Living frugally is generally considered a good thing. Not only can adopting certain frugal habits help reduce unnecessary spending, but it can make it easier to save money.
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But as a parent, it’s important to weigh the risks and rewards of living a frugal lifestyle. Certain frugal habits might not pay off as much as you’d hoped. Others could even reduce your — or your children’s — quality of life. While this shouldn’t keep you from exercising disciplined spending and savings habits, here are some examples of top frugal habits that rarely pay off.
You’ve probably heard about the benefits of couponing. Clip a few coupons or use a store app and you can cut costs — sometimes significantly. But extreme couponing? That’s something that requires a lot more time and commitment, which might not be worth it in the long run.
“It sounds great on paper, but extreme couponing can actually be a massive time sink. The time you spend hunting for, organizing, and using coupons could often be better spent elsewhere, especially when the savings are minimal for products you don’t really need,” said Jeff Rose, CFP and founder of Good Financial Cents.
“A study by NCH Marketing Services found that the average coupon savings is just $1.27,” continued Rose. “If it takes you an hour to save a few dollars, you’re probably not using your time efficiently.”
Another frugal habit that doesn’t always pay off for busy or financially stressed parents is extreme DIYing.
“Trying to DIY everything to save money can backfire. Sure, it’s great for some things, but for others, like complicated home repairs, it can end up costing more if you have to fix a botched job,” said Rose. “DIY mishaps can be expensive and time-consuming to fix. According to a study by ImproveNet, 63% of people who attempted DIY home repairs regretted not hiring a professional, with mistakes costing an average of $137.87 to rectify.”
Skimping on Car Safety
It might be tempting to purchase cheaper versions of must-have items, like a vehicle or car seat. But if you prioritize frugality over safety, this could quickly become a major safety concern.
“One of the things to avoid [being] frugal with is your child’s safety when driving in a car,” said Brian Dudley, CFP, SVP, financial advisor at Wealth Enhancement Group. “Good car seats are not cheap but can help save lives in a significant crash. Install the seats correctly and have a local police officer check to make sure it’s correct (if you are a new parent).”
Purchasing Heavily Processed Foods
Heavily processed foods tend to be cheaper than other grocery items, but they’re often unhealthier. And if you’ve got growing kids at home, or even if you’re concerned about your own health, you’re probably better off stomaching the higher cost.
“What your kids eat will affect many things your children do, including sleep and behavior,” said Dudley. “There are natural and organic options at almost every supermarket. In addition, the organic label may not come with it, but typically, your local farmer’s market will have options that are technically free from harsh pesticides. Your future doctor or dentist bill will thank you for the extra money spent on quality food.”
Buying Produce in Bulk
Buying in bulk can save you money if you use what you get. Oftentimes, though, foods go to waste before they can be consumed. This is especially common with produce, dairy and other fresh ingredients. With vegetables, in particular, you might want to go with frozen options instead of fresh ones that come in bulk quantities.
“Buying vegetables in bulk will be cheaper and is one of the frugal habits that most parents love,” said Joseph Morgan, the money-saving expert at CouponBirds. “However, if there is no frozen step, vegetables will soon lose nutrients and freshness, which benefits children’s health less.”
Buying Everything on Sale
Many parents try to plan their shopping trips around what’s on sale as this can be a great way to save money. But those who tend to buy discounted items they don’t need aren’t really saving money.
“Buying stuff just because it’s on sale can be a problem. Some parents see things discounted and buy a bunch of stuff they don’t really need,” said Morgan. “That’s not saving money — it’s wasting it!”
“For instance, some of the food on sale is close to expiring,” continued Morgan. “Your family might not need or want that much of it. If you can’t finish it, it’ll just go bad and get tossed out.”
Choosing Cheap Items Over Quality Goods
Many frugal parents try to save money by going with cheaper versions of things like apparel or furniture. In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad idea. But if those items have harmful or toxic chemicals in them, you could be looking at some serious problems down the line.
“Look to purchase goods that do not have heavy/harsh toxic chemicals,” said Dudley. “There are many examples of items that carry known carcinogens, which can lead to cancer. Check in on the food you consume, the clothing you wear, the furniture you buy, skincare items, household cleaners, etc.”
Plus, cheap items tend not to last as long. You might have to spend more money upfront, but if the tradeoff is something that lasts for years to come, you could actually be saving money over time.
Only Buying Used Products
Purchasing used items can be a great way to save money, but it depends on what you’re buying. Certain secondhand items aren’t of the best quality and will break down sooner than if you’d bought them new. Others could have safety concerns for you or your children.
“While it’s eco-friendly and budget-friendly, safety and reliability can be a concern with used items. For critical items like car seats, new ones with the latest safety features and without any wear and tear are often a better choice,” said Rose. “Sometimes, the peace of mind that comes with a new, warrantied item is worth the extra cost.”
Driving Long Distances for Bargains
Parents who want to save money tend to shop for deals. But if you find yourself driving long distances just to find a bargain, you might want to think twice about how much you’re actually saving.
“Bargain shopping can be powerful, leading some parents to venture far and wide in pursuit of the best deals. While scoring discounts is awesome, the hidden costs associated with long-distance bargain hunting may outweigh the savings,” said Edward Paoletti, owner of Fliptroniks.
“Driving long distances not only consumes valuable time but also incurs additional expenses such as fuel costs and vehicle wear and tear,” said Paoletti. “The financial gains from snagging discounted items may be negated by the overall expenditure and time invested in these excursions.”
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