6 Frugal Promises I Have Not Kept


When I started blogging for Wise Bread many eons ago, I was making a great salary and had just bought my own home. I was filled with frugal ambitions, ready to lean how to invest, be a good home owner, and save lots of money for retirement.

Five years later, I honestly can't say that I have accomplished all that much, to be perfectly honest. Lots of Wise Bread writers are people who found themselves in a financial bind and reacted by pulling themselves together and changing their lives. I am not that kind of writer, and that's one of the reasons I never write about investments or savings accounts — because I don't have any.

I've written about a lot of my other money-saving ideas and goals along the way, but to be honest, I haven't made many of them. Here are some of my more spectacular failures.

Giving Up Caffeine

I have quit drinking coffee several times over the past few years, but I always go back. To be honest, it's my one vice. I don't smoke, and I quit drinking alcohol (I have a sip every now and again, but I don't consume unless there is a toast being made). I don't think that getting up every morning and stumbling to the coffeemaker before I can focus my eyes is healthy for me, but I haven't managed to get through more than a couple of months without at least a strong cup of tea.

The thing is, I know the relying on caffeine for energy is depleting; caffeine is bad for bone density, and living on borrowed energy isn't good, either. But although I don't go to a cafe every morning and usually brew my coffee at home, I still haven't managed to totally kick the habit.

Letting My Gray Hair Grow

A couple of years ago, I cut off all of my dyed hair and let my natural color grow out. I started getting my first gray hairs when I was right out of college, and so it's not like it was a surprise that I have a significant portion of gray and white hair among my natural reddish brown locks. I had experimented with letting my hair be natural before, and had failed, but back in 2008, I suddenly realized how much I was spending at the colorist and decided to give it another go. I wrote a blog post about it, feeling all proud and ready to face a life with gray locks. I would be the female Jon Stewart or Anderson Cooper, all silver-foxy and chic.

Instead, I looked like someone had run over me with a tractor. I looked tired, old, and dumpy. No matter how I changed my makeup colors or styled my hair (including ample application of gold glitter), I looked terrible. My mother had warned me, too. She said, "Andrea, you have my hair. It's awful, and I am sorry. Stick to the coloring."

As usual, my mother was right. My hair IS awful. It is gray around the sides, like my fathers, but not really at all on the top. Having gray hair not only makes me look old, it makes me look like a man.

I've gone back to coloring it, usually from a box. It's cheaper than a salon, although I still go in to see a stylist for trims and deep conditioning treatments.

Learning Not to Give Too Much

My very first article on Wise Bread was about how my combined vanity and guilt over having grown up privileged combined to make for some really bad spending habits. Although I no longer blow my entire paycheck at Nordstrom, this is partly because I have so many other steep bills to cover that I simply can't afford to buy nice clothing anymore. I'm also still guilty of feeling the need to help other people monetarily, even if it means having to take out a loan to do so (not wise).

Also, I'm still madly vain and overly concerned with my appearance. Fortunately, a drastically reduced salary has curbed my trips to the manicurist.

Grooming My Dogs All by Myself

I have two small dogs that should be easy to groom. They are not. I bought a rather expensive pair of clippers and wrote an article about how I can groom my dogs at home because I am just that talented. It turns out that I cannot be trusted with clippers. In fact, even the strongest clippers I could find would not cut my Pekingese's hair, which apparently is made of some kind of ultra-strong polymer from the future. In fact, just finding a good spot to do the grooming is impossible in my house. Short of placing my dogs on the kitchen counter, I don't have an adequate surface or appropriate room to give the dogs a sense of safety and stability. In addition, there is no way to prevent dog hair from flying everywhere.

I still bathe my dogs in the bathtub using one of those showerheads-on-a-hose. But I pay to have them trimmed, plucked, flea-dipped, and dentally cared for. The DIY option is more work than I can handle on my own.

