How Frugal Is TOO Frugal?

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frugal living, extreme frugality, saving money, financial planning, relationships, family

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Kelly Gurnett. Kelly runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

You’ve probably heard the horror stories of the overly frugal:

  • The people on Extreme Cheapskates who urinate into water bottles to save a few cents on their water bill from flushing too many times.
  • The parents on Extreme Couponing who bring their young children with them to dumpster-dive for unused inserts.
  • Your crazy Great-Aunt Margaret who rinses out Ziplock baggies so she can reuse them again and again and again.

Most of us realize that going to these extreme lengths borders on being clinically frugal. But, what if some of your own savings practices are actually doing you (and your budget) more harm than good?

Here are some areas where you should be careful that your attempts to save money aren’t actually backfiring on you:

The Bargain Hunter’s Wastefulness

I study weekly pharmacy circulars for deals and do a run each week to get the good stuff. But fortunately for me, I live near what we like to call “the trifecta”—a double traffic circle (yes, those do exist) that has a CVS, a Walgreens, and a Rite Aid all on its perimeter. So it takes me one spin around the circles and about 10-15 minutes of my time to hit up a full week’s worth of deals, all 5 minutes from my home.

If, on the other hand, I lived in a remote area where everything was very spread out—or if I decided that I was going to add Target, Kmart, and a handful of other stores to my weekly run—my cost-to-savings ratio would start to plummet. People who drive all around town grabbing one sale item from this store, one sale item from that wind up wasting so much time and gas money that they basically nullify the few dollars they’ve managed to save.

Similarly, if you’re spending hours each week cutting coupons and comparing them to store circulars, but you’re not netting 99.9% savings like those mavens on Extreme Couponing, you may want to consider employing your time on other ways to cut back or earn a little extra.

The Stingy Rebound Binge

Just like someone who deprives themselves of something cold-turkey (smoking, caffeine, any food that isn’t a vegetable), depriving yourself too much in terms of your budget isn’t healthy. We all need to have a few indulgences to keep us sane and happy, and the same goes for your expenses.

When you’re on a savings crusade, it can seem like a great idea to cut out all eating out expenses whatsoever, or to totally eliminate the movies you and your spouse used to see every weekend. But, you have to allow yourself a few exceptions, or else you’ll get so frustrated from deprivation you’ll wind up losing it one day and spending twice as much as you normally would.

So, whatever you’re cutting back on, do it with a few little “treats” built in. Don’t go out to see movies every weekend, but maybe allow yourself one night a month at the cheap theater using movies coupons, sneaking in your own candy and bottled drinks. (Inexpensive and with a little of the thrill of being a daredevil!) Cut back on big dining out expenses like full meals, but allow yourselves smaller treats like a trip out for ice cream or a relaxing afternoon at a coffee shop.

The Cheapskate’s Extra Cost

There are some things I am more than happy to pay a little more for—things like shoes, clothes (the perennial staples, not this season’s fashions), home repairs, and car repairs. This is because I’ve come to realize that sometimes paying more upfront will save you more down the line.

Those “2 for $9.99” pairs of sandals I bought from Payless were cute, and they were $9.99, but they barely lasted me the summer. One good trek around an amusement park for a day, and they were shredded. The slightly more expensive sandals I bought at DSW ($60 marked down to $30) have lasted me several summers and are still going strong.

The plumber who charged the going rate to fix our running toilet fixed our running toilet—then came back a week later when another part unrelatedly broke and told me he’d write it off as part of his original work, because he knew we were just starting off and it would suck to have to pay an additional $100 for one little part.

The plumber I found on one of those half-off deal sites fixed our kitchen sink leak, which took up 2 of the 3 hours we had purchased at half-price. He then told us he would owe us the additional hour any time we needed something else done. We’ve tried calling him 7 times since then (including setting up 2 appointments he never showed for) and are considering call the deal site to get our money back.

Long story short? Sometimes paying more now and will save you more later. Don’t cut back on price if it’s going to significantly cut back on quality or durability.

How about you all? When do you think frugality becomes too extreme?

***Photo courtesy of


  1. Canadianbudgetbinder says:

    We are frugal but frugal with things that are important to both of us as everyone will have areas that they save money on where others would question, why? We can't do extreme couponing in Canada but if that's what people like or need to do then so be it, I don't judge nor care what others chose to do with their life. All that matters is that we are happy, we do things together as a couple, we budget in some fun each week and love each other. All the rest will come. Sometimes the focus is on more, more and more.. and less about what we have already. Cheers and great post. Mr.CBB
    My recent post Why Canadians Love FREE Product Samples?

    • CordeliaCallsIt says:

      Exactly! It's not too frugal if you enjoy it or if it brings you benefits. It's all a matter of each person's (or family's) needs and wants. Some tradeoffs make sense for some while they don't for others. Frugality is a way of life that can be enjoyable if done right. Sounds like you're on precisely the right track. 🙂

  2. Ornella@Moneylicious says:

    I'm frugal in areas that are not a necessity to me and not frugal in areas that I need and sometimes want. I've met people who are frugal in some areas but spend time traveling. I do think frugalitiy becomes to extreme if you are not able to enjoy your life and splurge from time to time. Life is more than money.
    My recent post Betterment Interview with Jon Stein

    • CordeliaCallsIt says:

      So true. There are certain things I don't “need” but that I allow myself for the sake of happiness: the occasional dinner out with my husband, a modest road trip “vacation” each summer, etc.

      Being wise financially isn't all about scrimping and saving every last cent you can–it's about ensuring that you have enough to live the life that will make you happiest. I think a lot of people lose sight of the fact that some things are worth spending a little more for–you can always cut back in other areas that mean less to you. Frugality can be tough, but it should never make you miserable.

  3. There's a difference between frugal and cheap….
    My recent post Are Goals Necessary to Succeed?

  4. I have moved back home to look after my aging father in his early 80s after the death of my mother….He is driving me up the wall with his penny pinching e.g.

    – He would have about 15 huge buckets which he use to collect rain and washing machine water and then had to carry these heavy buckets into the toilet to use them for flushing.
    – He would have a small bucket sitting in the kitchen sink all the time. we only have one small kitchen sink. To collect waste water for further reuse etc
    – I have taken over most of the groceries shopping, but he still goes to the wet market sometimes during closing time to buy rejected vegetables because they are cheaper. If he buys any groceries…he would buy the cheapest meats and bread he can find, regardless of taste.
    – He thinks $5 to $10 dollars of water usage a month is too much and must cut back
    – He thinks that spending $40 a month on electricity is too much!
    – He would not buy a cup of coffee outside because it too expensive (at 80 censt per cup)
    – He would limit his food intake…and just have rice with sauce most time and starve himself till his ribs shows! to save money on food

    He is not poor and have over around $3 million dollars worth of assets and a regular monthly income of about $3,000 Singapore dollars from rental and contributions from his childrens..

    Is he sick….he is always saying I am using too much water and electricity….even I only use a little netbook and nothing else most days and a short 10mins shower every other day (the other shower taken at the gym) and watch my water usage during cooking!!!

    He is driving me up the wall!!!

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