17 Things Frugal People Never Buy

Winking woman with money
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Those of us who are frugal know deep in our bones that there are things we would never, ever pay for.

Ever.

If you have the tightwad gene, you can probably feel your skin crawl at the mere thought of plunking down hard-earned cash on certain items. Following are some things sensible spenders avoid buying at all costs.

1. Books

Young man with stack of books.
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Some people — even frugal folks — love new books. The romance of cracking open a new book and smelling the pages sends them into bibliophilic ecstasy.

But this is where you can separate merely cautious spenders from the true hardcore tightwads. The latter will only buy a book as a last resort. The library is king for truly frugal readers. We’ll even resort to interlibrary loans if we must.

For more about the great values that you can find at our favorite “home away from home,” check out “Stop Buying These 11 Things That Are Free at Libraries.”

2. Bottled water

Woman drinking bottled water
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Bottled water is the scourge of cheapskates everywhere. Why on earth would anyone pay for something that is available for nearly free? You might as well charge us for the air we breathe.

Of course, there are times when you need your H2O to go. But a small investment in a good reusable water bottle more than pays off over the years.

3. The latest technology

People waiting in line for an iPhone
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Frugal people never buy the latest and greatest of anything. Catch a supposedly careful shopper in one of those long lines to purchase the newest iPhone, and you can officially revoke his or her “cheapskate license.”

Patience is a hallmark of the frugal life. Wait to purchase that iPhone until the price comes way down, and you’ll enjoy it as much as those cutting-edge folks — just a little later, and at a big savings.

4. Lottery tickets

Surprised lottery winner holding cash
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Get real: No one with an ounce of frugality coursing through their veins is ever going to buy a ticket to the greatest scam this side of a Vegas casino.

We reported that the odds of winning one recent Mega Millions lottery drawing were in 1 in 303 million. How bad is that? Well, you have much better odds of:

  • Being struck by lightning
  • Dying in a shark attack
  • Becoming a millionaire

Have the jones to gamble? Invest money in stocks. Your odds of success are infinitely better. For more, check out “7 Keys to Stress-Free Retirement Investing.”

5. A brand-new car

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In some ways, this is the ultimate sin in the eyes of economically minded folks. You could skip buying every other wasteful thing on this list, yet still blow your budget to smithereens simply by succumbing to the lure of a shiny new set of wheels.

Our mantra at Money Talks News is never to buy a brand-new car. We’re afraid to even look at them. Instead, we avoid the siren song of the latest models by plugging our ears and heading straight for the “gently used” area of the dealer lot.

For more tips on getting a good deal on a car, read “This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car.”

6. $5 coffee

Woman sipping coffee
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Ah, the latte factor. Countless financial experts insist you can slowly get rich simply by skipping that expensive daily trip to the coffee shop.

This tip is lost on true frugalistas, however, because the very notion of darkening the door of our local Starbucks is a nonstarter anyway. We’ll make our coffee at home, thanks — and save a bundle.

7. Cable TV

Unhappy woman watching TV
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This is another item that separates the truly frugal souls from the wannabes. A 2020 analysis by DecisionData.org found that the average household cable package costs $217.42 per month.

If you’re a cheapskate, we’ll wait a minute while you pick yourself up off the floor.

Fortunately, you have plenty of options for cheaper — even free — entertainment. Budget-friendly streaming alternatives to cable include:

  • SlingTV: Offers two plans — Sling Orange and Sling Blue — each priced at $35 monthly.
  • Philo: Offers more than 60 channels for $25 a month.
  • Hulu: Offers access to thousands of shows and movies beginning at $5.99 a month.

Or, if you can be happy with a more restrictive library of movies and shows, consider “15 Free Streaming Services to Watch While Stuck at Home.”

8. Brand names when generics are available

Generic and brand-name items
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You walk into the grocery store and see two 16-ounce boxes of spaghetti. The Barilla costs $1.25 and the store brand costs 88 cents. You grab the Barilla and toss it into your cart.

Why? For the love of all that is good and holy, why?

Thrifty shoppers will almost always choose the generic over any brand name, unless the latter is on sale. Some might even accuse them of occasionally sacrificing a bit of quality simply to save a buck. (And the accusers would be right.)

In many cases, a generic is almost indistinguishable from the brand-name product, and most of the time it is less expensive. So, find a spot in your heart for those store brands. To get started, check out “32 Products You Should Always Buy Generic.”