Not Having A Television

This one isn't a failure so much as a semi-renege. For years, I didn't own a television. I watched what I enjoyed online, and had no use for extended cable. My father, however, was horrified at his inability to watch golf for hours while visiting me in Seattle. "This will never do!" he proclaimed, and marched to Costco to buy a flat screen TV.

I still don't watch TV per se; I catch episodes of Modern Family on Hulu.com if I have time, which is rare. But I do technically have a television in my home, and we do use it to watch movies. My fiancé has improved upon it with a sound system that probably wouldn't fit in my Prius, because men cannot watch a television unless a subwoofer is hooked up to it.

Driving Slower

Back when I owned a Toyota Avalon, I found that driving around 50mph saved me a lot of gas. I drive a hybrid now, and although it doesn't respond well to sudden acceleration, the optimal driving speed for my Prius is around 70mph. Of course, the speed limit on Seattle freeways is 60mph.

I still drive more slowly when I am heading home for the day, but am a bit more harried in the morning. Because the car is a hybrid, I spend less than half of what I used to on gasoline.

Do you have any money-saving pledges that you have not managed to keep? Tell us about them in the comments (and go ahead and justify them, it's fine).

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Guest's picture

Longtime reader but only just figured out you live in Seattle! I'll look for your speeding Prius overtaking me on the freeway. :)

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, man, I've probably zipped by you already. I'm trying to be good, but it's hard when your commute is nearly 30 miles each way and all you want to do is get home to have some dinner! :)

Guest's picture

I'm laughing at the no TV. We got rid of our TV three years ago. The first year we did not watch online TV. We now watch as much online as when we had a TV!
I'm determined not to grow my gray hair out but I hate all the nasty chemicals that are in some dyes. I'm on a desperate search and experimenting with everything from beet and carrot juice (does nothing) to some hair dyes with fewer chemicals. Good luck!

Andrea Karim's picture

The hair thing is so tough! One option that I was enjoying for a while was using very very brightly colored dye to tinge my gray and white hair all kinds of fun colors. The heavily pigmented dyes didn't smell as strong and chemically as box dyes from the store, and lacked the peroxide. They deposited some lovely color, but required constant upkeep (and ruined a couple of shower curtain liners).

Now I just use what is probably a fairly toxic box color - I'll probably stop sometime down the road if I can afford to go to an Aveda salon or something, but for now, it's all I got!

Guest's picture

Have you tried henna? It's natural and actually makes your hair feel healthier after using it. However, it's for people who want to be redheads because that's the only color you get. I've been using it for a while and love the way it makes my hair feel and look. I learned a lot about it from hennaforhair.com.

Guest's picture

Our local health store sells hair color in addition to foods & vitamins & other beauty products - I haven't tried it to see whether it works, but you might look at yours (I wouldn't have ever thought if that as an option).

Guest's picture

Wow, thanks for the brutal honesty. It's so refreshing. The one that jumps to mind immediately for me is that I promised I would quit my book club after I used up the bonus points they gave me for my prior purchases. Well, it turns out that they just keep sprinkling you with bonus points, so there is no way to use them up, so I never quit. Probably costs me $300-400 a year or so.

Andrea Karim's picture

Aw, well, I can certainly think of worse ways to spend money than on books! In fact, I probably made worse purchases in the past five minutes. Thanks for sharing!

Guest's picture

I love the statement, men cannot watch television without a subwoofer attached to it. So true, so true. My guy is a maniac about that sort of stuff. Now he is saving up to buy some sort of device that attaches to the couch to rattle it appropriately from whatever sound is coming from the program. Nuts I say. But I guess it makes him happy and he does save up, research, and shop carefully. I still think it's crazy though!

Guest's picture

Jiva, the "rattle" of a tactile subwoofer does sound like a weird idea but in fact it can be really relaxing if you also hook it up to a music device. I recommend listening to some Fiona Apple with it--it is like a little massage with your music! For folks who like action movies and stuff it also gives you some of the explosion feeling without the neighbor-disturbing noise. I would probably not be prone to buying one myself but my boyfriend is an audio engineer and so I get to experience the pricey "toys" he has saved up for over the past 15 years. It sounds like your guy is also knowledgeable and careful about his money--the sound effects just happen to be a special priority for him, and speakers can actually last a really long time if he buys good quality ones. So you are probably both good influences on each other!

