me-down furniture.

When we first bought our new home, we bought one new furniture set to go into it: a kitchen table with six chairs. Everything else was “donated” by our parents or bought second-hand. Not that we cared. In fact, we ignored the urge to fill every room with brand new furniture because: 1) we didn’t have the money, and; 2) we weren’t willing to go into debt for five or six years to pay for it.

Why Waiting Was Worth It

Looking back, the wait was definitely worth it. The Honeybee and I could have furnished our entire house when we first moved in 13 years ago (minus the kitchen set we bought) for about $12,000.

If we had been impatient — and took out a 5-year loan for the full amount at an interest rate of 8% — we would have spent an additional $2,599 in interest. Even today, that’s enough money to pay for a room of furniture all by itself.

Over the years, our patience has allowed us to avoid a lot of costly interest payments. As a result, we’ve been able to afford some things much sooner than we otherwise would have — without being beholden to any lender.

The Reality Is… Saving Money Takes Time

Anyway, this little furniture episode got me thinking about how long the Honeybee and I have had to wait to buy certain things we’ve wanted since moving into our new home in 1997. So I put together a little list of all the “big ticket” items we’ve bought since then — either for the first time, or to replace our second-hand stuff. (The numbers in parentheses note how long we waited before we could finally afford to buy each item):

  • Matthew’s new bedroom set (1 year)
  • Backyard patio slab (1 year)
  • New mini van (2 years)
  • Family room sofa set (3 years)
  • Nina’s new bedroom set (4 years)
  • Built-in family room entertainment center (5 years)
  • Tile floors for family room, foyer, powder room and kitchen (6 years)
  • Replace blinds with shutters throughout house (7 years)
  • Loft remodel, including furniture, wood flooring and built-in loft office desk and cabinets (8 years)
  • Wood flooring in guest bathroom (8 years)
  • Upgraded carpet in living room and bedrooms (8 years)
  • Dining room table, hutch and buffet table (9 years)
  • Living room sofa sleeper (9 years)
  • Upgrade the wood privacy fence with a block wall (10 years)
  • Upgraded glass front doors (11 years)
  • Upgraded iron staircase balusters (11 years)
  • Upgraded cabinets in kitchen, powder room, and baths (12 years)
  • Kitchen, bath and powder room remodel (13 years)
  • Family room coffee table and end table (13 years)
  • Backyard patio cover (15 years)
  • New car (16 years)
  • New master bedroom furniture and a master bath remodel (17 years)
  • Computerized telescope (still waiting; unknown how far off)

People of modest means should understand two important facts:

  1. We can’t have it all at once.
  2. Saving money takes time — sometimes lots of it.

As you can see, I’m still waiting for my high-end computerized telescope. That’s okay though; I may be old, but life is a marathon and — as best as I can tell — I’ve still got more than a few miles to go.

Besides, the stars and planets aren’t going away any time soon.

Photo Credit: Chris Preen

(This is an updated version of an article originally posted on December 1, 2010)


  1. 1


    Len, I think I’ve got you beat. Just got rid of my 50+ year old hand me down bedroom set (no, I’m not that old) that I’ve been hauling around since I left home 27 years ago. I regret waiting that long actually.

  2. 2

    Candy says

    Even though me and my hubby have been married and in our house for ten years we’re still waiting for lots of things too. I can’t wait until we get our new floors throughout the house. That’s finally coming next year! Goodbye builder issued cheap carpet!! We also are still living LOTS of hand me down furniture from our parents too, although we did splurge and get a nice dining room set when we first moved in.

  3. 4


    When my husband and I first moved into our apartment many, many years ago we went many months without any furniture. I remember his parents coming to visit a few months after moving in and they had to sit on the floor. They were very good sports, though. πŸ˜‰

  4. 6


    Unless it’s for health reasons, why should we ever buy new furniture? I find that used furniture is often more sturdy and aesthetically pleasing. I would also argue that if you’re going to go to the expense of buying new that one should consider artisanal works. I also think that having a goal of “all new” furniture is not a frugal ideal.

