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Is Frugal Living More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

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frugal living

Frugal living is pretty trendy right now, but how frugal is too frugal?  Should you clip coupons, wash and reuse your tin foil?  Where do we draw the line?

Being frugal is a good thing. But frugal living can be taken too far and sometimes even cost you more in the long run. Walk the fine line without crossing over.

Is there such a thing as being too frugal?

At its core, being frugal is a good thing. But lots of things that are fundamentally good can be harmful and destructive if taken to an extreme. Drinking water can even be deadly if you overdo it. We should all be encouraged to be frugal in certain areas but don’t go nuts!

And being frugal is only one side of the coin. There is only so much you can cut out of your spending, however, there is no cap on how much money you can make. If you’re down to minimum expenses than maybe it’s time to find ways to make some extra money on the side or create some passive income.

Is Frugal Living For Me?

Frugal living is sometimes a necessity.  Maybe you’ve lost your job or are desperate to pay down some debt.  For some people, it’s a fun hobby.  But for some, it becomes an obsession.  There is a healthy balance but you have to consider the value of your time when embarking on frugal endeavors.

Some people spend money to save money, crazy!  If you see something on sale that you have no use for but buy anyway because it’s on sale, you haven’t saved anything, you’ve spent money unnecessarily.

There is such a thing as being penny wise and pound foolish.

If you think nothing of spending thousands to upgrade your computer when you have a perfectly good computer already, but drive across town to a market that is out of your way because they’re having a sale on Chef Boyardee, you are an example of this. You probably don’t even eat canned pasta!

What extreme frugal acolytes don’t seem to take into account is the value of their time.  Ever see those people who camp out for days in front of Best Buy before Black Friday so they can be first in line for a cheap TV?

Don’t they have a job that pays them more if they had been at work than they saved on the TV?  And if they don’t have a job, why are they buying a fancy TV?

When it comes to living below your means, all you really need is to track your spending. You probably make tons of transactions per month so you’re going to need help tracking them.

If you’re looking for a tool to help Personal Captial is a great way to track your spending each month and get your investments on track. We wrote a full review of the tools and interviewed the CEO.

frugal living compare

Be Selectively Frugal

Years ago a friend raved to me about some high thread count sheets she bought. I had never even heard the term “thread count.” I thought she was being pretentious. Sheets are sheets.

Oh, how wrong I was! I slept in a hotel that touted it’s high thread count sheets and I was a believer. It’s like the difference between sleeping on burlap bags and a silky, soft pile of kittens. Life changing truly.

That said, I don’t care too much about good coffee. I know that is sacrilege to those of you who brew your coffee with fresh panda tears and those grounds that an exotic cat has shat out but I’m happy with Cafe Bustelo.  So I spend money on sheets and not coffee.

Nothing wrong with spending money on cat poo coffee if coffee is a big pleasure for you but you have to pick your indulgences wisely. If it means a lot to you and you get great pleasure from something, by all means, spend a little extra on it. But if it’s something that is strictly functional to you, show your frugal side.

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Buy It For Life

This is an especially important concept for bigger ticket items. Things that you will need for a long time like luggage, furniture, a television.

One rule of thumb is to spend more on anything that comes between you and the ground, a mattress, tires, and shoes for example.

Vimes’s theory of boots from Terry Practchett’s Discworld series is a good example of buying it for life.

Samuel Vimes notices that people who spend more on a pair of boot ultimately spend less on boots overall because better quality things have to be replaced less often than cheaply made things.

So buying cheaply made stuff costs you money in the long run. And once you have saved up for a good quality item, take care of it. Don’t put your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher! Keep your quality items clean, oiled, properly stored so they’re in good working order when you do need them.

It doesn’t even have to be something expensive to merit being taken care of. Ever toss your bundle of Christmas tree lights into a box? Next year when you take them out, they’re tangled beyond hope so rather than messing around undoing them, you just buy more.

