Do you feel like you spend time and effort saving money… only to find your bank balance stagnating?
You might be faux frugal.
This serious condition affects even the most well-meaning Penny Hoarders.
Here are the most common symptoms — and the necessary treatments to get you back on track to meet your savings goals and get smart with your money.
1. Shopping the Clearance Rack for Items You Don’t Really Want
At first glance, a pair of shoes marked down from $50 to $24 seems like a great deal. You’ll save more than 50%!
But ask yourself, do you like those shoes enough to pay $50 for them? Or were you more excited about the deal?
Sometimes the thrill of the hunt influences how much we actually like (and will use) an item.
Recent news stories also call into question the trustworthiness of these markdowns. There’s a good chance those shoes were never sold for $50 and the so-called markdown is just to trick customers into thinking they’ve found a deal.
The treatment: No, you don’t have to completely swear off the clearance rack. But try to remove the deal mentality from your decision-making process.
Ask yourself: Is the item worth the amount you’re paying, independent of the original price? Will you use it enough to justify the price?
2. Spending a Fortune on Dinner Ingredients
There’s no denying that cooking at home can save you serious money.
But the quickest way to sabotage your food budget is to choose recipes that call for obscure or expensive ingredients.
Paella is delicious, but your Wednesday night dinner isn’t saving you pennies if you’re paying $12 for a few pinches of saffron (which I’ve done, unfortunately).
You’ll also want to stay away from ingredients you won’t be able to use in other dishes. While $4 for a bottle of chili-garlic sauce doesn’t seem like a lot, if you’re only using two tablespoons on one dish, that’s not exactly cost-effective.
The treatment: Stick with recipes that use inexpensive ingredients and items you know you’ll use again. Save the splurges and specialty items for special occasions.
3. Buying Deal Coupons You Won’t Use
Just like finding deals on merchandise can tank your budget, it’s easy to waste money on deal coupons simply because you love the idea of a bargain.
But if you’re anything like me, sometimes the hard part is actually using the vouchers. I have a voucher for Bikram yoga I’ve been trying to convince myself to use for about eight months.
The treatment: Don’t swear off Groupon altogether. Sometimes you’ll find legit deals on there! But don’t go all “Supermarket Sweep” on it, either.
Before you hit “buy,” ask yourself one question: Am I excited enough about this deal to use it in the next four weeks?
If the answer is yes, chances are it’s a deal worth grabbing.
4. Signing Up for Credit Cards to Get the Rewards
I’m ashamed to admit I signed up for a credit card in college just to get a free beanie. That seems like the lamest reward possible, but at the time I was excited about it.
However, these rewards often come with annual fees, high interest rates and other fine print.
You also want to keep on eye on how your number of credit cards is affecting your credit. And be careful about opening new cards if you’re planning to apply for a loan in the near future.
The treatment: Proceed with caution when it comes to rewards cards. Read the fine print to be sure you’ll be getting your money’s worth.
Does the reward outweigh the annual fee? Will you remember to use that card enough to benefit from the cash-back percentage?
5. Getting Carried Away at the Craft Store
Pinterest has brainwashed us all into believing we can handcraft any home decor item our heart desires (and for a fraction of the cost!). And sometimes we can.
But too often I find myself spending a small fortune at Michaels.
Sure, it’s $10 less than it would cost to buy a similar item, but I’m a terrible crafter; I end up with a wonky finished product. That, or I never actually make the craft and I end up donating the supplies years later.
The treatment: Be honest with yourself about your crafting abilities and the likelihood of actually completing the project.
Before you check out at the craft store, add up the cost of your items and decide if it’s still a good deal.
And don’t forget to factor in enjoyment. If you’re actually going to have a good time making the project, that matters. If you’re going to stress out, think about that, too.
6. Opening Store Credit Cards
We’ve all been there: As you’re checking out, the cashier asks, “Do you want to open a store card to save 15%?”
Sometimes I find this question hilarious. Like, when I’m spending $26 total, so my savings would be around $2.50.
But on slightly larger purchases, it can be tempting to open a card and save some money right then and there.
The trouble is, it’s easy to wind up carrying a balance on store cards, and interest rates tend to be quite high. While you may save a few dollars when you open the card, you’re more likely to pay back the rewards in interest over the long run.
The treatment: Avoid store cards unless the initial savings are significant (think, big-ticket purchases like furniture or appliances) and you can pay off the balance before you’re charged interest.
Your Turn: What pitfalls have you encountered in trying to be frugal?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C., trying to save her pennies and avoid making bad money choices for good reasons.