How Being Frugal Can Be Detrimental (and What To Do About It)

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The following is a contribution from Erin at Everything Finance. If you’d like to contribute to Frugal Rules, please contact us.

As a naturally frugal person, I identify with many of the core tenants of frugality. I spend my money meaningfully, I’ve cut back on unnecessary expenses, and I enjoy the simple things with an attitude of gratitude.

However, there is a “darker” side to frugality that I’ve discovered in the past year or so, and it goes hand-in-hand with coming from a place of scarcity.

I grew up watching my parents succumb to consumer debt. They lived paycheck-to-paycheck and barely had any savings.

I knew that I didn’t want to end up like that, but it affected me more deeply than I ever imagined.

So much so, I became afraid of spending. I only wanted to save. I actually prioritized saving over my student loan debt when I first graduated from college.

My intention here is to bring awareness of how being frugal can be detrimental to us, and what we can do to overcome our financial fears to embrace a little more fun in our lives.

Deprivation Leads to Unhappiness


Do you have trouble treating yourself, or celebrating wins along your financial journey?

I know I do.

It sounds silly, but sometimes, I feel guilty just for spending $5 on myself. Most of the time, I can barely bring myself to go out to eat! However, after thinking about how I spent my money in 2014, I realized something needed to change. I was constantly depriving myself, even though I didn’t realize it.

There are other things in life to enjoy besides the balance sitting in our accounts, right? This year, I’m going to be encouraging myself to spend (doesn’t that sound weird?) on things that matter to me, like family, friends, and travel. But I’m going to do this while remaining grateful for everything I have, so that I don’t get carried away. I’m also big on planning, so I want to make a plan to treat myself depending on what milestones I hit with my student loan debt. I know other bloggers have lists of treats (under a certain dollar amount) that they’ll reward themselves with, and I think that’s a great idea.

Consider What “Balance” Means to You


Do you feel as though your spending is fairly balanced, or do you feel like you have too much or too little going on? Do you find yourself saying “yes” too often to the point where your wallet can’t handle it? Or do you say “no” so often you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed something? I, unfortunately, fall into the “no” camp. Because I always try my best not to spend any money, I balk at the prospect of spending on a dinner out, on parking in the city to walk around, or on going to the movies.

Here’s how I think about each of those:

I can cook something cheaper at home, We can walk around the neighborhood instead, Why can’t we just watch a movie online?

I’ve gotten really good at talking myself out of buying or spending on things, to the point where it’s unhealthy. Personally, $10 on a meal, $8 for parking, or $12 for a movie ticket isn’t going to break the bank. But it’s the principle behind my rationalizations that won’t let me see past the price. There needs to be some sort of balance. Constantly saying “no” essentially means letting life pass me by.

Yes, it’s important to focus on achieving goals (in my case, paying off student loans), but a change in mindset is needed when frugality becomes too consuming.

What Else Can We Do and still be frugal?


If you can relate to having a difficult time spending because you’ve become a little too frugal, then I have a few suggestions.

Realize that money isn’t everything: This is the biggest obstacle for me. After growing up in a family where money was scarce, it’s hard to believe that an emergency won’t happen and knock out my savings. But it’s absolutely necessary to be able to enjoy spending on things that matter. There are so many experiences we could be holding ourselves back from!

Spend on things that matter: By being 100 percent clear with what our values are, we can feel less guilty for spending when it’s on things that truly matter to us. I wouldn’t regret going to visit my family, even if it means paying $200 for a flight. While it’s $200 being “taken away” from my student loans, it’s $200 that allows me to spend precious time with loved ones and create memories.

Be grateful for what you have, but realize it’s human to have wants: None of us are robots, right? We all have feelings and guilty pleasures such as chocolate. We need to stop letting others make us feel bad for our spending decisions. There can be quite a herd mentality when it comes to spending on “unnecessary” items. While I’m not a huge fan of dining out, who am I to cast judgment on someone that enjoys it? There are times I feel ashamed of a purchase because I know some people won’t agree with it, and that needs to stop.

Have faith that things will turn out okay in the end: This is another one I struggle with. I have a habit of wanting to prepare for the worst, and that leads to expecting the worst. That doesn’t automatically mean it will happen, though. I know I’m resourceful enough that if an emergency did happen, I’d be able to handle it. I have a few backup plans I can rely on in bad times. Be prepared, but be optimistic.