9. Dry-clean-only clothes

Dry cleaner worker
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They say clothes make the person, but they can also destroy the wallet.

Clothes that must be dry-cleaned not only require you to pay for the service, but also to waste gas — and that most precious of commodities, time — getting your clothes serviced.

Dry cleaning uses chemical solvents — instead of soap and water — to clean your clothes. Some people say you can hand-wash those clothes at home instead. We say you should stick to machine-washable garments.

10. Beverages at restaurants

Woman drinking a beverage in a restaurant
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Frugal people aren’t superheroes dressed up in costumes emblazoned with a silver “$.” While they love to save money, they occasionally succumb to the same spendthrift temptations as everyone else.

But the cheapskate “sixth sense” never really disappears. When thrifty folks do break down and spend, they still look for ways to limit the financial damage.

Wondering who the frugal person is in your dinner party? It’s the guy or gal who just ordered filet mignon, but also asked for a glass of free water.

11. Big homes

Suburban McMansion
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Home prices are soaring in many parts of the country. If you bought new digs in the past few years, you probably are sitting on a nice windfall, at least on paper.

So, if people are getting rich off their oversized houses, why not join the crowd and buy a McMansion of your own?

Being thrifty means protecting yourself from the financial downside of things. Anyone who lived through the Great Recession knows that soaring home prices can fall to the earth with frightening speed if market conditions change.

A big house also means:

  • A bigger mortgage
  • Higher taxes
  • More expensive insurance
  • Greater — and more costly — repair and upkeep bills
  • Fatter homeowners insurance premiums
  • Ballooning utility bills

As we have reported, owning a home is not the money maker people imagine it to be. Frugal people know this.

12. Impulse items in the checkout lane

Candy in the grocery store
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Cheapskates just know that if they so much as daydream about grabbing that pack of gum in the checkout line, lights will flash, sirens will wail and the Frugal Police will step in to strip them of their penny-pinching bona fides.

Saving money is all about not fooling yourself into suddenly mistaking a “want” is a “need.” Buying something on impulse is a thrifty person’s cardinal sin.

13. Professional car washes and detailing

Man washing a car
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Perhaps there are times when we all need to pay for a car wash — like in the middle of winter, when it’s cold but you need to get the road salt off your vehicle’s exterior.

But most frugal people are way too tight-fisted to get soaked by paying high fees for something they can cheaply do themselves.

14. Pets

Cat and dog
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This might be the most painful item on our list, especially for those of us who would rather spend a day with a dog than with most of humans. (Did I really say that out loud?)

But there’s no getting around it: Pets are budget-busters. I once heard a financial pro say that the best way to get rich is to never invite anything into your house that you are responsible for feeding. That rules out two of the best things in life: kids and pets.

Sorry, Rover.

15. Paper towels

Couple buying paper towels
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Every time I tear off a paper towel — even of the half-sheet kind that has become fashionable — a little part of my penny-pinching soul dies. Washable, reusable cloth towels are obviously the better, more economical way to go.

The fact that I have refused to embrace this obvious truth shows I still have work to do if I’m ever going to claim my place among the world’s great super-scrimpers.

If you can’t bear the thought of parting with the paper towel, at least check out Money Talks News contributor Donna Freedman’s inspiring treatise “How I Make a Roll of Paper Towels Last All Year.”

16. Extended warranties

Smarmy salesperson
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You know it’s coming: As soon as you buy an electronic item or similar product, the salesperson gives you that oh-so-sincere smile and asks, “Would you like to purchase our extended warranty with that?”

No. Not now. Not ever.

Extended warranties are almost always a boondoggle. They make a lot of money for those who sell them — $40 billion just a few years ago. But everyone from Consumer Reports to Northwestern University agrees that the only thing that is guaranteed with an extended warranty is that you are being fleeced.

17. Fancy vacations

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We get it: It’s been a long, ugly 18 months or so. As soon you got your COVID vaccination, you probably thought of celebrating by booking a trip to a lovely five-star resort in Barbados.

And that’s fine. It’s just not the sort of thing frugal people do.

Every dollar you save now gets you a little bit closer to financial independence. When you are just starting the process of saving, a $5,000 vacation can be a wealth-buster. Later on, when you have money to burn, spending several thousand dollars to pamper yourself will hardly put a dent in your overall budget.

Spend now and regret it later, or save now and enjoy it later. The choice is yours. Happy saving!

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