The Mysterious Microwave: Are We Being Frugal or Cheap?

First, The Background


The waffle’s have a microwave.  It’s a glorious little device that sits in our kitchen day in and day out.

There’s really nothing fancy about our microwave. It’s white, typical size, has a bunch of buttons, but when it comes to heating up food, it gets the job done.

It’s also been in our family for some time now. Honestly, I can’t even remember when we got it, it’s been that long.

And it still works. It works like a champ.


Except For One Thing


There is one little thing that I should mention. The start button has gone caput.

All the other buttons, the numbers, defrost, popcorn, baked potatoes, they all work. Just not the start button.

On the day we realized this terrible occasion, we were heart-broken.  We tried and tried and tried to the get the start button to work.

And by tried and tried and tried, I mean we kept pressing it, harder and harder, crossing our fingers that it would magically start working again.

But to no avail.

It’s been many months now, maybe even a year, and the start button is still “out for lunch”.

But that hasn’t stopped us from using our microwave.

Of course, we originally thought that we should just go pick up a new one that has a start button that works, but then our frugal, some might call it cheap, mind took over.

Why go get a new one, when we can improvise and still use the one that we have.

And so we did.


Who Needs a Start Button?


By now, Mr. Wow and I are used to it.

Just as quickly as it becomes habit to punch in the desired time and hit start, we learned to  hit “popcorn” or “potatoes” and it just starts automatically.

Now the only tricky part is that those have set times that you can’t adjust, so you have to pay attention a little more.

If you only need 30 or 45 seconds, then you have to stop it at that time.

Of course, there have been times many times that I have gotten distracted and completely forgotten to stop the microwave.

But a little overheated food or drink, never hurt anybody. Ok, ok, maybe a little burn, but just gotta let it sit and cool for a second.


Others Think It is Weird


Like I said before, Mr. Wow and I are totally used to it.

But when friends come over, they don’t get it.

Over the summer, we had the 1500 Days family come visit and Mrs.1500 took special notice of our little microwave.

I could see the disbelief in her eyes. She could not get over how we were still using it.


Cheap Vs Frugal: The 5 Principles


I was listening to the Pour Not Pour podcast the other day, and as Matt and Joel discussed the difference between having a frugal mindset and having a cheap mindset, I couldn’t refrain from thinking about our microwave.

Are we being frugal by not buying a new microwave?

Or are we being just down right cheap?

Here are their 5 principles they mentioned to consider whether you are being frugal or cheap.

  • Short term cost vs long term benefits
    • Cheap people only consider the short term cost, rather than the long term benefit. Frugal people might spend more money up front if it means greater benefit in the long run.
  • Black Friday Mindset
    • Here they talk about being mindful of the things you spend money on. For example, cheap people either never spend money, even when necessary, or load up on crap because its on sale. Where as frugal people will spend money on something that brings them joy.
  • Take YOUR time and energy into account when making a purchase.
    • They mention that cheap people will drive all across town to save money on gas or DIY projects that they could easily hire someone to do, not taking into consideration their time and energy. Frugal people will consider the time and effort it will take and make decisions accordingly, even if it means spending a little more money.
  • Research purchases
    • Cheap people will buy the cheapest item, while frugal people will research their purchases and buy the best one for their needs. They still might be able to get a good deal, but they also might be spending more for a killer warranty or a product that will last longer.
  • Your money saving impact on others
    • Cheap people will skimp out whenever possible, not attending to others that it might be impacting, i.e. not tipping at a restaurant to save money. Frugal people will spend a little extra money if it makes a difference to other people.


Applying Their Principles to Our Microwave


Ain’t she a beaut?


So what about us and our microwave? Using these principles, what is the bottom line?

Principle 1: On the one hand, we are using a device that has already been made and still works, minus the start button. I am also actually considering completely doing away with having a microwave, but am still weighing out the long term benefits.

Principle 2: We are being mindful about our purchases and not just rushing out to buy a new one immediately because it was on sale.

Principle 3 & 4: If we decide to get a new microwave, I’d want to do a little research on  which one to spend money on, while also taking into account the time and effort in doing the research, as well as where we would buy it.

Principle 5: And it doesn’t impact other people, because even when we have company, we are the ones doing the cooking.


The Ruling…


After a little back-of-the-napkin math, I’d like to think that we lean more to the frugal side, with everything considered.

But I’m curious what you all think.

