Not all frugality is created equal. While you can find gobs of information out there about ways to save money- if you’re like me, you often wonder, “is frugality really worth it?” As a seasoned veteran of the craft of saving money, I’d say, well- yes and no. I’m a woman who likes a good pair of designer shoes (paid for in cash after months of lusting to be sure they’re worth it, no debt for me, thanks!) but I hate overpaying for services and loathe unnecessary costs that don’t add value to your life but everyone “has” to have (like $80 a month cable bills and memberships you know you won’t use). Blech.
Honestly- I can indulge in some Kate Spade and Louboutins (very very rarely on the latter, I have two pairs and man, that piggy bank was workin’ for them!) because I’ve shaved down my expenses and focus on activities that will save me both money AND sanity or simply give me the most value for that money. For example, I’d rather have one go-to Kate Spade purse which always makes me feel polished to go with everything (value) that I use until it’s time to retire, than 3-4 $20-$45 purses from Target that add clutter (sanity) and cost more overall (money) than one designer purse I got with a good deal.
If you’re nickel and diming away your time to save a few dollars and it’s causing you grief- you’ve missed the point. Here are my biggest frugality pet peeves that I see people wasting time on again and again:
You’ll notice I do not talk about couponing on this blog. In three years of reader surveys, you agree- for most of us, couponing is a fool’s errand. Unless you have a big family, it ain’t worth it. I’ve noticed most coupons are only good for highly processed, supplementary foods like snacks, frozen meals, flavored mayonnaise, and pricey convenience foods.
Rarely, have I found coupons for staple products that I buy on a regular basis. If you’re like me, you’ll see a lot of coupons for stuff you weren’t going to buy anyway- like weirdly flavored mayonnaise and giant frozen lasagnas for families of 4+ so it’s really not that much of a deal.
Try this instead: Use the RetailMeNot app on your phone to be sure you’re getting every available deal. In the 30 seconds you’re in the checkout line, do a quick search. I frequently save 10-20% off a purchase I was already making. Or- check out my list of the Best Money Saving Apps!
There is a price for fast fashion and fast food- it rarely is worth the money. Coming from a hoarding household growing up, I can tell you that there is truly a price to pay for “getting a good deal.” Even when we have somewhat normal relationships with the stuff we have, when we opt for quantity, not quality we have wardrobes that frustrate us- filled with “good deals,” that we don’t even want to wear (it was on sale but a smidge too small), or we buy something just to get it for cheap but don’t need it and never wear it.
Even as a young graduate student, living on $800 a month, I often didn’t have a choice but learned from my upbringing to opt, whenever I could, to buy quality instead of quantity. If you’ve ever had to move across town or across country and you’ve purged a LOT of stuff- you know the pain of regret when you have bags and bags of near worthless stuff to donate or throw out and what are you typically left with? Yes, when you downsize you see that all you need are a few quality pieces that you’ll never find in the bargain bin because they’re staples, they’re quality or they’re just so perfect if you don’t snatch them up, they’ll honestly be gone before they hit the clearance rack.
Do I shop the red tags? You bet. But the core of my life is filled with quality staples that are meaningful- I don’t spend hours at the dollar store anymore. After a few experiences pitching way too much embarrassing clutter that I spent my hard earned money on, I would say- less is more.
Try this instead: Figure out what’s going to give you the most bang for your buck and know it’s not going to be the same as your friends or even your favorite money-saving bloggers out there suggest. Would a pair of gorgeous Hunter boots be the squee in your wardrobe, or would a generic pair of rain boots be better? Do you know a gym membership WOULD be worth it to you since you know you’d use it, or would a better use of your time/money be DIYing a workout plan with a buddy?
I’ve had friends admit that hiring a cleaning lady once a quarter or once a month being total sanity savers- though they were embarrassed to spend money on it initially. There will be things that give you mondo satisfaction that you can’t always save money on, so your priorities will be your own, and that’s the way it should be.
One of my biggest rallies is convenience foods- when you forget to pack your lunch, you pay $8 for a $2 sandwich you could have made at home, and that adds up! On the other hand, there are totally times when a DIY-er can get into trouble. If you want to save money on any major purchase- don’t assume it’s cheaper to DIY. Always calculate your “time cost,” and the cost of materials… what is your time really worth?
Too many of us focus on “saving” money when the other key component to savvy frugality is to MAKE money. This was one of the hardest lessons for me. If I knew a freelance job could make me $20 an hour, why was I spending an hour with tasks that were zapping my energy and weren’t either saving me or making me money? For instance- you should spend time shopping around for the best deals on insurance or recurring costs that add up like healthcare, groceries or an affordable apartment that can save you $1,000 a year. Things you shouldn’t spend hours researching? Ya, saving $10 on a pair of shoes- which is a one time cost and will neither save you much or make you any money.
Try This Instead: Be honest with yourself, what are you spending too much time on? Even if you’re not side hustling, there are times when your money saving tactics are draining you from being your best self or having the energy to tackle your fitness or personal goals.
If you’re working hard to get out of debt or save up for something big- at times it can be exhausting. Take a pulse on how you’re feeling- are you approaching your goal the right way? Assess that you’re not spending all of your energy trying to save money (in ways that aren’t really adding up to much) and see if you can also side hustle, or find ways to cut costs more efficiently when it comes to your time an energy.
So, I know I go against conventional wisdom when I tell you not to coupon- but if you can find ways to either earn more, or find BIG purchases without spending a ton of time, or recurring expenses you can save money on that will add up quickly or continuously, you’ll be better off.
If you spend an hour clipping coupons to save $20 on groceries, that won’t be replicable- next week you start over and you again, only save $20. Instead, if you find a way to make cheaper meals, establish a budget you can use each month and use that hour to side hustle- earning $30+ an hour, you’ll be better off. It’s all about shaving down the time you spend investing in saving money with habits that are easy to maintain and can run on auto-pilot (or close to it), and instead turning it to making more or simply wasting less.