When Being Frugal Went Wrong – Tales From The Cheap & Nasty
I love a bargain. We all do here at Wise Bread. But after a few personal disasters from being cheap, I opened up the topic to some of my fellow Wise Bread bloggers. What did they do to save a buck and how much did it cost them? If you have a story too, it could win you a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate. So on with the madness, starting with my own clash with frugal fate.
CONGRATULATIONS TO HANNAH, OUR WINNER FOR THE $25 AMAZON GIFT CERTIFICATE DRAWING. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE FOR PARTICIPATING.
PAUL'S CURIOUS CURRY.
When I was a college student I was always looking for ways to save money. As you know tuition and housing isn’t cheap, so after the bills, books and supplies I wasn’t left with that much extra cash for food and nights out.
However, my friends and I always managed to save 5 pounds (around $10) for a Tuesday night curry-fest at the local Indian restaurant (I’ll refrain from using their name as it’s now under new management). For the silly sum of $10 we each got:
3 different servings of curry – Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Bhuna and Beef Vindaloo
2 servings of rice – White and Pilaf
2 naan breads – plain and Kulcha (a naan filled with spicy meat)
2 onion Bhajis with dipping sauce
1 plate of poppadoms with mango chutney
1 pint of ice-cold Carling Black Label lager
It was a mountain of food. We’d starve ourselves all day and pig out on Tuesday night, not needing to eat again until Wednesday evening. It was terrific, we’d take over 2 hours at the restaurant eating and drinking and taking time to let the food go down. We loved it.
Of course, we always got what we called “The Japanese Flag” the next morning, which is a completely non-PC way of saying we got diarrhea. But we figured it was all the spices.
Then, one Thursday morning we were reading the local newspaper and the story on page 5 turned us all white. Our favorite curry house, which we had been going to for 1 year, had been shut down because they had been serving dog and cat in the curry. Not all the time, but enough that we knew we’d eaten our fair share. They also had some serious sanitation issues, including cross-contamination, out-of-date food and some personal hygiene issues (I can't mention them here, but we all felt sick for days). I assure you this is no urban legend, my folks still have the paper-clipping to prove it. I can eat curry again, I still love it, but the flashbacks come and go.
Moral of the story: A cheap meal may contain a nasty surprise.
WILL'S HOTEL HORROR
The California bar exam is the most grueling test I have ever taken. It is a three day test of your endurance as well your legal knowledge. I knew it was going to be rough ride. That's why when I found out the exam was being held at a Sheraton hotel, I promised myself I would get the best room possible.
The Sheraton, of course, was counting on this. They knew most law students would pay almost any price to get a room there so they jacked up their prices accordingly. When I called for a reservation, they only had two rooms left: one ridiculously priced suite on the top floor and another room on the second floor that was $150 cheaper. Although I had promised myself to get the best room possible, I just couldn't pass up the $150 discount. It's only a room right? What could possibly go wrong?
Big mistake. It turns out no one took that room because it was right next to the elevator. Every five minutes I was treated to either the screeching sounds of elevator gears or the drunken tirades of hotel guests who got off on the wrong floor. I did pass the bar despite not getting any sleep for 72 hours. But till this day I still kick myself for risking so much over a relatively trivial amount of money. That was the worst $150 I have ever saved.
Moral of the story: A cheap room could cost you a good night’s sleep.
JULIE'S BIRTHDAY BUNGLE
The birthday-party goody bag for my children and their friends has been my nemesis. The concept is not so bad: give partygoers a bag of small treats. But if you have 10 kids and each trinket costs 50 cents to $1.00, it adds up and is an unreasonable amount to spend on a bunch of junk.
When my youngest turned three, he invited three friends to his birthday party. I decided I’d get one big item for the goody bag (these kids had limited experience with parties so I figured I could get away with giving one large item), which was a toy fishing pole with magnetic fish (the fishing line caught the fish with its magnet) available at a very inexpensive price at the grocery store. So I saved on the goody-bag items and avoided a drive to Toys R Us or Party City.
I bought four fishing sets so I’d have a back-up if one broke. Only one child could come to the party, so I had three back-ups. Just as the party ended and in the presence of the friend’s mom who had arrived to retrieve her son, I presented the token gift to the innocent three-year-old. He played with it briefly but the fishing pole broke immediately; the magnet on the line came loose upon contact with the magnetic fish. So I retrieved another set, and then another, and, then, the last one. All broke.
My frugality with goody bags and gifts ended that day, almost.
