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Why “Saving Money” Usually Means Spending Money, and the Mindset We Foster Instead

Based on the number of emails I’ve gotten on the subject, we’re not the only ones tired of reading articles and blog posts purporting to be about “saving money,” which actually offer tips to spend slightly less. Those two things are not the same.

Sure, those articles might be about how to spend less money than you might otherwise spend if you indulge that “want,” but they’re still encouraging you to buy things you don’t need and might not otherwise purchase.

I humbly offer two personal stories as my own proof of this:

When I shopped with coupons, I bought more

Early in my saving days, I fell into the black hole that is extreme couponing. I don’t love talking about it, because it’s embarrassing the lengths I went to, the arguments I had with cashiers over coupon rules, and some of the unhealthy crap I bought just because there was a “really good deal.”

If you’ve ever taken a close look at coupons, you know that there are rarely coupons on healthy staples like fruits, vegetables, milk and eggs. Instead, coupons show up for packaged foods, often the most unhealthy ones of all. The job of the couponer is to match up manufacturers’ coupons with store coupons and store sales, and when you hit that magical combo when all three apply at once, you buy as much of that thing as you have coupons for, often regardless of what it is. And when you find that magic, you feel like you’re beating the game, getting a package of pasta that’s usually $2 for 20 cents, or a $6 box of cereal for a buck, to name a few of the healthier finds buried amid the junk food. Beating the game is an addictive feeling, and it’s tempting to chase more deals.

I shake my head thinking of some of the crap I bought in those days, just based on the deal. And sure, it was cheap. But would I have bought it without the coupons? Hell to the no. The idea of “saving money” and of getting the best deal drove me to buy more than we otherwise would have, including stuff we definitely didn’t need and possibly didn’t even want.

When I blogged about saving money, I spent more

Once upon a time, I had a different blog (definitely not one you’ve heard of) that occasionally touched on the subject of doing things inexpensively. Which is a nice idea and all, but blogging about saving money made me feel like I needed to continually find ways to save more money, which meant… spending more money to “save” more money. Without realizing it, I put pressure on myself to keep sharing more tips, which meant continually increasing my spending, all in the name of frugality. When I realized the pattern, I knew it was time to retire that blog.

– – – – – –

There’s so much that’s alluring about “saving money”: the thrill of getting the deal, the conquest of succeeding in getting the very best price, the relief of knowing you could have spent more but didn’t, and so on. It’s often something we don’t recognize consciously, which is where the danger lies.

If we aren’t conscious that “saving money” in the popular context truly means spending it, we’re far less able to save for real. 

OurNextLife.com // Why “Saving Money” Usually Means Spending Money, and the Mindset We Foster Instead // avoiding the trap of chasing deals and seeing spending as "saving"

The “Saving Money” Mindset

In a vacuum, “saving money” really should mean saving it. Like putting it in a savings account and not spending it. But the way that most people use the phrase – especially those trying to teach us these “tips” – is (sometimes subtly, often sneakily) talking about spending money, very often money we don’t need to spend in the first place.

Take Black Friday deals, to use an extreme example. Let’s say you want a new TV, and the one you want usually costs $500. On Black Friday, it’s on sale for $250. If you buy it during that sale, are you:

  1. Saving money
  2. Spending money

Experts on “saving money” would tell us that A is true, but B is the reality.

The way to “save money” is not to buy the TV at all, to use what we already have, and to put what we might have spent in the bank. Because, sure, the Black Friday deal might be $250 less than the sticker price, but it’s $250 more than dismissing a new TV as a frivolous want rather than a need. We use this as a reminder if the difference is unclear to us:

If, at the end of the day, we don’t have more money saved (and in the bank or investments), then it’s not saving money.

Choosing to Reject Shopping Energy

Several years ago, we stopped chasing deals. We gave up the coupons, unsubscribed from all the sales emails and catalogs and, when we did need something, we stopped trying to get the absolute rock bottom price. And something funny happened:

Our spending went down.