Have you struggled with spending or treating yourself? How did you overcome it? Do you think there is such a thing as being too frugal?


Erin M. is a staff writer at, a blog dedicated to every topic related to personal finance. We talk about investing, saving, budgeting, and more. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.



Photo courtesy of: Land Management

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. I'm also a freelance writer, and regularly contribute to GoBankingRates, Investopedia, Lending Tree and more.


  • When you’ve been involved in the debt payoff journey for such a long time it’s difficult to transition into loosing the purse strings of the budget. My wife and I have completely paid off debt and sometimes it’s still hard for us to realize we can spend a bit more money on ourselves. I think it’s mostly rooted in fear of what might come in the future that we might need money for.

    • Erin says:

      I completely agree, Brian. Fear definitely has a lot to do with it on my end! That, and being frugal has been so ingrained in me since childhood, it’s hard to believe it’s okay to spend a little extra from time to time.

  • Kalie says:

    This is a great post because real life is not the game of LIFE where the one with the most money at the end wins. That’s just being a Scrooge. In addition to the impact of one’s upbringing, everyone seems to have a natural financial personality. Some people are savers and some are spenders. We all have to fight our natural tendency when it gets too extreme. I try to remind myself the money is for saving, spending, and giving. Also, having a good motivation behind your financial goals help keep balance.

    • Erin says:

      I love that first sentence, Kalie. Money is not the end all be all, but it can feel that way at times. It’s important to break out of that mindset. I like the concept of having a “natural financial tendency”. Very true!

  • Aww. I suffered a phase like this too but I got over it quickly! Felt like I’m depriving myself too much.

    • Erin says:

      Glad to hear you overcame that phase. This is more of a “way of life” for me, so it’s a bit harder to change. =) Getting there, though!

  • My parents are definitely too frugal- they don’t fix things when they break and they generally refuse to spend money unless they have to. I wish they could find more of a balance. I can be too frugal at times too, but I don’t take it quite as far.

    • Erin says:

      Good observation. My parents did little to no maintenance on their previous home and they certainly paid for it when expensive things started breaking all at once. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the money for the maintenance in the first place, but it was a good lesson for me to live through!

  • Right now I’m experiencing a bit of frugal fatigue, but it’s not so much that I have the money and won’t spend it, it’s because I really DO have to watch my ultra tight budget, and right now I’m just a tiny bit cranky about it. I do practice gratitude, but sometimes our humanness takes over and we just want “something.” I do know about that guilt though because I have an upcoming post about defending my food budget. I have in the past felt ashamed that my budget for groceries seemed way more than the average PF blogger, but I have some good reasons for it. And I need to stop beating myself up about it! 🙂

    • Erin says:

      You do need to stop beating yourself up over it! Hardly anyone is perfect when it comes to their budget, and we shouldn’t have to defend our choices. What we spend on is our personal decision – we all have different values. And of course, that’s what makes personal finance personal!

  • Kathy says:

    I have struggled with treating myself in the past but have mostly gotten past that. As a child my family never had extra money and I grew up believing it was selfish to spend money on oneself. Since we became debt free, however, I have learned to relax a little. So we do eat out once a week. And if I see a book I want, I buy it…although frequently it is from the used book section of Amazon. It is taking time, but I’m learning that you aren’t being greedy or selfish if you spend money on yourself.

    • Erin says:

      Very well put, Kathy. Your experience sounds similar to mine. I’m also slowly learning that it’s okay to treat myself once in a while, especially when I do it in a meaningful way (such as selecting an item off my wishlist that’s been sitting there for months).

  • When I was in credit card debt and trying to pay it off, I had zero balance in my life. Every penny that I had that wasn’t used for a bill went towards my credit card debt. This was OK for a few weeks, but then I began to resent the debt and acted out by going on a spending binge.

    I realized that it was OK to spend a little money and have fun while getting out of debt. It took me years to get into debt and it will take me some time to get out as well. Once I had balance, I enjoyed life more and still paid off my debt.

    • Erin says:

      It is really difficult to go all in like that. I know a lot of bloggers mention having “gazelle intensity” when it comes to paying off debt, but that isn’t sustainable for some people, and that’s fine. We need to do what’s right for ourselves! I’m glad you found a system that works for you.

