Seven frugal fails that cost more money than they save


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We've all done it - while trying to save money we've ended up spending even more money.

Or we end up spending time, energy and money on things we don't need or projects that haven't worked out.

Here are seven frugal fails.

frugal fail shifting into neutral to save petrol

1. Shifting into neutral when driving downhill

In my twenties, I was travelling in the mountainous province of Lanzhou in Northern China, and the bus driver turned his engine off most of the way down. Scared? I was terrified.

While few Australian drivers would turn their engines off, some drivers are still tempted to shift into neutral to economise.

According to motoring expert Toby Hagon, going into neutral, aka angel gearing, is a #frugalfail.

"Years ago, you could have saved money switching to neutral," he said.  "But modern engines are designed not to use any petrol at all when not in use.  Further, every time you switch in out and of gears, you put pressure on your gearbox - and that will eventually mean you will need to get it serviced sooner."

2. Buying cheap petrol

One way that a frugalista can save money is by filling up with cheap petrol at the bowser.  But is cheaper petrol cheaper in the long run?

According to Hagon, studies show that cars generally get more mileage out of more expensive petrol, but if the higher-end petrol is too expensive, there is no way to recoup the expense.

To work out the most cost-effective fuel for your vehicle, he advises drivers to fill up with 3-4 litres of a particular type of petrol, monitor the mileage, calculate the cost, then fill up and repeat with other types of petrol.

But Hagon cautions it is false economy to fill up with cheaper fuel if your car requires premium unleaded.

"Many European models specify premium unleaded, and this is because Australia's lower-priced fuels often have a higher sulphur content than the engines are designed for," he said.

"You could damage your motor and void your warranty by filling up with cheaper fuel."

frugal fail the cost of cheap petrol

3. Using vinegar and bicarbonate of soda for cleaning everything

I'm a huge fan of using affordable, natural cleaners, including vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.  On their own, they are powerful, but when combined the acid and alkaline properties creates a chemical reaction that can clear blocked drains, remove stubborn stains and save burnt pans.

Unfortunately, there are times when these ingredients are unsuitable for cleaning.  You should avoid using vinegar, for instance, when cleaning French polished furniture, wooden flooring or granite and marble surfaces.

Experts also advise not to use vinegar as a rinse aid in your dishwasher as it can break down the rubber gaskets and hoses.  Always follow your manufacturer's instructions and use appropriate products.

frugal fail cleaning with vinegar and bicarb soda

And as for bicarbonate of soda, let's just say that my oven has never recovered since I cleaned it with bicarb. In theory, bicarb is great at removing baked-on grease.

But despite the many YouTube clips proclaiming the virtues of using bicarb for cleaning ovens, my oven walls are covered in powdery, white streaks.

4. Failing at homemade cleaning products

I love innovating and experimenting, and that includes making homemade cleaning products. I've featured several in my book, and I have a Household Hacks section on my website.

Many of them save me hundreds of dollars a year.  But that doesn't mean I get it right all the time.

My frugal and eco-friendly homemade dishwashing powder was an epic fail (still hoping to nail it one day).  It didn't dissolve fat and grime properly, the pipes in the dishwashing machine blocked, and the shelves went orange and mouldy.

Meanwhile, friends have reported making homemade washing powder that doesn't work for them. My good friend, Trish, made several kilos from a recipe (not mine) that made her skin itch so severely she had to throw the lot out.

5. Trying to save expiring food

I am committed to reducing food waste and like to find creative uses for leftovers.

Recently, I converted some beyond best-before cream into ice-cream.

Problem? It tasted sour - and my kids won't touch it. In fact, they've been making fun of me about it - even saying I am too frugal. In terms of fail, I invested cream in this recipe and sugar, vanilla, evaporated milk and chocolate syrup, all of which I will throw out unless I can convince hubby to eat it.

frugal fail trying to save expired food

In this case, my kitchen creativity was a little off.  But you can also get serious food poisoning from eating food that has gone bad.

