How to Go Broke Being Frugal

The following is a guest post from Sara of, one of my personal favorites in the simple living genre.  Be sure to visit her site, and sign up for free updates via feed or email while you are there.

So you’ve been working incredibly hard at being frugal, but your bank account looks no better for the effort. In fact, your situation seems worse off than before. What went wrong?

You may have fallen into the trap of going broke by being frugal. If your extra efforts are leaving you with no extra cash, check for these culprits before throwing in the towel.

High Start-Up Costs

Some frugal habits have a break-even point that’s a few years in the future. If you’ve racked up expenses, try to determine whether these costs will be made up in the future. Club memberships (such as Costco) might be one start-up cost that will take a few months to work in your favor. Similarly, it can take years to break even after cutting out the lawn service and investing in a good mower, or purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle.

The Solution? Estimate your break-even point (the time when the savings incurred will likely outweigh the expenses).  Use that number to decide if your new frugal habit is truly worthwhile. If it is, take comfort in the savings you’ll be banking in the future. If not, it may be time to rethink your strategy.

Not Shopping for a Bargain

Even if a frugal habit can save you money in theory, you may still need to make an effort to save. Take sewing as the perfect example.  With a sewing machine and some practice under your belt, you can sew fantastic items for a few bucks apiece. On the other hand, between expense fabrics and non-sale patterns, you can also wind up paying $50 to make a dress you could have purchased for $25.

The Solution? Make sure that you shop around for components and equipment, whether you’re gardening, cooking, sewing, or doing your own auto maintenance. Look for combinations of high quality and low to reasonable prices to boost your bottom line.

Rewarding Your Efforts Too Often

You’ve been really good this month, so you totally deserve to splurge a little, right? Perhaps. Splurges and indulgences are a key part of keeping yourself satisfied and on-track, but if you’re not watchful, they can quickly erode any savings you’ve accrued—and then some.

The Solution? Keep track of your splurges. Put a smiley face on the calendar each time you indulge, keep a monthly tally sheet, or write it in your journal. If your frugal habits aren’t helping you make any financial headway, check back and see if “deserved” treats are eating up the savings you would have built up. Then, continue as before or scale back as needed.


  1. Definitely a number of good ideas here. I think the one about keeping track of splurges is a good one. It’s easy to remember the bad (or not so good) but for some reason the good things don’t always spring to mind. A “splurge reminder” is a good way to keep your spirits up until the next time your budget will allow you to splurge.

    Buying a good used push lawn mower can also be a good investment, though brand new ones without all kinds of fancy stuff on them are not so expensive. My step-father had a used mower that we kept running without much trouble for 8 years. It was well worth it though there were no regrets when we finally replaced it with a new basic push mower for only $119.
    Though I wonder these days that people with smaller yards shouldn’t invest in an electric mower instead. A few dimes per KwHr may be better than $4 per gallon of gas. Especially when gas goes higher in future. I’d love to see if anyone has an electric mower and what they think about it.

    On fixing the car, make sure to ALWAYS shop around. Repair shops and replacement part prices differ wildly and if you can find a better deal within 15 minutes, it is well worth it. Also, make sure that what the dealer charges to fix a problem will definitely save you money in the long run. When a dealer fixes a problem and doesn’t get it right the first time, you can usually push them to get it right with no cost to you. If you get it wrong, it’s time and money out of your pocket until you get it right. I had a similar experience to this when I had to buy new tires about 4 months ago. I looked online for the tires and called around for a shop to put them on. After a while I decided to see what the dealer would charge me for the tires and installation. Turns out it was $50 cheaper before tax! And they had a coupon mail-out the week before for a free alignment with brake inspection for $15. So while it was on the rack, I had new tires fitted, balanced, an alignment done and a brake inspection all for less than it would’ve cost me for just the tires, installation and balancing elsewhere.