Working to get the best deals means spending a lot of time shopping, even if you don’t buy all that much. It means looking at a lot of sales flyers, visiting different sites, and otherwise exposing yourself to the relentless push of capitalist culture to sell you stuff. It’s welcoming that shopping energy into your life, even if your goal is ostensibly not to spend frivolously.

Let’s say that, before, we needed a new ski jacket because the old one was worn out and not fixable. Now, to get the best deal, we’d need to review all the sites and reviews, find the jacket that was already the best value, and then stalk it on the flash sale sites until we saw what felt like the very best price. Stalking the jacket might take a few weeks, during which time we’d also become aware of all the technological advances in other jackets, the new pack features we could have for a good price, and any number of other purposely persuasive arguments trying to convince us how badly we need this other new (unnecessary) thing.

It didn’t seem harmful at the time, or detrimental to our goals, but surrounding ourselves with all those products on offer provided a subtle and ongoing cue that there were other things we “needed.” And eliminating that stuff from our life, even though we might occasionally pay more for something now because we aren’t spending so much time shopping around, has allowed us to become oblivious to all the other things marketers would love to tell us we need, which translates to fewer wants.

It’s a bit ironic that we’re saving much more now (in terms of actually putting money in the bank) than we were when we were seeking out every money saving strategy, but it’s absolutely true.

Developing a Real Money Saving Mindset — Especially for Those Who Are Already Awesome with Money

Just as I issued a challenge earlier this year to think of minimizing as being about using up what you have by getting every bit of usefulness out of your things (otherwise you’re not minimizing at all, despite good intentions, but are instead just maximizing waste), it’s a good idea to continually remind ourselves the importance of adopting and maintaining a true money saving mindset, which is vastly different from the one our consumerist culture promotes. They want us to feel that rush of getting the deal, because they know that keeps us coming back for more. It’s our job not just to resist, but to leave that conversation entirely.

I’m sure most of us here already think of ourselves as responsible spenders, and while this post contains zero rocket science, it’s still worth considering that even the most money-conscious among us can fall prey to that deal-seeking thinking. If we’re going to spend money on something, we want it to be the very best price, darn it! This is especially something I think about as we round that final corner into early retirement, and know that we soon won’t have the luxury of being able to absorb accidental overspending the way we can while we still have paychecks. We have to be money conscious on a whole other level, and it will be tempting to think of “saving money” in the standard societal terms.

But even for the money pros, there are some steps we can take to ensure that we keep a true money saving mindset, not a spending-masquerading-as-saving mindset:

Avoid chasing deals — For those of us who are inclined both not to overspend and to try to find the absolute best way to do something (I’d guess this applies to most FIRE folks), it’s hard to let go of the idea of seeking out the very best price when we do need to buy something. But it gets easier if we think of it not as throwing money away, but as shielding ourselves from shopping energy and consumerist pressure. That’s not to say we need to pay full price, but often the difference between a basic sale price and the clearance-plus-coupon price is not great enough to justify welcoming all of that consumerism into our lives. Put another way: When we’re chasing deals, we’re spending a lot of time thinking about stuff, and when we’re thinking about stuff a lot, we want more stuff. Break that mental cycle.

Acknowledge spending as spending – There is seriously nothing wrong with spending, or at least I’d never be the one to tell you so. Heck, a few weeks ago, I confessed that we once spent a thousand dollars on a single meal. But we were under no illusions about that expenditure. We knew it was an optional expense, a massive splurge, and we didn’t tell ourselves we were “saving money” just because we could have spent $1500 if we’d thrown in a bottle of Chateau Margaux. The problem comes when we start confusing saving and spending, and see “saving” as spending less than we potentially might have rather than putting money in the bank. Call spending what it is and don’t let marketers deliberately obfuscate the two for you.

