Failed Frugality: 5 Clues You’ve Gone Too Far

By Linsey Knerl on 23 May 2009 (Updated 18 September 2009) 27 comments

For most people, frugality is a lifestyle choice born out of necessity.  A lost job, increase in expenses, or a battle with debt has forced them to take extreme measures to balance their budget.  Sometimes, however, frugal choices can hinder you beyond the benefit of the dollar saved.  Here are five tell-tale signs that you’ve done yourself no favors in your quest to cut costs. 

You Spend More Than You Save 

Unless you are investing for the future in a specialty item, there is usually no justification for spending more money via “frugal” methods than if you’d just done your normal shopping.  This happens often with coupons, for example.  I applaud those who’ve mastered the art of getting stuff for less (or even free), but I’m personally aware that using coupons most likely leaves me buying unnecessary things and ultimately increasing my shopping bill by at least 20% more than if I’d stuck to a list and didn’t entertain extra “deals.”  Buying something on clearance (even at 90% off) isn’t a great buy if you didn’t have the money to begin with, or you didn’t need the thing you just bought. 

You’re Not Fun to Be Around 

Some folks will never be the life of the party, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  If your obsession for cost-cutting has left you looking stingy and insane in the eyes of your friends, it could be that you need new friends.  More likely, however, is the fact that you’ve let your penny-pinching ways rule every decision, and worse yet, it’s affected your relationships.  If you’re intent on letting the almighty dollar invade every thought for the day, do us all a favor, and keep it to yourself.  Some of us truly understand what it means to be frugal, but strive to keep it in balance with the rest of our lives. (For excellent reading on frugality as an obsession, I suggest reading Get Rich Slowly’s comments on the topic and The Simple Dollar’s response) 

You Don’t Know Why You’re Doing It 

The other day I tried to make dandelion wine.  I allowed my kids to handpick every yellow bloom in our yard that morning and tried to follow the recipe I selected exactly as written.  About a week after I’d let my potion set for the year, I began to smell something horrible coming from the corner of the room where I had it stored.  It really, really stunk, and my craving for anything wine-related died.  The kids complained, hubby was concerned, and I ended up dumping it out and calling it a futile experiment.  I had decided to make wine out of a curiosity, but continued to let it smell up my kitchen out of stubbornness (I didn’t want to admit that I had failed.)  If select attempts at frugality have you wondering “what the heck was I thinking?” it may be time to take up a new hobby (or start small with more simple cost-cutting strategies.) 

Your Frugality Isn’t Safe 

I’ve already covered this a bit in a previous article (“When Frugal Is Stupid”), but I feel it bears repeating.  Some money-saving habits have the potential to cause harm, but only need a few extra safeguards to make them safe (making your own laundry soap, for example, would require extra care to keep little ones out of the commonly-used buckets that the soap is stored in.)  Other tips (like reusing plastic containers that aren’t meant for food storage) can cause others to get sick or degrade the quality of your possessions.  Before you head out into the Wild West of ultimate frugality, check with trusted sources to make sure you’re keeping it harmless. 

You Hate It 

Granted, most of us make frugal decisions out of necessity.  Others, however, make the choice out of habit or the sense of control it gives them over a situation.  If you’ve found yourself doing things that could save a bit here and there, but it’s left you despising money, life, or other people – maybe it’s time to take a hiatus.  Life, after all, is meant to be experienced, and most of the precious experiences don’t cost much.  Take time to assess where you’re saving, and where you’re simply causing extra work and heartache.  If you’re able to loosen up on a few of your frugal rules (even for a little while) it might be worth taking a fresh stab at it after a small break.  (Opportunities to save money generally aren’t going anywhere.) 

Where are you at in your frugality?  Are you new and growing?  Have you been doing this “cheapskate” stuff for awhile?  Do you still enjoy those times that you’ve succeeded in a plan to pinch pennies, or are you dreading the work involved with taking care of your finances?  Share your tips for keeping frugality fresh with us.  We’d love to hear how you do it!

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Maggie Wells's picture

My husband and I go through this when planning trips. He's always opting for the quick cheap weekend getaway to someplace neither of us really want to go to ---like Reno, NV and I 'm always saying let's just hold out another couple of weeks and go someplace we really want to go--like San Francisco. To me, if I'm going to leave home and be frugal I rather those dollars stretch towards somewhere I really want to be.

 

 

 

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

Yes! There's absolutely no way I'll give up ice cream to save money.

Guest's picture
Guest

Reno Nevada thanks you very much ! :)

Guest's picture
Robert

I enjoyed reading the article, and it brings up some good points.

A couple other points to consider:
- Spending less up front may cost more late (eg buying a Kia instead of a Toyota, or financing anything).
- Sometimes it's worthwhile to consider quality over quantity.
- Spending less is smart, but sometimes it's easier to just set aside a certain amount each month, eg into a savings account, and try to make the rest stretch to the end of the month.

Guest's picture
Lucille

You really have to balance the actual outcome against the frugal idea. Most of mine have turned out for the better. Some I decide not to repeat because the savings or final product wasn't worth the effort.