  2. Great post!

    One way I find I can go ‘frugal overboard’ is stocking up on things that go on sale. Recently my husband’s Old Spice deodorant went on sale for 19 cents from $2.19 (sale plus coupon) – so I seriously stocked up and it only cost me some change.

    Although those items only cost us some change it got me thinking stocking up on sale items can be a good idea but I have to look ahead and be careful sure at end of the month I still have $$ in our budget to put dinner on the table.

  3. Yeah, I always consider the time to payoff. Membership to Samsclub just didn’t make sense for us as often as we can get to one (100 miles away). So we mooch off the in-laws. Whenever we go to town we are usually meeting up with them, so they get us in and we buy what we need using their membership. A little inconvenience saves us 45 dollars a year.

    Right now I am working on a huge laundry drying rack for the back porch so we don’t have to use the dryer and that ever expensive natural gas. I have enough rack space to do 4 loads of laundry at a time. All in all the materials cost me about 40 to 50 dollars in the front end. But at almost 20 dollars per unit of nat gas right now (and it will go up in winter) the payback will be a matter of a couple months so long as we stick to using it.

    The one I thought was going to be difficult was insulating our house (walls had no insulation for some reason). I had blown in insulation put in all the walls and 16″ deep in the attic at a cost of $1000 dollars last year. Our monthly utility bill has dropped an average of 70 dollars a month, so in the end not only is it going to pay for itself in the matter of a year or two, but the house is soooo much more comfortable now.

    Good post, Sometimes it is hard to see the real picture when all you can think of is how much money your COULD save.

  4. Sometimes being frugal is expensive in the short term, like putting in my perennial vegetable/fruit gardens/yard, but inexpensive in the long term….. eating almost free forever after that 🙂 Just got to keep the goal and the end result in mind.

    Good post!

  5. Good point about the sewing.

    Case in point: I planted 3 pumpkins seeds this year. They have taken over not only my garden – but my life! Plus the deer have eaten 7 large ones so far. My husband says – next year splurge and spend the $3 and just buy one.

    Another case: if you are just starting with canning – there are a lot of up front expenses. I priced out my home made strawberry jam. Results: It’s good.. but not that good!!

    Dana – author of

  6. Sewing is definetly a trap…But if you check out the discount fabric at places like JoAnne’s you can get some great deals. It’s especially useful for patchwork type quilts and children’s clothes, since some of the fabric’s small. I made a super cute baby blanket for my best friend’s new baby and only spent $25 on it. I used a really nice sheet I found on clerance as the backing, which was much cheaper and easier than buying the same material from the bolt…and I have the other part of the set for another quilt 🙂

  7. I love that you brought up the point that there is a break-even point for a lot of “frugal decisions.” It’s absolutely the case and something that most people don’t often think about. I just bought myself a new bike which (with accessories) cost me just over $200. I bought it to use to ride to school and back, thus saving me on gas and a parking pass. With that being said it will still probably take me around six months before I break even with such a large “down payment” toward frugality.

  8. About sewing – I personally still think it is about the frugalest way to go out there…. and I sew jammies and teddy bears, baby quilts, dollbaby blankets, my tops, decorator pillows, curtains, and kids clothes.

    However…I DON’T buy NEW fabric nor notions. The secret is to buy your fabric at garage sales or rummage sales. I have found a lot of fabric available for $1 each piece or so, but I often times buy fuzzy adult bathrobes and women’s dresses at rummage sales just for the fabric. When it is a $1/bag sale, I can carefully roll up about 10-12 bathrobes or dresses into a bag. At that rate, each yard of fabric is costing me under 10 cents a yard 🙂 One can buy patterns there for 10 or 25 cents also – but most of my patterns are over 30 years old – what I used for my kids I now use for my grandkids 🙂 Thread can be found by the bag or box for $1 a bunch or so.

