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When Frugal Fails

When living a frugal life, mistakes don't derail your financesWhile I’ll never win an award for the most frugal person on Earth, I do make a huge effort to control spending and make sure that our money is being used for things we value or that will build wealth for the future. It works pretty well UNLESS life gets crazy. This is how to cope when frugal fails.

Life Is Crazy

I won’t lament about how busy my life has been lately. I am no busier than most people reading this post. I know many of you work, side hustle, raise families, stay physically fit, and make time for your friends. It’s a delicate balance and when something tips the scales in the wrong direction, normal routines can go off the rails. My scale is currently tipped.

Part of it is my fault with responsibilites I’ve chosen to take on as well as some new work opportunities that have come my way. Some of it is just the time of year. With school winding down, activities ramp up. Over the next few weeks we have several school and extracurricular programs happening in the evenings and on weekends. Plus, we are planning a birthday party and getting ready to go on vacation. First world problems at their finest!

Poor Time Management Means Increased Spending

When I know the week is going to be busy, I plan like a military general over the weekend. Buying groceries,  cooking meals that can be heated up later in the week, managing laundry and house cleaning; it’s like a well oiled system, unless it isn’t.

For the past few months, my down time has been minimal to none. I’ve been staying up late and using weekends to catch up with my online work. When I do have some time mid week, I’ve gotten distracted by household work that is not a priority, which makes me cranky.

The result of poor time management is being stressed, making mistakes, bad decisions, and forgetting important things. This usually leads to increased spending in one way or another.

Just Buy The Cereal!

I did not make time to go grocery shopping last weekend. As a result, by Tuesday, we were out of fruit, milk, and I had nothing to make for school snacks I was scheduled to provide. I had to work in Telluride, which does have a grocery store. It just costs lots more than going to Kroger. I decided to bite the bullet and pick up some things on my way home instead of going to my regular store later that night.

It wasn’t awful. Apples were on sale. I bought a small container of milk we can sip, but I refused to pay $5 for a box of Rice Krispies. Since my home baked snack was supposed to be Rice Krispy treats, this was a problem. I knew I had a box of Rice Chex at home and thought this would work just fine.

Well, I was wrong. Rice Chex do not make good Rice Krispy Treats. They tasted OK but did not stick together well at all. I’m sure the fact that I used extra butter to make up for the small quantity of marshmallows I had did not help. Anyway, they were not fit for school consumption unless I was willing to provide bowls and spoons.

I now have a bowl of Rice Chex kinda crispy, and I still had to go buy a pre-made snack for school (thank goodness for the bakery clearance section!). I should have just ponied up for the Rice Krispies in the first place. If frugality ends up costing more in later expenses or valuable time, it’s not worth it.

Money Mistakes

The other thing that happens when you are distracted is that you make financial mistakes that normally would be laughable. I recently paid our Chase Freedom credit card bill online. This card  is used for lots of our expenses, and I have two bank accounts linked for payment. One account is for normal bill paying. The other is one we use to save for yearly expenses like property taxes and life insurance. Since I just paid property taxes, the account is almost empty. You can see where this is going.

Yes, I scheduled the credit card payment from the wrong account. I almost had a heart attack when I got the email from my bank saying I had insufficient funds. Frugal people don’t over draft!

I immediately got on the phone to explain what had happened and made a payment from the correct account. The bank did not charge for my mistake,  but I still got zinged with a $25 credit card fee.

The Benefits Of A Frugal Lifestyle

While neither of these mistakes really hurt us in the whole scheme of things, it’s just like Mrs. Frugal Woods forgetting her lunch. You don’t want to dismiss stupid mistakes as no big deal. Blowing off unnecessary spending or time wasting can lead to lifestyle inflation. I certainly need to be better organized and manage my time more efficiently, but all is not lost!

We have one credit card we use solely for grocery spending. I was almost afraid to open the bill for last month, afraid it would be awful. Our max grocery budget is $500 a month. This bill was $499.81. I would love for our grocery spending to be $400, but I also know that I bought laundry supplies and paper products this month because they were on sale. Even though I was not paying attention, and even with buying household supplies, we still did not blow our grocery budget. Autopilot has been set to resist buying junk we don’t need!

Never Let A Fee Go Unchallenged

I also called about the $25 fee. Because we are never late on payments and pay in full every month, the representative waived it before I could even get the request out of my mouth. If we were continually behind on payments and maxed out, I don’t think Chase would have been as nice. Being a good money steward really paid off in this case.

When in debt and hemorrhaging cash, it’s very hard to start forming wise money habits. However, if you can get past the initial shock, being smart with money becomes second nature. I am always a work in progress, but even when frugal fails, it’s not that bad.

Have you had any frugal failures lately? Do you challenge unexpected fees?


Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Miles

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I tried to be frugal for the last few days by avoid eating out, but last week, I was really sad. So I treat my lovely daughter to a movie theater and also we had a quick lunch out.

    • I think being sad and not having enough time are two of the biggest reasons people overspend. Spending money is often tied to emotion.

  2. Glad to hear they ended up waiving the fee for you. I’ve made the wrong bank account error before, but thankfully had just enough to cover it in the wrong bank account and just required some scrambling on my part. We’ve had a few failures as of late and it’s just another reminder why we can’t let busy-ness become an excuse to overspend.

    • John, always challenge the fee.

      I ALWAYS challenge any and all unexpected fees from banks and credit cards. As Kim points out, it very much helps to have an otherwise impeccable payment record when one calls to challenge a late payment or other fee (including a renewal fee). But I’ve been lucky to have, for many years now, a 100% success record in getting the fees waived.

