I was 25 and underpaid. I was still young, and while fully employed, my salary was not nearly enough to cover my expenses. Besides home expenses like groceries, utilities, my sister’s school fees, and my personal money, I still had a student loan to pay that got bigger with interest every time I missed a payment, which was more often that I’d have liked. I was constantly exhausted from work and when I would get home, I barely had the time to focus on other things, let alone suffer through another job.
At that young age, I thought to myself, Why is it like this? I did well in school, and I really thought I found a great job, but my life was getting out of control money-wise. In the midst of all my money struggles, I asked myself, What am I doing wrong? The answer came to me while I was busy in the middle of typing away during my 9 to 5 job. While I was tapping incessantly on my keyboard, I thought, I need to be in control of my money.
For the three years since I’d graduated from college and gotten a job, I had been spending money as if I had an endless amount to spare. I didn’t know where my money was going, and I hadn’t been able to invest in anything at all. I realized I needed one thing: control. And right then, I started to look for money-saving tips to help me manage my money for the first time in my life. But what I wasn’t prepared for how many tips I’d come across that supposedly worked for others, but didn’t end up helping me save at all.
1. Using Coupons and Always Going for Deals
I scoured the Internet and found so many interesting tips for saving money. The first one that I thought would help, but definitely didn’t, was taking advantage of coupons and deals. I used the coupons I collected and went after every deal I could find. But soon enough, I noticed that it didn’t help at all — I had started to buy things I wouldn’t normally buy in addition to the things I was already buying. I found some great deals, but because I bought things I didn’t really need, I knew for sure this spending habit was far from frugal, at least for me.
2. Refusing to Use My Credit Cards
One of the things that usually gets me into trouble, money-wise, is credit cards. That’s why I thought for sure that, if I paid off my debt and refused to use them afterward, I could prevent overspending. I started to live off an all-cash diet, which seemed to work for a while. The thing is, I didn’t consider that using my cards has its benefits, too, like accruing rewards/points and providing a way for me to build my credit. As a result, even though I was debt-free, I had difficulty in getting a loan.
3. Skimping on Groceries in My Budget
One of the things I thought was a frugal money tip was not buying the groceries I really wanted, and instead opting for cheaper food staples. That was a mistake, I realize. It cost me because, in the end, not buying the foods that I wanted to eat made me develop insane cravings — so I’d go out and buy things to satisfy them. I ended up wasting food instead and, of course, food-budget money along with it. Moreover, because I’d been limiting myself to specific groceries, I didn’t have enough on-hand to cook at home and started going out to eat more often.
4. Setting a Budget That’s Too Strict
I made many mistakes in my endeavor to control my money, so the next thing I did was set up a super-strict budget. I imposed a lot of restrictions on how I could use my money, but I was overly ambitious. In the end, the strictness of my budget backfired; there were several times I would go out for a single day, and end up blowing all of my budget, because I didn’t give myself any wiggle room. I learned that a good budget provides leniency and fits in with your lifestyle, because when I felt like I was depriving myself, I couldn’t stick to it.
5. Keeping As Much of My Salary As I Could
During my younger years, I didn’t think at all about saving for retirement. I wanted to keep as much of my salary in my pocket as I could so that I could use it whenever I felt like it. For this reason, I refused to contribute to a retirement account, and that decision is haunting me to this day. Without starting to invest early on, I’m afraid my retirement years won’t be as comfortable as I hoped they’d be.
I thought these things would help me save, but they didn’t. In the end, trying to be too frugal can be expensive. What’s important is to keep a moderate hold on your money, a perfect balance of paying your debt and saving — and then choosing how you want to spend the rest of what you’ve earned.
Amber Wilson is an educator, freelance writer, and content strategist at ThesisRush.
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