Frugality gets a bad rap these days.
Too often folks assume that being frugal is the same as being a cheap, miserly skinflint.
Of course, frugality means different things to different people, but at its basest definition, it's about being wise about where you spend your money and time. I like to simplify things, so to me, frugality is the art of wisely saving money.
Notice how I say “wisely” here – and for good reason.
There's a lot of bad advice out there for folks wanting to live frugally. Some are just not worth the time and effort. But some are not only bad ideas but can also be really dangerous!
Here are four frugal living tips that aren't worth it – and what you can do instead.
When I moved into my house a few years ago, we were determined to save money by DIYing most of our repairs. That included crazy stuff like electrical and plumbing updates. I admit I was skeptical, but my husband said it would be a great way to save money.
That's how our kitchen ended up flooding and the hubster nearly killed himself fixing electrical outlets.
There's a fine line between “money-saving” and “downright dangerous” when it comes to repairs. I've heard many people say, “Psh, don't call a plumber! Just do it yourself! You'll save so much money!”
That works fine and dandy for, say, a clogged toilet. But rewiring your home? No, dude, call the electrician. There's a huge risk to safety, as well as the good chance that you won't do the job correctly.
In fact, there’s a good chance that DIY repairs will cost you more money in the long run. Let’s say the pipe under your sink starts leaking water everywhere. You tighten the pipe and maybe even duct tape it for good measure. Problem solved! Just kidding, it starts leaking even more the next day, soaking your cabinets and dripping onto your hardwood floors, causing pricey damage to your home.
If you don’t know how to fix something the right way, call a pro. It’ll cost money, but it will help you avoid expensive repairs plus a professional’s fees.
What to do instead:
Know what you can and can't DIY. Some people are super handy and have zero trouble installing toilets or repairing car engines themselves. These people are in the minority. Most of us need to know when it's time to call a professional. If you don't know how to do something that potentially has deadly consequences, or that will cause a catastrophe if done incorrectly, fork over the money and save yourself the trouble.
I hate spending money, but it's not frugal to compromise on either safety or quality with repairs. Spend the money here, even when it hurts. You can save money elsewhere on things you can easily control, like grocery costs.
If you'd like to save money on home repairs specifically, think about getting a home warranty. Sometimes new home purchases will automatically come with warranties, and I encourage you to use them. Our home had a warranty and I had $1,000 worth of repairs done for two $70 service fees.
I used to be an extreme couponer, so put down your pitchforks, coupon-lovers! A lot of people recommend the practice of extreme couponing because it actually does work. You're able to score sweet discounts on items for nearly free.
I became addicted to the rush of extreme couponing in the early days of my debt freedom journey. I figured I could bulk buy essentials like snacks, shampoo, and medicine to save more money in the long run. I religiously clipped coupons from the three copies of the Sunday paper I purchased each week. I saved all sale catalogs and devoted hours each week to the art of extreme couponing.
After I couponed for several months, I realized I had a problem. I'd started stocking up on things we didn't need. I adored the rush of saving money, even if it meant spending money first.
This is a common trap and the main reason extreme couponing doesn't always work. Couponing is still part of my routine, but I don't let it rule my life. It's not worth spending 15 hours a week on extreme couponing just to get French's mustard for half off.
The only way I see extreme couponing as a viable option is if you have a surplus of time and little money.
What to do instead:
Do regular couponing instead of extreme couponing. You don't have to obsess over sales and weekly ads to save money.
I only clip coupons for items that are already on my shopping list. If it's a really good deal, I'll clip two coupons and buy more of the item to stock up for later, but that's as far as I go. This ensures that I'm not buying things I don't need.
Keep your couponing strategy simple to save more time, which is the most precious asset we have.
Cutting insurance costs
Insurance is a hotly-debated topic in the FIRE world. I'm firmly in the pro-insurance camp because, well, a lot of things can go wrong when you don't have insurance.
My mom passed away unexpectedly when I was 19. She didn't have a will or any kind of life insurance, and it freakin' sucked trying to cover funeral expenses and bills. I also had a friend who took the coverage on her vehicle to the bare minimum to save money while in college. The next month she was in an accident that her bare-bones insurance wouldn't cover, and her car was undrivable while she saved for repairs.
I get it: paying for insurance every month is really, really annoying. But I've seen what happens when you don't have insurance, and the reality is very ugly.
What to do instead:
Paying for insurance sucks, but there are things you can do to decrease your monthly bill.
First and foremost, evaluate your provider's rates every year. Even if you've been with the same insurance company for years, that doesn't mean they have the best rates for you.
Second, call your insurer and straight-up ask for discounts. I do this once a year and you would be amazed what discounts they give when you ask. My husband and I both took defensive driving for $50 total to slash $400 from our car insurance over the next few years.
Third, update your insurer when things change. For example, I started working remotely this year. Insurers love to hear that, because it means I drive substantially less. I told my insurer about the update, and I got a little discount.
Rice and beans diets
Across the money blogiverse I've found people who advocate darn near starving themselves to save money. I mean, I guess this approach works? But what kind of life are you living?
Frugality isn't about bare-bones living. It's about making wise choices while living well. Rationing your meals for the sake of saving money crosses over the line into “cheap” territory. Unless you are genuinely experiencing poverty, this is not the way to live.
Our bodies need a variety of nutrients to stay healthy. Limiting yourself to just a handful of affordable ingredients, many of which are high in fat or starch, is a bad move for your health. In fact, over the long run, these types of diets tend to cost people more in health expenses.
What to do instead:
Life is too short to eat bad food. The good news is that you don't have to subsist on only rice and beans to save money on food. Heck, I cut my grocery bill in half and eat like a queen.
The key to cheap eating is balancing cheap staples (rice, beans, etc.), loading on fruits or veggies, developing a homemade sauce for flavor, and topping with one small serving of protein.
For example, a popular dinner in our home is a bed of white rice, feta burger patties, stir-fried cabbage and broccoli, and a tomato-cream sauce. Y'all, this meal is delicious and ridiculously cheap.
When you focus on whole cooking, the flavor and savings come naturally.
The bottom line
Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be frugal. Sometimes people tend to cross the line between ‘frugal' and do things that just aren't worth it. Evaluate frugal living tips to make sure that they won't cost you more time or put your health and safety at risk in the name of saving a buck. Do what works best for you, but know when to cut your losses and just spend the money.