Financial Goals And Tolerance for Ugly Stuff

DH = Dear Husband

Last week, Laurie wrote about how tough it can be to get out of a financial rut. Through her summer of high expenses, when just keeping her head above water has been enough of a challenge, Laurie has had to face down this temptation: “And wouldn’t you know it, the furniture set we fell in love with last month just went on super sale. Our ugly, ragged twenty year old couches have been an eyesore to me for about four years now and are begging to be replaced. But even on super sale, I cannot justify a new furniture purchase as it would have to go on credit.”

Have you been there? I have! My stamina for old, stained, ripped, scratched, rusting, mismatching, or otherwise ugly stuff has increased dramatically since DH and I started our journey out of debt 4 years ago, but there are still times when the temptation to buy shiny and new is just cruel.

Allow me to introduce you to a collection of our ugly stuff:


  1. That’s our ’99 Dodge Caravan. And yes, that is a hole in the front. My best guess is that it was punctured during a parking lot misadventure. You can also see some rust developing behind the front tire. Our van is approaching its 18th birthday, and it’s still going strong. It would not be worth it for us to fix up the van cosmetically, so we’ll just drive our old vehicle as is until it gives up the ghost.
  2. 20160824_140156In keeping with the vehicle theme, here is the scratch on our 2011 Ford Focus. Again, parking lot strife. (The guilty parties shall remain nameless, but when you’ve had new drivers in the household, these things are bound to happen.) DH and I discussed whether or not it would be worth it to repair the damage, but in the end, we decided that it wouldn’t. Although much newer than the van, our car is no longer a spring chicken. Besides, we have another learning driver coming up.                                                                                                                                                         20160824_144443
  3. This ripped chair is a reminder to us of the exorbitant spending of our past. We bought it as an accent piece for our family room 17 years ago. It cost $750. At the time, we had an infant daughter and 2 young girls. Why, exactly, did we need an accent piece in our family room? Years of childhood play, birthday parties, indoor fort building, and snacking meant our furniture got heavy use. This delicate chair was clearly not equal to it. We have it in our spare bedroom now, and I keep saying that someday, I’ll have it fixed up again. ($750! And that’s from 1999. That would be almost $1,100 in today’s dollars. What were we thinking!?)                                                                                             20160824_135736
  4. Just over 3 years ago, our youngest daughter was completing her chore of cleaning the upstairs bathroom when she brought the bucket, filled with a mixture of water and bleach, into the hallway. She accidentally kicked it over, and it left more than a soaked carpet. It left a bleach stain. The upstairs carpet is now 18 years old, and the bleach stain is not the only ugly section of it. DH and I did some renovations on our first floor last year, after we’d finished paying off all non-mortgage debt, and it was so satisfying to get rid of the old carpet! But upstairs, the carpet is going to stay until the mortgage is gone – bleach stains and all.                                                                                                                                                      unnamed
  5. This is my old bike. It used to be my dad’s. I’m not sure for how long he owned it, but knowing him, I’d say at least 10 years. He was a very, very frugal man. Raised in poverty on a farm during the Great Depression, he carried the lessons from his childhood through his life. Osmosis failed me, and I did not get that wisdom in my youth, but as I learn now, my appreciation for my dad continues to deepen. He knew the end was near during the Christmas break of 2006, and he made sure that his bike went to our eldest. Our daughter made thorough use of it until she moved out to study on the west coast in 2011. That’s when it became mine. Will I get a brand new, shiny bike some day? Not until the mortgage is paid off, and maybe not even then. It will be a sad day when I say good-bye to my dad’s old bike.                                                                                                                                                                          
  6. The classic problem that arises when renovations are done is that they make other parts of the house look worse. The red accent paint that worked for our old set-up downstairs does not match with our new flooring and furniture. It will be a HUGE job to paint it – we have roughly 500 square feet of wall painted in that deep red. It would cost well over a thousand dollars for us to hire someone to paint those walls, and a couple of thousand more to have all of the downstairs walls painted. We are not going to spend that kind of money, so the problem remains: When will we be able to set aside the time to paint it? (And what colour? Any suggestions? These things don’t come naturally to me.)                                                     20160824_135941
  7. I’ve saved the ugliest for the last: our poor, poor backyard. 3 years ago, we had to have the beautiful, old sugar maple tree behind our house cut down. It was 100 years old at least, and gorgeous, giving a canopy of filtered light and shade to our grass. But it was rotting, and it was dangerous. A huge branch had fallen, and if anyone had been under it at the time . . . Ugh! It had to be cut down. Ever since we removed it, our backyard has deteriorated. DH and I (mainly DH) have made valiant efforts to add new soil, and to seed, fertilize, and weed it – but to no avail. We’re following Dave Ramsey’s steps out of debt, and someday, we’re going to do what he says: After the mortgage has been paid off – after all debt is gone – take your shoes off and walk across your backyard. You’ll find the grass under your feet feels different. If it stays as is, it will feel awful! We can’t have a backyard like this for our big moment! So we’re planning to fork over some significant money to have someone fix it – possibly next summer. Our tolerance for this instance of ugly has worn out.