It’s a small expense but an expense none the less. One that could have been avoided had you taken just a few minutes to store them properly.

Even the best of things sometimes break or fail.

frugal living repair

Get Things Repaired

I bought a Dooney and Bourke purse three years ago. I bought it at TJ Max so did not pay full price.

It’s a great purse, bright red and really deep so you can fit lots in there. Which is why I bought it, to take on vacation where I load it up with what I need on the plane and then walking around all day.

Doing that overloaded it and one of the handles broke. Rather than tossing it, I took it to a shoe repair shop where it was made good as new for about $15.

Almost anything can be repaired. There are so many tutorials on Youtube on how to fix things that you might even be able to do it yourself rather than taking it to a professional, saving even more.

When you spend a little more on something, you are less likely to chuck it away when it could be easily repaired. I probably would not have bothered to have a Pay Less purse repaired.

You Get What You Pay For

Buying cheap stuff is especially tempting when we have places like Walmart and Target everywhere. Need a suitcase for an upcoming trip? You can get one at either place for less than $50.

But when you are dragging it over European cobblestones and the handle or a wheel breaks off, it suddenly won’t seem like such a bargain.

Buying things of higher quality that are more durable is also better for the environment. That cheap Ikea couch you bought two years ago and now has springs poking you in the butt every time you sit down has to go somewhere and that somewhere is the landfill. Not to mention all the resources used to manufacture and ship it.

You don’t have to have everything now.  If the need is not immediate, save up for what you want to buy so you can afford higher, longer lasting quality. If the need is immediate, like a suitcase, see if you can borrow one for your next trip and then start saving up for your own.

frugal living value

Don’t Be Rude!

We all have that friend, family member or colleague who wants to figure out what each person owes down the cent when you go out to dinner with them. This is just so unsociable and rude to me.

It suggests that rather than enjoying the meal and one another’s company, the other person is just totting up the bill.

Sure, if your dining companion has three glasses of wine and you drink water, it’s unfair to split the bill 50/50. But if you’ve had the same number of courses and the same amount of drinks, just split it rather than dithering over pennies.

Also never, NEVER use something like a Groupon to pay for a first date. Any date after that, it’s more acceptable. Splitting the check also fine on a first date. But using a coupon on a first date is about the tackiest thing I can imagine.

Don’t do it! If money is an issue, suggest an activity that is free or cheap. I wrote a whole article on it for you.

Fun Cheap Date Ideas No Matter Where You Live

Fun Cheap Date Ideas No Matter Where You Live

You’re Too Obsessed

I don’t think the obsessive frugal do it just to save money. It may have started for that reason but I think it morphs into a hobby or a competition.

These are not the people who plan their week’s meals using the grocery circular (a good idea) but the ones doing bizarre stuff like rinsing and reusing dental floss, gag!

At some point, surely your time, no matter how cheap, becomes more valuable than the amount of money saved doing stuff like saving up ketchup packets from restaurants and squeezing them one by one into an old bottle.

Some frugal habits, like using the same disposable water bottle over and over can be dangerous. It’s not frugal or green to keep buying disposable bottles so the frugal, green, and healthy option is to buy a reusable bottle and just keep refilling it.

Being frugal is a good idea, when done correctly it can save you money, help you to be more green, teach you the value of things and even be a bit of a fun hobby.

But when your dedication to frugality is making you sick, wasting your time, and alienating you from society, you’ve gone too far.

Is Frugal Living Worth It?

My best frugal tip is to spend a few hours on the weekend to prepare lunches for the work week. How much are you spending a week on lunch?  I bet it’s a lot if you aren’t brown bagging it.  And what you’re buying is probably not particularly tasty.

Frugality is like anything else.  You can overdo it but if you apply it to certain areas of your life, it will save you money.  Just please, don’t be a freak about it.

Show Notes

Betterment:  The easy way to invest.

Mint:  The smart way to track your money.

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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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