When Frugality Goes Wrong

If you landed on my blog and are reading this post, you might have some sort of interest in being frugal.

As for me, I just love frugality.

Frugality has brought Mr. FAF and me together as a couple, allowed me to save for a rainy day, motivated me to seek free resources for my own education, and make the best of everything that I have in life.

However, sometimes my frugality goes a bit to far and becomes detrimental to my emotional, physical, and financial health.

Below are the three most recent incidents that show me that being frugal to an extreme can hold me back several steps in life.

The food poisoning

You might not want to read this story if you’re eating something. 

It was 11 PM on a Sunday night. Like every other night, I was sitting at my desk trying to edit a post I had written the day before.

But something wasn’t right. I felt like the food I had eaten at dinner was trying to find its way out of my system through my esophagus.

My stomach had gotten increasingly painful since 9 PM. But I tried to forget about it, thinking it would just be like another run to the bathroom due to my IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

In fact, I knew exactly what was causing the pain. Earlier that day, my mother-in-law (MIL) and I were cleaning out the freezer when we found some fish that had expired on October 16, 2016. The fish technically had expired 9 months before although it was frozen.

I suggested we throw it away. But as a frugal person, my MIL pointed out that most of the fish still looked fine, and that she would cook it for dinner. Not wanting to argue with my MIL, I let her do her magic.

I was hesitant to eat the fish at dinner. But I felt bad for having my MIL make the dish, so I tried two small pieces. My MIL and Mr. FAF also had some. We didn’t feed it to Baby FAF. It wasn’t bad, but Mr. FAF insisted we stop eating it and throw it away.

I went on with my life that night although I started experiencing some pain half an hour after dinner. At exactly 11:30 PM, I couldn’t stand the abdominal pain or stop the food from making its way out of my system anymore. I ran to the bathroom and started throwing up. I thought that was it for the bad fish. I cleaned up and went to bed right after.

Little did I know that I would make roughly 10 more trips like that during the night. It was painful and exhausting to experience the power of two pieces of stale fish on my grown-up body for 8 hours straight.

I woke up at 7:30 AM the next day with a heavy headache and felt so nauseated that I couldn’t walk straight. I tried to comb my hair to go to work, but I just couldn’t do it. I was running a fever. I needed to lie down. I called in sick and slept pretty much the whole day on Monday.

I couldn’t go to work and couldn’t make hundreds of dollars because I was trying to save some fish that was worth at most $1 the day before. What kind of math would make that right? None.

My MIL felt guilty the whole day and kept apologizing. She made me porridge and black chicken soup to help me recover. I didn’t blame her at all. After all, I chose to eat the fish. She didn’t force me.

Mr. FAF and my MIL made this black chicken soup for me to help me recover. Black chicken has medicinal value in Chinese culture. 

I had to stay at home for another day to fully recover from the food poisoning and saw my productivity plummet to an alarming level. I was not happy about being inefficient with my time. Two days of my life just went down the drain because I was trying to save money.

Lesson #1: Do not eat seafood that’s been sitting in the freezer for almost a year. 

The cheap fridge

After Mr. FAF and I bought our first home in DC, we wanted to buy a backup fridge for extra food and put it in the basement. We made our happy first-time-homeowner trip to Home Depot and brought back a $266 Vissani white fridge – the cheapest full-sized fridge we could find.

We hoped that it would last us for years to come. The fridge worked well for a year and 4 months, and decided to stop cooling on a Thursday morning. In an attempt to save money, I posted in our community group asking if any neighbor was an appliance electrician and could help us fix the “uncool” fridge (of course, we would pay them, but I also hoped for a reliable electrician and a discount).

To make the long story short, we were told that the control board was broken, so we bought it on eBay and waited for more than a week for it to arrive because of July 4th.

Our neighbor said that we could pay them however much we wanted since we are neighbors. He said he usually charged $60/visit (I always have to pay $100/visit in DC) and would be happy to receive $60 in total. I decided to give him $100 for trouble-shooting the fridge and installing the control board later (2 visits).

It seemed like a perfect deal until the next day when the fridge stopped cooling again. My neighbor couldn’t figure out what the problem was and stopped returning my calls. During this whole ordeal, I was trying to take care of a sick baby since Mr. FAF was still in another city. After almost a month of stress and anxiety over a broken cheap fridge, I gave in and decided to buy a new one.

