Warning: Are Any of These 5 Things Keeping You From Being Frugal?

by Tracy · 20 comments

Making do with what you already have is a time-honored way of frugality, and a great way to avoid having so much stuff you lose track of what you have.

There is nothing worse than thinking you’ve found a great deal on something you need, only to find out a few weeks later, you already had a perfectly good one at home. I’ve learned this the hard way many times. I can’t tell you how many times I had to smile sheepishly at my husband and admit that yes, I’d bought a duplicate, and no, we couldn’t return it because I didn’t discover it until too late.

That kind of waste is far too expensive to continue unchecked.

De-cluttering is not only a great way to keep your home nice and tidy but it allows you to take note of what you already own and make a list of what you truly need. You can also make some extra cash by selling things you no longer use or donating them and then taking a deduction from your taxes.

For example, my four youngest children are all boys so we have tons of clothes for them, much of it things waiting for somebody to grow into. My problem was I never knew what each child already had for the upcoming season and would go crazy at sales, only to find that the child in question already had 30 tops but not a single pair of nice pants.

Now, instead of shoving things in containers and tossing them into the attic every season, I sort by sizes and take notes on what I’ll want to look for at sales, thrift stores, yard sales and so on.

I’ve also discovered that by organizing my bookshelves, I find at least a half-dozen unread books every time. This makes it easy to place myself on restriction from buying anything more until I’ve read what I’ve got (this is a lot harder than it sounds).

My pantry is also a problem area, so every so often, I’ll go through and make a point to use up those cans and boxes lurking in the back before I go grocery shopping again.

Even the most frugal person has one or two purchase categories where they tend to accumulate more than they need, so it’s a good idea to periodically take the time to de-clutter and take an inventory.

While de-cluttering you’ll want to:

1. Decide what to do with duplicate items. Do you really need two or more of the same or remarkably similar item? You don’t necessarily have to get rid of the extras, but if you know you already have five black shirts, it helps you resist the temptation to buy a sixth, even at 75% off.

2. Weed out broken items. Is it practical to repair? If not, get rid of it. Odds are good you’ve been able to live without the item so think twice about replacing it.

3. You’ll also want to get rid of things you simply no longer use or want. It’s tempting to want to keep them around just in case, but if it’s been a year or longer since you’ve used it and it’s not an heirloom or fire extinguisher, go ahead and let it go. Unneeded possessions multiply the chaos in our lives.

4. Make a list of things that you’ll need and keep it in your wallet or purse. This will help you in two ways the next time you’re out shopping. You’ll have a list of things you need to buy and conversely, you’ll know you don’t need things not on the list. I’ve also found that knowing what my family needs makes it easy to answer when asked questions about what gifts to get the family.

5. Organize your things in a way to simplify finding what you need when you need it. It’s no good knowing you already have needle nose pliers or a polka dot bow tie if you can’t find them!

Being frugal means being smart with the resources you already have. By taking the time to sort and inventory what you own, you’ll be more capable of making purchasing decisions and making full use of what you have.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • JoAnne Turner says:

    I am in the process of selling my home and am downsizing. It feels good to disgard what I don’t need anymore. I am a widow and my house is just too big. The less I have to move the better because I am moving in with my parents and talk about hating to let things go. My mother is getting better except for the grocery store, she lived through the depression of the 30’s and it is hard for her to part with anything, let alone they should run out of food…..LOL

    Organize is the key.

  • steve nelson says:

    Let’s start.

  • TC says:

    GREAT blog. I came here from I hate my message board. Thanks for reminding me that too much clutter isn’t frugal. My mom and dad were both depression era obsessive compulsive, keep everything types and then my dad got Alzheimers which just made it worse. I’m never sure what to throw out etc. Daddy has been gone 9 years now and my brother is 70 and we need to get things CLEANED UP.. LOL

  • Lori says:

    Good information. Fire extinguishers are one of the few items, as pointed out above, that one hopes is never used and yet is allowed to stick around forever. Lori

  • Suzanne says:

    Staying organized and de-cluttering really is a great way to avoid re-buying things you already have. I am naturally a very organized person, but I know that not everyone is (I hear you, Doug.). One way to stay on top of it would be to say that once a month, you’ll pick a day to go around the house and do a “pick-up and toss” session. Or maybe you pick one room per week to tackle.

    If even that all sounds too organized, then take opportunities when they present themselves. Are you having a party? Well, you’ll want to clean the house, so there’s your excuse/opportunity to tackle the “stuff” while you’re at it. Got a snow day? You’re stuck inside anyway – tackle the “stuff.” Once you get used to living a little less cluttered, it gets easier to maintain.

  • IC says:

    Good tips. I also find it really hard to organise my stuff. My husband also organises things more nicely than me. But, I don’t take his criticism well and we fight even for a bottle of misplaced perfume. De-cluterring is even worse. I really get attached to books and even the smallest of trinkets so I continue to build a collection. I still have those ribbon cuttings used on my wedding day. I really intend to reuse them but I don’t have the time to apply my creativity. Well at least I donate old clothes and toys to the needy. Maybe a garage sale is the best idea for me to part with a lot of my clutter and maybe I will make some fast money in the process.

