I grew up in a frugal household. My parents would keep the heat low to save on the utility bills. We would bring a bag lunch each day and not spend the dollar or two it cost for lunch at school.
We did it because we needed to save up money for expensive flights home to Taiwan to visit our relatives.
After finding financial success as an adult, I still find myself keeping the same habits. I know that I keep the temperature relatively low in our house but now it's because that's what I'm used to. We can afford to keep it warmer. But my childhood home was cooler than average so I like it cooler. 🙂
Frugality is often borne out of necessity but eventually, it becomes habitual.
But just as frugality is habitual, extravagance is too. And we're not talking gold plated forks or silver spoon extravagance, those most people can avoid without difficulty. We're talking the small daily extravagances that, when you add them up, derail your budget and delay your goals.
The following are a series of daily extravagance habits that, if you want to be frugal and save your money for the things you want, you must break.
Allowing Others to Dictate Your Spending
Peer pressure is a powerful force, it's why so many people participate in gift exchanges or baby showers or wedding showers… when they otherwise would want nothing to do with it.
Less visible but likely more pervasive, how about going out to lunch with co-workers? It would seem like not a big deal but it is if you're only going out because they are and you want to seem like a “team player.”
Frugal people understand that they are responsible for their savings and so they should be responsible for where they are spending. Don't allow others, through peer pressure, to spend your money.
They Don't Fly (Budget) Blind
If you're frugal, you know the value and importance of a dollar.
But not all dollars are created equal. If you make $30,000 a year, the 1st dollar you spend is not the same as the 30,001st dollar. That 30,001st dollar will put you in debt.
And the only way to know that is if you keep and maintain a budget. You can pick any budgeting strategy you want. You can track it any way you want (personally, I use a budgeting spreadsheet because I'm old school). The important part is that you keep doing it.
Budgeting gives you the freedom to make informed decisions. Maybe you want to splurge and do something special… and only a budget will tell you if you're spending your 30,001st dollar.
Forgetting to Comparison Shop
Instant gratification is a difficult force to overcome but frugal people realize that you can slow things down and save yourself a lot of money in the process.
Comparison shopping, whether it's for a gallon of milk or a home renovation, is crucial. For staples, like milk and eggs, I just remember which stores offer the best deals and I don't comparison shop every time I buy them. I just keep an eye out and don't let myself overpay regularly.
For larger one time purchases, like renovation work, I always get three or more quotes. When you have three, you know where the market rate is for that work. If you have the time, get more but stop yourself at ten or if the process takes more than two weeks. At that point, you're not getting any more useful information and are just delaying things (which could be a sign you don't want to do it in the first place!).
Let the market forces work in your favor!
Overpaying for Convenience
Think about everything you buy — where are they the cheapest? In bulk.
Where are they the most expensive? Vending machines. Convenience stores.
Convenience is a wonderful thing. When you have a crying kid, are stressed out after a long day, convenience is a wonderful thing. It becomes a problem when convenience becomes common. You can buy a big bag of chips for $3 or you can buy small bags for $1 from the vending machine.
One time? No big deal, we're not sadists here. But all the time? No. Plan ahead and save that money for something important to you.
Ignoring Stock Up Opportunities
Unless you're strapped for space in your home, stocking up on non-perishable staples is a great way to save money regularly. If you see a sale on products you buy regularly, get more and stock up your pantry.
This is like the habit of not overpaying for convenience and speaks to how frugal-minded people are often thinking long term – what they'll need in a month or two or six.
Food waste is a huge problem. Between forgetting what's in your freezer and just letting leftovers go bad, throwing out food should be a cardinal sin. Truly frugal-minded folks have learned how to put systems in place to avoid this. (heck, meal planning is half the battle!)
For our freezer, we put a whiteboard outside of our freezer to list all the items we have inside. This lets us quickly determine what is old and must be used, like frozen meat (Foodsafety.gov has a list of safe storage times), so we don't discover a roast two years later.
For our leftovers, we keep a leftover calendar. It's part meal planning, for days in the future, and part reminder system of what leftovers we have in the fridge. It's a simple system, we write the meals we make each day and then cross it out when we've completely eaten it. Anything that isn't crossed out means it's in the fridge. Nothing remains for longer than a week.
This is not an exaggeration but we haven't discovered a moldy entree in our fridge in years. (we have found sides though, which we don't list on the leftover calendar)
Paying for Services You No Longer Use
Netflix is awesome and when I first subscribed, ages ago, I was on the 2 DVD package. Then I moved to one DVD and streaming. And then finally just streaming, even though having the DVD cost only like a dollar so more. A dollar is not much in the grand scheme but it's $12 a year for something I wasn't using. That makes it too much.