Mr. FAF and I agreed that investing in a good fridge would save us a lot of trouble in the future. We bought a $475 fridge together with a three-year warranty for $80 and paid $15 for Home Depot to hall away the old fridge. It was almost $750 in total including tax.

I wasn’t too happy to see our joint account afterwards, but I was relieved to have peace of mind about the fridge for the next three years.

Lesson #2: Do not buy cheap fridges for long-term use.

The used chair

This incident happened three years ago before Mr. FAF and I had Baby FAF. I was much more frugal when I was single living on a $1,000 stipend/month in DC.

After getting married, I tried to make Mr. FAF live on a similar budget as mine and soon realized it just didn’t work. In fact, it backfired a couple of times. And the chair incident was one of them.

My roommates at the time and I had just moved into a new apartment and had almost no furniture. I was secretly hoping that we would find some good chairs on the curbside somewhere and hesitated to buy new chairs.

Mr. FAF, while visiting me in DC, was getting impatient and insisted we at least check out a nearby thrift store to see if they had inexpensive chairs.

We found a $5 chair that, in my opinion, was hideous and definitely not worth the money. I also kept hoping that we would get some chairs from friends for free or from a dumpster instead. Mr. FAF, however, just wanted a chair and insisted we buy it.

We ended up getting into a heated argument on our way home. Mr. FAF got really upset about not being able to reach an agreement with me about something as cheap as a $5. He almost left DC to go back to his city that day until I apologized for being stubbornly frugal.

My effort to save $5 that day did damage to our relationship and made us unhappy for days afterwards. The money definitely couldn’t make up for the unhappy moments in our lives. Since then, we have never fought about something so cheap anymore.

Lesson #3: Arguing with my spouse about a couple of dollars here and there can do damage to our marriage.

Conclusion

Frugality has become part of my personality and mindset. I can’t picture myself getting this far in life without careful budget planning all these 12 years of living in America by myself. Frugality has enabled me to be independent and best-equipped to cope with unexpected events in my life.

However, extreme frugality has also put me in situations where I do more harm than good to my own well-being and relationships, especially my marriage to Mr. FAF.

I once tried to make Mr. FAF a frugal copy of myself. I’m so glad I stopped because I can tolerate the physical and emotional pain from food poisoning and broken appliances, but not the damage to our relationship.

 

Related:

How Frugality Brought Us Together As A Couple

How We Saved On Furniture

How Finding Substitutes Saves Me Money

3 Weird Things We Do To Save Money

 

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33 thoughts on “When Frugality Goes Wrong”

  • I felt like I was reading about myself as I read through this post- I am definitely the more frugal person in my relationship. As for fish, I’ve learned that it’s a small package but it can pack a punch. Speaking from personal experience, marked down supermarket fish is also not an actual “bargain.” Haha, we have a rule in our household that I can buy marked down meat [beef, chicken], but no seafood.

    • Hi Ying! It’s great to hear from you! 😀 I have never bought marked down fish before, but now I know stake/old seafood can be dangerously powerful. @_@

  • I live a pretty frugal life myself. However, I don’t try to impose my frugality habits on others, especially on my family members.

    When we spend money on anything, I usually ask them, do we really need it? Have we found a better option or a better price at another store? I usually put more emphasis on bigger purchases and spend more time trying to save money with those items.

    A long time ago, I almost tried to eat some instant noodles that had a tiny corner being bitten by a mouse. I thought that I could just break it off and eat the good portion. Something striked me and I remembered hearing that people had died eating food contaminated by rats. Then I decided that I shouldn’t risk my life just to save a dollar. I am glad I hat I didn’t eat that instant noodle.

    • Oh my I’m glad you didn’t eat the noodles. That sounds dangerous! I didn’t know people could die from eating food contaminated by rats. @_@ But my first reaction would probably be like yours: breaking off the part that was half eaten by the rats. >_<

  • I had a horrible cheap fridge experience too! My old one was broken and I thought I could buy a used one…so I got one from a used appliance place nearby. It broke and they came and “fixed” it. Broke again. They replaced it. That one broke. At this point, I had thankfully paid with a credit card so I issued a credit card complaint. I was able to get my money back after around 6 weeks, after showing and documenting everything I had done to attempt to resolve the issue with the merchant. I couldn’t be without a fridge any longer. I went to Home Depot and bought a new fridge. Love the new fridge!!!