While I dislike wasting food, if you are unsure how long something has been lurking in the fridge, it is best to turf it.  When in doubt, throw it out.

6. Op shopping until you drop

I have a fortnightly allowance just for op-shopping. I love a good op shop, and find it difficult to go past a store without walking in. I love the fact that I am contributing to community-based organisations, encouraging sustainability - and getting bargains.

frugal fail op shopping

Can you have too much of a good thing? Absolutely.  There are only so many clothes, retro pieces of cookware, china trios and books that you need.  The problem with op-shopping (and I hate to admit this) is that most of the time, purchases are wants rather than needs.  And if I don't really need it to start with, it is never a bargain.

7. Getting things for free

I love my Buy Nothing community so much I'm now an admin.  The sharing economy is great for saving money, and I save hundreds of dollars each year from things that people have given me.

The problem is that it is super easy to comment on items that I don't need, and then when chosen (oh, the joy!), feel obliged to go and collect - even if it is going to become a dust gatherer.

frugal fail buy nothing groups free stuff

I still have things collected more than five years ago that I haven't used - like an unusual square red glass bowl (I think it's an ashtray - don't smoke), a miniature pan and brush (lost under the sink) and DVDs (we now stream).

Nothing is ever truly free; you need to invest time and effort to pick items up, store them and dispose of them when you no longer need them.

The moral is that it's fine not to save things from being thrown out. If you don't need it, then you don't need it - even if it's free.

What is your worst frugal fail? Let us know in the comments!

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Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed more than a million dollars through frugal living. She is the author of several books including The Joyful Frugalista and The Joyful Startup Guide. Serina blogs at The Joyful Frugalista, and her podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. She is also the founder of The Joyful Business Club. Her new book, How To Pay Your Mortgage Off in 10 Years is out now!
Julia Hopewell
April 3, 2021 11.46am

Number 1 - I did try (about thirty to forty years ago:).

Number 4 - The washing powder is still in the cupboard, but works okay when I remember to use it.

Number 5 is a big one for me. Pretty much anything left over (we never have very much!), goes into a stir-fry. Old tired bags of salad, past their best celery etc.

Lastly ... Number 6 has been my life-long enjoyment. I totally agree that bagging a bargain, finding something a little different; - on top of which proceeds go to a great cause, are why I have always gone straight to the charity/op shop for most family and household needs.

Janet Stonerook
April 5, 2021 6.33am

Making "nut milk!" . it was a lot of work and the almonds were very expensive, even at a bulk produce store. I'll buy it ready made henceforth.

Chris Bedem
April 5, 2021 1.54pm

Growing my own herbs was an epic fail. Spent hundreds of dollars setting up garden beds and seedlings only to have first possums attack them, then snails, then insects, then ants!

Money magazine
April 24, 2021 4.16pm

Sounds like your herbs were very tasty, Chris. Sorry you didn't get a chance to enjoy them!

Sally Rogers
April 7, 2021 3.30am

Number 5: I learned from "The Frugal Gazette" many years ago to dump leftovers in a freezer friendly container, keep it in the freezer, then when full enough for your needs, make leftover soup. Never knew quite what we'd get but it was always delicious!

Nell Rodgers
April 10, 2021 1.16pm

My mother, LaVerne said she almost went broke spending the money she saved from quitting smoking.

Greg Austin
April 24, 2021 11.59am

My worst frugal fail was purchasing a large amount of peaches to make peach wine. We had 75 gallons of wine fermenting in the garage. The peaches cost around $80.00 dollars, and it cost me about $75.00 to have a plumber auger our sewer line to clear it of peach skins. The final fail was that I ended up with 75 gallons of peach vinegar!

Money magazine
April 24, 2021 4.15pm

Well, that could be the making of a great - if very expensive - salad dressing!

Thanks for sharing, Greg.