Frugality Gone Wrong: 10 Times You’re Not Really Saving Money

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Every now and then, well-intentioned plans to save money simply fail.

You think you’re following the frugality playbook only to have it backfire. It’s when trying to be cheap ends up being expensive.

It happens to the best of us.

10 Frugality Fails to Avoid

Here are 10 situations where trying to pinch pennies can cost you money.

1. Letting Meal Prep Go to Waste

Preparing meals in advance means you won’t be tempted to grab fast food or order takeout whenever you don’t feel like cooking. But there’s always the potential of wasting a week’s worth of chopped veggies or a container full of chicken breasts if they’ve gone bad or you just can’t stomach eating the same meal several days in a row.

That’s just tossing money in the garbage.

The same thing can happen when you try to be thrifty by buying in bulk — but end up throwing out half of what you bought because it’s too much.

The remedy: Meal prep a few days out rather than for an entire week. Store food properly and freeze what you won’t eat soon. Make use of sauces and spices to add variety to staples like chicken and rice.

2. Spending a Fortune on Dinner Ingredients

Cooking at home is usually a much cheaper option than eating out at restaurants — except, of course, when you go overboard buying gourmet groceries and getting 10 unique ingredients for each recipe.

When you total everything up, you realize you could afford to dine out after all.

The remedy: Choose recipes that include inexpensive pantry staples you already have at home. If you need to buy new ingredients, make sure you can use them in multiple recipes.

3. Buying Stuff Just Because It’s on Sale

Sometimes the thrill of saving money can cloud your judgment. You load up your grocery cart with BOGO items, grab clothes off the clearance rack and buy Groupon deals — without much thought to whether you actually need or want it all.

You can easily end up blowing your budget chasing deals and discounts.

The remedy: Before you buy something that’s on sale, ask yourself if it’s something you really want or if you’re just buying it because of the deal. If there was no discount, would you still want it? Do you have a plan to actually use what you’re buying? Is it in your budget? Budgeting methods like kakeibo and values-based budgeting can help you become more mindful about how you spend.

4. Driving All Over to Find the Lowest Price on Gas

Sure, you can save 10 cents per gallon filling up your tank at a gas station on the other side of town, but you’re going to waste gas getting there and back.

The remedy: Use a gas-price app, like GasBuddy, to find the cheapest prices for fuel along your normal driving route. Take advantage of fuel rewards programs and discounted gift cards as other ways to save money on gas.

5. Going Carless Only to Spend More Money Getting Around

Car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance… it all adds up. Ditching your vehicle seems like it could help you save.

However, if you’re hailing Uber every day and renting a car every other weekend, those costs might be even more expensive.

The remedy: Before you go carless, make a plan for how you’ll get around and what the costs will be. Research public transportation options in your area. Consider carpooling or biking to work. If giving up your car is not the best option, you can still save money by swapping your current vehicle for one that’s more fuel efficient or that comes with a lower payment.

6. Buying a Used Car Without Doing Due Diligence

You’ll lose money in depreciation just by driving a new car off the lot. That’s what we’re always told.

Buying a used car isn’t much better, though, especially with today’s inflated prices. Buying used means your vehicle may not be in optimal condition. You could potentially drive off the lot only to have your check engine light come on. And if you buy from a shady seller and don’t take the time to really examine the car and dig into its history, you may end up with a money pit.

The remedy: When you buy a used car, where you shop matters. You can find certified pre-owned vehicles at legit dealerships that have been thoroughly inspected and may come with some type of warranty coverage. Check the Carfax report for accident history and past maintenance information. Conduct a thorough test drive and try to get your mechanic to inspect the car, if possible.

7. Signing Up for Free Trials and Forgetting to Cancel

It makes sense for a frugal person to take advantage of free trial offers. And for the first week or 30 days, everything is great.

The problem arises when you forget to cancel your free trials before the free period is over and you end up being charged for stuff you never intended to pay for.

The remedy: If you can cancel a free trial immediately and still take advantage of the service until the trial period ends, do that. If not, set calendar alerts to remind yourself to cancel before you get charged. Signing up for a free trial with a virtual credit card is another way to avoid getting looped into auto pay after the free trial ends.

8. Losing Time and Money on DIY Projects

Say you drop $20 on equipment and supplies at a craft store to make some home decor piece you could get at HomeGoods for $30.

You think you’re saving money — except your completed project turns out nothing like what you intended. It goes straight into the trash. On top of that, you’ve wasted hours trying to do-it-yourself, and we all know time is money. Of course, the bigger the project, the more money you could lose doing it wrong.

The remedy: Don’t overspend on supplies, and for ambitious home projects, know what to DIY vs. what requires a professional..

9. Replacing Cable With a Bunch of Subscription Services

You’re sick of paying over $100 for cable so you decide to finally cut the cord. But in its place, you sign up for Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Sling TV and more — until what you pay for streaming exceeds your old cable bill.

The remedy: Ask yourself what content really matters to you and limit yourself to streaming services that offer the most value for you. And check out these free TV apps that’ll keep you entertained without having to spend a dime.

10. Getting Rewards Credit Cards and Going into Debt

Rewards credit cards lure you in with perks like cash back or points to use toward future purchases. Store cards hook you with the promise to save a percentage off each time you swipe.

But if you carry a balance on those cards, what you pay back in interest could easily negate the rewards and savings.

The remedy: Check out these questions to ask yourself before getting a new credit card for the rewards. If you do get a new card, treat it like cash and only charge what you can afford to pay off.

Reporting from contributor Lyndsee Simpson was included in this article. Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Deputy editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors updated this article.