Do you have a decent “ugly tolerance”? Has it served you well in terms of your financial goals? Is there such a thing as going too far in tolerating ugly? (Do you have an idea about what colour we should paint our walls downstairs?) Your comments are welcome.


41 comments on “Financial Goals And Tolerance for Ugly Stuff

  1. I spit invisible water when I read $750 for the chair! Mackerel Ruth! For real??? Okay, anyway, let’s see, I inherited Mom’s house. It has quite a lot of paneling. The carpeting is from the 70’s. The tub and surround need to be replaced due to damage from hyper cleaning methods. The kitchen cabinets are shellacked and the kitchen floor is attached in some places with duct tape straight out of “The Red Green Show”. Need I go on? So yeah, I know what you mean. But we’ve decided to do nothing until next summer. If we sell the house then, no big deal. If we put a bunch of money into it, we probably won’t see much of a return on that anyway. And if we do end up keeping it past next summer, we’ll start working on the renovations then. Yep, I am embracing the things that people on House Hunters call deal breakers. I am grateful to have a home that i love and that was given to me with love. Excellent post Ruth! I know you can do it! 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you didn’t have real water in your mouth when you read $750 : ) OK Kay, you win with regards to tolerance for “ugly stuff”! (And I hope you’re taking that as a compliment – because I mean it as one.) Good for you guys! Choosing gratitude and a disdain for the concept of “deal breakers”. I can’t help but hope that you two work your patient, frugal magic on the place. Could be a whole series of blog posts, right?

  2. Our yard in in the same shape. It needs some serious help. We do our best to maintain it, but I have spent very little money to fix it up. I need top soil, seed, etc to fix the really issues. It’s clean and well kept, just not as green as others. Oh well. We’ve got plenty other things on our list too. Our kids sitting on the couch is sometype of sporting event. The bounce in the cushions and springs are long gone, but we have not talked about replacing it. We will someday. Our ugly tolerance used to be very low, compared to where it is now. 🙂

    1. “Our kids sitting on the couch is some type of sporting event.” Ha! As long as there are kids growing up in a house, there really is no point in getting too worried about “stuff”. I grew up using our cushions as gymnastics mats in the living room where we all did head springs. That’s the way to do it!

  3. Hmm, old house from the 6os, complete with 60s kitchen and dark wood paneling. Bathrooms with tiny hard-to-clean, lotsa grout tile (tile which also is on the shower ceiling). Carpeting where we come in and out of the house, which gets muddy. Old torn rugs in the dining room, complete with ground in play dough. Busted up concrete driveway.

    Yeah, we have a pretty high tolerance for ugly. On the other hand, ugly is why we got the house in a terrific school district without paying a ton.

    1. Emily, I commend you! That is a whole lot of ugly you’ve just described : ) It shows you have your priorities right. What a bonus for your daughter! Do you have plans to renovate bit by bit? Or are you going to stay with the 60s theme?

      1. We are renovating, slowly. We’ve replaced the kitchen counter and sink, and put in a dishwasher. (didn’t have one when we moved in) The rugs will go away, but not til we’re done with play dough. Eventually the carpeting will get replaced with hardwood like the rest of the house.

        1. If you have the self-discipline to pace your renovations, you’re way ahead of the game. Bit-by-bit renovations require patience and delayed gratification – which aren’t fostered in our “I want it NOW!” society.

  4. I’ve been building my tolerance, too. It’s a tough paradigm shift, so I get your struggle. For minor things, I’m willing to learn and do it myself, so that helps. (I was a house painter for a bit in university, so that helps, too!)

    A tip for the lawn- clover, not grass. It’s green, grows like a weed and needs less maintenance.

    1. Thanks for the lawn tip, John! DIY is definitely the way to go if ugly is going to be rectified, but there is always that problem with time . . . (And since you have this painting expertise, can you recommend a colour for our downstairs walls?)

  5. Increasing the ugly tolerance is really important, isn’t it? I feel like some ugly is just built into my life (car, yard, etc.), but some stuff I constantly fight against. I wonder if I could just put up with a little more? Hmmm something to think about (as I look I clean up the juice that Kenny literally just spilled).

