The Top 5 Pitfalls of Frugality

by Dianna Scofield


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Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a skinflint. A tightwad. A miser. Whatever you call it, I was born into a family with a rich heritage of frugality. My grandmother clips coupons and sends them to her children and grandchildren each week. My sister and I love yard sale season. My dad's a sucker for those "free after rebate" deals at the office-supply stores.

Growing up in my family, I've learned lots of tricks for saving money, but I've also seen how sometimes saving money can actually waste it. I'm going to tell you the five most common pitfalls that I've seen so you don't have to learn the hard way!

1. Don't buy poor-quality merchandise.

I've fallen for it again and again. When I was eight, I bought a doll at the dollar store that promptly fell apart. When I was thirteen, I bought a $2 CD with the national anthems of the world, but the tracks on the CD didn't correspond to the list on the case. During my college years, I bought innumerable t-shirts that shrank so much I had to give them to my ten-year-old sister.

It is always tempting to buy the cheapest item on the market, but needless to say, you spend more in the long run replacing cheap items than you do buying quality ones in the first place. You could buy a poor-quality shirt for $10 on a great sale and replace it every year, or you could spend twice as much for a high-quality shirt that will last three years or more.

With furniture, it adds up even faster. Spending $500 for a desk might seem crazy, but if you purchase a good one, you will never have to buy another if you take good care of it. Not so with the cheap cardboard and particle board concoctions you can get at Wal-Mart for $75. Just wait until your five-year-old gets her hands on that. You do the math.

2. Don't buy something you're not going to use.

I have a weakness for books. I have a hard time passing up a good deal on them. Imagine my glee when, at the age of nineteen, I discovered that my college bookstore sold discontinued textbooks at 90% off. By the time I finished college, I had shelves full of books that I would never use. I had paid less than a dollar for most of them, but that added up fast. Yes, I found a few real jewels, but I eventually ended up giving most of them to Goodwill.

I have since learned to be more discriminating in the books I buy, no matter how cheap they are. A dollar spent on a book you're never going to read is a dollar wasted. And wouldn't you rather have one book you really want than ten you don't care about?

The same goes for other items, not just books. It's easy to go crazy at a yard sale, a closeout sale, or a thrift store, but before you buy, think about whether you're really going to use it. Even if that wheelbarrow only cost $5, that's $5 wasted if it's just going to collect dust in the shed for the next ten years.

3. Don't buy more than you're going to use.

You may be tempted to buy foods and other items in very large quantities because they are cheaper. This is a wonderful way to save money if you're going to use everything you buy. Don't buy a whole box of oranges or twenty pounds of potatoes for a family of two. They'll spoil before you can use them, and it will have been cheaper for you to have bought the smaller quantity. If you have a large family or if the item in question won't spoil, then go to town!

4. Send in rebates carefully.

National chains of office supply stores and pharmacies often offer merchandise free or very cheap after rebate. I told you earlier about my father's rebate habit. He'll come home with surge protectors, canned air, keyboards, etc. But sometimes his purchases don't end up being free because his mail-in rebate is rejected. Here are four tips for completing rebate offers successfully:

  • Check the expiration date and act quickly. Sometimes your rebate must be postmarked the same day you purchase the merchandise.

  • Send an original cash register receipt. Ask your cashier for multiples, one for yourself plus one for each rebate offer. Photocopies usually don't cut it.

  • Don't try to get multiples of the same rebate sent to your address. The rule is almost always one rebate per household.

  • Read the fine print and follow all the directions. If you do something wrong, you'll probably never see that rebate check.

5. Watch your coupons.

Some coupons are offered for products that cost more anyway. It could be more expensive to buy a name-brand product with a coupon than a store-brand product without one. Clip and keep coupons and use them in conjunction with a sale for maximum benefit. Also, don't use coupons to buy products you don't normally use unless you have a specific reason. That's what the companies want you to do. Be smart, and use your coupons. Don't let them use you!


Dianna Scofield is a freelance writer based in Logan, Utah. She enjoys making bread, reading, and playing the violin.

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