10 Daily Extravagance Habits Frugal People Don’t Have

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. πŸ™‚

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.

Wasting Food

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. πŸ™‚

Break these daily extravagance habits and watch your bank account grow. πŸ™‚

(if you're in the mood for more frugal reading, here are some frugal things that are NOT worth doing!)

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

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  1. Carolyn says

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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..

  5. 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.

  6. Leah says

    Hi Jim,

    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! πŸ™‚ ) 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.


  7. 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.

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