Think money in the bank above every other measure — When I was couponing, I had an unhealthy obsession with seeing that savings percent at the bottom of my grocery store receipt. I regularly topped 80 percent and would pat myself on the back for my savvy shopping. But I was still buying things we didn’t need, I was spending loads of time researching deals and driving to multiple stores, and at the end of it all, I’m not even certain more money ended up in our savings account than would have if I hadn’t gone down the couponing rabbit hole at all. Meaning: just because the store says we’re saving money doesn’t mean we actually are. The real judge is the bank account balance: does it keep getting bigger? That’s the only way it’s truly saving.

Chime In!

How do you think about saving money? Any tips you can share with all of us that help you avoid that consumerist pressure to spend in the name of saving? Any other reformed couponers out there? Let’s dive deeper in the comments. :-)


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76 replies »

  1. I keep a list of things I’m stalking in Evernote (which mostly acts as a reminder) when they’re not urgent (like a new winter coat, seeing as it’s June when I write this comment). If I see a good deal in the Fall, maybe I jump on it.

    This also does something else – it adds another layer between when I feel like I need something and when I make the purchase. By adding a roadblock, I purchase less than 100% of everything I feel like I need to purchase – which results in actual savings (100% savings!). Plus it shows what is really important to me, since it has to survive the Evernote list.

    It’s essentially a version of building in a 24-hour delay, which is a tip people use to arrest the automatic spending muscle, but now I feel like the 24-hour delay serves a financial purpose beyond being a roadblock.

    • I love the Evernote/delayed purchase tip, Jim! In other contexts, I have found these types of “to-think” lists are very helpful because they let the ideas simmer in my subconscious. Over time, I either solve the problem creatively or realize it’s really not a problem. But best of all it’s a patient, calm mode of evaluating purchases or other topics.

      • I do the same thing with an Amazon shopping list that I glance at every now and again, and mostly delete things without buying them. But anywhere you can keep track and they delay the purchase is great!

    • I do something very similar — I make a list in my planner of things I want or foresee coming up as needed purchases so I can look at the list as a whole as the month winds down and seeing which (if any) I still want, and then what I can afford.

    • I do something like that with Amazon. I put lots of things in my shopping cart, then move them to “save for later”. (445 items going back I think 5 years) I rarely move things out, but I do get updates on price changes for those items. Similar to CamelCamelCamel, but it works differently for me. I see changes in price all the time, and it makes me want to not buy items, because I might miss a big price change. And only rarely do you see a giant drop that triggers a “maybe now” question. Which I still don’t automatically buy.

      • I’m definitely noticing a trend here! And wow — does Amazon really let you keep that many things in your “save for later” list???

    • I am a HUGE fan of the roadblock and the delay. I keep an Amazon shopping list, but I actually like that your Evernote list makes it a step removed, and therefore even harder to make the purchase. Like keeping our emergency fund at a separate bank so it’s harder to get to, and less tempting. ;-p

  2. Great points in your article. I think there is a bit of an evolution from chasing deals early in life when money is tight and we have fewer things, to becoming more minimalist as money/things become less scarce (and time scarcity feels more important). There is a current thread on PoF right now on this topic.

    Your point about simply avoiding shopping is an excellent one and I find myself more and more in this camp as I find I want fewer new things.

    Once I was buying a 3 pack of socks for work in Target for about $7 and the cashier was giving me a hard sell (I’m sure they are ordered to do this) on the target card which saves you 5%. She said even though the amount saved on this was small, the more I spent, the more the savings would add up!

    I was in a hurry and wasn’t particularly patient so I replied. “Instead of looking for discounts, the way I save money is to simply not buy much. After all, I get an amazing 100% off of everything I don’t buy!”. This left her a bit flustered and the sales pitch ended. I felt a little bad since she was just doing her job but I couldn’t help myself. Your post reminded me of this.

    • Oh man, I always feel bad for cashiers who have to push store credit cards! I’m sure they hate doing that sales pitch. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that saying no in a really upbeat way with a smile (“No thanks!”) tends to shut that sales pitch down. ;-)

  3. I am still a deal stocker – but I buy so little for myself it’s not an issue.

    I have thought a lot about this topic and one suggestion I have is to actually SAVE the money you “saved” – when you see that little line on your receipt transfer that amount over to a savings or investment account so it’s like you paid full price.
    If you are only buying things you actually need or want – you would buy them at full price and should be able to actually save the rest.