    • 7

      Karen Kinnane says

      I LOVE and use only recycled, pre owned, antique, restored or otherwise non new furniture, EXCEPT for mattresses and most major appliances. Have had amazing good luck with practically brand new refrigerators, you know, hubby insists all she needs is a couple of new appliances, he buys them, they fight for six months and then re do entire kitchen as she wanted in the beginning and they get all brand new appliances again, and the dealer sells off the used ones cheap. We have beautiful antique solid wood furniture, great wicker, wonderful accessories, beautiful upholstered furniture, antique prints and oils, quilts, designer linens. Where we live there are hoards of rich people who redecorate and discard while things are still in brand new condition. It’ surprising, but lucrative for the astute buyer of gently used things. I needed new curtains for the bedroom. Bought some HUGE like new lined chintz drapes with the factory glaze still on material at a yard sale . The woman remarked, “Yes, that window treatment (translation, curtains but with a really HIGH price tag!) cost me over a thousand dollars but I’ve decided I don’t like the color.” I cut the drapes apart at the top, shortened them and voila, new curtains for the bedroom for $5. per window! I’m happy for those of you who want and get only new furniture, but for me, the charm of recycled (and, let’s face it, dirt cheap) pre owned is my passion. The challenge of finding great treasures for pennies on the dollar is a kick, and if I need to sell anything I generally get more than I paid for it!

  5. 8


    I have several friends that literally do not understand my requirement of saving up for something before I buy it. “You only live once” is a phrase that never should have been coined, because so many people just say it to justify their spending.

    I have found I also have to be patient when paying down debt. Well, my debt is my mortgage, and I want it to just go away. It will be gone in 7 years, but tomorrow would be nice.

  6. 9


    This is a great post Len.

    I have also had to wait for most of the big purchases in my life. I had to save for 10 years for a down-payment on our house, but it was well worth it. This year, we also bought our first new living room furniture, after living in the house for over 15 years. I’m saving right now for a small motorhome. That’s not a frugal purchase, but we camp a lot and have been sleeping in the back of my pickup for years.

    • 10

      Karen Kinnane says

      Bret, Before BUYING motor home, go price renting a nice clean, practically brand new motor home from the RV place. Then figure out how many times a year (BE HONEST!) you will use it for five years, multiply uses per year by five. Divide that figure into the cost of new motor home. Bet it is cheaper to RENT! Folks rarely use the mobile homes as much as they think they will. Don’t forget to add five years of insurance, license plates / registration costs to the price of the motor home. Plus you have to store the moose on your property. Motor homes depreciate like a stone dropped into a well, they have almost no resale value, plus are poorly built and tend to fall apart quickly. Most likely you will find it is much cheaper to rent a motor home when you need it and get a brand new or almost new motor home each time.

  7. 12


    Good point Len. I like the idea of hand me downs being blessings (both received and given) to friends and family (and charities). I know it’s just “stuff” but it is well loved “stuff.”

  8. 13


    Great point Len! I think so many of us want to get out of debt NOW, want to save up enough money for whatever goal NOW but it really does take time and patience. I think I can now wait for a few things, like being a home owner, instead of taking the “easy” (read expensive) way out like unnecessary loans and buying big ticket furniture right away.

  9. 14


    Great post, but from the comments it sounds like you are preaching to the choir!

    We too are savers. We always have saved before buying and as a result have zero debt (no mortgage, no car loans, no student debt, zero).

    Over the years we have splurged on a few things, but to our surprise, we found that owning an item we desired was only satisfying for a fleeting moment in time. The item soon became old and our thoughts turned to other desired items.

    By delaying gratification we spent the same money over and over in our minds for different things. Once we finally committed the funds to buy something, we no longer had the option of selecting other items.

    As to our furniture, I’m sure no one loves it but us – 3rd generation hand-me-downs (aka heirlooms).

  10. 15


    @Jacq: You win! I hope you are enjoying the new bedroom set. I hope your mattress wasn’t that old though. πŸ˜‰
    @Candy: There is nothing wrong with hand-me-down furniture. Time will change all that. Congrats on saving up to be able to enjoy those new floors — the best part is you’ll have NO PAYMENTS!
    @TFB: It seems like most mattresses seem to poop out at about the 10 year mark. Ours is getting there too. Almost time for a new one.
    @Little House: When I was a bachelor I remember making an entertainment center for my apartment from stuff I got at Home Depot with a few decorative cinder blocks and some half inch pine planks. It actually looked pretty stylish and it cost way less than even a hand-me-down “real furniture” equivalent.
    @Callie: I agree older furniture is built much better than most of the stuff they make today. I also agree it’s not frugal to go off and try and buy all new furniture in one fell swoop. Then again, if you scrimp and save over a decade, I would argue that one is taking a frugal approach. That’s my take anyway. :-)
    @Everyday: Hang in there, Kris! Seven years will be here before you know it.
    @Bret: Have you thought of renting a motorhome for the occasions you would use it? Would that be cheaper in the long run?
    @Leslie: Yep. Not surprisingly, patience really does takes time to master.
    @Jenna: You know what’s funny is that after a week or so, you tend to forget the stuff is hand-me-down anyway. At least that’s how it worked for me. Like the coffee and end tables. For all the years we had them, I never really thought much about them being bought second-hand. Another thing, I am fairly certain that we ended up owning that furniture almost as long as the friends we bought them from — if not longer!
    @Briana: Well said!
    @Marie: I think you make some great points about the satisfaction of buying something only lasting for a fleeting moment or two. That is so true. One of the most comfortable couches I ever had was an ancient couch my roommate brought with him when I was in college. That thing had to be 50 years old, but it was the best. couch. evah! :-)