    • I’m sorry to hear about your fridge mishap. The neighbor who came to fix our fridge tried to get us to buy a fridge from a used appliance store where his cousin works. But after seeing the impact of a cheap fridge on our lives, I decided to head to Home Depot instead. >_<

  • Oh man. We’ve talked about this many times. When you have trained yourself to be very frugal, changing that mindset, even for a small purchase, is really hard. I’ve made that mistake many times with clothes shopping. I buy used and even then I struggle to buy the higher quality because it costs more than the other. But the higher quality is pretty much always the best choice.

    We’ve worked to make ourselves buy mid grade on anything like appliances and other large purchases. And have a rule that under a certain amount ($20 for us) we don’t have to discuss. We’ve also added a fun budget for each of us, so we can spend a bit of money just for us for fun. It’s helped us enjoy how hard we’ve worked to get our finances in order. And has actually saved us more money since doing it.

    • I totally know what you mean about buying high quality clothes. I balk at those clothes after checking the price. >_< Your suggestion about a fun budget sounds great! Mr. FAF really likes eating out. That's his number 1 way to have fun (besides drinking beer). I think I will need to discuss having a fun budget for him and me so that I don't have to keep tabs on what he spends on all the time. 😀

      • Yes!! It helps so much! Hubs goes out for lunch with work people alot, and I would get a bit jealous and frustrated. I would buy running gear (even frugally, it’s not cheap) and he would get kinda ehhhh….. So now, it’s his money that he’s using and mine for me. Takes the pressure off and lets you have some guilt-free, budgeted fun.

  • Keeping your frugality balanced can be tough. I’ve eaten past-its-prime produce and bread after shaving off the moldy bits, though, so I certainly can’t fault you for trying with the fish.

  • Half way into reading this post, I burst out laughing. ?????. Wow, Ms.FAF, you really have some amazing stories to tell your children when they get older.

    Anything that’s is done to the extremes, always have negative consequences.

    • Haha thank you, Anne! I’m glad you found the post entertaining hehe. I will need to tell my kids to read my blog for cautionary tales @_@

  • Ugh old food in the freezer is never a good story! I remember one time I was at my brothers for a football game and we wanted wings. He had some, but they had been in his freezer for literally years LOL. We made them anyway and they seriously tasted like DUST! It was the craziest, most hilarious thing ever for us – nobody got sick, I had one bite and we threw the rest out.

    Lesson learned: Don’t mess with old food…that stuff’s dangerous and gross.

  • I have a habit of trimming off “bad” bits from veggies and fruits and eating the remaining portion because I don’t want to waste money. Your story about the fish is giving me second thoughts. I wouldn’t feel so bad if I got sick but if hubby got sick because of my attempts at saving money I would feel so bad. 🙁

  • Yeah don’t try to eat old food even if it’s in the freezer. If you know it’s been in there for a long time just throw it away, not worth the risk of getting you sick.

  • The first time I went to Las Vegas, I saw sushi at a well-known buffet. I ate a lot of it, since it was already paid for. It wound up giving me food poisoning, and I spent two nights in a hospital and paid over $1,000 in medical co-pays and deductibles. So absolutely, quality and freshness are critical when eating fish 🙂

    I think it’s always a good idea to check reviews when buying appliances (and other stuff too). My parents always said “buy cheap, buy twice”.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your sushi experience in Las Vegas. It’s surprising that even a well-known buffet can cause food poisoning. Now I have to think twice about getting so excited about seafood buffets. $1,000 sounds like a lot of money, but I’m glad you recovered after all! 🙂

  • I’m so happy Baby FAF didn’t have the fish! That doesn’t sound like a pleasant night at all. I’ve had to throw things away in the past because I’ve forgotten about them, but I usually google them to make sure there isn’t a chance of nastiness happening.

    Glad you survived!

