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8 Ways Being a Cheapskate Can Backfire

Saving money isn’t always as simple as just buying on sale. Learn these simple steps to avoid wasting your dollars.

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Finding ways to save is top of mind for many individuals, especially with inflation still elevated and interest rates higher. But sometimes the quest to be frugal can cost you more money than it saves. ​

“When you’re dipping your toes into trying to save money, there’s a natural tendency to throw yourself into the deep end and go a little too far,” says Emily Irwin, head of advice relations at Wells Fargo Bank. “Initially you may have some frugal fails.”  ​

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Frugal fails are common, particularly among people just starting to embrace a savings mindset, but they are avoidable. There are easy ways to turn them into saving successes, even if you’ve committed the following eight faux pas.​

1. “Cooking” instead of dining out.

Food is a big part of household budgets, so it makes sense to find ways to save in this category. A time-tested strategy is to cook more at home. Instead of going out to dinner or ordering takeout, people commit to cooking seven days a week, three meals a day. They hit the grocery store to stock up on everything they need to prepare home-cooked meals and save a fortune. It’s possible, but the problems arise when the food goes uncooked and eventually has to be tossed into the trash. All of a sudden the money you thought you were saving is wasted. 

Do this instead: “Know thyself” couldn’t be truer when trying to save money by cooking. It’s a great idea, but will you really follow through? “Take a moment when you’re shopping and ask yourself: Can I really commit to this?” says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at “You have to be realistic. Some of us are more realistic than others.” ​

2. Cutting maintenance corners.

Skipping your dental cleaning or oil change may seem like ways to save a few bucks, but cutting corners could end up costing you a lot more down the road. That’s especially true if you have to replace the item or need a costly medical procedure as a result of skipping maintenance appointments and checkups. ​

Do this instead: “Make sure you are doing everything to proactively extend the life” of the product or yourself, Irwin says. That means staying on top of maintenance appointments for your health and your expensive things. “If you live in the northern part of the country, make sure the furnace gets an annual checkup, and if you live in the southern states, make sure your AC unit is checked out,” she says. 

3. Buying in bulk but never using it. 

Everyone likes a deal. That’s why BJ’s, Costco and other warehouse stores do such brisk business. That strategy makes sense if you’ll consume the item you’re purchasing in bulk before it expires. Take sunblock, for example. You may save money buying a three-pack, but if you don’t use it within a year it loses its efficacy, which means less protection when you’re in the sun. “You may set out to save money buying things in bulk, but if you’re not going through them quickly enough they can go bad. That happens quite often with veggies, sunscreen and spices,” Bodge says.  ​

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Do this instead: Resist the temptation to purchase something just because it’s cheaper if you buy a lot of it. If it’s something you go through quickly, it’s worth it. If it will take you several months to consume, you don’t need to buy it in bulk. “The biggest reason people make frugal fails is they tend to forget about how they truly live their lives,” Irwin says. ​

4. Sign up for a store credit card to get a deal.

Percentage off, zero interest and no payments for 12 months are common deals retailers will offer to get you to open a store credit card. But the discount only makes sense if you pay off your balance at the end of the month; otherwise you’ll be on the hook for interest. “Store cards have a high APR,” says Bodge. “You end up really paying for that card if you don’t pay it off every month.” ​

Do this instead: If there’s a chance you won’t be able to pay off your purchase by the end of the month, resist the temptation to open a store credit card, even if it means you can save 20 percent. If you have the cash on hand and can immediately pay the bill, it may be worth it. Like all frugal fails, the best defense is being honest with yourself. ​

5. Letting intro offers become permanent.

Free trials are great, granted that they don’t become permanent subscriptions. Unfortunately the latter tends to happen a lot. 

“People sign up for subscriptions and forget they signed up,” Bodge says. “All of a sudden something rolls into a paid program.” 

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Do this instead: You don’t have to sign up for every trial service, but if you do, make sure you cancel it before you begin getting charged. To stay on top of it, Irwin says to set calendar alerts to cancel the subscription before the introductory period ends.

6. DIYing projects and repairs.

YouTube makes it look easy to do everything from fix appliances to building a deck without needing to hire an expensive professional.  That may be true if you have certain skills. Otherwise your DIY efforts may end up costing you more than it’s worth. “I thought I was being so slick fixing my own washer, but I didn’t fix it,” Bodge recalls. “The repair ended up being more expensive than it would have been.” ​

Do this instead: If you don’t have the tools, ability and time to fix it yourself, don’t be stubborn — call in a professional. Your attempt to fix it will cost you money, and if you fail you’ll ultimately need professional help anyway. ​

7. Buying it just because it’s on sale.

We’re all guilty of buying something we don’t need simply because it’s on sale. Who can resist 50 percent off a new sweater or pair of shoes? Even more attractive for frugal shoppers: Buy two, get one free. Before you know it, you’re purchasing two when you didn’t even need one. “With 70 percent off there’s still 30 percent you’re paying for something you don’t need,” Bodge says. ​

Do this instead: Unless it’s something you need, don’t fall into the trap of buying it just because it’s on sale. “Stop and ask yourself: Am I going to use those three things?” Bodge says. If the answer is no, skip the purchase.

8. Forgoing extra insurance because what could go wrong? 

The average lifespan in America is 76.4 years. That’s a lot of time for something to go wrong, yet many overly frugal people neglect to consider buying extra insurance for long-term care or a disability. They figure they’ll remain healthy, but that can be a costly gamble, given the average couple can expect to spend $315,000 to cover medical expenses in retirement and that doesn’t include long-term care, according to Fidelity Investments. Ask yourself whether you have enough money to cover the costs out of pocket, keeping in mind that Medicare doesn’t pay for assisted living facilities or nursing homes for assisted living facilities or nursing homes. “Even though it’s more likely that most of us would need disability or long-term care insurance rather than life insurance, it’s common to under-insure or uninsure ourselves for these life events,” says Irwin. 

Do this instead: Find out what disability or long-term care insurance is available to you through your employer, professional or personal associations you belong to and on the open market. Determine the coverage you think you’ll need, considering everything that could go wrong. And get several quotes from multiple providers before selecting a plan, Irwin says.

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