This year, many birthdays after the fishing-pole incident, I spied Matt Christopher (sports series for kids) books for $1.00 at the outlet store of an early-education catalog company, whose main office just happens to be a couple of miles from my house. The prospect of filling a goody bag with something inexpensive and somewhat valuable was just too much to resist. So, I collected several copies, added a few pieces of chocolate to each bag, and reached goody-bag, frugal-mom nirvana.
Still, I have learned my lesson not to be ultra-frugal when the consequences of frugality impact someone besides me.
Moral of the story: Saving money on gifts may not help you save face.
ANDREA'S DIY DAD
My dad is a great guy. He's a very smart man, a hard worker, and completely dedicated to his family. He really is the essence of frugal, a guy who is pretty much content with the same wardrobe for 20 years at a time, the guy who relishes leftover food and cheap wine.
He is not, however, a mechanic.
Dad's always been fond of buying used, and slightly obsolete. Cars, computers, whatever - if Dad can buy something that's cheap and out of style (but still useful), he will.
Now, we're not a big boating family, but we had a house near a lake and we all agreed that buying a boat was a great idea. So Dad went out and found the ugliest mustard-yellow boat available. There is no describing how hideous that boat was. Fugly from top to bottom. But it ran fairly well.
Until it didn't.
Dad, being Dad, decided that he would crack open the inboard/outboard and give it ago. Several days and a few more broken parts later, Dad asked a neighbor for some repair advice. Upon hearing that Dad was attempting to fix the motor by himself, our neighbor Gus, probably wiping away tears of laughter, said, "You get to break three parts during the repair, and then you have to take it to a mechanic."
Classic boat-owner's mistake, apparently.
Now, I have faith in Dad's abilities, to a point. We once fixed the bumper on my Honda Civic, which had been lowered considerably in a rearend collision on the 101 outside San Mateo. The mechanic guesstimated that the repairs (lifting the bumper back up into place) would run about $700. Dad wasn't having that.
For $4 worth of screws, that car looked as good as new.
But boats are a different beast, and a motor is more complex than a bumper.
In any case, Dad learned at that point that there are some DIY projects that really shouldn't be DIY. Oil change? Sure. Transmission rebuild? Not so much. His little repair project cost him an extra few hundred bucks.
We still have that God-awful boat, though. It still runs, except when it doesn't.
Moral of the story: Do-It-Yourself can easily turn into Do-It-Twice.
JESSICA'S HAIRCUT HELL
One frugality tip I often see repeated is to take advantage of cheap haircuts at hair dressing academies. Every time I read said tip, I cringe.
See, I was your classic broke college student, living on ramen noodles and cheap beer, when my friend decided she was going to have a lavish Christmas party. This party was to be a dress up affair which was not the norm in the rock'n'roll circles in which I hung out. A date, I needed a date!
I worked up the courage to ask a gorgeous guy I was crushing on, and he said yes. The week prior to the party, I was in full-on girlie grooming mode, slathering my face with Clearasil to avoid any pesky zits. I also decided that I should get my hair trimmed, but my wallet said otherwise.
I decided to walk up to the local hair school to get my Louise Brooks bob neatened up. Everything looked fine and dandy when I walked out the door, but when I got home that was not the case. I had sideways and crooked bangs! Upset, I trudged my way back to the school. The instructor, who was a 90s version of Maynard G. Krebs , told me I was full of it "We cut with the shape of the head." Well I knew my head was not crooked!
His turtlenecked and goateed highness summoned all the nearby students to watch his corrective actions to my bangs. So now I did not have crooked bangs, I had no bangs. Mind you this was before "baby bangs" were a common sight. With no solution in on the horizon, I decided just to deal with it. The next morning I woke up to not only bang-less hair, but a face that was peeling like a lizard from the large amount of acne products I had put on my face that week. No amount of exfoliation would correct it. There was no way I was going to miss this bash, hair and face be damned!
I ended up having to put Vaseline on my face in order to even do my make up and managed to work some magic with a bottle of Aqua Net to my poor hair. Luckily, the drinks were flowing, the lights were dim, and my crooked haired, scaly faced self still got a kiss under the mistletoe. After that experience, I will never put my hair on the line just to save a buck.
Moral of the story: Cutting costs with your hair can leave you red-faced.
Got any stories even more disastrous than these? We’d love to hear them. Remember, it could win you a cool $25 Amazon Gift Certificate. One commenter will be randomly chosen and contacted through email. Deadline to enter is 7/20.
THE DRAWING HAS ENDED. CONGRATULATIONS TO HANNAH, OUR WINNER OF THE DRAWING!
All photos courtesy of The Stock Exchange. Many thanks.