  • Hey I remember all that!!! I was still bugging you on Twitter. $750 isn’t bad for a long-term good quality fridge! $15 haul away is actually pretty reasonable. I’ve fought Jared over bus fare: $2.50. Its embarrassing to admit it haha. Yup, frugality isn’t always easy… We went cheap on a Craigslist lamp that’s missing a lamp shade. We thought we can just buy one but the style isn’t common….so we paid $20 for a light bulb on a stick -______-

    • Haha you kept me company when I was laying in bed feeling like I couldn’t see the light of day. @_@ I was surprised Home Depot would hall away the fridge for $15 although I secretly hoped that they’d do it for free :”>

      I’ve gotten upset at Mr. FAF for getting those $1 plastic containers from the Dollar Tree store and many other minor things I just can’t remember. I’m so glad those days are gone. What was I thinking? @_@

      I’m sorry to hear about the lamp incident. I hope the light bulb looks nice at least. >_<

  • Good lessons! I’m dealing with my own right now. I cheaped out with a dishwasher leak several years ago. The person who fixed it, did it good enough for then, but it started leaking again this summer. So far I’m at $1050 in repairs and waiting for an estimate to fix the wall the plumber cut into. I don’t know what it would have cost if I did it right before, but I certainly wouldn’t have to be dealing with it again now.

  • I’ve been guilty of this sometimes in social situations. When you’re out with other people who are not frugal there can be disagreements and arguments about spending money. Some people might not think twice about ordering a round of drinks for a large group while I would be strictly against this. It’s important to have some fun but also stick to your principles.

  • We have been debating a second fridge purchase for some time, but for now are sticking with one. We figure with one fridge we will be more careful with what we buy and how many left overs we have left. A simple way to keep a minimalist fridge.

  • I don’t try to be too frugal but my wife and I often argue about her spending. She’s gotten much better but we definitely have a lot of conflict over money. It’s very hard especially when I’m the only bread-winner in the family. Honestly, I’ve had to be consistent about not being happy about her spending needlessly on all kinds of things that get thrown out quickly. Ultimately, I need to earn a lot more money so I can be satisfied with my savings rate. It’s tough, Ms. FAF!

    • I know where you’re coming from. It’s not easy when you want to save and invest wisely, but your wife is not totally on board with that. I’m not sure what I’d do in your situation. I know many people will mention talking and such, but I know from experience that sometimes talking alone is just not enough. >_<

  • Did the fish smell bad? Sorry to hear you had such a bad time with the food poisoning! Did your husband and MIL have a bad reaction too?

    Come to think of it, I have some hot dog bun bread in my fridge, it’s been there for a few weeks but I am having trouble throwing it out haha… I better get on that!

    I think Mr. GYM (or GXM) and I don’t argue too much about money (well he is more frugal than I am though I think I’m pretty frugal too) because if I want something I just buy it with my own money.

    • No, the fish didn’t smell bad at all. That’s why my MIL decided to cook it. Mr. FAF and my MIL didn’t have any reaction at all. @_@ I think it’s because my stomach is generally more sensitive than others’ due to my IBS. If the bread expired a while ago, I’d say be courageous and toss it >_<

  • Sorry to hear about that, it’ll be a funny story in a few years 🙂

    I try not to worry about a dollar here or there. It only adds up if it becomes a pattern of behaviour, like buying a latte every morning. I’m largely of the opinion that you should spend money when you need to, and if you find yourself worrying about such small sums, you may have cross the line from frugal to cheap.

  • I hope you’re feeling better!
    I agree with you on all three lessons there, especially the last two. Considering, I am single it’d serve me better to learn from your experiences (hhaha).
    On another note, I am contemplating to buy a freezer chest. I hope the wastage(s) does not increase..
    One trick I have learnt, is not to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach – saves you from overestimating your needs.
    Cheers,
    PAI

  • How terrible. Not sure if that is a thing with all Asian people and being frugal with food. Growing up, my mom would suggest (more insist) that we can eat around any mold or spoilage on fruits, vegetables, and most dairies. Had a very similar experience growing up. Haha.

  • This is great! Frugality is so important but you’re so right-sometimes it can go horribly wrong even with the best intentions! I am very lucky to have not experienced food poisoning from some of the questionable stuff I’ve eaten-I HATE wasting food, especially thinking of all the people in the world who aren’t fortunate enough to have enough to eat every day. But sometimes it’s just better to throw it out 😉 I loved your point about how you actually lose money if you’re sick all day and unable to work.

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