    • I agree 100% — if it’s something you would have bought at full price, then sock that saving percentage into the bank and pat yourself on the back! ;-) It’s all the other stuff that’s the real problem, though… just maybe not for you! ;-)

    • I think your definition of sensible frugality is a lot like ours of intentional spending. ;-)

  4. I tend to operate on a delayed purchase setup. So if it’s not something I’d normally buy but I want I’ll spend a few months watching for an opportunity at a lower price. That delay allows me to also reconsider if I’m buying just because. It also ensures I really do get a good deal rather then fake pricing psychology. We’ve never really bothered with coupons in our day to day.

    • I’m a big fan of the delayed purchase — so long that continuing to check in on the price doesn’t subject you to a lot of other marketing! ;-)

  5. I do think there are times you spend money to save money, like paying more upfront for a higher quality item. But you’re right that it’s easy to get carried away with the “savings.” I used to be an extreme couponer and I spent soooo much more money than I needed to. “Savings” shouldn’t be the priority; it’s about buying what you need in an intelligent way.

    • Well said. The focus on “saving” skews the whole thing, when what we should all be focused on instead is intentional spending.

  6. I actually think for a lot of people, chasing deals is the only way that they’re able to purchase wants and even needs. Of course, it can get so skewed. One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was how I got bit so hard by the couponing bug that I was stocking up on free (just pay tax!) contact solution.

    I don’t wear contacts. Neither does anyone in my family.

    But I also really respect the fact that for some families, Santa wouldn’t happen without Black Friday. We’re in a position personally where as much as it pains me to not buy laundry detergent on sale, it really doesn’t matter. But not everyone is.

    • This is such an important point, and I hope you know I am not talking about people who can’t afford NOT to coupon or buy the Black Friday deals. I remember a story last fall about how showing black Friday riots was the latest form of poor shaming, and I felt ashamed for society and media. OF COURSE some people need to do this, and I’m talking about those of us who, to sort of quote you, have the privilege of pretending.

  7. Oh man…. I used to go through EVERY AD in the Sunday paper growing up. I’d see the ads and want to BUY ALL THE THINGS! Now….. I’m much the same as you. I buy what I need when I need it and generally don’t worry about the price. I check it on camelcamelcamel first to be sure I’m not totally overpaying, but that’s about as far as I go now.

    • That’s great! We underestimate how much of an impact that exposure has on us!

  8. The largest category of my blog is “spending”, because almost everything I write about somehow translates to that. The strange thing is that I end up buying very little, I can’t even come up for ideas for father’s day.

    I also have a rule that the more expensive the thing is, the more I think about whether I need to be spending it. So it would take me a year or more to think about spending a grand on a dinner. I’m on a few years of waiting for LG to lower the prices on their 65″ OLED televisions.

    If it’s something small like a grocery deal, I jump on it as long as it isn’t going to go bad. Fortunately, with Aldi and military commissaries there’s no need to coupon.

    I’m lately finding myself wanting to buy a lot of STEM toys for my kids. It’s hard to say that any of the stuff is “necessary”, but it’s easy for me to say, “Hey this is an educational tool.” Any thoughts on that kind of spending?

    • I think if I was a parent, I’d have that same quandary around educational tools, books, etc. But I do know there’s a rampant second-hand market for that stuff — do you explore that? I certainly think that’s pretty justifiable spending as spending goes, but I bet you could recreate a lot of what those toys do with cheap stuff you already have lying around. ;-)

      • I do a lot of second hard stuff, but I’m draw to the toys that focus on STEM and teaching computer concepts without a screen. This is a relatively new area of children toys.

        I may want these toys more than the kids. Imagination still works well for a majority of the stuff.

      • Haha — the toys sound pretty cool! I don’t blame you for wanting to have them in your home! ;-)

  9. Great post. Don’t forget about the credit card use to earn miles. My sister and brother in law talk about the free flights they earn on their Southwest credit card. But I just simply say your $300 shopping spree on nonessential items just paid for my ticket.

