I love being frugal. Saving money is a constant goal of mine. But there are a lot of challenges to this. Make sure you’re aware of these frugality traps as you try to live a more frugal lifestyle.
Most of these frugality traps relate to failing to think about the long term. It’s easy to say that this item costs less than that item. But does the difference really justify buying the cheaper item? Not always, and that is what you have to think about.
Trap 1: Cheap Or Better Quality?
There are times where being frugal means spending more rather than less. Think about how long you are going to be using the item. If you’re buying generic rather than name brand foods, in most cases that makes good sense, especially since sometimes the two are made by the same company. Just different labels.
But other times you are buying things that you want to last. Then paying a bit more now means you will not be paying more later.
A simple example would be the cheese slicer I bought a while ago. The wire on the old one had broken and we couldn’t find a replacement wire. So off to the store for a new slicer.
One model had replacement wires in the box with it, while another cost a dollar less but had no replacement wires or obvious way to replace the wire. The wires themselves felt about the same. So I bought the one with the extra wires so that we won’t have to buy another the next time the wire breaks. And in my experience, they do break.
Trap 2: Overbuying
This is the danger of the warehouse store and the really good sale. You buy more than your family can use because darn it, it’s just such a great deal! How could you possibly go wrong?
In a lot of cases stocking up isn’t all that bad. You just don’t want to stock up on things that will go bad on you or take up more storage space than you can spare for it. As you shop, pay attention to when the food will expire.
In the case of clothing, think about whether or not all the stuff you are buying will really be worn. It can be especially easy to overbuy for babies and toddlers, who just look so cute in everything. Just remember that overbuying is why resale shops have so many clothes available with the tags still on them or clothes that look like new.
I always balance how much I buy with how often I’ll have to drive a significant distance to get more. Regular groceries, I know I can get more easily, the store is less than a mile away. I don’t buy more than I need over a short time, usually about a week.
Great deals I may get some extras anyhow. When meat of one sort or another is on a good deal and I have space in the freezer, it makes sense to buy extra and freeze it. If there’s no room in the freezer, it doesn’t matter how good the deal is. I don’t buy extra because we can’t use it.
But if it’s something I can get a better deal by going to Target or Costco, I often buy more. They take 20-30 minutes to get to, and then the same back. That’s a lot of gas for the car and time for me. If I head out to those places, the goal will be to get enough that I can avoid another trip there as long as possible.
My storage for such things is planned accordingly.
I still pay attention to how much I buy on such trips. There’s only so much space in my pantry and other storage spaces.
Trap 3: “But It’s On Sale!”
Similar to overbuying, buying something just because it is on sale is a big mistake. Think instead about whether or not you really need it. All too often, you won’t really need it.
Buying things you don’t need at discount stores is the same trap as buying things just because they’re on sale. I go to my local 99 Only store regularly. The main thing I buy there most trips?
Their produce department is almost as good as the one at the regular grocery store, but the prices are significantly better for many things. I can get a bag of bell peppers for $2, usually with a mix of green, red, orange and yellow bell peppers.
I belong to a Facebook group where people share their finds from this store. Many of the members shop daily, some more than once. Some even say their husbands or significant others have had to limit how much they spend there because they buy so much.
I get it. The deals are often amazing. But how much do you really need?
Trap 4: Giving In To The Wrong Things
There are a few ways to give in. One is to go shopping while hungry. It’s said that you will buy a lot more food if you grocery shop while hungry. Your hunger just makes it easier to give in to temptation.
But if you’re shopping with the kids, it’s easy to give in to their ideas. “But Moooooommy!” If you’re a mom, you know the rest of that routine. Just remember that you are the example for your kids and that if you buy everything that they want, they’ll never understand why you talk so much about spending your money wisely.
I don’t mean that you shouldn’t ever give in. There are better and worse times to do so.
For example, we love to take our kids shopping with us when we go to Costco, and we always try to go at lunchtime.
The pizza and hot dogs at Costco are extremely affordable, as are the sodas. The kids feel like they got a treat, but we’ve spent a fraction of what we would have at a fast food place.
And then there are the free samples to top things off.
When my kids start wanting to buy a lot of treats is when I start reminding them to bring their own money. Sometimes the treat isn’t worth it if they’d have to spend their own.
Don’t forget the occasional, reasonably priced treat for yourself as well. It’s much easier to maintain self control if you allow yourself reasonable treats. You won’t feel so deprived that you just have to splurge on the big one.
Trap 5: Repair Or Replace?
This is one that can be true torture. The washing machine breaks. Is it time to replace it?
The main reason this is difficult is because so many things are designed these days to be cheaper to replace than to repair. But I would always suggest looking at the repair costs, especially if they turn out to be minor. Not every breakdown means a huge repair. Just think of all the little stuff you have to take your car to the shop for.