    10 cents a yard and free notions which I save. It just doesn’t get much more frugal than that!!!
    This year for grandkids’ Christmas gifts I am sewing up 7 sets of jammies and matching fabric teddy bears… for ALL 7 sets, I will have less than $2 total invested 🙂 VERY Frugal 🙂

    (Oh, did I mention I don’t have TV – that leaves me plenty of time to sew listening to an audiobook from the library)

  9. Or my FoodSaver, which I’ve had for a year and used twice! That will change, as my nearly new, (and free!) came to live with me last night!

  10. My favorite example of this is hybrid cars.

    I recently had to buy a car, and did some number crunching. Based on several assumptions, I was pretty sure that buying a hybrid was a bad idea for me — even though I drive a lot. Consider the following:

    * Its pretty easy to find a late-model used car. Finding a late-model used hybrid car is much tougher. So, the valid comparison might be the cost of a new hybrid vs. a that of used non-hybrid.
    * In addition to having that money at my disposal to spend on gas with a non-hybrid, consider the earnings potential on that money if invested well.
    * No one knows what gas prices will be in 10 years. If they quadruple again, I will deeply regret buying a non-hybrid. If they go back to $1/gallon, I will be thrilled.
    * No one knows how long I’ll have my newly-used car for. I hope to have it for 10 years, as I did my last car. If I’m lucky, it will be 15 years. If I’m less lucky, I will have a car accident in two years that totals the car. That would be very expensive saved gas money!

    I think I figured out that my break-even point would be eight years, based on a *lot* of assumptions.

  11. Marci,
    Way to go – you’re my kind of gal! I applaud your sewing and frugality, it’s awesome.

    Regarding purchase of newer model washer/dryer – I had this dilemma recently – purchase the new *front loader* model washer which uses way less water (13 gal) compared to old time top loader machine (40 gal.). Could have gotten a new top loader with small dent for substantially less than the front loader. I did go for the front loader – wanted to go for the savings in water, but still paying off the new washer/dryer.

  12. Fortunately I wash neither diapers NOR cow towels. (Actually I don’t even know what a cow towel is). I read today that many front-loaders have a problem with mold, and the manufacturers have been subject to many related lawsuits.

  13. DON’T buy a front-loading washer if you want to be frugal.

    Most of the energy (85%) used comes from heating the water – use cold water instead.

    Front-loaders also need computer controls, unlike top-loaders, and those computer boards have been VERY failure-prone, at least on front-loaders offered in the U.S. market.

    Water itself is cheap on any municipal system – unless your private well has recharge issues, there’s no compelling case for a front-loader.

  14. If you can find an older refurbished white-westinghouse frontloading washer, without all the computer controls, they are the best thing for washing clothes.

    @Bill in NC – it’s about NOT wasting water. And about the fact that a front loader washes clothes in a different way, and washes them better than a toploading due to the mechanism of washing. If you were washing diapers or cow towels, you’d quickly see the superior cleaning ability of a front loader.

  15. I think one way to save is simply my word of mouth. I wanted a dresser for my son’s bedroom so I asked around. A friend of mine was having a garage sale, I helped her planned the event and in return not only did she give me one, two but three dressers she had, absolutely FREE.

  16. 🙂 Cow Towels are washclothes used for washing the cow’s udder prior to milking. To prevent any possible contamination from one cow to another, each cow is wiped with one washcloth (or sometimes special paper towels). So if you milk 100 cows, you use 100 cow towels each milking.

    Basically, I was washing 40 loads of laundry a week – and at least 30 loads were cow towels. I wouldn’t have made it without my old White Westinghouse front loader…. too bad they don’t make them anymore – they held up to the abuse of 40 loads a week 🙂

  17. I was mowing two lawn and my mower kepy breaking down. i didn’t want to rake the leaves anymore. I went driving around to Menanrd’s, a couple Home Depot’s and 2 owe’s. The second Lowe’s had floor model riding mower, . I bought the bagger kit, It would been about $2,400. It came to a total of $1,400. Then the cashier said, If you apply for credit you get another ten percent off. It ended up being about $1,250. So, I was approved, with no interest for first 18 months. I waited afew days then signed online and paid it off right away.