You Tell Me: What’s the Hardest Part About Being Frugal?

Being frugal isn’t always easy. I’ll be honest and admit there are some weeks I’m much more frugal than others. Sometimes I do it all. I shop three different stores, carefully matching coupons to sales prices. I make breakfast from scratch in the morning. I line dry my laundry on nice days.

And then there are other weeks. We hit McDonald’s, instead of eating at home. I realize I’m out of bread, so I run to the nearest store with the highest prices to pick up a loaf. I don’t plan my errands well enough to get gas at Costco, and I end up spending more at a different gas station, because I need gas NOW. But why? Why is it easier to be frugal one week and not another? It comes down to a couple of reasons.

Not Enough Time

Between homeschooling and blogging, I don’t have a lot of free time. What little free time I have, I want to spend with my family. Some weeks are better than others, and I can squeeze everything in. But other weeks are insane. We rush from activity to activity, and I fill in the spare moments with my blogging. It seems on some days I barely have enough time to do a load of laundry at all, much less spend the extra time to hang a load on the laundry line.

Not Enough Organization

More often, a lack of organization is my problem. Yes, I’m busy. That’s a fact. But if I were more organized, lack of time wouldn’t be as much of a problem. For instance, I know there are going to be days that don’t go as planned. That’s a fact of life. If I have dinner in the freezer or pantry ingredients on hand for nights like that, I don’t need to stop by McDonald’s on the way home. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes I’m prepared, and sometimes I’m not.

Adjusting to homeschooling really threw me this year. It took a lot of mental energy to learn a new routine. In the end we excelled at school. I found time to work. But my household organization suffered a big blow. When school is over in three more weeks, I plan on working a little harder on a system to keep the household running smoothly, so I don’t have as many “what now?’” moments.

These are my two top struggles when trying to live frugally. What are yours? Peer pressure? Lack of frugal know-how? Is being frugal easy for you all the time? Or are there weeks when you struggle, too? If you struggle, what seems to trigger it?

Photo by LWY.



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By , on Apr 1, 2010
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{46 Comments}

  1. Annie:

    I keep a list of To-Do’s that is more of a When I have Time TO-DO… and then list all the things I’ve been wanting to get done but never have time for (mend so&so’s pants; read this book; clean out & organize that drawer). It’s still there and things get added a LOT faster than they are crossed off but it helps when I finally have a little block of time to myself and I can’t think of anything productive to do off the top of my head (those “what now?” moments). Even if I only get one thing done, it is still a major accomplishment in my eyes because it was something hanging over me for who knows how long (like 2 days ago, I finally cleaned out and organized my bills/pay stubs/owners’ manual drawer–that was a 2 year+ nightmare finally tamed).

    I think my biggest frugal struggles are lack of support (at times; it fluctuates) from family members mostly and not having enough space to garden & store surplus (garden produce OR grocery sales). The storage thing is definitely a struggle when you live with 2 other people in an apartment less than 1,000 sq ft. The lack of family support is definitely crushing at times (i.e. “Why waste all your time when you’re only saving $20 over one year??”) but then I read blogs like yours and it helps me remember I am not just doing it for money but for a simpler life (less money buying something, less space used to store it, less energy taking care of it).

    I think being frugal in some ways (like watching my bottom line at the check-out or at a restaurant where prices are clearly labeled) is easier than others (wanting to pamper yourself or a loved one and then having to swallow your pride and hand over the cash/card after just hearing how much its going to cost you without really realizing it before hand). I think, like many other people pointed out, emotions trigger my struggle as well. Emotions like “I deserve…” and “I can’t be stingy on … [her birthday/his graduation/etc]” are the biggest factors in my splurges. But I try to keep them low so it does feel like a treat when I let them take over. :)

  2. Kate:

    I agree that planning well is my downfall as well. Not only that, sometimes I just don’t want to eat what I already have or it is a nice day and I want to grab dinner and a drink somewhere. I need to quit giving into my impulses!

  3. Bev:

    My husband is in the military and we live with people who make (for the most part) the same as we do. So it can be hard when you all make about the same amount and wonder why can so and so buy that and we can’t. I understand that we have different lives and our family sizes are different but it is hard.

  4. Attila:

    I have M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and that means I am sometimes too exhausted to do things. The other week I threw some vegetables into the bin because A) I had been too exhausted to cook them in time and B) I was even too exhausted to find the key, open the back door and put them in the compost bucket outside. By the time I had the energy to correct the second part and put them in the compost bucket, my DH had emptied the kitchen bin and there was no way I was fishing in the dirty litter and cat poo he would have added to the bag! Most of the time I do manage to do the frugal thing; it’s a habit; I want to save our money for more important things.

