When Being Frugal Backfires

frugal backfires cheapThe following article is from Melanie, our staff writer. Melanie is in the beginning phase of her journey to Financial Freedom and she’ll offer a refreshing point of view for us.

We’ve all heard the reasons why you should be frugal. Cut out unnecessary spending, live more mindfully, and spend money on things that really matter. I like to think that I subscribe to the tenets of frugality pretty well, but there are also times when I’ve taken it too far. Sometimes I can just turn into a different person and lose all sense of rationality and morality. Now, I don’t think I’m as bad as the people on Extreme Cheapskates, but I’ve done some things that I’m not proud of and other things that were just plain dumb.

Here are some of my frugal fails for your reading pleasure:

Wearing a Coat in Bed

The other day I joke tweeted, “Is never leaving your bed a cost effective heating strategy?” Of course, I was joking. Sort of. Because of the freelance nature of my work, I can work in bed all day, however I’ve quickly realized this isn’t good for my physical or mental health. However, when I first moved to Portland and was struggling, I wanted to cut costs anywhere I could, so I thought it was a good idea to wear a coat to bed to stay warm instead of turning on the heaters. You should have seen my boyfriend’s face when he came home. He asked me so nonchalantly, “why don’t we turn on the heaters?” and I was nearly in a fit! We can’t afford the heater, I thought. Well, my friends, heating is a necessity and you do need to compromise in a relationship. We finally came to a point of agreement when it is appropriate to turn on the heater.

Joe> Hah! You need to make yourself a Kotatsu table. It’s so nice and toasty for those cold days.

Being Too Cheap To Eat

There have been times that I have been out with friends, having a good time, sharing some cocktails and laughs. But I made a stupid move and didn’t eat beforehand. So, I keep drinking, but because I’m being too cheap to buy food, I end up getting stupidly drunk. Thank goodness this hasn’t happened in a while, because it’s truly a dumb mistake. (Don’t worry, I don’t drive and was never too bad, just not great.)

Being Too Cheap to Take Public Transportation

When I was working my full-time job last year, I rode my bike to work nearly every day, regardless of the weather. I decided I was going to be one of those tough Portlanders. Bike or bust! I even spent money on rain gear and lights so I could be legit. Well, on one December morning, it was freezing out. Literally, the temperature was 31 degrees. I was rushing out the door and didn’t really think about it. Quickly I realized there was ice on the street, so I was going to have to ride very carefully. Even though I was careful, I ended up sliding off my bike and injuring my knee. My knee was swollen for three months and I had to go to the doctor and get an MRI to make sure it was ok. Luckily, it was fine. However, if I would have just spent $5 on a bus pass, I could have prevented further co-pays and fees.

Not Getting What You Really Want and Regretting It

Going out to restaurants is one area I could really work on. It’s my one guilty pleasure because you need to eat and I also consider it entertainment. I like to think I have an epicurean palette, so I enjoy trying new things — and Portland is an amazing foodie city.

Sometimes I go to a restaurant and immediately look for the cheapest thing on the menu. I wage a battle in my mind about getting what I really want or being frugal, but I end up choosing the latter. Seemingly upon first bite, I instantaneously regret what I bought and am yearning for the delectable taste of my imagination’s desire. Experiencing regret over dinner, or in any similar scenario with travel, clothes, experiences, etc. is a total buzzkill.

El Cheapo

In addition to my own frugal escapades, I’ve also been the recipient of purely cheap behavior. A guy I once dated (briefly) wanted to take me out to dinner on a gift card. No problem, I’m down with that. However, when I was eyeing the entree menu, he told me that he wanted us to split an entree and use the gift card again. I couldn’t even believe it. Here he was trying to woo me and make it seem like he wanted to take me out to a special dinner (at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, ha!) and then he asked me to split an entree, so he could use the gift card, presumably another time without me — or on another date? Suffice it to say it didn’t last long.

Frugality can quickly turn into being cheap, which is the opposite of being mindful. You are looking for quick fixes and not focusing on big returns. I’m ashamed at some of the things I’ve done, but they’re pretty funny now.

