When Frugal Goes Too Far

By Mike Peterson
In January 26, 2015

When “Frugal” Goes Too Far

I love saving money.   And while this probably isn’t news to anyone who reads this blog regularly, what may be news is that, when it comes to frugality, even I have my limits.  Because while I’m all for mindful spending, bargain hunting, and so on, I do believe that there are some scenarios when insisting on short-terms savings can actually do more harm than good.

In other words:  Sometimes you really can take frugality too far.  Here are seven situations where being cheap can cost you:

  1. Skimping on – or skipping — car maintenance. There are probably literally hundreds of things you’d rather spend your hard-earned money on than taking your car in for an inspection or an oil change or a tire rotation. But car care isn’t something you should skip.  Regular maintenance can protect your vehicle from damage and detect potential safety issues before they become dangerous.  Take care of your car.  Take it to a reputable auto shop.  Don’t buy used parts or refurbished tires.  End of story.
  2. Buying a cheap mattress. Let’s face it — mattresses are pricey.  But think about how much time you spend sleeping.  A shoddy mattress can create back and neck problems.  Even worse, a poor-quality mattress can affect the quality of sleep you get, which in turn can interfere with your ability to concentrate during the day.  It’s just not worth it.  Wait for a sale and buy a good mattress.  Or at the very least, spring for a nice memory-foam mattress topper.  Your back will thank you.
  3. Skimping on food. There are tons of dirt-cheap food options out there.  You can get a half dozen tacos or a burger-and-fries combo meal for a few bucks at any fast food restaurant.  You can load your grocery cart with inexpensive items like Ramen noodles, boxed mac and cheese, and TV dinners.  But while cheap food might save you some cash in the short-term, these super-processed items won’t do you any favors when it comes to nutrition and health.  Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you have to break the bank shopping at a high-dollar organic specialty grocer – but I am saying that spending a few dollars more per week to get healthier, less processed foods is well worth the expense.   Items like whole chickens, beans, peanut butter, rice, and frozen veggies are all easy on the wallet – and on your health.
  4. Chasing the lowest prices on gas and groceries. I’m all for saving money – but driving to another city to save two cents per gallon on gas might be taking things too far.  Same goes for spending an entire afternoon driving to three separate grocery stores to save a few dollars on a gallon of milk or redeem a 50-cent coupon for toilet paper.  Sometimes, the relatively small savings simply aren’t worth the time and effort.
  5. Wearing cheap shoes. I understand the initial appeal of cheap shoes.  After all, why pay $100 or more for a pair of shoes when you can get a similar pair from the discount store for $20?  Well, here are two good reasons:  First of all, cheap shoes are cheap – they may sort of look like their more expensive counterparts, but upon closer inspection, they fall short.  Less expensive shoes are made with lower-quality materials.  They’ll wear out faster and you’ll have to replace them sooner, which will cost you more in the long run.  Second, cheap shoes aren’t exactly made for comfort.  If you spend a lot of time on your feet, it’s definitely worth the extra money for comfortable, supportive footwear.
  6. Doing it yourself. DIY is all the rage these days, from home improvement projects to gardening to car repairs.  Need proof?  Just do a quick Google search. Sites like Pinterest and YouTube are full of instructional videos that teach you how to do just about anything.  And while I understand that some DIY projects can be fun, there comes a point when it doesn’t make much sense, financial or otherwise, to do things yourself.  At best, a DIY home remodeling project can cost you more when you have to call in a professional to salvage your attempt at new floors. At worst, a DIY auto repair can be downright dangerous if it’s not done right.  Use your best judgment – will doing it yourself really save money?  Are there other costs to skipping a professional job?
  7. Neglecting your health. Yes, healthcare can be expensive.  But skipping things like routine doctor’s visits, dental care, and even vision care won’t do you any favors in the long run.  Budgeting for regular checkups, dental cleanings, and vison screenings can help detect more serious – and much costlier issues down the road.

It’s great to be frugal and bargain-hunting can be fun – but if your goal is to make smart financial decisions, it’s helpful to look at the big picture.  In many cases, the least expensive option will do just fine.  But in others, you really do get what you pay for.

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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