    • YES! Absolutely. If it’s money you for sure would have spent anyway, fine. But when I see people say, “Well, I’ll get this because I want the miles,” I always want to shout: Just spend that money on the ticket itself! Your money will go farther!

  10. I do think there are “savvy spending” habits that can save money. Similar to Jim in the first post, I definitely think of buying things in the off-season–and every product has an off-season. If I need particular features or have a great experience with a brand or sales channel, I will use that and not worry. But if I just need a rake sometime, or another pair of the same dress shoes I have now because they are starting to wear, then thinking ahead is the best choice all around. The time to think about it lets the “need” cool down–it does not have to spiral into obsession.

    As an aside, and to give extreme couponing some kind of redemption, here is a case where it was put to good use: my wife caught the bug and got into it, watching shows, using web resources, etc. She did start to notice that things started to expire–even things that we use, we just don’t use that much. What we did was leverage her knowledge to help our charity giving. We took the $5 / week (later, upon proving successful $10/week) that we gave to our local food shelter. That larger group really could use 50 toothbrushes, or 20 packages of Jell-o, or whatever. She could turn our money into 10x in things they immediately needed, and could regularly beat the “giveaway” prices of the regional food pantry or corporate charitable sales. It was particularly effective for toiletries, which are often forgotten in broader food pantry programs, and had the best coupon “jackpots.”

    Through that work, she made a number of wonderful personal connections, of course with the charity but also with our local grocery store. They were having to manage the chaos that is extreme couponing, including eventual measures that clamped down on borderline hoarding. But my wife openly declared she was working with a charity, so we had more lenient treatment, and even some advance notice of “special buy” purchases, with extra set aside. We also had a list from the charity of their top items, and their prices through alternate channels, so we also knew we were spending “their” money the best way.

    Coupons don’t spend money, people spend money, to paraphrase.

    Of course, we don’t live in Shangri-La. The goose that laid the golden egg was killed when a crew from a neighboring state (OH, I don’t knOw which one…) drove *three hours, one way* to hoard / clean out / bend the rules to breaking, and the store had to give up the coupon multiplier chase entirely. That’s every extreme couponing nightmare ever told, on steroids…

    • I completely love that coupon story, and I also donated a ton (though maybe not at your wife’s level!) when I was doing it. Especially the drugstore items, as you said. Something interesting I learned when volunteering for food banks is that they have super strict rules about what they can give out, and they actually end up tossing a ton of donated food. It’s worth learning your own area’s rules, but you can’t assume anything before its expiration date will get distributed. However, shelters often have very different rules, and I started donating there instead of to the food bank, and they told me they’d use everything. Even better, I donated to a women’s shelter, which was great because so many of the drugstore coupon deals are on women’s products. I loved going in there with a whole box of unopened stuff and seeing everyone get excited. ;-)

  11. Great post! I have found that chasing deals takes so much of my time, that I’ve stopped doing it almost completely. I was also searching for a deal on a jacket and realized I’d spent at least 3-4 hours over the previous month looking for a jacket and trying to save an extra $50 or so. But now that I calculate my effective hourly rate, by actually searching for a deal on the jacket I had eroded the potential savings by using my time searching.

    This was a mindshift for me and now I set up shopping alerts, I don’t search anymore, once a good price pops up then I just buy it. I think a lot of people could use their time more effectively by not spending so much time hunting for the “deal”. It just depends on the value of your time and how much it’s worth to you.

    • Thanks! There are some big-ticket items where it’s absolutely worth trying to get a deal. Like we plan to buy an RV in a few years, and you can bet I’m going to ferret out the best deal and then negotiate like crazy! But for a jacket? Yeah, $50 savings ain’t worth all those hours of your time, especially if along the way you learned about all these other products that you might now start to get tempted by…

  12. The biggest money saver I found was to only go shopping when I really needed something ASAP.
    I keep a shopping list on Google docs with categories for groceries, Target, Thrift Store, Home Depot, etc. As we discover something we need, we put it on the list and let it sit there. We only actually go shopping when something is very time-sensitive (or we’re out of food).

