My husband and I have been living an actively frugal lifestyle for almost three years. I recently had an experience that showed me how much my thought process has been changed by frugality. We saw a television commercial for a folder-type organizing system touted as a “portable workstation”, and it looked interesting. As most commercials do, this one illustrated the various ways the system could be used, and I have to admit, it looked intriguing. At the end of the ad, there was a toll-free number to call to order the system, and the company also listed a website. I made note of the website, and looked it up the next morning. The website featured a video of the same television commercial that had caught my attention.

As I watched the ad again and explored the website, I noticed the company was offering “an extra system “free!” (Just pay a shipping and handling fee added to the cost of the first system plus its shipping and handling charge.) I was also asked to choose “how many sets of two” I would like to order. I could have my choice of one of three colors: Red, black, and “designer plaid.” (I could not determine if the system was constructed of fabric or plastic of some type.) I was reminded again, on the website, of all the ways the system could help me organize:


–important documents and papers “perfect for busy mothers”, teachers and students…(the only ones not mentioned, as far as I could see, were the family pets).

–business papers for busy executives,


–holiday cards and gift wrap,

–craft supplies,

–activities center for the children,

–the entire contents of a disorganized desk,

–planning parties and events,

–even store a laptop computer for easy portability,

and, I would also have a smooth writing surface…

all in a folder system that looked like an accordion file with a couple of zipper pockets and “handy corner pockets”, that could be compactly folded and stored in a drawer when I wasn’t taking it with me somewhere. Yes, indeed, it certainly sounded appealing to my sense of being “organized, on-the-go.”

Two or three years ago, I would have had very little hesitation in pulling out my handy charge card and placing my order for such an indispensable system. Fast forward to today, and enter my frugal mindset, which is well-established.

–We receive most of our bills electronically, and have for a long time; bills are paid mostly online, so there are few paper bills to keep track of. Our filing cabinet keeps the paper bills quite neatly out of the way, yet easy to access when they are needed.

–Important documents and papers? All are stored, quite neatly, in our filing cabinet already, and we use them in the office at our desks. We don’t take them anywhere else.

–coupons? Stored in my quite-a-bit-more compact coupon organizer, kept in one of the kitchen drawers where we can easily use them to prepare our shopping lists.

–holiday cards and gift wrap? We do not store these items. They are purchased as needed, when we find them on sale.

–craft supplies? We don’t do the sorts of crafts that require supplies that can be stored in the system.

–activities center for the children? That’s what the dining room table (in bad weather) and the back yard (in sunshine and fresh air) are for…

–the contents of a disorganized desk? If I had a disorganized desk, it would not stay that way very long, because I need to be able to find things quickly. And, if I can’t keep my desk organized, I do not need another “thing” to have to keep organized.

–planning parties and events? I do this quite effectively using my homemade party planner notebook, which cost only a minimal amount since I had most of the items needed to create it already.

–a laptop computer? I have a laptop bag for that already. As for a “smooth writing surface”, the surfaces of our desks and tables do quite nicely, thanks. If I am out and about and find a need to write, a simple purse-sized notebook and a pen or clipboard, notebook paper and a pen do very well. These, again, are items I already have.

So…as appealing as it sounded initially, I quickly determined that we quite simply do not have any need for this “amazing” product. We already have effective systems in place that do not require any further expenditures. This system, as “reasonably” priced as it may be, would not be a frugal use of our funds. It took me less than five minutes to decide to give this “bargain” a pass.

Karen Carter is a longtime reader of and author of the soon-to-be-released book Saving Our Sanity: How One Family Learns to Organize, Live Frugally, and Gain Financial Freedom.