How many services do you pay for but don't use? How many services are you paying for simply because you haven't taken the time to cancel it?
You can cancel your cable, save a bundle, and find ways to invest that money instead!
Buying Cheap All The Time
There are some things that you shouldn't spend more on, like gasoline, and then there are some products where it pays to pay more. Buying something and having to replace it often is not a strategy for long term success. Not only could you save money by paying a little more, but you would also save the time it takes to replace those items.
I employ the Upgrade and Save Strategy to avoid this. It will require you to think about those areas in your life you could spend a little more money today to save more in the future.
Upgrade and Save can also help you avoid those unconscious spending habits you've developed over time. I purchased a Nespresso machine and am now always just 30 seconds away from a delicious espresso, which means I won't even be tempted to buy one for 3 times the price from a Starbucks.
Turning Special Treats into Common Events
Special treats are things you likely don't do regularly but have a positive effect on you, like going to the spa or getting ice cream. It's all too easy to turn special treats into common events and this has two negative effects. A special treat stops being special when it happens all the time. Special treats often cost money. Combine the two and you have a recipe for disaster, frugally speaking.
Preventing the Diderot Effect
The Diderot Effect is a social phenomenon where people buy things that complement what they already own. When they buy something that doesn't fit, oftentimes a higher quality or more luxurious, they feel a need to upgrade their existing things to match.
The classic story is of someone from ancient times who bought a fancy new scarlet dressing gown. It was nice but it didn't fit with the rest of the wardrobe.
So to make it all fit, they bought more items to make it all fit.
We're not talking accessories here, we're talking about new furniture and paintings because they looked so ratty next to the dress. (Kristin at Get Money has a great video about the Diderot Effect)
If this sounds ridiculous, think about the last time you bought a car and then all the things you needed for that car. Or the last time you moved into a new place and replaced some of your furniture because it no longer fit. 🙂
Break these daily extravagance habits and watch your bank account grow. 🙂
(if you're in the mood for more frugal reading, here are some frugal things that are NOT worth doing!)
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Mrs. Groovy says
Our special treat is the DQ mini-blizzard. Lucky I hate both the calories and the expense. I joined their “fan club” and only purchase when I receive a coupon. Even then it’s more than $4 for two. Great idea about the whiteboard – do you have a system for pantry or cupboard items?
Not for our pantry, thought we should because without it we have canned goods that are years old. 🙂
We did it with our chest freezer because it’s cold digging through it only to discover that something doesn’t exist, plus you have the waste of all that cold air escaping (albeit minimal given its a chest freezer). We should do it with our pantry though… good reminder!
One thing we will do is write “last one” on something when it’s the last one. That way when we use it up we know to buy more (this happens mostly with cereal, we’ll get a few boxes and mark one “last one”).
Our Next Life says
Paying for convenience is such a biggie — for Mr. ONL and I, we were willing to pay for convenience for a long time, and saw it as something we’d “earned” by working hard and becoming successful in our careers. (It was also so different from our modest childhoods, so felt like a treat.) But now we see the light and almost never pay for that privilege — plus, we enjoy doing things ourselves, and have learned to focus on the joy that comes from making something from scratch or figuring it out ourselves, instead of paying more to save a little time.
There’s something very empowering in being self-sufficient and learning how to do things, which is almost as valuable as saving money by doing it yourself.
Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor says
This is a great list! People often argue against the “latte factor”–that a small daily expense like a latte isn’t going to make or break your finances. But often the daily latte habit comes alongside other frequent extravagances that really add up. That latte rarely happens in a vacuum.
And I agree, the latte *rarely* happens in a vacuum.
Cindy S says
*I would add that the daily latte habit easily equals, in a year, the cost of purchasing a decent new vacuum 😀
Hahahah good point!
Phil Bradford says
I think wasting foods is the most common thing that fugal people should check. even I cannot always prevent this in my home, It was always been uncontrollable, I don’t know why
Try a leftover calendar, I just use one of the those neighborhood calendars you get from your real estate agent or something. We write down what was cooked when and avoid keeping anything over a week. If it looks like we won’t eat it, like a stew or something – we freeze a quart of it.
Food waste is a big problem for many folks and our way of combating it is with that calendar.
Now if someone could teach me how to use up all these little jars of sauces, that would be awesome. 🙂
[email protected] says
Great list! These are all things we try to avoid in our house too. Although, we have been paying a bit more for convenience lately. It’s hard not to with twin toddlers. 🙂
Sometimes it’s about keeping your head above water and retaining your sanity… without that, what is money good for? 🙂
My wife has fought me on most of these for the past 10 years. She’s always been the frugal one. Now I think I over-frugal her 🙂
Going out to lunch with my team mates is still something I feel I have to do, sadly 🙁
Haha that’s great!