    We’ve found that the buffer of time gives us the opportunity to rethink our choices and a lot of our items get deleted because we decide that we don’t actually want or need them. Plus, actually stepping into stores less often helps us avoid impulse purchases that are so dang tempting.

    • We find the same thing — I put things in an Amazon shopping list, and 9 times out of 10 delete that thing without buying it. Sometimes just seeing it in the list is enough to feel like I “have” it. Haha. And amen 100% to just not going into stores! I tell all my friends how life-changing it is just to never walk into Target. ;-)

  13. My friends wife came in one day with several bags from her latest shopping haul. She proclaimed she saved more than she spent and my friend said he will be waiting on the check from Target then. She looked perplexed but I liked the comment. You aren’t saving anything!

    There is reason why every store in the mall has giant sale signs out front.

    • Ha — I want a check from Target! ;-) And you’re so right. There are tons of retailers who are literally always in a sale cycle — we should all be extremely wary of what anyone calls a retail price, because chances are excellent that that’s a fake price they will never charge, and it’s only there to trick us into thinking we’re getting a deal.

  14. Love this post. We don’t need so much stuff. Getting a good deal still means we’re spending money. And the marketing and the ‘wants’ created are so insidious….

    • YES! I’m such a huge fan of avoiding that marketing. Ad-free Hulu, no marketing emails, and ditching the magazines!

  15. After years of subscribing to local newspapers, we finally unsubscribed from the Sunday paper — I used to go through the ads, circle the best deals, then make the rounds. I stocked up on all the Free After Rebate deals at Menards.

    I still have that crap from Menards.

    Actually, I recently donated some of it (like 2 gallons of driveway cleaner / degreaser for example). But I’ve still got buckets of free paint brushes and more to give away.

    Yesterday, I published a piece on frugality versus minimalism. Chasing deals in order to save money results in some very anti-minimalistic behavior. I’m trying to transition from a purely frugal mindset to more of a minimalism / value mindset.

    It’s easier to part with items that have some value and stop snapping up bargains once you have FI and can afford the things you truly want.


    • I think that’s a great dichotomy that describes our evolution well, too. We used to get all that free or cheap stuff, and I donated a ton of it, but we also ate and used lots of stuff we’d never buy for ourselves otherwise, and our health did not improve for it. It was making the switch to a more of a minimalist view, at least with regard to future purchasing, that helped us start actually saving that money!

  16. This is such a good reminder! I’ve seen this idea float around the finance social media world before but promptly forgot it because you can never have too much running gear, right? #facepalm
    I never would have thought that it might not be worth to hunt down the best deals because doing so keeps your eyes on all this STUFF that you may end up wanting later on. Time to unsubscribe from those marketing emails!

    • I full support unsubscribing from the emails… and the MAGAZINES. Honestly, the magazines can be the worst. Once I got rid of Runners World, Backpacker, Outside, Powder, etc., I suddenly didn’t know about all the technological advances, and therefore didn’t need them! ;-)

  17. I found the best way for me to save money is to just not buy things (what a revelation, I know!) I’m not trying to be flippant, I mean that literally making the commitment to not buy “things” has kept my spending down and actual money in my savings account up. (The fatal flaw in my plan is food but that’s for another day)

    There are so, so many things I want and eventually I will either buy them or stop wanting them. I need a new bathing suit (old one is probably 10 years old and the elastic just isn’t doing its job.) I researched what stores carry suits within the price range I’m willing to pay and now I am just waiting until I’m closer to my vacation to buy it. Should I have bought a new suit last fall when they were all on sale? Maybe-but that was money I didn’t need to spend then.

    There are things I buy regularly and know how much they cost-cat food, for example. I pay between 60 and 75 cents per can of food for my preferred brand. If my regular store has jacked up the price, I don’t mind looking around (online) for a better deal because I know exactly what the cans should cost and that I can do better. I buy 4-6 month’s worth of food at a time so the extra few cents per can really add up. This works for cat food because generally I do not get excited about anything pet related so there is little risk of buying things I didn’t intend to.