You also need to make sure your comparing things correctly. A pizza we make at home is closer to what we get at the wood fired pizza joint in town than to a cheap grocery store frozen pizza. One costs $2-4 the other costs about $8. The same goes for garden produce. I try to not grow anything I can get cheaply at the store or farmers market and save my efforts for things that we really like but cost a ton of money.

Guest's picture
Guest

My husband and I are finally at the stage in life where we are no longer working, but still active. Our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren live 4 hours from us; too far to run down on a weekend. When talking over what we wanted to do with this part of our life, my husband and I realized that we wanted to be involved in our grandchildren's lives. So, we made some financial choices and rented an apartment in our daughter's city. We spend half the time there and half the time in our own home. We have been doing this for a year now, and it is the best choice we ever made. The "scrimping" we do is so worthwhile when we ring the doorbell and two little kids come running out with smiles and hugs! It all comes down to the quality of life.

Guest's picture

My problems with money stem largely, I believe, from a distaste for my own father's unpleasant anxiety about money.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Isn't is amazing how we can form our own feelings about money based on those around us?  I see so many who have expressed similar opinions about their childhood.  Ultimately, we reach a point where we realize we can choose or actions (independently of others), but it takes a bit of effort to shake off those tendencies that might have been lurking from our past.

I applaud you for taking the time to try to understand spending.  While "spending less than you make" is easy in theory, it can take years of committment to make it feel natural.

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

Linsey Knerl

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J.

Amy Dacyczyn points out that money, time, space and energy/health are all precious resources that need to be kept in balance and maximized. Saving money at the expense of one of the others is probably not going to improve one's overall quality of life.

I also try to remember that my goal is to provide my children with the best quality of life now AND in the future. Obviously that requires striking a balance between the known and the unknown, which is difficult to say the least. But it's important to keep in mind that that is the goal.

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Mark

I always try to find a good balance between being frugal and quality of life. I always ask myself before i spend money: Is this going to improve my quality of life, will i enjoy it or not?

I think if you keep asking yourself that you end up buying or doing things you like and not spending on stuff you don't need.

Guest's picture

When my wife and I discuss spending, we always compare the potential savings to the time involved. If the savings is less than what we consider our "hourly rate," then we forgo the money savings and opt for the time savings. Everybody has a different hourly rate of what they think they are worth. If you are on a salary, an easy way is to divide your annual salary by 2000 to get an hourly rate.

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j9

I can't say that I am 100% frugal, I like my Carmel Machiatto's at Starbucks. My partner is great at thinking before spending. We did try to make our own Carmel Machiatto and surprisingly it was tasty AND less than $4.
I also like to make my own cleaning products with selected essential oils that work with a purpose. Of course, I have overused some potent smelling essential oils (like Oregano Oil or Geranium) and have caused a commotion in our happy abode. This does NOT mean I will not pull out the BLEACH and disinfect the house every week. It's progress not perfection (my mother was also a nurse).
I liked the article. The dandelion wine incident reminded me of how we ALL boldly experiment from time to time.
Every year I get the urge to be one with nature and compost. What happens? I have a container of moldy coffee grinds sitting out in my backyard and an empty plastic container purchased at my local Kmart. And yes I too say, "What the heck was I thinking?"

Guest's picture

My girlfriend has some over frugal friends, every decision comes down to money. And when they do favors for friends they hunt down the people for the exact amount owed down to the penny. Their frugality sometimes kills the vibe. Like they always ask for rides without offering rides or never want to go places because they dont have any money. But the thing that pisses me off is that they splurge on themselves. Like one friend goes crazy on makeup and the other has Apple/mac everything.

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K

At first I thought, hey someone frugal like me! Turns out his house & car had been bought for him by his Dad, he refused to either pay child support or keep a job, and he spent all his frugally-saved money on weed. Ugh!

Guest's picture
bibliophibian

I especially want to echo what Derek mentions, about one's "hourly rate." I have several routine expenses that other people seem to consider unnecessary luxuries or a waste of money.

But, I am fortunate enough to work from home in a field in which I get paid based on how much work I do (medical transcription) - I literally decide how much I want my paycheck to be and make it happen. That's all within reason, of course - I can't decide, "I want a million dollars this month" and have that happen, unfortunately! But if I know I have extra expenses coming up or an unexpected expense has set me back, I can type a little longer each day, or take on a little more freelance work for a few days, and walk away with a bigger than usual paycheck. On the other hand, if I know that all my bills are paid and it's a beautiful day and I want to spend it outside, I can walk away from the computer and accept that my paycheck will be a bit smaller than usual - and know that I can make up for it later.)

One of my "luxuries" is having a housekeeper come once a week to help out with cleaning. I pay her $60 for the day (about 4-5 hours) - my mother sees that as a HORRIBLE waste of money. "That's $60 down the drain, for something you could do yourself!" A friend says, "I just don't see how you justify the expense." What they *don't* see is that the housekeeper can do in 4 hours what it would take me 10 or 12 to do (I'm easily distracted and a bit of a perfectionist), AND because I have a chronic pain condition, I'd probably need to spend several hours in bed to recover afterwards.

