Sometimes our quest to cut down expenses can lead us astray. Not all frugal tips and hacks are created equal, and trying something that worked for someone else might even end up costing you money. Here are four common frugal living tips that often backfire, and what you can do instead:
Cut Your Own Hair
Personal finance bloggers recommend this tip to not only lower your expenses but also increase your self-sufficiency. And this is certainly an idea that will work for some individuals, especially those who have hair that looks good buzzed.
But for a lot of us, cutting our own or a family member’s hair is a good way to show up to work looking unprofessional or unkempt. After all, it takes time to learn a new skill, and there are no do-overs if you mess up a haircut. Often times, a disastrous home haircut will just result in a professional fix, meaning you spent the money anyway.
The Alternative: Get your hair cut at a beauty school. Though it may seem counterintuitive to have someone who is learning how to cut hair do your ‘do rather than do it yourself, this can be a great way to save money on haircuts and still look great. Beauticians-in-training have instructors to help them, and as long as you are very specific about what you want, there’s little risk that you’ll look like the Bride of Frankenstein—and certainly less risk than if you DIY.
Buy in Bulk
There are two issues with this ubiquitous piece of advice: First, buying in bulk assumes that you have the storage space for all that additional product. This is why you often see extreme couponers on television looking like they live in a storage bunker.
Second, saving money by buying in bulk requires both organization and discipline. You may save money per cracker when you buy the 50-lb box, but it’s no savings if you end up eating them all in the first week rather than portioning them out. You’ve not only overspent on the crackers you ate too quickly, you’re also overspending on calories.
The Alternative: Buying in bulk is a kind of skill. You need to learn how to portion out bulk items and find space for them in your home. If you (like me) find that you simply cannot trust yourself with the jumbo sized package of Oreos in the house, it makes sense to only bulk-buy those things that are both non-perishable and that you have room for.
Borrow from the Library
As much as I love the public library, it’s not necessarily a completely free resource. If you’re used to purchasing books, music, and DVDs without ever having to worry about a due date, then you might find the library quite expensive. (True story: I once owed the library $42 in overdue fines for a single DVD. I had missed the movie in the bottom of my library bag before I went out of town for a couple of weeks, and I came back to a doozy of a fine).
I’m not saying that borrowing items for free from the library isn’t a great deal. It’s just that unless you are on top of your borrowing and your schedule, you may still end up spending money.
Buy Seasonal Items after the Season is Over
Now that we are officially post-Christmas, you can see incredible sales on any number of Christmas-related items. And it does make sense to spend a fraction now for something that will be back in season (and back to full price) in less than a year.
The problem with this plan is similar to the one with buying in bulk. Purchasing Christmas ornaments now (or fall clothes, etc) means you have to be organized enough to find a place to store them until next year—and remember that you have them when this season rolls around again. If you’re not naturally organized, you might find that you remember your post-Christmas Santa suit purchase in July 2014, after you forgot you owned one and had to buy a new one for Christmas 2013.
The Alternative: Be a selective shopper in season. It’s possible to find good deals even in the midst of the season. For those people who are organizationally challenged, spending your time and energy looking for sales during the season makes more sense than trying to force yourself to be organized.
The Bottom Line
Frugal tips are often presented like things everyone really ought to be doing. But we are all different with varying skills and abilities. Someone just starting to learn budgeting and frugality should focus on tips that work for them and recognize the limitations that might keep them from using every tip. Otherwise, it might be an expensive lesson.
Do you have any other frugal living tips that might end up not being so frugal?
Emily Guy Birken
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