8 Ways We Try to Save Money That Can Backfire

Have you ever heard the expression “Penny wise, pound foolish”? It’s not an original from me (it’s Robert Burton’s – one pretty smart guy), but it’s something I heard a lot growing up from my parents. I’ve said it a time or two to my family and friends ever since.

Sometimes when we try to save money, we end up spending even more. Check out these 8 scenarios where savings can backfire and let me know some of your own.

It’s absolutely true that I and just about everyone loves to save money. Heck, I spend a lot of my time looking for ways to do it and I usually it’s time well spent. But, have you ever made some really bad decision to save some money that ended up backfiring on you later on? I know I have and it’s not at all uncommon to do something to save money now, only to have those savings cost you further down the road. It’s pretty easy to fall into that trap. Here then are a few ways that you try to save and that can actually cost you a lot more than you ever dreamed.

8 Ways We Try to Save Money That Can Backfire

1. Avoiding the doctor or dentist

When money is tight, who needs to pay money to a dentist just to have him tell you to “floss more often” or to the doctor just to have him tell you to “lose some weight”? Well, if you have been doing that for a couple of years you could just wind up paying a big price.

Avoiding the regular check-ups and cleanings can leave you facing a hefty bill later on when you may need a bunch of costly fillings. Even worse, you may need root canals or replacement teeth. If you have a dental plan that covers free check-ups, then there is absolutely no excuse for neglect. Even if you don’t, you still need to go to the dentist and doctor for health checks. It’s a lot better to pay the co-pays now than pay for major costs later on. And worse still, it could even cost you your life, especially when so many conditions can be treated if they’re caught early.

2. Opening a new credit card for a discount, then only paying the minimum

You are probably getting asked this all the time…“Would you like to sign up for our credit card today and save 30% instantly on your purchase?” It can be a good deal if you actually pay off the credit card in full when you get the first statement. Sadly, when that first statement arrives, many people find it easy to avoid the pay-off amount and instead pay the much smaller minimum payment. Before long, you’re paying the minimum every month, adding more to the store card, and you’re suddenly a credit card “revolver”, one who is paying hefty interest charges. That initial 30% you saved can cost you way more if you’re not careful. Pay it late, just once, and you can add late fees and interest rate hikes to your burden.

3. Doing your own taxes

No doubt that software like TaxACT, TurboTax, and TaxCut do save a bunch of money on an accountant’s fee. These software programs are great for basic tax preparation. I have been using them myself for the past several years. But if you have anything complex, it’s well worth your time and money to hire a tax professional to file your return.

Tax accountants are trained in the minutia of the lengthy tax codes, and they can find deductions and tax exemptions that you have no idea about. And while the software may be able to take these into consideration, you need to know what you can actually legally deduct before entering it. I have used a tax accountant when my return was more complicated and I saved hundreds and hundreds over the years.

An accountant will ask some questions that the software doesn’t and they know how to get the biggest possible refund. Despite an initial saving with tax software, you may just wind up paying more than you have to in taxes. By the way, tax preparation fees are also tax deductible the following year!

4. Building up an emergency fund without contributing to your retirement plan

Look, you simply must have an emergency fund. Finance experts say you need at least six months of expenses but experts also agree that you need to look after your financial future too. If you’re squirreling away money now into an emergency fund or savings account, but you’re not putting money into a 401(k), IRA, or other long-term retirement savings plan, you’re not prepared for something you know is coming—old age.

With compound interest being what it is, every day you put off preparing for your retirement means thousands of dollars wasted. If your employer has a 401(k) match, that’s also additional (free) money you are throwing away. Be smart, think long term. Once you have that retirement plan set up and in place, then continue building your emergency fund.

5. Buying the cheapest items to save money

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—“buy cheap, buy twice”. Now, being a Super Savings blogger does not mean I don’t like spending on a quality items. I just don’t like to pay retail for them.

Almost everything I buy is well below the suggested or listed MSRP, but it’s usually a well-made product with a good rating. That goes for clothes, shoes, electronics, tools—you name it. However, if you buy a screwdriver set for $1 at a dollar store, or get your shoes for a few bucks at a flea market stall, the chances are you’ll be buying them again real soon. Cheaply made, poor-quality items may save you a few bucks in the short term, but only lead to paying more eventually to replace them. And if you replace them with more cheap junk, you’ll be repeating the cycle.