  • It is hard to find the balance. I felt really bad spending $17 for my daughter and I to go ice skating this weekend. We could have gone for a walk or stayed at home, but it was a blast and a great memory, so I’m OK with that. I think if we spend $17 every day without really thinking about it, that’s when spending becomes a problem.

    • Erin says:

      That sounds worth it, especially for the memories! I’m always for spending on experiences, but it can be difficult when there’s a higher price tag involved. I’m trying to spend more meaningfully because I find that when I go through with a purchase and there aren’t any regrets, I feel better about it, and I don’t hesitate as much the second time around.

  • For myself I think I have a good balance. But I have experienced others being way too frugal and sometimes that affects me. For example, when someone is trying to save money but then puts the burden on you in order to achieve that goal. To me that is going to far.

    • Erin says:

      Agreed. I don’t like to burden others with financial issues, so I make sure that my frugality doesn’t interfere with friendships and family.

  • Ben Luthi says:

    You absolutely have to find a balance. We’ve gotten a little better at it, but there are still times when we’re just miserable because we’re focused so much more on the money than we are the experience.

    • Erin says:

      Great way to put it, Ben! I get caught up in the numbers, too. “Well, I budgeted X, and we’re spending Y, we should re-think this purchase…” But we really do practice spending consciously, and there’s only so much to cut down on. That’s why I’ve been focusing on earning more, which makes me feel a little less guilty about spending.

  • I overcame my spending struggles and treating myself when I discovered the HotnReady pizza in college. It only costs $5 for pure happiness that lasts for at least a day.

    • Erin says:

      Mark, that made me laugh. =) My fiance and I recently discovered that Food Lion has a $5 pizza special on Friday, so that’s basically our weekly treat.

  • I don’t struggle with splurging as much as some of my clients do, though. I see them agonize or spending money and I know it’s painful for them. For my clients who are this frugal, we set spending goals and plan for little indulgences. The fact that they plan in advance for the “splurging” really helps them get more comfortable with it.

    • Erin says:

      I remember that section from your book, and I really liked the idea of planning ahead for splurges! I do try that, but I end up talking myself out of it at the last second, depending on what has happened (financially) throughout the month. It’s something I need to work on.

  • Janeen says:

    Having a bit of monthly “blow” money has made a big difference for my husband and I. We each get some money ($35) to spend however we want, no questions asked. He usually saves up and buys electronics or used video games. I will often times buy fabric or yarn or some girly crafty thing. Having a bit of spending money for whatever makes a huge difference in not feeling so handcuffed with our budget. The amount we give ourselves has gone up over the years. For someone on a tight budget, even $10 of blow money can really help mentally.

    • Erin says:

      Love that used video games made the list. =) That’s usually what my “treat” items consist of. Setting aside fun money is a great idea!

  • The way I look at it, money is a tool to help us take care of needs but also to help us live a high quality of life. Meaning, having quality relationships and good health. Keeping money for the sake of winning an imaginary game of trying to get the highest net worth isn’t what it’s all about.

    The net worth isn’t the endgame, it’s enjoying a fulfilled life that’s what it’s about. At least for me 🙂

    • Erin says:

      So true, Ray! Money is a tool, one that gets abused far too often, for better or for worse. I’d much rather use it to live a fulfilling life as well.

  • I am a saver by nature–to the point that it annoys me to spend money on something I want because I’m spending money. When I’m outside of the situation I know how irrational I’m being but it takes a conscious effort to push myself through the grump stage to enjoy what I’ve purchased. I have one friend who always reminds me “you make money so you can spend it, and you save money so you can spend it too.” I feel your pain, Erin!

    • Erin says:

      Yep, I am the same exact way! But spending money is obviously necessary for many different reasons, so having that irrational attitude doesn’t help in most cases. =( Hopefully making a conscious effort to enjoy our purchases will leave us feeling better about spending!

  • I completely agree with you on the importance of finding a balance with frugality. Mr. FW and I fall into the extreme frugality camp, but, we still spend on things that matter to us and that bring value to our lives (plane tickets to visit family are a great example for us). I’m all about conscious spending and splurging when it’s important to me.

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