Frugal Fails: 6 Stories of Money-Saving Attempts Gone Wrong


Ever have those “pennywise, pound foolish” moments when you realize that killer deal you scored wasn’t quite as good as you thought? Maybe your DIY skills were lacking or short-term savings ended up costing you a lot more in the long run. These people know the feeling. Here, they recount their frugal fails and lessons learned, so we can avoid making the same mistakes.

When you inflate your DIY skills

When Peter Koch’s wife was eyeing a new chest of drawers, Koch told her he could make it for less money. So he bought the tools and lumber for $200 and spent two hours on the project before quitting with nothing to show for it. “Woodworking is an expensive hobby if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Koch says, 38. “Go to IKEA and spend $80 on a dresser”—which is exactly what they ended up doing.

Lesson learned: If you’re going the DIY route, make sure your skills are up to par and the cost of materials doesn’t exceed the amount you could spend on an alternative.

When bargain-hunting backfires

Chantay Bridges, 42, spotted a great, half-off deal on cereal and decided to stock up. “Not only were they a good price, but I could stash some away,” says the L.A-based Realtor. But her bargain buy turned out to be a pretty bad deal.

Bridges failed to notice that the cereal was six months past the expiration date before buying. When she opened the first box two weeks after purchasing, moths flew out and infested her home. The first exterminator visit cost her more than $300, and she missed a day of work and spent hours removing every item from her cabinets and covering her furniture.

Lesson learned: Know the expected shelf life of any food you plan to buy in bulk, and be sure you’ll eat it within that time frame. And don’t forget to check expiration dates before stocking up.

Related: How Long Do Sushi, Pizza and Your Other Favorite Takeout Foods Last?

When skimping on low-cost maintenance costs thousands

In 2009, Scott Wesley, now 30, was a broke college student looking for ways to save. So even though his apartment building recommended paying for yearly duct cleaning and AC/heating unit maintenance to ensure clean air was being circulated, he skipped the $175 expense for three years—to the detriment of his own health.

What started as a cough and shortness of breath for a few weeks turned into an asthma attack and pneumonia and ultimately a hospital visit. Wesley had to miss two weeks of wages and classes and paid another $175 to get his apartment cleaned. “It was a four-figure mistake that cost me much more in terms of my health and well-being,” he says.

Lesson learned: It may be tempting to save in the short term, but forgoing regular recommended maintenance of your home, car or self is typically a bad idea, especially when it could affect your health. So consider this your reminder to schedule your next physical or dental appointment, too.

When you underestimate what your time is worth

Once, when Jim Wang, 38, was flying from Baltimore to Denver, he decided to save $100 by booking an indirect flight through Kansas City. But when the connecting flight got delayed, he ended up wasting much of his day in the airport.

“It cost me three hours in Kansas City just to save $100,” says Wang, founder of WalletHacks.com, whose income depends on his working hours. (And since the direct flight would’ve had him home 1.5 hours faster than the indirect one, it actually cost him 4.5 hours.)

“I’d much rather spend [a chunk of time] working on my business or even just relaxing somewhere, and not have the weight and stress of being in an airport hanging over me,” says Wang. “Some of those things cost more than just the time itself because they impact your experience.”

Lesson learned: When deciding whether to pull the trigger on a frugal move, weigh carefully what your time is worth—especially with travel, when there’s a large element of unpredictability.

Related: 6 Travel ‘Savings’ Traps That Can End Up Costing You More

When the quick fix doesn’t hold up

When R.J. Weiss, a Certified Financial Planner, and his wife bought their Geneva, Ill., home in 2015, they already knew the roof wasn’t in great shape and it’d likely need replacing in a few years. But when they found a leak, they decided to patch it up for $1,200. They knew it was a risk, but were hoping to save themselves the cost of a new roof.

Just a few months later during a heavy rainstorm, water came pouring down the wall, breaking through the temporary patchwork—forcing Weiss to replace the roof for $9,300 and bringing the total spent to $10,500.

Lesson learned: “We should’ve just fixed the entire roof, knowing we had to replace it soon anyway,” says Weiss, 34, founder of The Ways to Wealth blog. If something is in need of repair, don’t do a temporary patch-up job. Do it right the first go round.

When the bottom (literally) falls out

Melissa Mesku, a 37-year-old software engineer in New York City, was once so cash-strapped that she bought a $5 set of pots and pans from a discount retailer. She figured they’d do the job—until the first time she cooked soup, and the bottom of the pot completely melted.

While it was just a $2.29 can of Progresso, that felt like a lot for Mesku, who was scraping by at the time and now had to replace her pot with another for $9. Fast-forward 10 years, and while she still doesn’t splurge on pricey cookware, she says she’s sure to buy pots that don’t melt when you use them!

Lesson learned: Budgeting even a small amount more for better quality items you use frequently can save you in the long run when you don’t have to replace them (and your dinner!) as often.