Despite our best efforts, we all have moments of weakness where we struggle to maintain our good frugal habits. Even money-saving pros spend time combating the allure of frugal saboteurs.
Savings experts shared their biggest challenges in maintaining their frugal ways, and what specific strategies they use to overcome. Here's what they said:
1. Discounts, Bargains and Deals
Discounts don't make for good deals when they lead you to spend unnecessarily or tempt you into sacrificing the savings you've earmarked for other goals. "Going nuts on sale items and closeouts on things I don't really need are deterrents from my big-ticket goals, such as saving for a car or investing in stocks," says Jackie Lam, founder of Cheapsters.org.
Bulk bargain shopping poses another threat to frugality for Amanda Grossman, founder of FrugalConfessions.com. "When I stock up on items, they are consumed more quickly," she says. "The actual savings is only if we consume them at the same pace we were before, but sometimes my husband sees that we have a ton, then uses more!"
Speaking of significant others, disparate relationship spending habits can prove challenging for the frugal minded. "My husband and I don't see eye-to-eye on our budgets," says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. "If I left it up to him, we would eat out every night, own every new Apple product and have unlimited cable programming." To maintain her frugal ground, Woroch and her husband talk goals, "both short-term and long-term, which gives us a sense of purpose for cutting back." But they still splurge on occasion. "The occasional reward makes the mission more motivating and easier to stick to!" she says.
3. Being Single
Speaking from the other side of the relationship perspective is Michelle Jackson, founder of ShopMyClosetProject.com. "Going out is expensive and so is online dating," Jackson says. To cut costs she incorporates low-cost meetups into her socializing plan. "I went to a cocktail-making class last week. I learned how to make three fantastic cocktails, met some great guys and drank for free," she says.
4. Social Eating and Drinking
Eating and drinking on the go isn't just a struggle for the single, though. Kate Dore, founder of CashvilleSkyline.com, admits it's a constant threat to the budget. To save without social sacrifice, "I look for happy hour specials, suggest free activities over dinners, meet for coffee instead of drinks and make an effort to cook at home," she says.
5. Vacation Mentality
Expert travel hacker and founder of BaldThoughts.com Lee Huff often finds himself fighting an indulgent mindset thanks to "vacation brain." "Because we vacation so often [with] our miles and points, I have to fight the 'it's OK to splurge because we're on vacation mentality,'" Huff says. To stay grounded in the budget without sacrificing the fun, "we focus on one extraordinary activity per location and remember that we'll able to visit again as the kids get older," he adds.
The desire to stock up on extraordinary experiences is one financial writer Kali Hawlk knows all too well. "I love traveling, taking classes and going out with friends, and those things add up fast," Hawlk says. "I try to prioritize and focus on what's going to add the most value to my life, and then I'll look for ways to reduce the cost by bartering, using coupons or going in the off-season."
Founder of Surviving and Thriving Donna Freedman faces an extra hurdle in her pursuit of frugal experiences. "I live in Alaska and most of my family and professional conferences happen to be in the Lower 48. It costs a lot to fly anywhere," Freedman says. To save while doing it all, Freedman combines personal and professional trips, stays in hostels, pays with discount gift cards, utilizes public and cheap transit, cashes in on rewards points and never turns down a ride or place to stay from friends and family.
"The right time/money balance is hard to find sometimes," says Lynnae McCoy. "With three kids at very different stages of life, our family is really busy, and sometimes it's hard to make the time to look for the best deals or do something myself rather than pay someone to do it for me," she adds.
Joe Saul-Sehy, founder of the Stacking Benjamins podcast, struggles with a time challenge of his own. "I've had to train myself to remember to still think critically about comparison shopping and costs, even in pressing situations [like my car dying], because my first reaction is always, "I need a car now," which in the past has blown the budget wide open." Having the money to cover unexpected costs is great, but using that security to stop practicing frugal habits, opting for what's fastest rather than what provides the best value, can be a slippery slope.
Believe it or not, having more money can actually thwart frugal efforts, as Lena Gott, CPA and founder of WhatMommyDoes.com learned for herself. "When I had less, it was easy to spend less, but as we earn more, I find myself breaking every single financial restraint rule I have in place, and I know better," Gott says.
Ah yes, don't we all know better. Stay frugal, friends!
Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com and her book, "The Broke and Beautiful Life," is now available.