13 Ways to Save Money That Go Too Far
There are some real advantages to reducing your expenses. You can focus your spending on only the things you value most, helping you direct more money into building assets that will allow you to achieve financial independence.
But there are times when efforts to reduce spending and save money go too far — and are actually harmful to your financial goals.
Are you guilty of any of these ways of being too cheap when trying to save money?
1. Driving an Unsafe Vehicle
Driving an old car is a good way to save money, but driving an unsafe car is not. Your car is unsafe if the brakes do not work reliably, or if the car has serious mechanical problems. For example, severely worn ball joints can cause a wheel to fall off while you are driving down the road! Driving with bald or visibly damaged tires is also unsafe.
Driving an unsafe vehicle puts yourself and others at risk of injury, not to mention the potential cost of lost earnings, medical bills, and property damage if you are involved in a car accident.
2. Skipping Dental and Medical Appointments
It may seem like skipping dental appointments and avoiding the doctor’s office is a good way to avoid an immediate expense. But cutting corners on your health will catch up with you eventually, and cost much more in the long term. Untreated cavities get worse over time and eventually require larger — and more expensive — fillings, or even tooth extractions to treat. Minor health issues can develop into more serious conditions that require expensive treatment and lost time from work.
3. Downloading Bootleg Movies, Books, Games, Etc.
There are dark corners of the Internet where you can find stolen content offered for free. Many of these sites are loaded with viruses and malware. Once you get to the stolen content, you may need to fight through pop-up ads to view it and endure painfully slow streaming and unreliable servers to access the files. Even if you eventually get the content you are seeking for free, you’ll waste a lot of time in the process. Not to mention that stealing copyrighted material is illegal. Worst case, you could end up in serious trouble.
4. Eating an Unhealthy Diet
When I was in college, I survived mostly on grilled cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes, and instant iced tea. This diet was great for my food budget, but not so great for my health. Poor diet can lead to all kinds of health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Surviving on the cheapest available food is too cheap.
5. Buying Extreme Fixer-Uppers
You can find some really cheap stuff that needs a lot of work — such as houses, cars, bikes, and other projects. These can be a good investment if you are capable of fixing up the cheap project to make it functional, but buying something in poor condition and not spending the time and money to repair it is a bad financial move. Your fixer-upper will likely deteriorate and lose what little value it has while taking up space. (See also: 23 Hidden Costs of Buying an Old House)
6. Extreme Couponing
I use coupons all the time, but I don’t spend much time or effort on it. I feel like the small effort that I put forth into finding and keeping track of coupons is more than offset by the amount of money that I save. But it would be easy to go too far. If you spend half a day sorting through and organizing coupons before each grocery shopping trip, you may be going past the point of diminishing returns. Your time is worth something in terms of opportunity cost. If you could get more value doing something else with your time, then extreme couponing is too cheap!
7. Reusing Disposable Products
Disposable products such as paper towels and Ziploc baggies are meant to be used once. You can easily expend way too much time, effort, and soap trying to wash and dry these disposable items. Reusing things is great, but use a cloth rag instead of a paper towel, or a glass/plastic container instead of a baggie.
8. Wearing Embarrassing Clothes
My kids tell me that I look like a homeless person when I wear my weekend clothes. My wife once refused to go into a store with me because my shoes repaired with duct tape were too embarrassing. It wouldn’t cost anything for me to repurpose my most worn, out of style, embarrassing clothes into rags and wear my slightly newer, less worn out clothes. Goodwill wouldn’t even accept most of the clothes I wear as donations, which means my embarrassing clothes are too cheap.
9. Setting Extreme Indoor Temperatures
Setting the thermostat down a bit in winter and up a bit in summer is a great way to save some money on your utility bill. Using less energy is good for the environment as well. But there is such a thing as going too far with thermostat settings. I have awakened on a cold winter morning to find frost on my bedroom wall. I had the wastewater drain to my washer freeze, and I have had my kitchen sink drain pipe freeze. One summer, we did not use the air conditioner at all even when it was over 100 degrees and humid. At some point, the discomfort and damage from extreme indoor temperatures outweighs the savings.
10. Cutting Back on Personal Hygiene
Hot water and soap costs money, but there is such a thing as cutting back too much trying to save. Some people recommend taking shorter showers, which seems reasonable to me, although the savings would only amount to a few cents per shower. Some people have stopped buying soap and shampoo at the store, and make their own soap at home instead. At some point, cutting back on personal hygiene to save a few cents becomes too cheap!
11. Ruining Clothes to Save on Laundry
Back when I was still allowed to do laundry, I would pack whatever clothes needed washing into the largest loads possible, without consideration for color or material types. I operated the clothes dryer using the same principles. My goal was to save time and money doing laundry, but the only result was lots of ruined clothes and an angry wife.
12. Not Throwing Away Spoiled Food
Trying not to waste food is a good thing, but taking risks with food safety can have serious consequences that can far exceed the savings. A few years ago, I ate some questionable sliced meat that I got on clearance and ended up violently sick in bed for several days with food poisoning. Last night, I got caught cutting the moldy end off a loaf of bread and serving the rest. My family helped remind me that serving ruined food is being too cheap.
13. Using Broken Things
When I chipped a dinner plate, I decided to to keep right on using it. But the chipped dinner plate looked horrible and had a sharp edge. Plus the rough ceramic under the chip provided an uneven surface where germs could easily grow. I eventually decided not to keep using the broken plate after all because the consequences could be worse than the small amount of money I could save by not replacing it.
Have you ever gone too far trying to save money and ended up doing something that was too cheap?
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