    • Lynnae:

      I don’t have CFS, but I do get migraines frequently. I know that’s not nearly as difficult, but what I’ve learned is that having a routine or a plan for when you’re not feeling well is super-important. Because you know at some point you’re not going to feel well.

      That said, I haven’t mastered my plan yet, either. Another thing I’m continually striving to do better.

  5. Cfish:

    I am 59 years old and grew up in a small town in the midwest. There was no fast food, and we didn’t have much money. When we went out to eat it was a special occasion that was carefully planned. My mother did not like to cook but made a hot meal for her family every night.
    Currently, we live 10 miles from town. By the time we could drive in, I would have been able to make a simple meal, like frittata or pancakes or french fries with gravy. My husband, bless him, considers a batch of popcorn an adequate meal. That’s the way we were brought up. We eat out about 5 times a year.
    Being frugal is not a choice for us; it’s just the way we live. I think the problem with younger urban and suburban families (and I hate sounding like a geezer) is that you have too many choices. No bread? Deal with it instead of running to the closest minimart.

    • Lynnae:

      I think you have an excellent point. We do have too many choices today, and I think sometimes we feel entitled (myself included at times) to those choices, even if we can’t afford them.

      It’s a difficult mindset to change, but one I continually work on. I’m going to keep your comment in mind…it’s a good one!

      • Suzanne:

        I am not all the frugal but just the other night my daughter wanted tuna fish sandwiches for dinner only to find out we didn’t have any bread. We compromised and she had them on crackers!

  6. Kimberly:

    I would have to say eating out is definitely the hardest part. When I’m busy working at my computer and suddenly notice the time and ACK it’s time to rush off to (name your activity here…), but I didn’t prepare a sack lunch to take with us, we’re usually going to hit Taco Bell. Yeah, so the kids’ favorite thing there only costs 79 cents each, but really… it adds up! Especially when Mommy prefers the items that cost more. :-P

    As far as “Oops, I didn’t make it to Costco for gas…” If you go to Fred Meyer South (if you happen to be on that end of town), it costs exactly the same as Costco when you use their rewards card to get 3 cents off per gallon, and it’s open an hour and a half later during the week, and 4 hours later on Sundays. But really, if you think about it, even going to Chevron on 62 is only, on average, about 8 to 10 cents more per gallon, it’s 3 miles closer, and open later than Costco, besides. And how many gallons of gas are you buying? 10 to 12, if you have a big tank and you’re on empty? So, you spend an extra 80 cents, maybe an extra $1.25? I’m sorry but that extra $1.25 every 10 days (that’s how often I fill up my car on average), isn’t worth rushing to get to Costco on time. It’s $45 a year at that rate, true, but it doesn’t happen *every* week, maybe only every third week, so we’re only talking $15 extra a year to not have to drive an extra 10 minutes out of my way (one way, 20 round-trip) every time. Sure, if I happen to be near Costco when they’re open and I’m in the bottom quarter (or maybe even half) of my gas tank, it’s worth stopping.

    • Lynnae:

      I think I give myself a hard time about it, because I’m in the vicinity of Costco at least twice a week, so when I need gas and don’t gas up there, it’s REALLY poor planning on my part. Or laziness. Because sometimes I’m near Costco, I know I’m going to need gas soon, and I just don’t feel like dealing with it.

      I haven’t been to the South Fred Meyer in forever. It’s good to know that’s an option when I happen to be down that way, though.

  7. Being frugal is just like any organizational system I think. If you have a really neat organized coat closet and have a busy week with kids throwing in their coats, shoes, and extras it is going to look hectic and you might wear different shoes one day, because you couldn’t find your regular ones…. But if you have a system in place already (knowing where shoes, etc. homes are) it isn’t a full on emergency, you can easily set aside time when things have slowed down to pick up the mess because you have a system in place. So, when things are busy for me I know that this is just a season and when things slow down I have systems in place (like freezing meals and cleaning routines) and everything will be ok! :)

  8. Dena:

    My kids are 17 and 19.They help out a lot around the house.I homeschooled both.They were taught early on if it’s your mess you clean it.lol.Last night we had a casserole (freezer meal).I’m pretty frugal.We are a one income family.Keeping a tight budget is definitely a head ache but it is essential to survive month to month.Some months are better than others.Saving money,time, and sanity is New Years resolution.It’s April and the cracks are showing :-)

  9. AngelSong:

    Do your children help you clean up/organize? It’s never too early to begin encouraging them to help. That’s how skills are learned. Turn on some lively music, set a timer, and make it a game to see who can do the best job in ten or fifteen minutes.

    I agree that time can be a big obstacle to frugality, especially in the summer when I work late and get home later. We solve this by preparing ahead. If I have a week’s worth of dinners in the freezer, it’s much easier to come home to eat than to spend money eating out.

