They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And when it comes to money habits, I’m living proof. As both my parents were frugal, I picked up a thing or two—both good and bad—about saving money.
My mom, who was a single parent and raised my older brother and I with two full-time jobs, did everything she could to save a penny. My father was equally frugal, if not more.
I most certainly learned the value of a dollar from my parents, and how not to squander hard-earned cash. On the flip side, I’ve learned a few things about what to do with my money:
1. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale
My mom loves a good sale. But sometimes she buys things just because there’s a good deal on it. These are items she might not necessarily need. Or she’ll buy too much of something. For instance, one time she bought 20 pounds of oranges because they were five pounds for a dollar.
As it was an unreasonable amount of oranges to eat in a short period of time, she ended up trying to give oranges away to coworkers and family. Plus, she ended up tossing some of them away. I too get caught up in the lure of a deal, and have learned to buy just what I need.
2. Don’t sacrifice saving money for what you value
While my parents both were incredibly frugal and cost-conscious shoppers, there were times when they surprised me by going for the more expensive version. They taught me that you shouldn’t trade saving money for quality. My dad prefers shopping at pricier grocery scores, like Whole Foods. “I like quality when it comes to food,” he once told me.
My mom hates eating out, as she finds it to be a waste of money. But when we go on vacation, instead of eating at a casual, inexpensive spot, we’ll go to a nice, sit-down restaurant. My mom likes to say: “Yes, it’s important to be careful with your money. But when you die, you can’t take your money with you.”
3. Being frugal isn’t the same as being deprived
My parents taught me that part of being frugal is finding abundance in the world. To this day, my parents showcase their creativity in their resourcefulness. My mom uses plumerias from her tree to decorate her unique layered jelly coconut cakes. My father will use an old vitamin bottle to hold his pencils. One Thanksgiving, he impressed us by making his own to-go box with a cereal box and packing tape.
I’ve found that being frugal is about finding different uses for the same object. It takes some out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. Plus, it can be a lot of fun.
4. Don’t neglect to check where your money is going
My mom would carefully scour store receipts to make sure she wasn’t overcharged for anything. Sometimes she would catch a mistake and get some money refunded. I learned to regularly review bank transactions and credit card statements. It’s a good way to make sure you’re not overcharged, or to detect fishy activity on your accounts.
5. Don’t squander your money
I learned the importance of respecting your money and making sure that every dollar was well spent. Growing up, my family would shop at Big Lots for groceries, and I wore hand-me-downs from a cousin. We rarely ate out or went to the movies. Our weekly fun outings were going to the local video store to rent movies and to the mini golf course and arcade.
My dad would take us to restaurants with kids eat free nights, and we’d shop at the used bookstore. By looking for deals, my parents made sure their dollar went farther.
6. Don’t be frugal for the sake of being cheap
It might seem as if my mom was depriving herself from the simple pleasures of spending, but she was socking away money for a larger goal: to buy a house. After saving for a few years she managed to have enough for a small down payment on a home. If she hadn’t been careful with where her money was going, she wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.
Frugality isn’t really being cheap for cheap’s sake. It can help you save for a big-ticket item, and help you reach your goal quicker.
I learned a lot about the value of the dollar from my parents. On the flipside: While being frugal can help propel your savings goals, you’ll want to be careful not to take it too far. Frugality shouldn’t cost you more in the long run, or take away from the joy of living.