You really get what you pay for. The only exception to that is when you are buying generic brands in the grocery stores. In that case, you’re usually buying the same product that’s in the name-brand tin or packet, but for about half the price.

6. Getting suckered into BOGO deals and other enticing sales

BOGO (buy one, get one free), when it’s genuine, is hard to resist. But even then, whether it’s BOGO free or BOGO half price, you have to stop and ask yourself “would I really have bought this much of this item at this price anyway?” For instance, if you go to a store looking for grape jelly, and you see BOGO, buy one get one free on jelly, that’s probably a great time to stock up. But if you’re looking for a new pair of sneakers and see BOGO half off, stop and think. You went out looking to spend $60 on sneakers. Now you’re spending about $90. Did you even want two pairs? Will you wear them both? Do you even like the second pair you’re buying? Sure, it can be a great deal, but if you really only want and need one pair, you should only buy one pair.

Also, be careful when exploring the sales. It’s easy to see those 75% off stickers and go crazy, thinking you’re saving tons of money. If you are just tempted to buy it because it’s cheap, ask yourself “would I have bought this if it were more expensive?” I see so many people buying bargains that just gather dust in the basement and they would happily sell them for the price they paid just to have that money back. If you never use a bargain item, it’s not a bargain!

7. Avoiding routine car maintenance

Most of us have at least one car and most of us use a car to get to work. It’s something that we need to make money. It’s also something that needs regular maintenance, just like your own body. But many of us like to save that money and do only the basics. We’ll take it in for an oil change, run it through the car wash, and that’s about it. Of course, then the time comes to get your next oil change, and the mechanic has to inform you that your tires are worn on one side because you didn’t rotate them. Or you discover that little knocking sound you ignored needs a major repair. When it comes to cars, the old proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” couldn’t be truer.

Take care of your car, and it will take care of you. Of course, it goes without saying, comparison shop for services you use but once you develop trust with your servicer, stick with them even if there is a cheaper deal in town. Sometimes, as they say, “the cheap turns out to be more expensive”!

8. Buying food in bulk and throwing half of it away

I’m guilty of this one from time to time because bargains are so hard to pass up. When you see a whole bag of apples on sale for less than half the price of loose apples, you grab them. But then you watch them rot because you bought too many. I have lost count of the food items I have bought over my lifetime that I never got a chance to eat. I sometimes have so much stuff in the fridge I don’t know what’s in there, and I think that’s a big problem. We load up on cheap bulk items and then have no way of using it all. So, while buying in bulk is good for lots of things, be especially careful when buying perishables. It’s not a bargain if you throw it away.

Well, that’s my list, based on a lot of my own personal experiences. Do you have any stories of your own that have cost you more in the end when you were sure you had saved on that bargain buy? How do you decide when it’s worth it or not to spend now so there won’t be that expensive moment of regret later?


  1. Hey, Gary. Wonderful post. Numbers 1 and 7 are critical. Delayed maintenance on your body, teeth, and car is eventually going to take a huge bite out of your savings. I once went five years without seeing a dentist. Hey, nothing hurt, right? But a crown and two root canals in the course of a year really showed the folly of that strategy. And I had a similar experience with cars. When I was younger, I just changed the oil. And I was constantly floored by all the “unexpected” bills. Now, I actually read the owner’s manual and do the manufacturer’s prescribed maintenance–rotate tires every 6K miles, replace spark plugs ever 30K miles, replace engine coolant every 100K miles, etc. I still have the occasional problem, but no where near the number of “surprises” I had before. Thanks again, Gary. Your “buy cheap, buy twice” adage are words to live by.

    1. It’s amazing, Mr. Groovy, how often we have to use the experience of suffering first and then becoming much wiser from it. I think that many of the items on the list I was guilty of doing myself and experienced the financial pain that you mentioned. I’m glad to offer these kind of comments to help someone stop and think first so maybe they won’t have to suffer through it themselves.

  2. For #6, many stores will honor the same deal even buying just one. For example, Publix grocery stores: If they have an item that is BOGO-free, they’ll only charge you half price even if you buy just one. It’s good to check to see if that’s an option… unless someone REALLY needs two of something.

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