September 14th, 2012

When Frugality Does More Harm Than Good

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**Welcome to Self-Improvement Month here on the Credit Karma Blog! Today’s guest post is contributed by Abby of Make Love Not Debt.**

Frugality can be a lot of things – helpful, necessary, difficult, annoying – but I have developed a special talent for making it an unpleasant obstacle to bettering my well-being. While I’m a careful saver, I’ll spend money when I feel the situation calls for it. I’m not too tight-fisted. Work shoes need repairing? I’ll spend the money, because it’s better than buying a new pair of shoes! The vet says our cat might have a heart murmur and needs an echocardiogram? Of course we’ll do it, HE’S OUR BABY! Is my sister travelling to Russia for a semester, and am I freaking out about it? A gift of emergency money it is!

But I’m not so keen on spending money on myself when I really, really should. Take, for instance, my ongoing issues with anxiety. I participated in a study a few years ago on “Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” because I apparently suffer from it, but find the description so ridiculous that I try to ignore it (who doesn’t suffer from anxiety about things? It’s like calling something “Occasional Stress Disorder” or “This is Totally a Normal Human Reaction Disorder”). I generally channel this mentality into a laser-like focus and efficiency, planning things months and years in advance, keeping an obsessively clean home, and making sure that everyone around me is alright at all times. It’s likely not the healthiest approach, but it works.

But lately, I’ve found myself suffering from nagging anxious feelings that are harder to allay with my usual focus. Don’t get me wrong, I still self-medicate with the usual Type-A tendencies; but I’ve found myself wondering if there aren’t ways I could ease the anxiety, just a little bit. The problem? These methods cost money. For some reason, I have no problem investing in a good work bag, or my cat, or shoe repairs, but the thought of dropping cash on a therapy session is just too much for me.


“Maybe you should . . . stop scrubbing the kitchen so vigorously?” he’ll respond, or gently remove my hand from my organizer, where I’ve been carefully writing out all future plans into 2014.

I’ve also considered yoga as a way to help with anxiety. I’ve done it before, and found that having an hour where I’m forced to stop and focus on nothing but my breathing is actually really beneficial. But even there I encounter inner frugality demons. It’s $15 a class! I have an exercise video at home! I can do breathing exercises myself! Think of how much more I could contribute to our IRA if I just manage this anxiety on my own! But, as my husband points out, I’m not, and some things (read: mental health) are worth the small cut to our savings plan. (He has also recently taken up banjo lessons, in part because to fill our home with the dulcet tones reminiscent of “Deliverance,” and in part, I think, to prove that it is okay to spend some money on fulfilling activities – the world will not implode).

And so, while it’s an ongoing struggle, it’s one I’m trying to win. I’ve even started looking at the local yoga studio schedule. Now I just have to figure out a way to part with the $15.

Abby Dalton lives in Massachusetts with her husband and their cat. She occasionally blogs about money at Make Love Not Debt.

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  1. This was interesting as I thought the article mirrored me a lot.
    I recently got divorced – as much as I truly hate being divorced, it took a lot of internal thinking to come to the “give up on my relationship with the spouse” decision to do so (even though through the years, many times my ex would jump at the “let’s get divorced” conclusion every time we’d argue – usually about some financial irresponsibility she got caught with).
    As I go through my “finding myself” phase – the one thing I am working on is learning to spend money on things that are important. Like you, I am, and have been, an extreme saver. Although I can blame it on 2 things: 1. At one point in my life (before marriage), I had “a lot” ($15k) of credit card debt that really scared me once I realized how long it would take to get rid of it – that changed my life about debt to an extreme level, and 2. All the “retirement” calculators telling me I do not have enough money for retirement. I’d say 80% of them tell me I don’t have enough, while others say I will be OK. And of course, this is all a guess, and I am 100% a planner – an over-planner (another fault of mine) that likes to minimize risk as much as possible.
    In general, I’m an extreme long-term person.
    But so with some discussions with parents and friends – I’m trying to learn to spend money on things that are important and/or make me happy. That might be spending more money on (healthy) food – since cheap foods tend to be unhealthy, and hobbies/interests.
    Unfortunately, I’m still extremely cautious since I still get daily anxiety about not having enough for retirement according to most online calculators. My fault for not “seriously” saving for retirement until I was 30 (I am 39).
    What’s strange is, compared to friends (and even my older brother), I do have more saved up for retirement.
    I’ve contemplated meeting with a financial advisor – but I feel like I know more than enough about investing that the only thing I can do is to save more. I also feel like financial advisors will give me different opinions – similarly to how online retirement calculators are all giving me different numbers; the fact that most of them tell me I don’t have enough gives me anxiety and makes me extremely cautious with my spending – like you.

    Taka at 9:33 am on September 14, 2012
  2. Wow – I’m saddened that your spouse would “jump at the ‘let’s get divorced’ conclusion. But I understand that sometimes this is the resolution that occurs. I hope you’re able to release some of the anxiety you currently feel and live in the moment. I know planning for the long-term is important, but so is life in the here-and-now.

    bethy at 9:46 am on September 14, 2012
  3. I have respect for some people who are frugal but alot them seem to take it overboard. It almost becomes the point of their existence.

    BD Williams at 12:29 pm on October 2, 2012
  4. I can really relate to Taka. I had money in the bank and no bills other than a mortgage when I married my 2nd husband. In a year and half we were $42K in credit card debt, owed on two cars and the mortgage had doubled since he won’t live in a mobile home we ‘had’ to buy a house. He also,with every argument about money,threatened to leave. After 4 years I had enough and told him for the first and only time that it was over. He knew I wasn’t kidding either.Close to 15 years later I still get debt collectors calling me trying to find him as he is so in debt.

    I try to be frugal but try to have a balance. Due to health problems many things that we might normally spend on we don’t, and due to limited income we don’t have anything to ‘waste’ either, but I do try to have my occassional luxuries like a sewing magazine or chocolate.

    Gailete at 5:15 pm on November 1, 2012

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