  10. Diana:

    Wow! I think being scatterbrained is my biggie! I am also not that good at shopping around.
    I seem to miss a lot of sales due to dh getting paid every 2 weeks. I’ll think I found a good sale, spend the money on the staples, and after that they might go on a deeper discount!
    I have a toddler, so time is another biggie for me. I kind of wish each store had their own list of base prices for their items that we could just print out!

  11. Sheila:

    As a working mom of two, I am right there with you guys on the time and organization issues. But since we achieved most of or debt reduction goals, I have found that I’m also not as focused on saving money as I was on lowering our debt. Now sometimes I feel like ‘why not, I can afford it’, but the whole thing is that it’s not a matter of whether I can afford it, it’s a matter of am I achiving the goals that I (we, actually – my husband and I) have. I love having money in the bank and not having that sick feeling in my stomach if the furnace makes a funny sound. That’s about the best part to me about where we are. But at the same time, we have big goals that are important to us, so it frustrates me so much that I nickel and dime it away. I should say, our goals are not owning a huge house or fancy cars or anything like that. Our goals are home renovation projects that we need to do and paying cash the next time we buy a car – things like that. I think they are just far enough away that I struggle to stay focused on them.

  12. Melissa:

    Time is what gets me as well and I find when I am off of my “routines” is when I suffer the most…stress, budget, etc.

    Not sure if you are familiar with the FlyLady but she may be worth checking out if you haven’t already. She has a great (FREE) system of routines/organization that has helped me in terms of keeping up with the household duties (I work outside of the home) without feeling overwhelmed or taking my entire weekend to clean or feeling that “I have to do all of this by myself feeling”. Her philosphy is to take things 15 minutes at a time and I find that it really works! (BTW, I don’t have any financial or otherwise relationship there, it’s just been really helpful to me and my family)

    • Dena:

      Thank you Melissa.I will check it out :)

    • Lynnae:

      Flylady is awesome! Before we moved, I lived by the Flylady system. But after we moved, I just never got a good routine going again. My goal is to start up again (baby steps, of course) when school is out. And hopefully by the time we start school again, our routines will have become second nature.

  13. Dena:

    I think time is my enemy.The lists I make for myself are too long.Some days I can get so many things done.But there are days that it seems I can’t get it all done.I know I’m over worked,under paid and most of the time not appreciated.My own expectations are too high.That in turn,leads to the “I deserve it” syndrome.When that happens I will “justify” that little something that will ultimately throw my budget.

  14. marci357:

    Books. I can always spend on a good reference book….even tho I checkout well over 100 books/yr from the library… sometimes I just gotta keep one!

    Other than that, I really have no problem being frugal because I HATE to spend my money :)

    The hardest part is probably friends who don’t understand that whatever it is they want me to do with them is just NOT worth my spending the money on it…. I enjoy the friendships, but I don’t think we need to spend a lot of money to have a good time. Sometimes I’ll cave in, just for the sake of the friendship time, but I still seem to resent spending the money on something I didn’t want to spend it on.

  15. Shirley:

    As a homeschool mom of 6. I know exactly what you are talking about. What you have to do is give your self a break. You can be frugal and eat at McDonalds. That is what the $1 menu is for. I have a case of water that is alway in my car for ‘just in case’ moments.
    So what if you don’t hit the cheapest gas station. If you spend the money you would save getting there then it is not frugal.
    I have learned that the most important thing to be frugal with is my time. I don’t shop at many different stores to get the best deal anymore. I hardley use coupons anymore. I find that it takes too much of my time and I spend way more on things. I buy brand name hardly ever. I have two stores that I shop. We live and eat based on their best in store prices. I limit my shopping to twice a month. Once to buy everything for the month and once to restock perishables. I save a ton of money planning and staying away from the stores. My kids know when it is gone it is gone.
    I keep things on hand to keep me from running to the store. I have all the supplies to make laundry soap in case I run out. I keep powdered milk on hand for when the milk is gone. I grow a garden and can as much as possible so the kids can have fruit when all the fresh runs out. Althougth P and J and tuna are not my kids favorite, they are shelf stable and always there when everything else runs out.
    If being frugal causes you to be unhappy then what is the point. I think of it as a game. When I get a great deal I celebrate. When I don’t get the best deal I can I look at the big picture. My time. Did I save time and gas by not driving to another store to save money. The answer for me is always yes. We have enough things to beat ourselves up about. Spending $.05 more a gallon at the pump should not be one of them. If you have a 20 gallon tank you saved $1.00. I don’t think that is enought to feel bad about.
    It is all about balance. Find it and embrace it!