While the housekeeper is vacuuming and mopping and dusting, I am typing. At the end of 5 hours I have done ~$150 worth of work; I pay her $60, and I'm still $90 ahead of where I would be if I'd had to spend those five hours doing housework. (Not to mention, ALL the work is done, I am not in pain, and my hands don't smell like bleach for three days! (c: Win-win-win-WIN!)

Obviously that won't work for everyone - I know that not many people are fortunate enough to be able to determine their own paychecks - but it is still something to keep in mind and weigh when you're deciding whether it's better to use time or money to handle something.

Frugality is so much more than cheapness - thanks for an excellent article illustrating some of the reasons why.

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ctreit

I really enjoyed reading this list. We don't have a problem with spending more than we make, but I find it funny when my wife comes home from shopping and when she tells me that she "saved" money buying something on sale. How do you save money when you actually spend it? I think it is so easy to fall into this trap and to buy something on sale when you don't really need it and when you cannot really afford it.

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Guest

You said "asses" when I think you meant "assess." Two butts are not better than one! :D ROFLMAO!!

Linsey Knerl's picture

LOL!  You are the first to bring this to my attention, and it has been fixed.  Wow!  What the spell checker won't fix these days.  Thanks!

Linsey Knerl

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la

I have been at this frugal game for several years. Maybe, I have gone too far. I am always very generous with tips, just in case I might be perceived as cheap.
I recently vacationed with four women. We ate in restaurants, but also prepared some of our own meals. I still haven't gotten over how much food they threw away. I didn't say anything, but wonder if I should have (remember--this was a vacation). I also (finally!) realized that people really do find the money for what they want, while pressing others to pay their unglamorous bills. I am now feeling that I need new friends or I have gone too far! I fluctuate between the two. I so enjoy reading these blogs where others seem to struggle with the same issues. Thank You!

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Reginald Jackson

I needed to read this article because I waste a lot of money trying to save only to be unhappy with my purchases. Being frugal is very challenging. I use to spend my money very stupidly just to save a buck. An example would be going to a dollar show that is half way across town. I would spend $1 for the movie and perhaps $8 round trip in gas to see it. I am guilty of all 5 and I hope to keep practicing because being frugal correctly is worth it.

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Catherine

I think being frugal means something different to everyone. For me, I cut coupons, go to local farmers markets, and I have tried my hand a making jellies and canning. I have also had some frugal projects go horribly, horribly wrong. But I mark those things off the list and move on. I'll try anything once, but if I fail, I learn from my mistakes!

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McKenna

This is a great post. You've highlighted a few of the really important ways that frugality can be like living in your own cost-conscious prison. Love this blog!

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Martin

With respect to the "you're not fun to be around", I've had it both ways. I've been out with individuals and couples who had no problem dropping hundreds of dollars when they went out for the evening, to them it was typical. On the other hand my spouse's group of friends included someone who often short changed the bill by throwing too little money at the person collecting for the check (as if people wouldn't notice over time, and it wasn't as if the person couldn't afford it). I didn't continue to go out with the former and I'm sure they thought I was no fun to be around, and the latter was eventually excluded from the group and we thought they were no fun to be around.

I think most of us think *we* are fair, but the reality is we have to find folks who think similar to us. If the differences are minor, it's often not a big deal to suggest alternatives or go along and not order as much. If the differences are major, or the person is flat out taking advantage of the group, there's no real way to resolve it IMHO and you end up having to look for a new group of folks to hang out with.

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Chris Cruz

You've gone too gar when you invite guests and they're all miserable because you refuse to turn on the AC to save money.

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Tammy

I'm a happy frugalista. I think happiness and a goal have to figure into frugality for it to make sense in the long term. I want to retire at some point and I'd like to live on the lake. And write. If I pay attention to those goals now by being frugal, perhaps I'll be looking out my office window one day at a sparkling body of water!
Love the concept of this post! I do think we can go toooo far and I know people who do that routinely.

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barnabas

i have been frugal for the last two years, because i needed to save and put up a small house for my parents. at first i thought i was hutting myself, my friends were laughing at me, but i ve found it fun, and realized most of the things i considered necessities were actually luxuries. i am pleasantly surprised that i am enjoying it, and seem more in control of my finances now than before. now my friends envy me.

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Guest

When my husband and I met, I was a spending fool in thousands of dollars of debt, and he was frugal with thousands of dollars in savings. Eventually he paid off my debt and taught me his frugal ways, and I am so much happier now. Before, I would buy everything that caught my eye, I'd end up feeling so guilty and worried about my debt that it wasn't worth it. Now I feel good about saving and proud of myself for resisting temptation. I think of being frugal as a fun game. I also think that life is often more interesting when you have to come up with creative ways to entertain yourself or travel on a budget. For example, I have had a lot of fun adventures riding subways while on vacation, getting lost and ending up somewhere really special by accident, or seeing good performers in the subway stations. You also feel a sense of pride when you think your way out of a situation instead of just throwing money at it.