What cheapish behaviors have you employed in the name of being frugal?

Photo credit: flickr by ecastro

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Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master.

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33 thoughts on “When Being Frugal Backfires”

  1. Read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal recently. It was about people all over the world, in different countries, continents, not spending money. There’s a whole legion of us out there, not spending money. Interesting big-picture economics.

  2. I think there is a balance for sure. When my wife and I were getting out of debt, we made a lot of sacrifices. Looking back on them, I think that some were worth it and some were not. Being in debt for another month would have been worth it to have been able to go out with friends a few more times, since we never did that! Great article!

  3. Eating poor quality food because it’s cheap was a trap I used to fall into previously. Having $0.75 cheeseburgers from McDonalds for lunch when they had special deals, eating bread for dinner – none of these things were good ideas, which I figured out pretty quickly each time. Fortunately it’s been many years since I’ve eaten stupidly, thanks to my wonderful wife, who is also an amazing cook 🙂

  4. I just returned from a business trip up in silicon valley where I stayed at the cheapest hotel on the expense-account approved list. And my meals were fast-food that averaged 4 bucks per day. Both of these line items could have cost (my employer) a lot more if I wanted to spend it. But I didn’t, and no I wasn’t on per diem, it was straight reimbursement. I’ve decided what is good enough for me, and I don’t care if people around me wouldn’t stoop so low when on the company dime. The people who rankle me even more than those who milk of our relatively high expense limits are those who want to keep up with the high rollers just to avoid looking cheap.

  5. You know how it always takes some time for a shower or bath to warm up? My in-laws made their boys fill up jugs near the bath tub to save the cold water. Part environmentally friendly, part cheap. They have some funny stories. 🙂

  6. I think the line between frugal and cheap is almost invisible. Being frugal for one person might be being cheap for some one else. I drive a 1999 Nissan sentra bought after I had graduated and the wife drives a civic. We really stand out in our neighborhood which is filled with Mercs and BMWs. We shop mostly at Ross. If we do go to mall we only buy stuff on sale. We take pride in the fact that we never pay retail for most of our clothes and we are quite vocal about it. So our relatives think we are cheap. I am the only one in my team that brings lunch almost everyday 😉 Even the guys working for me go out for lunch everyday. While they have never said it to my face, I am sure they think I am cheap. We have never used air conditioning in our house even during summer. We have fans in all our rooms and we use those. Both of us being raised in India, we are actually quite comfortable when it is 75 plus inside the house. Now most people that read these types of blogs would agree that we are being frugal, however most of the general population would think of it as being cheap. So if you can stretch your boundaries of being frugal while being comfortable, I would say go for it! I am sure there must be other places you must be splurging on. For example we go to at least 2 vacations a year. Summer time we somewhere in Europe and winter time we go to Caribbean. And we do not compromise on our retirement savings one bit!

  7. When we left France last month to move back to the UK, we had two options:

    1) Stay in our flat for 12 days of September, but pay a full month’s rent.
    2) Move into a hotel for the 12 days.

    The hotel was about a third of the price of paying our month’s rent so we decided to move all our stuff into a dingy hotel in a rough part of town.

    Needless to say that the monumental effort of moving all our stuff for less than a fortnight, and also living in constant fear in the ghetto wasn’t really worth the savings!! 🙂

  8. We tend to walk a ton on vacations. In Hawaii we walked all over the place and this last year we did it again in NYC and DC and while we saved a few bucks we were exhausted. Sometimes a vacation needs to be a vacation. My wife just forced me to get new shoes for work. The sole was completely worn out, but I always said no one see’s the bottom of my feet, but with winter coming on I got a new pair of boots that will last forever and I’m counting them as my Christmas present.

  9. My first date with my girlfriend (now my wife of 25 years) was to the fair grounds in Orange County, Middletown New York. After work, I picked her up and drove to the fair grounds. I noticed if we waited 10 minutes, the price is cut in half. Made cents (pun) to me.. and to her.

    We also had my uncle drive us on our wedding day in his new town car instead of renting a limo.

    We continue to save money by purchasing Ethan Allen furniture off of craigslist to furnish our home.

