10 Attempts at Frugality That Could End Up Costing You Money

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in The Penny Hoarder.

Every now and then, a well-intentioned plan to save money simply fails.

You thought you followed the frugal playbook only for it to backfire. While trying to be cheap ends up being expensive.

It happens to the best of us.

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

1. Allowing Food Preparation to Remain Trash

Food wasted
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Preparing meals in advance means you won’t be tempted to grab fast food or order takeout whenever you’re not in the mood to cook. But there’s always the potential to waste a week’s worth of scrap vegetables or a Tupperware container full of chicken breasts if they go bad or you can’t eat the same thing several days in a row.

It’s just throwing money in the trash.

The same thing can happen when you try to save money by buying in bulk—but end up throwing away half of what you buy because it’s too much.

The medicine: Meal prep a few days out rather than during the entire week. Store food properly and freeze what you won’t be eating right away. Make use of sauces and spices to add variety to staples like chicken and rice.

2. Spent a Lot of Money on Dinner Ingredients

A man is surprised by his receipt of groceries
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Cooking at home is usually a much cheaper option than eating out at a restaurant — except, of course, when you go overboard on gourmet groceries and get 10 unique ingredients for each recipe.

When you add it all up you realize you can afford to eat out.

The medicine: Choose recipes that contain ingredients you already have at home or are inexpensive. If you need to buy a new ingredient, make sure you can use it in multiple recipes.

3. Buying Things Just Because They’re on Sale

Middle aged hispanic woman holding shopping bags with regretful head
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Sometimes the thrill of saving can cloud your judgment. You fill your grocery cart with BOGO items, grab clothes from the clearance racks, and buy Groupon deals—without giving much thought to whether you really need or want it all.

You can easily blow your budget chasing deals and discounts.

The medicine: Before you buy something that’s on sale, ask yourself if it’s something you really want or you bought it on a whim. If the sale price is the regular price and there is no discount, do you still want it? Do you have plans for actually using what you buy? Is it within your budget? Sometimes it’s okay to miss things.

4. Drive everywhere to Find the Lowest Gas Prices

Man pumping gas
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Sure, you could save 10 cents a gallon filling your tank at the gas station on the other side of town, but you’d be wasting gas commuting.

The medicine: Use a fuel price app, such as GasBuddy, to find the cheapest fuel prices along your normal driving route. Take advantage of gas rewards programs and discount gift cards as another way to save money on gas.

5. Traveling Without a Car Just to Spend More Money Getting Around

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Car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance… it all adds up. Ditching your vehicle is likely to help you save money.

However, if you call Uber every day and rent a car every weekend, it may cost more.

The medicine: Before you go without a car, make a plan for how you will get around and how much it will cost. Research public transportation options in your area. Consider carpooling or cycling to work. If giving up your car isn’t your best option, you can still save money by exchanging your current vehicle for one that’s more fuel efficient or with lower payments.

6. Buying a Used Car Without Doing Due Diligence

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You will lose money on depreciation just by driving your new car off the lot. That’s what we always say.

However, buying a used car isn’t much better, if you drive only to have the check engine light on. Buying used means that your vehicle may not be in optimal condition. And if you buy from a fraudulent seller and don’t take the time to actually inspect the car and dig into its history, you may end up in a money pit.

The medicine: When you buy a used car, where you shop matters. You can find certified used vehicles at authorized dealers that have been thoroughly inspected and may come with some type of warranty coverage. Check Carfax reports for accident history and prior maintenance information. Take a thorough test drive and try to get your mechanic to inspect the car, if possible.

7. Sign Up for Free Trial and Forget to Cancel


It makes sense for the frugal person to take advantage of the free trial offer. And for the first week or 30 days, everything was fine.

The problem arises when you forget to cancel your free trial before the free period ends and you end up being charged for things you didn’t want to pay for.

The medicine: If you can cancel the free trial immediately and continue to use the service until the trial period ends, do so. If not, set a calendar alert to remind yourself to cancel before you’re charged. Signing up for a free trial with a virtual credit card is another way to avoid automatic payments after the free trial ends.

8. Losing Time and Money on DIY Projects

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Let’s say you dropped $20 on tools and supplies at a craft store to make some home decor items that you can get at HomeGoods for $30.

You think you’re saving money — except your finished project doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. It went straight into the trash. Plus, you’ve spent hours trying to do it yourself, and we all know that time is money. Of course, the bigger the project, the more money you can lose if you make a mistake.

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

9. Replacing Cable TV With Many Subscription Services

television streaming service
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You’re sick of paying over $100 for cable so you finally decide to cut the cord. But instead, you sign up for Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Now, Showtime, Sling TV, and more — until the amount you pay for television and movies exceeds your old cable bill.

The medicine: Ask yourself what content is really important to you and limit yourself to a few streaming services.

10. Getting Credit Card Rewards and Getting In Debt

Stressed woman looking at bills and credit cards
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Rewards credit cards entice you with perks like cash back or points to use for future purchases. Store cards lure you in with the promise of saving you a percentage every time you swipe.

But if you carry balances on those cards, the interest you pay can easily negate rewards and savings.

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

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