What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done to save a buck? More ridiculous than arguing with a grocery cashier and her manager for a good 10 minutes over whether it was store policy to cap that 65 cent coupon at $1 after doubling it, or take off the full double value of $1.30? Let us know in the comments!
We’ve made no secret that we’re not naturally the most frugal people. Our only real frugal habit is keeping our house very cold in the winter, and sometimes we even commit the most grave frugal sin: opting to pay more to get something to better fit our triple bottom line ideal. Examples: paying more to buy organic produce, to buy goods from the bulk bins to avoid purchasing unnecessary packaging, or to support a local store or company instead of a big box store or online behemoth. We’d worry about having our frugal card revoked if we ever had one in the first place. And — fun fact — we’re much more likely to behave frugally when we’re talking about natural resources (conserving water, gasoline, natural gas or electricity, or attempting to avoid creating garbage that goes to landfills, etc.) than we are when we’re just talking about money.
We constantly come across new tips on how to get to “optimal frugality,” and while we think it’s great to continually try to optimize your spending, something that we now know to be true is that there’s never a point of ultimate optimization, a point when we have everything figured out perfectly. Rather, life is an ongoing process of subtracting things and habits that no longer (or never did) add value to our lives, adding other things that do, experimenting with some possible new habits and tweaking pretty much everything.
Over the years, we’ve done a whole bunch of things to save money, some of which we still practice today, and quite a few of which we’ve abandoned for any number of reasons… like arguing with underpaid cashiers over insultingly small amounts of money. And looking back, some of the things we did seem downright foolish. Others seem well-intentioned, but ultimately didn’t pan out as planned. So we’ve stopped doing a lot of those things, and are happier for it.
Frugal Habits We’ve Happily Dropped
Our point in sharing this list is not to say that any of these habits are bad ones. But rather to say that sometimes it’s worth considering more than just the money cost of something. Like how much time it takes to save that money, how much driving all over town, how much it might affect your health for the worse, etc., etc., etc. In other words, it’s always worth asking, “Is this habit adding value to my life?” and listening carefully to the answer.
With all of that said, here are the frugal habits we’ve dropped, and not missed for one second:
Shopping at Costco — It’s pretty much Money Saving 101 where they tell you that you have to shop at Costco if you want to save money on your food and household products. And we did it for a while. But we always ended up with more of any given item than we really needed (along with more packaging than I was okay with), as well as the occasional impulse buy, which in Costco quantities is a big deal. Conclusion: It’s not a good deal if you don’t use it all.
Couponing — I could write a novel about this one, but I’ll just focus on the tip of the iceberg. I went through one of those extreme couponing phases, and definitely learned that it works. You can save tons and tons of money, often getting things free, if you’re willing to do two things: 1. Spend significant amounts of time finding coupons and matching them up to sales at local stores, and 2. Eat mostly the foods that have coupons, meaning highly processed and marketed foods that contain little to no nutrition. Ultimately we decided we weren’t okay with either of those stipulations, but not until after we spent countless hours finding deals (and sometimes arguing with cashiers about them) and many months eating highly processed crap that made us truly understand the old adage, “You are what you eat.” Conclusion: Health and sanity are worth more than a few dollars.
Regularly shopping at multiple stores — Even before the couponing phase, I’ve always been a price-conscious shopper, and I’ve long been aware that some stores have better deals on some items, while others have better deals on different things. For years, I went to like five different grocery stores to get everything at the best price, which now feels like madness. I have such limited free time, and the last thing I want to do is spend it driving all over town, burning more gasoline and wasting hours, just to save a few dollars. Now we do most of our shopping at just one store, but we rotate which store that is. We know we’re spending a little more on things here and there, but we’re saving tons of time, which feels worth it. Conclusion: Time is more finite than money. We try to remind ourselves to act accordingly.
Attending events for free food — There was a time, early in our careers, when you could get both of us to show up for something just by saying, “There will be free food there.” It was like moths to the flame. At a certain point, though, we didn’t like feeling like mooches, and wanted to start working toward self-sufficiency. Conclusion: Self-sufficiency tastes better than greasy appetizers.
Paying cash — After I got out of debt, I didn’t trust myself with credit cards for a while. The solution was to pay for everything with cash or, worst case, with a debit card. And while that did for sure help teach me better spending habits, we realized after a few years that we were missing out on some pretty significant credit card points. So after I’d gotten over my credit card trust issues, and we knew we could pay cards off in full every month, we switched to putting everything we possibly could on our airline miles and hotel points cards. Bonus: That made tracking our spending loads easier than when we used more cash. Conclusion: Free travel from points is pretty much the best thing ever.
Buying the cheapest products — We definitely fell into that trap for years, especially when we were renovating our first place, of thinking that the best thing we could do for our finances was to spend as little as possible on stuff, and therefore to buy the cheapest option for any given product. I can’t tell you how many times we left Home Depot with the very cheapest option of something, only to have it do a lousy job, or break, or not work at all. (Thank goodness for their liberal return policy!) Same goes for clothes — if we absolutely needed a piece of clothing for work, we’d hit up H&M or Old Navy and come home with something that lasted approximately two washes before disintegrating. We should have learned the lesson faster than we did, but eventually we learned that it pays to pay more sometimes, and even better if you can get something secondhand, from an era when things were made to last longer than the junk crowding the shelves of today. Conclusion: Buy for durability, not the lowest price.
More Frugal Habits In Our Future
Of course, on the flipside, there are frugal habits we wish we had more time to do, but currently don’t. We expect more or all of these habits to move into our rotation after we quit our jobs in 20 months or less and have more time on our hands:
- Making all of our own home cleaning and toiletry products — right now we make some but not all
- Working a weekly shift on a local farm in exchange for a CSA share
- Hanging up our laundry to air dry outside
- Preserving more foods — I’ve made a few batches of salsa, tomato sauce and jam the last two summers, but dream of a pantry overflowing with preserved goodness
- Doing all home and car maintenance ourselves — we still rely on the pros a lot because of our limited time, but can’t wait to change that
What Frugal Habits Are In Your Past and Future?
We’d love to hear from you guys — what frugal habits have you ditched because they were too much trouble? What can’t you wait to do when you have more time in the future? Any embarrassing tales you wish to confess when you’ve behaved badly to save a few pennies, like my story with the cashier? Spill it! :-)
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Categories: we've learned