Once you decide to repair, make sure that you get it done right. Having to get a repair done over again is guaranteed to increase the cost.
For your car, this means picking a really good mechanic. Ask around. You can generally find a friend or neighbor who knows a truly wonderful and affordable mechanic.
For other repairs, do your homework. Get quotes for really big repairs, and don’t ask for the shortcuts if it means the repair won’t hold up.
Trap 6: Focusing More On Saving Than On Earning
Saving money on the things you need or want makes sense. Know what makes even more sense?
Increasing your income.
In the long run, if you want to have more money saved up for the big things you want in life, a larger income may do more for you than being frugal. You still can’t overspend when you have a larger income, but it will give you more flexibility.
Earning a larger income also helps as the cost of things go up. Frugality won’t beat out inflation. Increasing your income might.
Let’s assume your family’s monthly expenses are $3,000. That may be low or high, depending on the size of your family and where you live. The average cost of living depends on a lot of factors. This includes mortgage or rent, groceries, insurance, car payment, phone, utilities and so forth. All the things you have to spend money on every month.
You spend some time bringing some of the individual costs down. You find a way to cut your monthly expenses by $400. It was tedious but feels really good. You now have a little more flexibility in your budget.
The problem is that once those expenses are cut, there’s nowhere to go.
If you want to have more money available to your family, you have to earn more money. You have a number of options to do this.
Improve Your Career
For parents who work, putting some effort into improving your career can pay off very well.
This doesn’t have to be at your current job, of course. If your current job is going nowhere, the improvement you need to make to your career is to get into a better one. It’s time to upgrade your skills.
But if you have good opportunities at your current job, find out how to make the most of them. Look into what it takes to get the best raises. Figure out which promotion opportunities interest you. Discover how to get from where you are in your career to where you want to be.
Sometimes you can stay in your industry, but change employers to improve your career. Current employers don’t always value employees as they should. If you should be earning more in your current job, or you aren’t getting the promotions you think you deserve, it’s probably time to move on.
Don’t quit your job to look for better opportunities, however. Most employers want to see that you’re currently working. It often improves your value in their eyes.
Have Both Parents Work
If your family has one parent working while the other stays at home, having the stay at home mom or dad start working can be a quick way to increase the family’s income.
This can be difficult when the kids are young enough that childcare is an issue. It’s not at all uncommon that childcare expenses will take up an excessive part of the family’s income, or even exceed the total of one parent’s paycheck.
Sometimes this means it’s not worthwhile to have both parents work outside the home. Other times it means you need to look at the long term.
If the income issue is short term, for example, it can be worthwhile to take the financial hit for a time, with the understanding that a future increase in income will take care of that problem.
Other times you may need to look at alternative arrangements. I know families where one parent works during the day and the other at night while the children are young. It’s hard on the marriage seeing each other so little, but it can be a worthwhile sacrifice to keep the family financially afloat.
You may also be able to find friends or family who are willing to help with childcare as needed at little to no cost. Don’t push someone if they aren’t willing – this works best when someone comes forward to offer and you discuss the arrangements in detail.
Or you could always…
Start A Side Gig Or Find A Way To Work At Home
Starting a side gig or finding a way to work at home is my favorite way to help out a family’s income. You may or may not need more childcare when you do this, but you can plan this out to deal with the fact that you have kids.
Some side gigs and work at home jobs really aren’t good if you must have the children with you. You don’t want to drive for Lyft if you don’t have enough time without the kids.
Customer service jobs and other jobs over the telephone can be problematic if you have children as well. Some of these jobs require absolutely no background noise, or you’re likely to get fired. You don’t want to lose your job just because the kids didn’t understand that they needed to let you work.
Fortunately, there are a number of side gigs and other ways to work at home that are flexible enough that you can do them even with the kids around. Fewer distractions are better for productivity, but not an absolute must for some of these positions:
- social media management
- website testing
- software development
- website design
- selling crafts on Etsy or similar
- mystery shopping
While having kids underfoot can make these jobs more difficult, they don’t make it impossible. That’s a huge help when you need to earn money from home and can’t pay a sitter.
The younger you start investing in things such as your retirement, the better off you will be in the long run. Even stay at home moms and dads should plan for retirement whenever possible.
It’s rarely easy to find ways to add to your investments when you’re on a tight budget. But do what you can.
If you have a job that offers a 401k, for example, make the most of it. This is especially important if your employer gives matching contributions to whatever level. If you can max that out, the money is out of your reach before it hits your bank account, and that’s often easier to deal with.
If you have the self control, consider contributing to a Roth IRA or Spousal IRA if you have a spouse who doesn’t work. This money will make a huge difference to you later in life.
I hope these tips help you to avoid the most common frugality traps. It’s sensible to be frugal, so long as you don’t take it to extremes. Be sure to balance it with progress toward a higher income so that you don’t run out of ways to save money when you need them most.