  • CreditShout says:

    Great tips. It might be hard to get rid of things but if you aren’t using them then what’s the use? Thanks for the motivation to keep frugal.

  • KM says:

    When I lived on my own, I always knew where everything was and never kept anything that I didn’t need (ok, except gifts from people who insisted I needed things like a blender, which never even made it out of the box). But now that I live with my family, trying to keep them organized is almost impossible. I try, but even if they agree with my ideas, no one ever follows through with any of them. Our pantry and fridge are overflowing, but it seems like there is nothing to eat, so we go buy more food, probably because all the useful food is in the back somewhere. A lot of food gets thrown away because of this, which really disappoints me, but that happens when you live with other people.

  • Benjamin Bankruptcy says:

    I’ve started to get organised with my grocerry shopping. I’m not sure how much food I’ve wasted buying stuff that I end up throwing out and how much fuel I wasted going to the shops to grab something I forgot. I just put to gether a spreadsheet of all my recipes so I can do a list. A bit of overkill I know but hopefully my hardwork upfront will help in the long run.

  • Vered DeLeeuw says:

    “Even the most frugal person has one or two purchase categories where they tend to accumulate more than they need.” Very true. I hate clutter, and I declutter periodically, but every time I declutter, I realize that I have managed to buy too much stuff – again.

  • Venus says:

    Excellent ideas and reminders. In the process of cleaning out pantry, cabinets and laundry room/closets. Love the bookshelf idea. Need to spring that on my kids.

    • Tracy says:

      Hi Venus. I need to go through our kids books myself. While I love books and think that all children should have books of their very own, we have far more than we need.

      One thing that my son’s school does that I think is neat is an annual book swap. Kids can bring in books they no longer read and get tickets to get new books. Since we usually have a couple dozen we can give up, I’ll let him get a handful of tickets himself and then donate the rest to kids who didn’t have any books to swap. He’s never minded and this is a good way for us to get new books and clear out the clutter and do something nice for other people all at the same time.

  • Doug Warshauer says:

    This level of organization sounds easy but takes a lot of work. How do you recommend people do it if they aren’t naturally well organized?

    • Tracy says:

      Doug, I admit, I cheated and married a man who is legendary for his organizational skills. Left to my own devices I would probably be living in a cave surrounded by piles of assorted junk.

      I find that keeping it super simple and limiting the amount of stuff I have to organize works best. I don’t do complicated cross-indexed color coded spreadsheets or anything fancy that will only overwhelm me.

      Don’t try and aim for perfection, good enough is fine. If you have a friend or family member who enjoys sorting and organizing (you’d be surprised how many people live for this kind of stuff) you could ask for their help in exchange for helping them with some of their chores.

      Tackle one project at a time. Instead of trying to organize your entire home in one weekend, make a plan to just organize one bedroom or even one closet or bookshelf.

      The hardest part for me is to get in the habit of putting things back where they belong after I’m done with them. I have not found the magic bullet for that yet, it’s simply a matter of constant reminders as I work to develop good habits.

      And if it might turn out that you’ll always lean towards the disorganized side of the spectrum and that’s fine. It will probably mean that you’ll need to put aside time a few times a year to do a massive purge and declutter but some people simply work better that way.

      • Doug Warshauer says:

        Thanks for the recommendations. I like you first strategy – cheating – best, but 13 years and 4 kids later, that ship has sailed.

  • MoneyNing says:

    One thing that I always forget are the coupons. I’m not sure how much money I’ve wasted through the years but there are numerous times I paid full price when I know I have the coupon at home for a certain percentage off. Usually, it’s not a huge dollar amount but still, I’m sure it adds up.

    • Tracy says:

      MoneyNing, that’s a great reminder, especially with back to school shopping just around the corner. There will be a lot of good coupons coming out that are useful even if you don’t have kids in school. If you can combine a coupon with the sales tax free days a lot of states have this time of year, you could save a bundle on things like clothing and office supplies.

    • KM says:

      I have the same problem. I keep all the coupons at home, but then I end up stopping by a place on the way somewhere and don’t have the coupon with me. My mom keeps a lot of them in her car, but I like my car clean and clutter-free, so I prefer to keep the coupons at home in a drawer. Plus, splitting coupons between two cars is bound to create even more problems.

  • Cd Phi says:

    Yes, organization is key. Knowing what you need and where it is located is a big part of saving money because it helps you to be less wasteful. For instance, if I needed my headphones but couldn’t find them, I might just go ahead and buy new ones but that’s really being wasteful.

    • Tracy says:

      Cd Phi, I’ve done that far too many times to count. My weakness is going to the grocery store without a list and buying extras of things we already have and forgetting the things we need. Which means another trip to the store where I’ll buy more things we don’t need. I’ve learned the hard way to look in the cupboards and fridge first and not relying on my memory of what we have and don’t have.

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