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Well-made Tools and Penny-Pinching Fools

  by Harper the Fox, author of Wandering Lust

“Well-made tools make work a joy.”

Writer and podcaster Gretchen Rubin first introduced me to the phrase, “Well-made tools make work a joy.” It’s taken me years to accept this truth. 

In the early days of my work with my wonderful partner, Max, we were both broke. REALLY broke. I had just graduated college, neither of us had any savings at all, and we were both vice-spenders. As we began living out of a beat-up van and camming our way across America, any money we made that wasn’t spent on gas or car repairs was spent on weed, booze, or impulse food.

Those days were exactly what you might expect: a combination of beautiful vagabonding and hellish despair. I have a lot to say about life back then, but I’ll save it for another time.

The Penny-Pinching Years

Even as Max and I began to settle down and make a more comfortable income, for many years I found myself clinging to the scarcity mindset I had cultivated on the road. 

A gross example– I would fight with Max about pouring out cold, silty, day-old coffee, because it was wasteful. Sometimes on the road you had to drink that disgusting sludge. I just couldn’t bear to throw it out.

The idea of purchases for our business TERRIFIED me. I felt absolutely paralyzed. Even as our single, old, shared laptop was failing — and we had the money in our bank account to replace it — I couldn’t stomach the thought. Our only camera to film with legitimately didn’t work, and I wasted months of possible production time fighting against a trash warranty plan instead of simply buying a new camera, and earning the money back in a couple of weeks of sales. 

Max was incredibly patient with me through those times. He tried everything to convince me that while my impulse to penny-pinch came from a good place, that I just didn’t need to freak out about relatively small purchases anymore. I think I even gave him a hard time once for needing new underwear. Not my best look. 

Embracing the Power of Quality Tools

It took years of nudging from Max, and self-reflection from me, but things are a LOT better. I no longer feel like the bottom is going to fall out of our income at any moment, lurching us instantly back to poverty. I have come to appreciate the value of having quality tools that work well. 

As I type right now, I am using a surprisingly powerful refurbished laptop we got a few years ago. It will need replacing soon, but that doesn’t scare me. To my left is my trusty sewing machine– an expensive purchase up front, but one which allows me to mend clothes easily, and occasionally try my hand at making something new. To my right, I see a display of lovely and adorable fall-themed knick-knacks. It brings me joy every time I look at them. 

It’s so important to value yourself and your interests enough to invest in quality tools. For instance, I do a huge variety of work on the computer. Video editing, image manipulation, photo editing, book formatting, basic web design, and more. In my penny-pinching years, I insisted that Max and I work with exclusively free software for all of those pursuits, and it was a nightmare. I can’t even begin to explain how many wasted hours were poured into troubleshooting buggy programs with very little documentation, which often would export terrible quality products for seemingly no reason. 

Then, a breakthrough. Max and I made the decision to invest in the Adobe Creative Cloud, and I am so happy we did. For the work we do, having access to reliable programs that work beautifully is a crucial investment. We easily make back the cost of the subscription every month. Work is a joy.

The Takeaway

This is the lesson I hope my readers can take away: more often than you expect, spending more than you think is necessary is absolutely worth it. If spending a little money upfront means you will save hours and hours of headache, you must remember– your time is valuable. Exhausting yourself mentally by fighting with crappy tools will take a toll on the rest of your work. 

I address the flip side of this in another article of mine, that sometimes when you cannot change your circumstance, it is necessary to practice gratitude for imperfect tools and imperfect opportunity. But if something is low-key driving you insane, and stealing hours from your precious life, don’t be so afraid to invest in yourself. 


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