10 Times When Being Thrifty Costs You Money

Are your money-saving habits actually doing more harm than good? These so-called “thrifty” tips and tricks could backfire—big time.

Michael Hyatt put it best: “Being frugal is wise. But shortsighted frugality is foolish, keeps you stuck, and costs you far more than you bargained for.” When an attempt to be thrifty backfires, the costs can far exceed the potential savings. Avoid these fake frugality traps and false economy hacks!

Making Your Own Household Cleaners

Cleaning with spray detergent, rubber gloves and dish cloth on work surface concept for hygiene

While you can clean quite a few things with some combination of baking soda, vinegar, and castile soap, some popular thrifty household cleaning hacks are anything but all-purpose.

Vinegar is a weak acid, and as such, it can wreak havoc on certain materials. You really shouldn’t use it as a rinsing agent in your dishwasher, for example, since it can degrade the rubber gaskets and hoses of the machine. Vinegar is also a bad choice for wood floors or furniture.

Baking soda can leave micro-scratches that will destroy the finish of many items, such as the sealant on marble countertops. It also reacts badly with aluminum, so don’t use it to scour baked-on residue from your aluminum cookware.

Driving Out of Your Way for Cheaper Gas

We all want to save money at the gas pump, especially as prices continue to climb ever higher. But before you drive all the way across town to get the best price, ask yourself if saving a few cents a gallon is really worth it.

Try to make filling up your tank a strategic decision. Downloading an app such as Gas Buddy, which tracks prices in your area, is a good idea. If you know that you’ll be running errands, check the app to find the cheapest gas nearby—but reconsider driving more than a mile or two out of your way in search of minimal savings.

Buying Fast Fashion

credit card shopping spree

You might not think of fantasy author Terry Pratchett as an economic philosopher, but his “boots” theory has gained plenty of attention online in recent years:

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.


When you buy cheap shoes or clothing, you might think that you’re saving money. But in the long run, most “fast fashion” is intended to be disposable. That’s not just an issue for your wallet; fashion is a huge problem for the environment.

If you can’t afford to buy quality items new, then look for secondhand pieces at thrift stores, estate sales, or online marketplaces such as thredUP or Poshmark.

Overdoing It on Meal Prep

Ideally, prepping your meals each week can save time and money. Not only will you ensure that you’re eating healthy, pre-portioned meals, but you can also avoid the unnecessary expense of dining out multiple times a week because there’s “nothing to eat” at your house.

However, make sure you’re not going overboard by prepping more food than you can eat, storing your leftovers improperly, or spending lots of money on trendy containers. If you’re new to meal prep, try to change your habits gradually. Rather than prepping an entire week of an untested recipe, make enough food for two or three meals and see how it goes. Pack yourself a snack instead of a full meal to replace your afternoon vending machine trip. Small, incremental changes are almost always more sustainable than jumping in all at once.

Neglecting Your Health Needs

Doctor and patient discussing something while sitting at the table . Medicine and health care concept. Doctor and patient

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That was true when Benjamin Franklin said it in 1736, and it’s still true today. Taking proactive steps to protect your health is one of the most important investments you can make.

If you’ve been hesitant to spend money on your health, then consider this your wake-up call. It’s absolutely worthwhile to spend money on nutritious fresh food alongside cheaper pantry staples. And if a gym membership isn’t in your budget, that doesn’t mean you should skip exercising. Going for a walk or doing yoga at home are both free.

Finally, make sure that you are keeping up with recommended checkups at the doctor, dentist, and optometrist. Letting potential health problems slide until they become full-blown emergencies is never a good idea.

Shopping Sales When You Don’t Need Anything

There’s little more tempting than a good sale—but when you buy things you don’t need on sale, you’re still wasting money. Get in the habit of planning your purchases rather than reacting to sales. That puts you in control rather than the marketing team at your favorite store.

As Morgan Greenwald reported for BestLife, sometimes those “sales” aren’t even real bargains. According to research, “many popular stores have perpetual sales on certain items, so much so that the “sale” price is essentially the regular price.”

That goes for individual items as well as bundled sales. If you only needed one item that costs $5, buying five for $20 might seem like a bargain. But you’ve actually spent more money than you intended and brought home four extra things that you now need to store somewhere.

Read More: Money-Saving Micro Habits to Help Reach Your Goals

Getting Things for Free

Kind young woman putting belongings into carton box, donating things to homeless or children orphans. Compassionate altruistic millennial volunteer taking part in charity activity, recycling concept.

Wait, how can something that’s free possibly cost you money? Well, if you don’t actually need the item, then obtaining it is a waste of resources.

As Serina Bird explained for Money, “Nothing is ever truly free; you need to invest time and effort to pick items up, store them and dispose of them when you no longer need them.”

Whether you’re someone who can’t pass up a “perfectly good” chair on the side of the road or the person who gets all of your family’s castoffs, learn to start saying no. Unless the free stuff is serving an immediate and essential purpose, you’re better off not cluttering your house with it.

Trying to Do It Yourself

The lure of fixing a problem or completing a project yourself can be a strong one. There are lots of good reasons to try your hand at DIY, from wanting to learn a new skill to spending quality time with your family. However, if saving money is your main motivator, you might want to reconsider.

Most professionals charge a fair rate for their work. That rate includes their time, labor, materials, tools and equipment, and the expertise that they’ve gained through study or practice. While there are certainly some instances where you can perform a simple repair or complete a craft project, there are far more occasions when you’ll be setting yourself up for an expensive ordeal. When you add up the money you’ve spent on supplies and tools–not to mention the value of your time, something that we’ll explore more in a moment—can you really claim to have saved money?

Worst of all, if you’re trying to repair something without the right skills and tools, you could end up making the problem worse. Then you’ll have to call in the professionals to fix your mistake.

Forgetting to Cancel Free Trials

Tv remote controller in hand of customer looking for some content in Smart Tv app for streaming video. Watching streaming services for entertainment on television. Choosing TV series and movies

Here’s another example of when “free” costs money. Many paid services offer free trials, which can be a great way to sample a streaming service or try out an online tool before committing to a monthly bill.

When you sign up for a free trial, you typically need to enter your credit card information. That’s because many people forget to cancel before they are billed for the first time. Some apps and services even make it more difficult to cancel, requiring you to “chat with customer service” or send an email with your request. This minor barrier makes it even less likely that you’ll cancel before the billing cycle begins.

If you do sign up for a free trial, mark your calendar for a day or two before you’ll get billed. Set a reminder on your phone if you need one. Don’t rely on your memory to recall when the free trial ends. While the charge might only be $5 or $10, it’s money you didn’t plan to spend and don’t need to waste.

Read More: Are You Throwing Away Money Without Even Realizing It?

Not Valuing Your Time

Too many money-saving hacks rely on trading your time for cash. That might not be as good of a bargain as you think. According to Think Big Financial, “Emerging research on the relationship between time, money and subjective well-being is showing that prioritizing the value of your time is the best way to boost happiness and financial success.”

Time is your most valuable—and non-renewable—resource. Think back to the last time you decided to DIY something to save money. How long did it take you? And how much money did you actually save? When you do the math, you may find that you “paid” yourself far less than minimum wage to complete that task or project. Isn’t your time worth more than that?

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