A "dinger" is a recurring expense. Think of a cash register going DING! There is an increasing trend of various subscription services charging small amounts every month, in the $5 to $15 range. These expenses can add up very quickly, and they're hard to notice even for people who examine their bank statements closely. Often we forget that we're paying them, and the small monthly fee never seems like a big enough deal to go to the trouble of canceling the service. Frugal people are naturally very skeptical of these dingers. As with all frugality skills, this is a trait that can be developed.
The changing nature of television consumption is an example. The average cost of cable TV is now $103.10 a month, and slated to increase. At that price, a year of cable exceeds the cost of a round-trip airline ticket to virtually anywhere in the world. Anyone who has pay cable and complains about not being able to afford a cool vacation should take a look at that dinger. It's possible to cut the cord and pay for other, non-traditional services. HBO NOW is $15 a month; Netflix is $10; Hulu may start as low as $6. Some households may be paying for all of these! It adds up. A frugalite would take the monthly cost of entertainment and divide it by number of viewing hours. At five hours a day, it's a relative bargain. For someone who rarely watches TV, or uses one of these services, the dinger probably is not worth it. My husband and I finally canceled Netflix when we realized that the disks would get dusty on top of the TV before we watched them. We were driven more by a sense that we "should" get through our playlists than any real desire to spend an hour or more in front of the tube every night.
A gym membership is another classic example of a dinger. Gyms make almost all of their money off people who sign up and then stay home. Many gyms would founder if every paid member showed up even once a week, much less for an hour a day. We like to divide our gym membership fee by visit. Thinking of it this way makes it feel as though the more we work out, the cheaper it gets. That's technically true. At $40 a month, going once a week is $10 a workout. Going five days a week makes it $2 a visit. If I paid for yoga lessons at a studio, instead of going to classes at our gym, the expense would be greater than both our memberships put together. But then, we love the gym and see it as a home away from home. Thanks for not working out - it keeps our costs down and makes the weight machines available when we go!
The dinger isn't everything, of course. There are externalities: the additional ramifications or consequences of acting a certain way. If we canceled our gym memberships in favor of extracting the maximum value out of a cable TV subscription, things would happen. Our necks would get stiff, our energy level would drop, and we'd feel older that much faster. On the other hand, if we canceled cable in favor of spending more time at the gym, other things would happen. We'd get stronger and have better posture. We could take the money we saved off cable and use it for an awesome vacation. We'd be fit enough during the trip to walk several miles a day and climb infinite staircases. Paying attention to the little details helps when we find a reason to start paying attention to the big stuff, too.
(Full disclosure: we have never had a cable TV subscription during our entire marriage, but we have spent three weeks in Iceland, almost two weeks in Canada, and two weeks in Spain, among other trips).
The dinger I care about the most is for the storage unit. Storage units drive me up the wall. I can't believe that so many people pay so much to keep their stuff locked up where they can't even see it! I recently talked to someone who had spent - I am not making this up - $40,000 over the past decade on storage units. That would be a nice chunk of change for a retirement account, no? Or a down payment on a house? Neither of which this storage unit renter actually has. I was also asked to do an intervention on someone who has no fewer than three storage units and is on the brink of eviction. (NB: This doesn't work; people can't be made to change, even by circumstances). I hate to be the one to tell you, but people are not allowed to live in storage facilities. WHY would we pay more to keep a roof over a bunch of old junk than over our own heads? This may seem like an extreme example, but remember, we have no idea how long Future Self will be able to work or how long we'll need to stretch our retirement savings. This is what we're doing with our dingers on entertainment, services we don't really use, and hoarding all the old stuff we don't use either. We're robbing our own Future Selves of security and comfort.
Where does it all go? A landline that only gets sales calls. Magazine subscriptions nobody reads. Ad-free this and that. The shiny black screen that dominates the living room. The gym where we never go. The storage unit we never visit. Memberships to places that might really improve our lives, if we ever went there or made use of them, such as museums or national parks. The point is not to pinch every penny and sit on a cardboard box staring at the wall. The point is to make sure that our money is going to improve our lives on a daily basis, both today and in the future.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.