    When I get sucked in by sales or deals I try to remember to ask myself if this is something I would be buying anyway. If it is, then I take the high of getting a deal on something I needed. If it isn’t then usually I talk myself out of the purchase.

    • It sounds like you’ve built up some pretty extraordinary discipline around spending! Bravo! As you can probably tell, our strategies are more focused around those of us who lack that discipline, or fall prey to decision fatigue — so my solution is just avoid the decision altogether! But I love that you’ve been able to stick to your commitment of just not buying things and you can mostly avoid temptation when you have to go online to buy necessities!

  18. Great Post! I have a similar one of my own that ties this concept in with travel hacking instead of extreme couponing.

    Most people end up using the discounted airfare and hotels as an excuse to splurge more on other parts of the trip (or take more trips!) rather than putting that money into a savings account or investments. They simply found a way to inflate their lifestyle while having the same income!

    As you mentioned, the only true way to “save money” is to use it to increase your net worth (savings account, investments, debt payments, etc.), everything else is just disguised spending.


  19. Our favorite saying is that it’s only a deal if you need it enough that you would have paid over full price for it. I did notice that when life got so busy we unsubscribed to store emails, stopped watching TV commercials and stopped reading magazines because of the time factor that I coincidentally no longer “needed” items like I did when I was exposed to so many more ads. But I do feel guilty that I don’t shop around more for bigger ticket items that we do have to buy. Just because I need it enough I would pay full price doesn’t mean I want to!

    • I love that rule. If you’d pay full price for it and need it, then great. Relish that deal! Getting rid of magazines helped us a lot, too. I’m sure it makes my clothes terribly uncool, but I’m no longer pining for something I saw in some rag. And if you need something big, there’s no shame in shopping around — to a point. Just don’t let yourself go crazy and then buy a bunch of other things because you suddenly learned they exist. That negates the whole point of the deal. ;-)

  20. Great post as always. Being an outdoor sports addict like you guys, a few years back I found myself literally stalking “flash-sale” sites like whiskey-militia, chainlove, and steep-and-cheap. They did offer some great deals, but as you stated I found myself buying things like another set of crampons just in case my other crampons broke on a big mountain trip. Needless to say I have a big gear closet….

    I wised up and just went cold turkey. I now repair gear when it breaks and only buy something when one of my outdoor hobbies absolutely demands it for my happiness, which has been rare.

    And I avoid going to stores (besides grocery) as much as possible. Being around new and shiny things now stresses me out, when it used to tempt me. Maybe I’m cured….

    • Thanks, Steve! Oh man, Steep and Cheap used to be my kryptonite! Evil site. :-) And that’s a first — backup crampons! Hahaha. We merely have backup tents, sleeping pads, stoves… you get the idea. ;-)

  21. Major pet peeve of mine! I had someone recently tell me that she is excited about getting her smart phone because she will save so much money when she shops (note, she didn’t have a job where she needed a smart phone like us and isn’t attached at the hip with her cell like I am). I looked at her quizzically and replied “You know the best way to save money? Don’t go shopping.” As I’ve been exploring this FIRE internet rabbit hole, I’ve stumbled across early retirement blogs that talk about “saving money” but are really advising me on how I should spend some of my money and been immediately turned off. I am grateful that I never got a lot of enjoyment out of shopping even when it comes to outdoor type gear.

    I will say that I had a conversation with a neighbor of mine recently who shared how much she loves shopping, all types, the process, coming home with stuff, finding a bargain and I began to have some empathy for folks who do enjoy it because it has to be a massive mind shift to change. Regardless, GREAT POST, once again.