Are we crazy cheap for continuing to use a microwave where the start button is broken? Or are we being frugally economical? Weigh in below in the comments.


  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach November 7, 2018 at 6:31 am

    What happened to the microwave I gave you when I moved? 🙁

    • Mrs WoW November 8, 2018 at 6:24 am

      The whole less power thing bothered me more than the start button. Sounds silly, but it’s all in what you value.

  • Money Beagle November 7, 2018 at 6:47 am

    The plot thickens….
    Money Beagle recently posted…Our 2018 Fall To-Do List

  • Jim Wang November 7, 2018 at 6:49 am

    I think it’s fine – for this type of situation, I think of it as being more resourceful than frugal or cheap.

    We had a microwave where the plate stopped spinning so I ordered a new motor on Ebay, opened it up on the bottom, and replaced it. It was super easy, just unplug one motor and replace it.

    Was it “worth it?” If you did the value of your time and yadda yadda yadda, no. But I liked the idea of just throwing out the burned out motor rather than the whole thing just because it failed.

    Just pressing a few other buttons, light work. 🙂

    • Mrs WoW November 8, 2018 at 6:28 am

      Resourceful! I like that. Good for you for fixing your microwave, I wouldn’t even know where to start to tackle this issue. Think I’ll just keep hitting potatoes.

      • Jim Wang November 8, 2018 at 8:46 am

        I always turn to Google (which then points me to Youtube), there was a video that showed me how to remove the motor and plug the new one in. Super easy, no soldering required too, which was nice.

        For yours, it looks like you can take off the panel and clean the contact strip between the control panel and control board. It might have gotten dirty. If you google it (I searched for “sharp carousel start button stopped working”) there’s a fixya page with an explanation. Hope that helps!
        Jim Wang recently posted…5 Best RealtyShares Alternatives For All Investor Types

  • Joe November 7, 2018 at 7:19 am

    You should keep it as long as it works. It’s good for the environment too. How old is this microwave? A new one probably won’t last as long because of planned obsolescence. The 21-year-old stove at our rental stopped working and we’re getting a new one. From what I hear, any new stove won’t last 10 years. That’s just the way it is now, unfortunately…
    Joe recently posted…October 2018 Goals and Financial Update

    • Mrs WoW November 8, 2018 at 6:29 am

      That’s a good thought Joe, a new one probably wouldn’t last as long. Don’t know specifically how old this microwave is, but I’d reckon it’s about 15 or so.

  • ross November 7, 2018 at 7:27 am

    It’s not too terribly difficult to disassemble and look for the issue that is causing the button to stop working. Sometimes it’s a loose cable or wire, sometimes the switch itself has corroded and just needs cleaned. Might be worth youtubing your particular model to see if someone has fixed it before.

    • Mrs WoW November 8, 2018 at 6:30 am

      I have to say that I am not electrically inclined at all, so it is probably not worth my time at all. In all honesty, I’d probably make the whole thing stop working all together.

  • 5am Joel November 7, 2018 at 7:48 am

    If you do get a new microwave, make sure it’s a stainless steel one with flashy LED lights and a dedicated button for ‘milk frothing’. That white one you have now is, like, so 2008 dude. 🙂
    5am Joel recently posted…My Wife Deserves a $2M McMansion

    • Mrs WoW November 12, 2018 at 9:17 pm

      Haha, I know who’s house I’m coming to when I need some milk frothing. That sounds fancy!

  • Wesley November 7, 2018 at 9:00 am

    Why don’t you explore getting it repaired? The local Ace Hardware store (that sells appliances) fixed a faulty latch on our microwave for less than $20.

    • Mrs WoW November 12, 2018 at 9:20 pm

      IMHO, there’s not really a reason to get it repaired. The whole non-start thing doesn’t really bother me that much.

  • My Sons Father November 7, 2018 at 9:20 am

    I’m on the side of frugal/environmentally responsible. We’ve been having a similar debate in our house about our fridge. It works perfectly fine, sure the drawer broke off a couple years ago, but it still keeps things cold. However, the water and ice dispenser broke 3 years ago and my best attempts at fixing it resulted in an abundance of cursing and a few scratches. I then shelled out the money to have it fix only for it to break a year later immediately after the work warranty ended 🙁

    Refusing to spend the money to repair it again (it cost way too much to repair), we’ve been debating a new fridge, but I can’t bring myself to discard a perfectly functional fridge just for the convenience of a water dispenser.

