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Learning to live with frugal foul-ups

Not every money-saving attempt is a good one. But we learn from our mistakes as well as our successes.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 6, 2012 11:14AM
Image: Angry businessman (© Imagesource/Corbis)Not every money-saving effort pans out. Just ask Mandy, who wrote about a "Frugal Furniture Fail" in her blog, Pennies and Blessings. When a friend jettisoned a dining set, Mandy decided to paint the free furniture with the same shade she'd used on a wicker patio set.

After about $50, four trips to the store and many hours of sanding, she invited visiting relatives to sit down at a great-looking table. Trouble is, they got back up with paint-daubed backsides -- the chairs looked great but apparently were still damp.

"Unbelievable and embarrassing fail," Mandy admits.

She's not the only blogger to admit to frugal flubs, though. Not everyone's cut out to be:

A landscaper
. Megan at Counting My Pennies decided to save money by doing her own yardwork. Her reel mower wasn't effective on fast-growing weeds, though, and the neighbor kid she hired didn't do a very good job -- when he bothered to show up.

A hairstylist.
Angela at Frugal Living NW balked at paying $10 plus tip to get her toddler's locks trimmed. Her in-home haircut was not the answer. "How could a two-year-old look like he has a toupee?"

A travel agent.
Sometimes a cheap hotel is a deal and sometimes it's a safety hazard, according to Kristina at Family.Work.Life. The super-cheap bid on Priceline landed her and her young son at an establishment catering to a less-than-family-friendly clientele.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, some of which were obtained at 50% off. To everyone who's ever goofed, I say this: Lighten up.

Learning from our mistakes

Ever tried to save money by planting a garden, buying a cheaper brand of laundry soap or riding your bike to work? These moves might work out.

You might also lose your crop to moles, break out in hives from the new suds (which you bought in bulk, of course) or forget that cycling makes you sweat buckets and there's no shower at your workplace. (Post continues after video.)

We learn from mistakes as well as successes. Sometimes that means educating ourselves further -- learning more about gardening, say, especially with regard to pest control.

It might mean compromise, such as riding to work only when the weather is temperate. And yes, sometimes we end up eating the cost (e.g., giving away that huge bottle of laundry soap) because some mistakes can't be rectified.

So we live and learn -- the emphasis being on "learn." Oscar Wilde said that "experience" is simply the name we give to our mistakes. Thus you can look at a frugal fail as a useful tool -- if only because you now know which detergent not to buy.

Got any frugal fails to share? What did you learn from them?

More on MSN Money:

Aug 6, 2012 4:51PM

Some of those experiences aren't really failures of frugality.  They appear to have been the result of indolence or failures to use good sense. 


The painted furniture episode is simply a failure to make sure the paint was dry before inviting someone to sit on it.  That's more a failure of common sense.  The frugal aspect was fine, it was the painter's failure to take the simple precaution of testing the final result that was the problem. 


The landscaping issue was not necessarily a frugal failure, it was a failure to use appropriate tools for the job.  Being too cheap to buy the right tools could be considered a case of penny wise and pound foolish, which is a frugal fail, gut giving up at that point and hiring someone unreliable or incompetent was just stupid.  


The mother who cut her child's hair apparently had no training in cutting hair.  Why was she surprised when it turned out badly?  And why didn't she at least try to acquire some information on how to do it before she did it?  Another failure of common sense. 


Garden eaten by moles?  How is that the fault of frugality?  Another failure to apply common sense and do a little research beforehand and take appropriate precautions.   


Deciding to bike to work with no shower facilities available.  What did she think would happen? 


Buying in bulk before determining if the product does what one wants?  Common sense lacking again.


The problems mentioned in the article may all have resulted from attempts to be frugal, but they really were not frugality failures.  They happened because the individuals involved failed to exercise just a little basic common sense.  With the application of a little effort beforehand, they would not have turned into "learning experiences."  They sound more like the results of laziness. 


Oh, wait.  I forgot.  Nothing is ever anyone's fault anymore.  Things "just happen" and could not have been avoided.  Especially if avoiding them takes a little forethought and effort. 


Aug 7, 2012 1:09PM
I'm very comfortable with my foul-ups because I know the sheer volume of do-it-yourself things saves me so much money that the occasional foul up, due to lack of expertise or a "DUH!" moment, is an acceptable and expected small bump to be endured.

My father repeated something I'd done at my home: rented a sander, sanded his hardwood floor and refinished it.  The problem was he misunderstood my advice to use NO stain, just polyurethane, applied a combination stain/polyurethane finish, and ended up with a way too-dark floor.  My mother had a fit.  "What are we going to do now?"  I calmed her down by pointing out that resanding the floor and applying the correct finish, on top of the previous costs, was still FAR cheaper than paying to have it done professionally.
Aug 6, 2012 11:41PM
The best plans with all the research can go wrong.  Moles showing up because it was not planned for but one never had them around in past years?  Not expected even for the most experienced gardeners.  The 1st attempt at a hair cut ,even with the right tools and reading on how it should be done, can go wrong.  The painted furniture that left marks, even though one did what the instructions said, is embarrassing.  Practice practice... I think that's what Donna was trying to say.  Don't stop just because it didn't go right the 1st time.
Aug 7, 2012 12:29PM

Kudos to Nandina for hitting the nail on the head!


Invite the neighbors' cats to play in your yard, and you'll have no problems with moles or any other rodents. And cats will not damage or contaminate the vegetables like rodenticides would. Everyone wins.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.