  16. My health problems, unfortunately. Depression can mean you *know* you need to do something. And you know, logically, that you should be able to do it. But you can’t. It’s bizarre and upsetting and makes you be really hard on yourself. (I’m working on that part, it’s a slow process.)

    So I try to automate as much as possible, because my depression goes in swings. So when things are good, I try to take full advantage and cook etc. I also try to use the times I am “up” to plan for the times I’m not.

    This week, my goal is to stock up on convenience foods as affordably as possible, so that we don’t get fast food when I’m not feeling capable of anything. I got hit with a bad spell that lasted longer than usual — about 10 days or so. And it just about killed our finances for that period!

    It’s frustrating because there’s only so much you can do. I’m taking the pills, I’m getting up earlier and trying to get more sunlight (which does help) but I have a form that will always be with me. So I need to just stop expecting myself to magically “get my act together” and instead figure out realistic alternatives.

    While that seems incredibly obvious, it’s amazing how long it takes for you to really accept something like that.

    • Faith:

      I am glad someone wrote this. Depression was also my first thought as my “obstacle,” but I hesitated to write about it. It is very much a struggle though.

  17. karyn sweet:

    Our biggest hurdle is eating out – and it’s not because I don’t have food at home. Instead, I use it as reward. I think of some special reason we “deserve” to go out, or I reward myself for making through the errands with a large, fancy coffeeshop coffee…things like that.

  18. Jackie Wingler:

    Great topic! Mine is wanting to be more comfortable. I’m “jealous” of others comfort and it sometimes makes it more difficult to be frugal when I see others spending freely and they have no debt while I watch every penny and still can’t be as comfortable as others.

  19. Melinda:

    A big factor for me seems to be guilt when it comes to my kids. I don’t want them to feel like “poor kids”, so I often spend money that I shouldn’t to make them feel like they fit in. A lot of that comes from hang ups I still have from when I was a kid. This is probably my biggest road block. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are in NO WAY spoiled with all kinds of “stuff”. This really boils down to things like my son wanting $10 so he can go out and eat dinner with his friends. Hubby and I RARELY go out to eat(because of the cost), but I will often feel guilty and give my son the money so he can go with his friends and not feel left out. Another example, just this week, my daughter has been begging me to go tan. The prom is coming up, and she swears all of her friends are going to be tanned for the prom and she will stick out like a sore thumb. The price was $25 for a month of tanning. I, once again, was guilted into paying the money so she wouldn’t stand out as the “girl who’s parents couldn’t afford for her to tan”.

    Oh, I could write a book about this subject but I guess I will stop here!LOL

    • Lynnae:

      Kids can definitely make it hard! While I don’t believe in giving kids everything, I also believe if it’s possible, we should not be so frugal that our kids end up resenting it. It’s a difficult balance!

  20. I always find that my own expectations and perfectionism get in the way. On a bad or busy week, I find I focus on things that really aren’t important. I make mountains out of molehills. This wears me out and then I find it hard to keep up with my regular frugal routine. I also find my expectations get more unrealistic and then I lose my motivation to stick with the plan. I feel like what I am doing won’t matter anyway. In the end, talking with my husband or just taking a break often brings me back to earth and content with living my frugal life.

  21. I agree with Melinda. I’m OK doing without a lot of things, but I feel like an ogre when I have to repeatedly say “no” to my kids. I am lucky that my 3 boys don’t care too much about the latest clothing. But they are musicians and when they want something like a new accessory, it’s harder for me to refuse.

    I try to keep these extras for gift occasions or maybe have them save for at least part of the purchase. But I admit that I have given in on a few occasions. We are in a position where we need to cut spending at the moment, and I dread having to say “no” more often.

  22. I’d like to add another reason. Sometimes I’m just being stubborn, contrary, and tired of the whole idea of frugality. I always come to my senses, but usually it takes a splurge-lette or two before I’m ready to get back on the wagon. I know it’s silly, but sometimes just using more shampoo or toothpaste feels positively luxurious. Oh and I do own the fact that I’m probably just a fruitcake at heart. ;)
    Depending on the situation, splurging a little now and then can keep me happier with a frugal lifestyle in general.

  23. I agree that being frugal is harder at some times than at others. My biggest challenge, I think, is that being frugal takes time. It’s the converse of paying for convenience. For example, making my own laundry detergent saves $10/month, but it takes time. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but all the little things add up.

  24. My biggest issue with being consistently frugal is time. Hubby and I both have full time jobs outside the home plus we have a toddler and a new baby due this Spring. It’s not a scenario that tends to give much free time.

  25. Elle:

    I think for us, time is the biggest factor. Being frugal takes some planning. I also think that I don’t delegate as much as I should have. We struggle with being consistent with frugality, but it’s worthwhile.

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