    • Mrs WoW November 12, 2018 at 9:19 pm

      We don’t have a water dispenser on our fridge; we just use a britta filter that we fill an put in the fridge. Cheap alternative!

  • freddy smidlap November 7, 2018 at 11:54 am

    ok. i got something to say here. if you can’t afford to tip decently then you can’t afford to go out. keep your cheap a$$ home. …rant over.

    i’ll compare your nuker to our 2004 mazda that doesn’t start in “park” like it’s supposed to. this started a couple of years ago and is likely a bad switch but if you put in the key and put the car in neutral it starts just fine. we’re gonna roll with it like your microwave.
    freddy smidlap recently posted…Is There a Better Index than the S&P 500? Food for Though Edition

    • Mrs WoW November 12, 2018 at 9:21 pm

      Yes, love it! Our microwave is totally like your car. Just keep rolling until they give out altogether.

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher November 7, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    Oooh how juicy! I think it really depends on your tolerance of adapting to small annoyances like this. To some people it’s not a big deal, but to others (like me, a Microwave Nazi) it would be a catastrophe lol.

    I don’t think it’s cheap, though! To me, it’s only cheaping out when you’re sacrificing quality or safety in the name of saving a buck.

    • wendy November 10, 2018 at 7:18 am

      I’m with you on this, depends on one’s individual tolerance. Do *you* think you’re being cheap or being frugal? Not to mention the whole allure of ‘I’m going to figure out a way to MAKE this work! I won’t be defeated by a mere machine! Mwahahahaha’…

      Depends a lot of what total value you place on convenience, cost, environmental, etc… I’m sure that there are some things you in your life you would deem important/critical that you wouldn’t hesitate to repair or replace…other things, not so much.

    • Mrs WoW November 12, 2018 at 9:23 pm

      Oh I didn’t know you were such a microwave fanatic. Thanks for not calling us cheap; I completely agree with your reasoning.

  • Dave @ Accidental FIRE November 7, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Love this man. I have a similar one. My dryer is from the 1980’s and still works fine, but the timer knob doesn’t count down. So it won’t shut off properly. So I simply set the timer on my phone and go stop it manually.

    Wow, that was hard. I mean, the struggle is real.

    Of course I can’t leave the house for long while its running for fear of forgetting, but my mummy always told me to never run the dryer and no be home anyway for fear of lint fires. So I wouldn’t do that anyway.

    Good stuff, and kinda Stoic 🙂

    • Mrs WoW November 12, 2018 at 9:24 pm

      That sounds so hard! So much extra effort to dry your clothes ;o)

  • Ms. Fiology November 8, 2018 at 3:39 am

    I think you are being frugal and I love it. It works fine! Love and agree with the differences between cheap & frugal. Haha, I laughed at cheap people loading up on free stuff. As a frugal, mindful spender the last thing I want is more stuff.

    • Mrs WoW November 12, 2018 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks Ms.Fi! Frugal, mindful- I like that!

  • Sabbaticalia November 8, 2018 at 3:57 am

    Clearly “frugal”. If this choice were to your own detriment, or to someone else’s, then I’d call it “cheap”.

    • Mrs WoW November 15, 2018 at 6:24 am

      Agree! Thanks Sabbaticalia!

  • [HCF] November 8, 2018 at 4:52 am

    I knew I am not the only one. We also have a microwave which is 10+ years old. After a couple of years, the twister which sets the time stopped working properly. Normally it changes 10 seconds with a small bit of twist. From that point, I had to twist it for a couple of whole rounds to raise the timer with 10 secs. Setting the timer to 3 minutes for popcorn? Twisting it for about 1 minute did the trick. I assumed it is a mechanical problem, took it apart, but no luck in fixing it. Searched for replacement potentiometer, no luck. But I also cannot get myself to replace it as it is totally working except that twister. So I kept mindlessly twisting it like a madman anytime we had to use it (not that much luckily). At the workplace, we also have one which has a little bit different control panel (no twisters included). When you press the start button it sets the timer to 30 secs and starts working, if you press multiple times time adds up. Maybe you are suspicious now, how dumb I am for never checking the manual and never thinking about that maybe ours also have this functionality (totally different brands after all…). So once I was almost still asleep in the morning I unintentionally pressed the start button on our microwave at home. It took me roughly 10 seconds to realize that it set itself to 30 secs and started working. My wife got out of the bathroom to see why I was laughing so hard. I felt joy and embarrassment at the same time. So we are using it just the “cursing while twisting” part went away. So if you are cheap what would I be? XD

    • Mrs WoW November 15, 2018 at 6:23 am

      Love your story HCF! I guess we both just don’t care about our microwaves or at least don’t care enough to replace them. I don’t think we are being cheap, I’m standing firmly on the side of being resourceful on this one.