It’s not every day is it?
Good list! As far as leftovers go, I have two sons aged 10 & 13, so we do YOYO (you’re on your own) dinners and Smorgasbord at least once a week. If I’m seeing that something’s not being eaten, I try to freeze it or have my hubby & I take it to work. But no solution is foolproof!
We do it too – my wife calls it “catch is catch can” (I don’t know why, but I find the term funny so it has stuck).
That’s what my parents always called it too! Thanks for the great tips.
You’re welcome! 🙂
Pat Burden says
Tonight I made a roast chicken dinner. Gravy, mashed potatoes, etc. But there are only 2 of us, so lots of leftovers. So we make up “tv dinners” – really just a complete dinner plate. And we make them up until the food runs out. Wrap them really well and freeze them. If one of us has a meeting or is not going to be home for dinner, the other one takes out a plate the night before to thaw and then “zap” a wonderful meal!
This is a great idea, we’ve never made TV dinners but there were stretches when I’d make breakfast burritos and things like that. Very easy to batch prepare and then in the morning, just as good after the microwave (and sometimes with a little toasting in a pan to get the outside crispy.
Food waste was always a problem for me until I decided to limit my trips to the grocery store. This forced me to eat what I already had at home. It helps if you dislike grocery shopping as much as I do.
I don’t mind shopping, but I hate waiting in line. 🙂
Love this! I cringe when I see co-workers who are struggling financially buy multiple sodas from the vending machine daily when they could be buying in bulk at the store and putting them in the company fridge instead. I take my lunch to work probably 99% of the time and most of my work friends are friends because we met in the lunch room. Surrounding yourself with people of a similar mindset can help significantly. One friend and I consistently have the same produce & protein in our lunch because that’s what was on sale that week, it’s really funny, people think we shop together it happens so often!
Yes! What’s surprising is how routine buying from the vending machine seems to be – you know you’re going to do it, so why not plan ahead?
I asked one lady why she bought from the vending machine instead of store and she said she liked the shape of the bottle better, it was short instead of tall, but held the same amount of liquid!
That’s crazy. And… a little sad.
Years ago my dh was told that brown bagging is a rich mans lunch! All the successful people seem to brown bag & poor people eat out. It drives me crazy when people I work with complain how poor they are & then go spend $6 a day eating out! Love your list.
mandy cat says
I come by my talents with leftovers honestly. In my family, the idea was that if something couldn’t be turned into a salad, soup, a casserole or an omelet, there had been faulty staff work somewhere. After 20 years, I’m still surprising my husband with what can legally qualify as “breakfast.”
I have to admit I’m not as prudent when it comes to keeping track of what’s in our freezers, occasionally encountering UFO’s — Unidentified Frozen Objects.
Leo T. Ly @ Isaved5k.com says
I definitely agree that frugality does become your habit if you practice it long enough. Even though I am quite money conscious, wasting food is a problem in my household. I definitely can use the labelling trick to cut down on the food waste.
bruni b says
my sister is one who eats out about 3 times a day..shes always crying broke..always miserable cause she has no money to pay her bills on time.so i suggested several times take lunch from home stop buying soda set a budget..i just stopped cause she just does not listen..now i just ignore her..
Cat Lady says
As a parent, I find spending more because I’m at the store, I want to buy my child a book, just because. or buying pouched baby food after giving up months of getting up at dawn to steam, pack and freeze my own purees. Ill admit paying for convenience is worth it sometimes.
Jim Wang says
It’s challenging to hold back when the thing you want has obvious benefits just beyond satisfying some urge. Buying a book is a good thing, it supports reading and learning, and it’s not like you’re looking to buy a candy bar or some other more “pure” indulgence.
I’ve been a frugal minimalist for years and have a great tip for Frig leftovers/sauces. I keep a permanent marker on the side of the fridge and when I open something I just mark the date on it. Say a bottle of pasta sauce or a bbq sauce. When I weekly clean the fridge, I pass by these and if something is lasting “almost too long” it goes on my list for menuplanning that week. I also keep a leftover refrigerator plastic basket, where any leftovers that can’t be split and frozen (and marked on my freezer board! 🙂 ) are stored, and these are used for lunches or snacks but again, these containers are dated on the outside with a DRY ERASE marker. It takes a minute and you always know what’s going on in the frig. Otherwise all those little bottles add up and age and then you end up buying new because how old is that bbq sauce bottle anyway?
Thanks for you good tips, great to visit.
Maud G Menuau says
Wow amazing tips for not wasting food, a big NO for me coming from a poor country and being raised on a middle class household living the frugal style. Thanks coz sometimes I felt like being just “cheap” in front of others.