    • Oh I’m totally guilty of enjoying shopping for outdoor gear. I may have looked at REI today in a moment of weakness (but I didn’t buy anything!). But yeah, best money saver of all: don’t shop! ;-) And as for that love of shopping, I think finding deals feels a bit like beating the game, like FIRE does. So I think we could possibly redirect folks’ energy into pursuing FI instead of pursuing the best deal. ;-)

  22. I was once a near extreme couponer but managed to avoid buying much crap – I focused my efforts only on the things we truly used first, THEN on the deal we could get.

    I also know that if I’m buying anything, I need to group my purchases so that I’m getting several needs at once, then step away from all the shopping sites and deal sites for weeks. I can avoid shopping for months but open the gate and whoo game over. My If You Give A Mouse a Cookie aura is strong so it has to be controlled!

    I think I’m just lucky that I identified my weakness really early on so it didn’t take many expensive lessons to retrain me in the art of Truly Saving – many people seem to ascribe to the “I ‘saved’ money by getting it on sale” mentality while I always framed that as “I spent less than full price on this thing”.

    Money in the bank is the big endgoal! (To make more money to be spent on the important things – the other endgoal!)

    • I’m envious that you didn’t use coupons for everything. I did, using the excuse that I’d donate what we didn’t need if it was cheap or free, and we did in fact donate TONS of stuff to a local women’s shelter. But then we ate a lot of the crap, too. :-(

  23. I’m so glad to see your post on this, and all the comments from folks that do/feel the same way. For years I’ve been over-researching things I need to buy, which turned into finding “great deals” on things I wanted to buy – or at least wanted to buy after being over-exposed to them! I was considering changing my credit card so I could get more miles and exploring extreme couponing, and that’s when I realized that everything I could get with coupons were items I really just didn’t want. That led to a bit of a revelation where I now do what most of the commenters here do; I make lists of items that I need or want and I let it sit. If it becomes an urgent need (something is not fixable, something that I run out of, etc.) I look around a little for the best price and/or save up for it (depending on how expensive the item is and if it’s something I already have funds reserved for or not). I’ve found that I buy waaaaay less stuff now with this system, and I’m able to sock away far more pennies that I did in the past.

    • That’s great that the system is working for you! It’s amazing how powerful it can be just to remove the temptation of stuff from our lives! Unsubscribing to all those emails was life-changing for me, and then just cutting out whole stores entirely. (I couldn’t tell you when I was last in a Target, for example.)

  24. One great thing about getting older, I have found, is that I simply am less interested in getting more stuff. I have all the kitchen stuff I could ever need, plenty of outdoor gear for every kind of activity, and closets full of too many clothes. Too much spending in the past, perhaps, but it has led to having no desire to shop at all now. I don’t care to have the latest shiniest thing. I rarely go to stores at all, except for groceries.

    • I am convinced that just not being in the habit of going to stores other than the grocery store is itself a big indicator of financial success! But I agree with you all the way — the older we get, the more we 1.) have everything we need, and 2.) know how unlikely it is that some new thing will be THE THING that makes us happy. ;-)

  25. You are so right! On sale does not mean you need it or that it is a good deal. I know that I also had to remove sale/promotion emails from my inbox; they were just too tempting. So many good “deals,” that I did not need. Not seeing them was much better than actively trying to ignore them.

    • Even as long as I’ve been focused on a big savings goal, I’m still a sucker for “sales.” So yeah, the best thing is just not to see them in the first place. Technology is so intrusive in our lives, but it also gives us a lot of power to engineer our lives in ways that remove temptation for our vices, which is a gift.

  26. I want to tell you that I am loving your blog. I read this and it coincided with a personal revelation I had today. I write about frugal living and in the mix, I’ve found these apps that “help save money” and it’s flawed because you do want to spend more to chase the points/rewards.

    My hamster chewed through his cage and I tried to buy a new one on two occasions in the last 24 hours. One was broken one was too big. I realized that I could probably fix the current hamster cage just fine. I returned the cage and saved $47. “But–my Cash back? From using (whichever app)!” And the best cashback is cash you don’t spend.

    I love your blog. Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks for saying hi, Casey! :-) So glad you had this realization — the “save money” doctrine is such a slippery slope and can quickly get toxic. Congrats for seeing through it all!