5 Ways Spending More is Actually Frugal

Posted by Jill on September 28, 2009

If you are a frequent reader of personal finance articles, you are familiar with some of the most commonly cited ways to save money – bring your lunch to work, install a programmable thermostat, cancel your cable, etc. In general, choosing the most frugal option is good for your bottom line. But sometimes, spending a little more might still help you out.

When I make less-than-frugal choices, I consider what my other options are. If I pay a little more for something when the cheaper option was easy, available, and a good substitute, paying more was a bad choice. But if I pay more for something when it saves me more in the long run or stops me from spending even more, the extra money is worth it. I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite things to “splurge” on.

Things Worth the Extra Expense

  1. Frozen Dinners: Frozen meals are more expensive per-serving than anything you can make yourself from scratch. But I don’t use frozen meals as a substitute for cooking – I keep them in the freezer for those days when I get home late from work or am feeling a little under the weather. In the past, I would have ordered in. Instead, I pop a frozen meal in the microwave or oven to save me a few dollars on takeout.
  2. Cable TV: Many people view cable as an unnecessary expense, and it probably is. But I frequently curl up at home to watch my favorite shows, and like having access to news whenever I want it. I also really enjoy watching free on-demand movies – and even on those rare occasions when I pay $5 for a movie it’s much cheaper than a night at the theater. Without cable, I think I would be bored at home and find myself going out for entertainment (including movies…and candy…and popcorn…) far more often. If cable keeps you from spending elsewhere, think twice before you cancel it.
  3. Magazine Subscriptions: The best way to read magazine articles is online, in the library, or using free subscriptions – all these options are free! I enjoy reading magazines in print and am always tempted to purchase my favorites after browsing in the grocery-store checkout line. Since I would buy them anyway, a subscription is cheaper. You can only read so many magazines per week or month, so think twice about how many you subscribe to. But don’t be afraid to order a few of your very favorites, especially if you might find coupons or other savings within.
  4. Annual fees/Entertainment Books/Discount Cards: This is kind of three things in one, but the bottom line is the same – annual fees on rewards credit cards, entertainment books, and store/website discount cards are all examples of paying to earn/save money. In general, you should be wary of paying someone else to save you money. There are lots of money-saving programs (such as accelerated mortgage programs) that charge you to do what you can do yourself for free. But sometimes, spending a little to save a lot is worth it.

    If you travel frequently on a particular airline, a branded credit card for that airline can get you to a free flight pretty quickly – but you have to be willing to pay an annual fee. An Entertainment Book will give you coupons for everything from oil changes to your favorite restaurant – look through one before you purchase it and see if it provides coupons for places you go anyway. As far as discount cards, many businesses will allow you to pay a flat amount for the right to get a certain percentage off of each purchase for the next year. Again, if it’s a place you go often, this could be worth it. The bottom line with these kinds of offers is that if what you will pay exceeds what you will earn or save, the initial outlay is a smart one.

  5. Small Home Enhancements: In general, things like candles or decorative pillows may not be the best use of your money. But if these or similar items will help you view your home as a haven, you’re more likely to find reasons to stay home – and therefore avoid going out and spending money. Warm blankets or even a bottle of wine can fall in this same category. Don’t view this as free reign to buy anything you’ve ever wanted for your house or apartment – but recognize that small comforts can pay big dividends.

What are some areas in your life where you can look past the most frugal choice to save more in the long run?

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Comments to 5 Ways Spending More is Actually Frugal

  1. Thanks for writing this post as I agree with you on some of the points. I love the idea of the frozen foods because there have been times when I have been sick (or really late from work) and they saved me from having to drive or order in. It does cost 97 cents for one serving of a Michaelina’s dinner BUT more than worth it in a pinch.

    I normally use coupons and buy store brands…but I absolutely REFUSE to use anything but Olay on my face. I have really sensitive skin and anything else makes me break out. Spending more for the Olay brand makes up for it later when I do not have itchy, rash covered skin!!!!


  2. @Lulu: exactly! It’s all about making the tradeoffs that make sense to you.