  11. 17


    My house is filled with hand me downs. Although I spent a couple thousand restoring some of the more sentimental things, I am looking over to my TV stand. We are still using a coffee table that one of my previous roommates stole from his college dorm almost 20 years ago. Then upstairs, my husband loves to tell people who stay over how many of his relatives died in the bed in our guest room.

    Yes, I’m a professional, yes, I make a good salary, yes, I could probably buy a fancy TV stand for my new TV and bedroom sets that match, but somehow that’s not as big a priority as other expenses and saving.

    Kudos to you Len, although I don’t know if it’s so much patience with me as I have other things I want to spend money on first. Plus I don’t like shopping. It’s hard work.

  12. 18


    OK Len, I noticed the pull-out sofa was done before the kitchen remodel.

    Was that because Honeybee needs a place to send you when you have been bad, more than she needed a new kitchen?

    Just askin???

  13. 19


    We still have a ton of hand-me-downs. We bought our house 3 1/2 years ago, bought a big tv and corner unit 3 years ago, installed wood laminate downstairs 2 1/2 years ago, and spent $6000 on a bedroom set and Tempurpedic mattress 2 years ago. Everything else is hand-me-downs, lol. I’m not sure if we’re ever going to replace it all. :-)

  14. 20


    Great post Len. When we first bought our house, we furnished it with hand me down couch, tables, etc from relatives. Our dining room furniture was a card table with four folding chairs. We also used (for a short time) some wooden orange crates for end tables. Are there still such things as wooden orange crates? Hmmm.

  15. 21


    @FirstGen: “I don’t know if it’s so much patience with me as I have other things I want to spend money on first.” I think that is true for a lot of folks. And I agree, shopping is excruciatingly hard work! That’s why I let the Honeybee do that!
    @Dr. Dean: I’ll be honest, the sofa sleeper is one of those high-end types with the air-mattress. It’s arguably just as comfy as our bed. But yes, it does come in handy for that. πŸ˜‰
    @BIFS: You’ll get it all replaced eventually, Crystal. Believe me.
    @Joe: OMG, Joe. Your comment about orange crates just made me realize I *do* still have one piece of furniture that we’ve had since we moved in… I have an old orange crate I am still using for the side table next to my side of our bed! I guess that will be replaced when we remodel the master bedroom next year.

  16. 22


    Lenny, I’m the same way. Slow and steady with the purchases, and not too much at once. I splurge every 6 months or so for something big and necessary, but I’ve still got a ways to go.

    My living room couch and love seat are still hand-me downs from my brother in law from 5 years ago and our coffee table has made it through about 12 different living rooms and several dogs using it as a chew toy. But we buy the important things and upgrade when necessity speaks. Finishing my basement now which will be the first room in the house that has all new furnishings!

  17. 24


    @Coach: I really wish we had basements in California. Every time I visit relatives back east I am reminded of how awesome they can be — especially when they’re finished basements!
    @Kay: That is so true! I never heard of Freecycle. I’m gonna have to check it out.

  18. 25

    Sarah says

    My parents bought and refinished a full size bed and highboy dresser for $127 dollars when they got married in 1974. When I got my first apartment in 2002, they gave it to me and bought a king size bed. I am still using it! That’s a cost of $3.53/year. Not bad. (Of course, the mattress has been replaced twice.)

  19. 27


    My wife and I definitely understand this! We have been in our home for a little over two years and are slowly replacing old college furniture and items. We are still using a coffee table that my father-in-law found at the dump for us! There is no need to go and get new things just because everything needs to be new. That is how people get into the debt problems they have in the first place.

  20. 28


    I used to buy a bunch of stuff on credit cards because I “needed” to have them right away and that got me into debt trouble. Now I’m like you and save up for what I want to buy. If I don’t have that money in the bank, I don’t get it.


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