    It takes two like minds to be frugal. Keep posting !!

  10. Not me, but I have a friend who foregoes eating because he believes he cannot afford to eat three proper meals a day. However because he also believes he cannot cook, he buys pre-made dinners or orders takeaway. I fear what it will do to his health in the long run and have shown him some simple cooking techniques like making eggs but alas he won’t have any of it.

    • Is he actually broke? If so, he should apply for food stamps. I was on them briefly (not proud of it), but it helped to ensure I actually ate and kept up with my bills. I know it’s a last resort option, but it could help. If he’s not within the income limits, he should learn how to cook affordable healthy meals. There are so many websites out there to help!

  11. Yes, many times you can go and buy the cheapest model of something only to have to replace it and spend more than had you just bought the more expensive model up front. Penny wise, pound foolish, as they say.

  12. Love this post! I recently booked a cheap hotel and it backfired. We left right when we walked in. The hotel wouldn’t refund my money, but luckily I disputed it with my credit card and they refunded it with almost no questions asked. The hotel was BAD. I’m talking blood splatters, throw up, a really bad smell, and more.

  13. Great points Melanie! I’ve been getting away from a cheap mentality and starting to think of things in more of a pay per use like Early Retirement Extreme, that helps in my final buying decision. Some of the items you mentioned, yeah that’s being a cheap-o haha, but instead of a pay per use, possibly thinking of a splurge account/budget like using the train, buying food( I usually try to eat otherwise my drink bill gets a little high), etc. Maybe if you knew you had an extra $100 month to spend on all these crazy things like public transportation, you just might save money in the long run.

    • I’ve definitely remedied some of my cheap ways. Luckily, I don’t really have to go out much any more and if I do, I will bike or splurge on the bus. I am always mindful of food when I drink, especially! Sometimes spending money can save you money, if it helps your productivity, safety and overall well-being.

  14. The thing about the heating gets me, too. I’ll sit here and suffer from the cold and eventually realize it doesn’t cost me all that much to bump the heat up a couple of degrees to make it comfortable. It might cost an extra $0.50 or $1.00 to make it nice and warm for the day, but that’s less than the cost to add cheese to a hamburger or to upsize a coffee from small to medium. In the grand scheme of things, spending $1 to be comfortable (instead of cold!) for a day isn’t a bad price to pay.

  15. My best money saving things are-I make my own pillowcases (4) out of a twin size flat sheet. Pillowcases are expensive!
    And I use 3 nice big split, boneless chicken breasts to roast for Thanksgiving dinner instead of a turkey or turkey breast. My family cannot tell the difference, and I haven’t told them it’s chicken yet!
    Hey, it works for me!

  16. Several years ago when Mrs. C. and I bought our first home money was very tight. We had bought a house that needed a lot of work, we had a wall in one room that needed about half the drywall re-done. A friend of mine had found some drywall that fell off a truck, but most of it was usable and it was free. Although “most of it” was useable, the thickness of this drywall was greater than what was already in my house, and with my then rudimentary workmanship skills, the cut lines were not all that straight. The end result is that a room in our house ended up looking like half the wall was bulging in, all to save around 20 bucks.

  17. Hi Melanie

    There is a very thin line between being frugal and cheap.

    A few of the example you mentioned were rather to the extreme. I think you realized it soon that it is not quite worth the effort. Expenses we can only reduce to a certain limit so dont hurt your health while doing it 🙂


  18. We try to strike this balance between saving money but not being ridiculously cheap–sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong :). I think the dumbest thing I did in the name of frugality was continue to wear a pair of boots after the plastic sole had almost completely disengaged from the boot–it was flapping in the breeze! I super glued it back to the shoe, which worked OK until one freezing night when I accidentally stepped in a puddle and frigid water gushed in. Not a great move on my part. And, we were traveling in Croatia at the time… not my smartest decision 🙂

    • Ha! The boots I’ve had for a few years also recently got a hole in them. I was tempted to put duck tape on it, but figured it might be best to move on. Having wet or soggy socks is the worst! When traveling it’s so important to bring at least two pairs of shoes — I’ve learned that the hard way!


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