  • Karen November 8, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    I’m still laughing at the quote “Think I’ll just keep hitting potatoes.”

    The landfill doesn’t want your microwave, 🙂

    • Mrs WoW November 15, 2018 at 6:26 am

      Yep, to be honest, I smile a little bit every time I hit that button the microwave too. I know it’s an easy replacement, when it still works great, I have a hard time getting rid of it just because of one little flaw.

  • Matt November 8, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Hey- glad we got you thinking about that cute little microwave that still perfectly makes food or drink hot! (in case you were unsure as to which side of the fence I’m on ;). However, if you were a microwave aficionado , the way some folks are about certain things in their lives- ahemBeer- and wanted to get a fancy one- go for it!
    Matt recently posted…The Easiest Ways to Screen Tenants – Episode 044

    • Mrs WoW November 15, 2018 at 6:17 am

      Glad that you agree with me Matt! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope you are doing well!

  • NWA-non November 9, 2018 at 8:43 am

    I’d say you’re being frugal – the mindset that makes you continue using this device. On the other hand, I don’t think it would be un-frugal to go an get another one. This is just such a small piece of the puzzle that either way it doesn’t matter 🙂
    NWA-non recently posted…How we slayed our student loans

    • Mrs WoW November 15, 2018 at 6:33 am

      Might be the best answer yet! Yes, it is such a small piece, I completely agree with that statement. But it is also a piece that doesn’t add much value in my life so why spend money on something that isn’t worth it?

  • FIRECracker November 9, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    I agree with Karen above. You’re keeping the microwave out of the landfill…so that’s something. The environment thanks you and your frugal ways 🙂

    • Mrs WoW November 15, 2018 at 6:34 am

      Thanks FC! I’m trying to do my part, everything little bit helps right?

  • Miguel November 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

    “To me, it’s only cheaping out when you’re sacrificing quality or safety in the name of saving a buck.”

    I think Mrs. Picky Pincher hit it on the head. It’s resourceful if it’s your are just working around an small annoyance, it’s cheap if it affects other things (like the few times the food ended up burning, which isn’t an issue if it’s rare).

    The only thing I’ll say about your workaround is that you usually can’t control the microwave’s output power on preset settings. I don’t know if that’s an issue for you, but that limits the use of a microwave altogether (other than like TV dinners and popcorn, most things tend not to do well on max). I mostly use my microwave to thaw things, not cook them, so that workaround wouldn’t work for me (I can only imagine frozen raw chicken after 8 rounds of popcorn mode…)

    • Mrs WoW November 15, 2018 at 6:31 am

      Haven’t noticed an issue with the power yet and I think our microwave actually starts automatically when defrosting so neither of those are an issue for us. And I actually haven’t burned anything yet, just made things extra hot so I’m sticking with resourceful as my final answer here.

  • Sarah Slotter December 2, 2018 at 4:02 am

    Our diswashwer’s normal wash and start buttons are broken! We open the door, press ‘pots and pans’ then close the door to get it to run.

    • Mrs WoW December 2, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Love it! Totally frugal if you ask me :o)

  • Donna Freedman January 11, 2019 at 1:18 pm

    Your microwave hack sounds like something my partner and I would do. He lets paper coffee filters dry and reuses them. When I throw away a worn-out pair of shoes, I save the shoelaces.

    If you called him “cheap” he’d probably smile and say, “How kind of you to notice!” Myself, I’d reply, “You’re mistaken. ‘Cheap’ means someone is hurting from the behavior. What I am is frugal. Big difference.”

    I say go for it and see how long you can make this appliance last. Five years from now, write an update to the column and say, “Still using it!”

    Bookmarking your site.

    • Mrs WoW January 13, 2019 at 2:24 pm

      Oddly enough, as soon as I posted this my microwave miraculously started working again. Sometimes the start button is a little sticky, but it has been working like a champ. Guess it just needed a little pep talk :o)


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