Guest's picture
Sureiya Coomer

Not eating out, is definitely one of my goal downfalls. Having kids and being constantly on-the-go from school to activities makes it very difficult not to stop at fast food joints much too frequently. I keep telling myself to pack a cooler, or at least a bag with some snacks, but the kids want something more than carrot sticks and crackers when they are between school and dance lessons.

Andrea Karim's picture

That one would be so tough! I don't even HAVE kids, and I have trouble getting myself to eat at home.

Guest's picture

Thank you! Thank you! It often seems that all I read are success stories on blogs... six months to a better life and all that, which I admire, but sometimes feel like--as my teens would say--I am fail! I am not, but walking each day toward reaching what I really want, and in many ways, so are you!

Meg Favreau's picture

I feel you on the hair thing, Andrea. I'm not totally gray yet, but I also found my first gray hair just after college (during a fitting for a bridesmaid's dress -- seriously). I have fantasies that I'll look like some awesome superhero when my hair finally switches over to mostly gray, but in reality, with my pale skin, I'll probably look more like some evil and dying ice-princess from a cut-rate fantasy movie.

Andrea Karim's picture

I hadn't even considered the career possibilities of playing a dying evil ice princess in a cut-rate fantasy movie... hmm.....

Guest's picture

I live within my means but not keeping these promises is fine. why keep your hair grey and feel like crap about yourself? I think you should be gentler with yourself especially if you can afford it.

Guest's picture

Oh good grief! Reading this made my heart stop. Saving some money, any money, isn’t that hard or complicated and being slightly frugal now, but not banking some of it, means you will wake up one day and find a broke 60 year old woman staring back at you in the mirror. Math is real, even if you choose to ignore it, and playing catch-up late in life will really suck, or, as some of my friends are discovering, impossible!

Just for laughs, I paid my 20 year old daughter to do the math on retiring at age 60, living to 92, with $500,000 in investments that earn 4% a year. Even with Social Security added in, the shocking fact of how little that seemingly large sum of money provided really got my daughter’s attention.

Start with buying a $50 I Bond every month (auto purchase online for even less pain). It won’t make you rich; it will make you less poor.

Your friend ( just a bridge trip (and soon a toll) away.)

Guest's picture

I can't tell you the number of times I've said I was going to stop intaking so much caffeine. And still every morning the first thing I do is turn on my coffee maker! I've managed to element sodas and energy drink from my diet, and I rarely go coffee shops because I think they are entirely overpriced. I recently stopped adding my usual 2.5 SPOONS full of sugar to my coffee though, and survive on just a light cream. Hopefully this is a step to slowly (very very slowly) cutting back my caffeine in take. I enjoyed this post though, nice to see that other people try and make efforts, although some things are easier said then done.

Carmen Grant's picture

Andrea...I think you are my long lost sister! haha...
I gave up buying fancy coffee and opt for creamer and black coffee...but CANNOT give it up completely.
I refuse to express my dogs anal gland myself so pay $25 per month to take her into the vet and come out all nice and "refreshed"
I TRIED giving up television...I did. Hulu and Netflix and a laptop hooked up to the TV all the way...until Thanksgiving and my grandma "needed" to be able to watch the nightly news and check the weather on the weather channel...lasted maybe 6 months now we are back to cable...with the movie package. #fail.
I TRIED to go back to black (my hair color), but I love the sun kissed glow of highlights.
Finally - I live in San Diego...the two speed limits are fast and faster. And if you go anywhere less than 20 MPH OVER the speed limit, you're going too slow and are a hazard on the road.

Sigh. Oh yeah, and giving less...im a sucker for donations. So I started donating stuff instead of money. Goodwill LOVES when I roll up with my bags of stuff. Im a natural purger so it works out!

Great post!