  3. Great post–all very true. I too keep frozen lunches in the fridge for those no-plan days. I almost never do take-out.
    I buy gourmet coffee in bulk from Vermont where my sister lives. It’s premium coffee and is delicious. The outlay is more than worth it as I am very rarely tempted to stop at a Starbucks; at home I make the absolute best! Another example is shopping at high-end clothing stores: I get items off season ( I just picked up a number of summer shirts–cheap!), and they are quality items that will last, at a fraction of the price. I’m also a big fan of investing in small home “comfort” items like bath soaps/lotions, candles, comfy yoga pants. I treat myself to rejuvenating evenings at home and recharge–on the cheap!


  4. @Kerri Coffee is something I definitely should have mentioned. My aunt gave me a personal espresso machine a couple of years ago. An $8 bag of Starbucks Espresso purchased at the grocery store can last me a month or more. Even if I had purchased the espresso machine myself ($100), I would still be way ahead in the long run.

    I also buy high-end items out of season and/or at outlets. If there’s been one benefit of the recession it is that sales have been incredible 🙂 I commented to someone recently that I don’t like recovery prices…no more Banana Republic Dresses for $50 or less!


  5. I eat frozen dinners when I lack the energy to cook too, but I do it with dinners I made and froze! Every time I find something awesome for lunch in my chest freezer, I’m delighted with it, and it’s awesome enough that I’m movtivated to spend the occasional evening making an enormous pot of stew or curry to keep the freezer stocked.

    Sarah T

  6. I use Netflix (or Redbox when I have a free code) instead of going to the movies. For the price of one movie ticket I see at least 4 movies a month. Plus I’m not tempted to buy overpriced popcorn or candy.

    me in millions

  7. @Sarah T Good for you! I have to say that freezing my own meals is still not something I’m very good at. They always seem to taste differently when I rewarm them, not sure why.

    @me in millions Yes, movies are INSANELY expensive, especially when you add in the extras.


  8. Nice tips. I agree with the frozen dinners, but that kinda sucks in terms of quality of food life 🙂

    It’s all about Netflix/BB Online for me. $13/month for unlimited movies. Forget even $5/month.

    Financial Samurai

  9. A tip on the coffee issue…if you’re buying Starbucks brand coffee, buy it at the actual store. The blend that we like is $9.99 there for a whole pound. At the grocery store it’s $10.99 (or more) for only 12 ounces! We usually buy the beans at Costco, Starbucks roasted, and pay $9.99 for 2 pounds-obviously the best deal of the 3.

    Headless Mom

  10. The title of this post made me think because we, as personal finance bloggers, are always saying that to become frugal, one has to do budgeting and saving.

    I think in the very essence of it, spending more is actually frugal if we buy in bulk and we see to it that we can use what we bought. Don’t just buy in bulk for the heck of saving more without you actually needing the stuffs you bought.

    Millionaire Acts

  11. @Financial Samurai Definitely not saying frozen dinners all the time, just on the nights you don’t have the time or energy to cook 🙂

    @Headless Mom I had no idea! I assumed it was cheaper at the grocery store though now that I think about it I’m not sure why. It makes sense you would get it cheaper at the actual store. Thanks for the tips!

    @Millionaire Acts Exactly – if you won’t use it all before it goes bad, it’s not cheaper. If you don’t have room to store it and the mess is going to frustrate you, not worth it. As I said above, you have to make the tradeoffs that work for you and do the best you can with what you have.


  12. Jill,

    I love the point you’re making here, however I don’t see keeping cable as a good investment. If you do the Netflix deal, and watch broadcast TV with a DVR you can get almost as much good content (sometimes more) for less money. Check out my thoughts on the upfront cost of a Home Theater vs. other options: http://www.frugalhomeav.com/is.....investment


  13. @Joel You’re right that depending on the type of cable you have, and the types of shows you like to watch, netflix+broadcast TV could be better (especially with new digital channels). I personally like to watch shows on Bravo and other channels that don’t put their episodes online, so I would have to wait until the whole season came out on DVD before watching any of it. I also connect to the internet through cable, and get a deal for bundling – my internet cost would go up if I got rid of cable. But if you mostly watch shows that are available online, and internet isn’t an issue, more power to you if you cut your cable! Definitely a big money saver.


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