      Of course, this does not happen more than once or twice a year. ;D

    • Busy is not a good excuse, and I think I use it too much. I’m going to work on it and try to remove too busy from my vocabulary, just as I have removed can’t afford it. We can afford it and I do have time, I just often choose the alternative!

  3. It’s so true! When you are insanely busy order turns to chaos and spending becomes a much bigger problem. Or distractions causes problems. Case in point, forgetting to move my car for street sweeping. :(( After two years and five months of hardcore diligence to NOT getting a parking ticket, I got one. To me parking tickets is just one of the biggest money wasters on the planet. But I guess we have to forgive ourselves for being human right? Thanks again for everything and I hope you guys enjoy your vacation!

  4. What a bummer about the rice krispy treats. Some things are just not the same without the exact ingredients–and it always stings to have to buy yet another thing in order to get the job done. My husband will have work potlucks and forget to tell me. Then he has to run out to the store to pick something up. Grrr. Awesome about getting your fee cancelled though! It never hurts to ask, especially when you’ve been doing what you should be doing.

  5. I know when my life is extra hectic is when I’m more likely to make a money mistake too. I think it’s human nature. We’re much more easily distracted and sometimes we just have to make a call to spend more (i.e. buy rice krispies) to keep our sanity too. But I hate it when I make a simple mistake because I’m moving too fast but thankfully you were able to get it straightened out! Have a good weekend!

  6. I challenge EVERY bank fee and tell all of my clients to and I have always won. Every time we swipe a debit or credit card our banks make money so we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it back.

    • I have paid thousands in interest during our debt days, so I never feel bad about asking to have fees waived or refunded.

  7. That’s really great that you got the fee waived! I find it’s almost always worth contesting stuff like that. I have that same feeling of not wanting to let frugal fails build up or become habits. True, taken in isolation me forgetting my lunch didn’t cost very much, but I definitely don’t want it to become routine. I hope you can get some rest this weekend! Take care!

    • I don’t want any unfrugal habits to become routine. I’m OK to spend a bit more for convenience if it saves in the long run, but last week, I just didn’t manage my time well.

  8. Hoo boy, we fail all the time! Two people with health problems, one of which is a depressive (and also has to deal with money stuff)… it’s just ugly.

    So I’ve learned that there are times when you need to buy the damn cereal, even if it’s not on sale. Because that’s the only store that carries it, your husband has a sensitive stomach and it’s the only stuff he likes.

    You remind yourself to stock up at the next sale and to stop criticizing yourself for running out. Because you need that energy for other things.

  9. I make money mistakes too when I am feeling hectic and rushed.

  10. I definitely find that my ability to be frugal is inversely proportional to the time I have available. It seems the less time I have to spare, the more money I waste simply because I don’t have time to shop around, consider my options and so on. This is way I basically avoid spending money all week long and *only* go grocery shopping on the weekend when I have all the time in the world to compare prices 🙂

    • I would say time is my biggest enemy. You can make life much more convenient by spending more, and sometimes convenience is worth the cost, but usually, I just need to manage my time better.

  11. A while back I didn’t get the credit card payment in on time. That never happens and I called to ask for a refund of the fees. They refunded the fees and said they can do that once per year. One phone call saved $25!

  12. My failure is that I always splurge when I get my salary. I tend to be out of control. Life is really crazy and challenging! Frugal fails!

  13. It’s definitely tough to be frugal when you are busy, tired, overworked, etc. I know the times that I’ve taken the not-so-frugal path is when I’ve been tired and busy. If you don’t have time to plan things out you are much more likely to make mistakes. There’s a reason why some stay-at-home moms and dads are able to spend practically nothing on groceries – they have a ton of time to plan things out.

    • I think I could probably always spend $100 less per month on groceries if I was at home all the time, but if I stayed home all the time now, it would certainly be way more than $100 less in income.

  14. Back when I was way more broke then I am now, I definitely binge stressed a lot more. I got a lot of parking tickets. I missed deals and like you mentioned, shopped and more expensive places if they were convenient. Now I do much better, but have those days/weeks/months at a time where I spend more than usual. In fact, this weekend was one of those weekends — I had a long week at work, so I ate out on both Friday and Saturday, and drank friday night too!

    This post came at a great time. It’s always nice to have a reminder that it’s not the end of the world — I was stressed and I spent my money on something I enjoyed, no big deal. My overall habits will lead me through the rest of my debt journey!

    Great post, thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • I think once you’ve turned the corner, you can recover quickly from mistakes or at least you know how to get back on track when you’re ready.

  15. A couple of weeks ago I forgot my lunch on a Monday morning and I fell down the slippery slope. I ended up eating out all week, which should have been glorious, but really I just felt guilty. I forced myself to have a two week no spend challenge after that to get myself back on track.

    • Sometimes those type mistakes are like dominoes and you feel that you’ve already slipped, so might as well do this and spend that. Congrats on getting back on track.

  16. “Never let a fee go unchallenged” is right on. I normally pay off my credit card balance in full every month, but last month either I rushed through the payment, or I couldn’t properly read those numbers that are getting smaller every year (yes, it’s time to get my eyes checked again). Either way, I underpaid by about $4 which resulted in them charging me interest on all my charges going forward. A quick call took care of the interest charge as I am a good customer with a long history of paying off my balance monthly.

    • I’ve found that credit card companies want to take care of their good customers. Yes, I agree it’s time to get an eye check!

  17. Laurie at the Frugal Farmer linked to this post, and I’m glad she did : ) My March involved a fail too, and for the same reasons – a busy life gone out of balance. It really is a comfort to know that I’m not alone in dealing with these challenges. And since you are able to take your mishaps in stride, I am encouraged to take mine in stride too. Thanks!

    • I think we all have times where stress causes overspending, but the key is getting back on the horse and not letting it become routine.

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