    1. There’s your answer, right at the end of your comment, Hannah. If Kenny is spilling juice, there’s no point in making things too pretty, right? Juice spilling is the right of every child. I think that the ads featuring pristine homes work their poison on us, giving us an undue mortification over “ugly”.

  6. In an uplifting twist of irony, I found myself incredibly grateful for our 11 year old (paid in full and in decent shape) Suburban the other day when I found out a friend (husband’s spending choice; definitely NOT hers) just took out TWO $40k loans for new vehicles for them. I am SO grateful that we don’t have a big car loan pmt to deal with.

    1. Oh, that just hurts! And why on earth is he buying such expensive cars? You’ve just renewed by gratitude for our 2 scratched but paid-for vehicles : )

  7. I think ugly tolerance is necessary for paying off debt, and often for accumulating money, too. (I bet the people in The Millionaire Next Door have high levels of ugly tolerance!) My 2007 Camry is definitely on the list. I’ve hit the side of our garage while pulling it in more than once (or twice), and the car has the paint marks to prove it! It has 178,000 miles on it, and is getting close to the point at which it no longer pays to put money into it, so there’s no way we’re doing anything about those scuff marks!

  8. Years ago, when there was nothing I could do about it for lack of funds or if it was just superficial and didn’t affect function, I decided to take pride in the Ugly Factor. Much like bruises, they were proof that these things were getting good use and not being a waste of space. Scratches and dings on the car, though painful to the soul, don’t affect how it runs even a little bit. Our airdrying rack has been broken down for months and I COULD replace it for $20-40 or I could use that to buy another box of diapers and just use the parts of the rack that are still standing. Plus it’s now more stable as a tripod than as the fully upright four legged thing that JuggerBaby would climb and crash straight through.

    Even Seamus is in the club, he has formerly plush toys that he has decapitated and de-limbed, torn all the stuffing out of, and generally destroyed. He still keeps them in his toy box and pulls them out for a good chewing session.

    1. Taking pride in the ugly factor is something I aspire to. I pretty well have it for our van and for the bike, but the paint does bug me and the back yard even more so. If I adopted your greater acceptance, I would recognize that paint doesn’t “affect function” and put more weight on the fact that we have a dog who does his business in the back yard – and we don’t stress about it because it’s so ugly anyway. You’ve got a good attitude about ugly, Revanche!

  9. So true–our ugly tolerance is definitely higher as we prioritize financial goals. After meeting our last goal, we did put a new floor, vanity, and sink into our downstairs bathroom. The good news is we had the guest bed & bath rented out pretty much the day we finished the bathroom project!

    1. I like the idea of giving yourself permission to buy new & shiny once a financial goal has been achieved. Sounds like your “splurge” supported a growth in income. Well done!

  10. As far as ugly tolerance, I’ve realized ours has gone up quite a bit over the years. Especially in our hobby of home shopping in different states for our “retirement home”. A lot of what we want to afford will be like what Kay and Emily described and we’re ok with that. 🙂

    Unlike our current monstrosity of a house. Although that upstairs carpet is as old as the house and the previous owners had dogs, so there are stains. Our thoughts are – we currently have a 3 and 5 yr old, why in the heck would we replace the carpet before moving?! hahaha so it stays. Same with the closet carpet – ugh, it’s hideous, but neither one of us want to replace it because, well it still works and only we see it.

    1. With young children, it’s way more important to create a warm environment of acceptance than to have pretty things that bring on stress every time a child makes a mess of them. You’re playing it right!

  11. Our ugly tolerance has really gone up over the years. When we were younger I cared much more about how things looked (and what people would think!). Now, not so much 🙂

    Current ugly thing we have is our scratched and dented 1996 stove with a broken drawer. In fact all our kitchen appliances are on the elderly side. We did some minor renovations in our kitchen to add some extra cupboards and new flooring. My sister was appalled that we did not splash out on all new appliances too. I just can’t see replacing appliances that work just fine. I’ll replace them if they break.

    1. I think that selective renovating shows a lot of intention and self-discipline – especially in the face of your sister’s being appalled : ) What a liberating thing it is to be free from worry about what others think! (Or, as is the case with me – more free – not complete freedom in that regard yet.) Thanks for reading and commenting, Carrie!

  12. Loved this post. I always like the “personal” posts that give us a little more insight into other writer’s lives – ugly stuff and all! We have a 1970s rambler that we bought 4 years ago and over time everything will need to be redone. We knew this going into it, but with our student loan debt and aggressive financial goals we’ve delayed virtually every project. So we are living with our “ugly” kitchen, bathroom, carpeting…all of it. But with every passing year I feel better about our delay tactic as our investment accounts continue to grow and our debt decreases!

