There’s a fine line between frugality and foolishness. Not all frugal strategies result in real savings.
To avoid crossing over into foolishness, we must closely examine seemingly frugal strategies because a number of them may actually generate significant expenses.
When frugal is actually expensive
- DIY gone awry. Sometimes you can save a lot of money by completing home improvements and repairs yourself. Other times you just end up spending a lot of money. First, you buy a bunch of tools and supplies. Then you start a project you never finish or you finish a project poorly. Finally, you end up calling in the professional you should have contacted in the first place. Before beginning a project, honestly assess yourself and call a professional when a project is beyond your skill set.
- Cheap foods at the grocery store. Many unhealthy foods are also cheap (e.g., boxed macaroni and cheese, chips), so it may be tempting to purchase them to save a few dollars. Unfortunately, this can harm your health and lead to high medical expenses. Focus on purchasing foods that are both healthy and affordable (e.g., beans, frozen vegetables, brown rice). These benefit your health and fit in your grocery budget!
- Ingredients and tools for home cooking. Cooking at home instead of eating out can save you quite a bit of money (it also tends to be healthier). You’ll lose much of the savings, though, if you spend a lot of money on fancy ingredients and equipment. It’s quite easy to avoid this. Don’t spend a lot of money on cookbooks if you have internet access. You can find plenty of recipes online. Learn substitutions for fancy ingredients that are too expensive to purchase. If you are going to buy a new gadget or appliance, read reviews so you’re sure to purchase a quality item and compare prices between retailers (you may even be able to find one at a garage sale or on craigslist).
- Coupons and sales. Isn’t saving money the point of coupons and sales? It’s supposed to be, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. When you have good coupons, it’s tempting to purchase the corresponding items. If you don’t need the items, then the money spent on them will be wasted. Moreover, coupons are generally for name brand items. Many times the discounted prices on the name brand items are still more than the prices for generic equivalents. Sales can also encourage the purchase of unneeded items. Watch closely because stores sometimes feature sale prices that are only a few cents cheaper than the regular prices! If you happen to drive to another city to catch a sale, you may find yourself spending enough money on gas that it negates any savings from the sale. When using a coupon or going to a sale, ask yourself if you really need the item and if the price you’ll pay is truly a good deal.
- Delayed maintenance. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Remember this old adage? There’s a lot of truth in it. Delaying recommended maintenance on your car (e.g., oil changes, tire rotations) and house (e.g., replacing furnace filters, re-caulking) can lead to damage that costs you a lot of money in the long run. The same is true of maintaining your own body. If you visit the dentist and doctor regularly—especially if you notice something out of the ordinary—you’ll likely catch problems early so they can be treated more effectively and more affordably.
- No entertainment. When your budget is really tight it makes sense to put what money you do have towards necessary expenses, leaving the entertainment category (or “fun money,” as my husband likes to call it) empty. The problem with this is that your quality of life may decrease because you’re not getting much enjoyment out of life. A better option may be to decide which one or two activities you really want to take part in and then commit to only use fun money on these. Also, be sure to check community calendars because you may discover that there are free events happening in your community.
I’ve used each of these strategies at one point or another. My experience has taught me to scrutinize frugal strategies more closely.
What can you share from your experience? Have you found some seemingly frugal strategies that actually create costs?