    1. “Delay tactic” is right, DC. You’re not saying, “We’ll never have what we really want” – you’re saying you’ll have it when the time is right. In this “I want it NOW” era, that’s a very unique way of thinking.

  13. lol! I can relate. I think my ugly tolerance was much higher when I was hurting for money, but now that I’m making more I’m looking around and finding a lot of “ugly” myself. I, admittedly, have replaced a lot of the ugly and have not been very frugal these last few months. 🙁

    1. Well, replacing ugly is not necessarily a bad thing, Tonya. When we replaced our disgusting carpet downstairs with hardwood, it was after we had met the financial goal of paying off all non-mortgage debt. I have no regrets about it! You’ve been meeting financial goals hand over fist lately, so a measured amount of shiny & new is just fine.

  14. Great article! Goes to show, that all things don’t have to be fixed or replaced. My 2004 Ford F250 Super Duty was in showroom condition when we bought it in 2008. Flash forward several years when I turned the tractor trailer too tight and shoved the spare tire into the Ford’s right rear fender. I didn’t even know I did it until my wife “Politely” pointed it out to me. A couple years later, I dragged that same unrepaired fender against a pole at a burger joint.

    Both of our 2004 vehicles have cracked windshields and I don’t plan to replace them until they won’t pass inspection. Now, the leaky fuel tank in the 2004 Saturn? That’s getting fixed in the next few days.

    If it isn’t critical, it doesn’t have to have money tossed at it. Shame most folks don’t realize that.

    Thanks again for sharing great stuff!

    All the best.

    1. Thank you Keith! Dents and scratches are not emergencies. Some people find them terribly embarrassing, but I think that’s an embarrassment that can be overcome. A leaky fuel tank is another matter though – and I’m glad you’re getting it fixed soon. Good distinction to point out : )

  15. Pretty high. My house is from the 60s and I don’t think the walls/doors have ever been touched. Lots of scrapes scratches holes gouges streaks etc. I don’t really care about those but the ancient carpet and kitchen cabinets will need to go! I’m ok with my secondhand fridge till we redo the kitchen and my $200 couches until they fall apart.

    1. If the walls and doors haven’t been touched since the 60s, you can just tell everyone you’re into the retro look. There just is something about “ancient carpets” that begs to be ripped up though. As long as you can pace yourself through whatever ugly-replacing you plan to do, you’ll be just fine – and it sounds like you’ve got a good handle on it : )

  16. Thanks for sharing your tolerance for ugly stuff, Ruth! We have dented vehicles and new drivers as well, so we just leave the dents. We plan to keep them until they’re dead anyway.

    I like to try to spruce up some of our “ugly” stuff to look “rustic”! A coat of paint does wonders for wood furniture. I’ve even taken pallet wood and screwed it on the top of an end table to make it look “rustic” (or maybe ugly to some, but I felt it was an improvement).

    Here’s something we did for a bleach stain on carpet…we found a closet where the carpet was in good shape and cut a circle the size of the stain out of the closet. We cut the exact same sized circle out of the stained spot and slipped the circle from the closet into the spot where the stain was cut out (all cuts were with a utility knife). As long as your circles are the same size, it is difficult to tell where circle is (unless you look really close). Just an idea…

    1. Brilliant solution for the carpet stains! When I see how pristine the carpets are in rarely used closet spaces, I often think it’s a shame I can’t switch things up. Well, now I know I actually can! Sounds like you’ve got more DIY ingenuity, courage, and smarts than I have, Amanda. But I can learn : )

    1. Really? A stapler gun with that delicate thing? I wonder if your piece of furniture was more of the cushy, all-fabric variety? I’ll have to talk with DH about this. Thanks for that tip, NicoleandMaggie! A stapler gun is not a solution I would have considered on my own steam : )

  17. I drive a 2003 Dodge mini van. We purchased it from a salvage yard with 50,000 miles. It was totaled because it had (and still has) 495 hail dents. We paid less than $2000 for it. It looks like a golf ball. It also now has several dents from a new driver and big stickey marks from duct tape that we used to tape the tail light on for a while. We named it “The Adventure Van” because we drive it on all of our adventures. Love this article
    We can so relate.

  18. I have a high tolerance for ugly too except for what’s in my closet (I really really love style). My car is not pretty and I can deal with some floor scratches and an ugly wall…

    That said, I’m debt & mortgage free so I’m good with doin’ and feelin’ what I want. 🙂

    1. “I’m debt & mortgage free . . .” Sherry, that’s WONDERFUL! You have earned the freedom to keep ugly as far away from your closet as you like. I think the fact that you’re still choosing to live with some ugly shows that you’ve got the power of self-control. Keep on “doin’ and feelin’ ” what you want – in the style you love : )

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