Confessions of a Frugal Wannabe

I love to plan where my money will go and track my spending with complicated, multi-sheet Excel files and graphs, but I'm not very good at sticking to a budget. Every month I try to forecast, to the best of my ability, our expenses for the upcoming month, but every month it seems we end up inundated with unexpected expenses (both in and out of our control). I've done a lot of analysis over the last year or more to figure out where our money goes, and what we could or should be spending it on instead, but I'm still not at a place where I feel totally good about our finances. We own a home and a car and have no debt aside from our mortgage, we've paid for my second bachelors (which I started in August 2012 and will finish this May) completely in cash, and we're able to save anywhere from 10%-30% of our income depending on the month, but I still feel like our spending habits leave something to be desired. We're not excessive spenders by any means, but we're not exactly frugal either, and that has left me wondering...what if we were? There are plenty of things we (okay fine, mainly I) spend money on that aren't exactly necessities. But they're not things I feel I can easily cut out from our budget either. So what does a frugal wannabe spend money on?

Becoming a pseudo-minimalist has helped curbed some of my bad spending habits. I question every purchase I make based on whether or not that item will sit unused or unappreciated if I bring it home. That's not to say that I never buy frivolous things or things that I could most likely live without, but it does mean that I rarely fall victim to the money trap that is Target. I have gotten really good at evaluating impulse buys and trimming my budget, but there are still some things I just don't know how to cut out.

Big-Ticket Clothing Items

Even before starting my capsule wardrobe, I was never a big shopper. I didn't shop for fun or because I was bored. Instead, every few months when the seasons changed id realize, "Ah! I need new clothes!" so I'd spend a day binge shopping and that was that. I suppose that putting together a capsule every 3ish months still falls under the umbrella of binge shopping, but I'm much smarter in my shopping process and much more methodical about what I purchase. And I've mentioned before that, now that I've been at capsule-ing for a year, I'll have a lot less shopping to do to build my capsules going forward.

I've done a good job of not buying anything new once I've put together each season's capsule. When I see a cute sweater or tee I can pretty easily talk myself down by reminding myself that I already have something similar, or that it won't fit in with the rest of my capsule, or whatever other reason I can come up with why I don't need that item. But there are a few things that I haven't been able to stop spending money on even after my capsule is complete and, unfortunately, they're things that are expensive. Like the winter coat I just bought to replace the one I have that's several years old. Or the jeans that I discovered somewhere along my capsule journey that are perfect in every way except for the price tag. I can resist a $20 tee but somehow these items with an extra 0 on the end of the price keep coming up and I can't stop myself from needing them.

Race Fees
If you've taken a look at my race recaps page, this should come as no surprise. To-date I've completed  or have registered for 64 races (~13 per year since I started racing), ranging in price from $15 (Tidewater Striders Turkey Trot 2014) to $350 (Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City 2016). I think I've hit just about every price point in between. I've made running (and, to a lesser extent, swimming and biking) such a big part of my life over the last 4.5 years that I don't need races to keep me going, but I like having them. I'm a solo runner in training because I don't like the pressure or inconvenience of having to conform to another person's schedule or pace, and also because I'm just not that chatty on the run, but I love the social component that racing allows me. I get all the benefits of being around people who are just as jazzed to be running 10 miles at 8am as I am, but without anyone bothering me or without me having to bother anyone else. I have never added up the amount of money I spend in a year on races, mostly because I am truly afraid to, but this is one area of my budget I just don't know how to stop spending on. I love running familiar races just as much as I love taking runcations and running new races with friends, and I don't see that stopping anytime soon.

Running & Tri Gear
Like my clothes conundrum, most of the costs associated with my running and triathlon habits are infrequent and don't cost me money every month (aside from race fees), but they're quite expensive when they do come up. Running (sans race fees) only costs me ~$150 every 2-3 months when I need new shoes (those Newtons don't come cheap!). Thanks to running races, I get a new running shirt every month or so (and to be honest, I get so many that at this point I get more than I can wear so I don't even keep them all), and I haven't bought new pants in 2 years. As for triathlon, aside from the initial startup cost of buying a bike and all its accessories (~$600), and then a tri bike the following year (~$2000), I really don't spend very much on it. Still, I have plenty of things that, given the room in my budget, I would gladly upgrade to support this habit: a new GPS watch, a new road bike, and even a new tri bike down the line, just to name a few. Considering that doing so would set me back a semester's tuition, I haven't bit the bullet...yet. But I know they're coming and my bank account fears for that day.  

Hair, Makeup, and Skincare
Looking at me, it probably comes as a surprise that I do, in fact, invest a lot in my personal appearance. My hair and skin have been sources of insecurity for me since middle school and that hasn't changed in the last decade and a half. My skin isn't quite as awful as it used to be, mostly because I constantly experiment with products at all prices ranges until I find something that works, stick with it until it doesn't anymore, and then repeat. The products that I'm using right now range from $4 Trader Joe's moisturizer to $48 Josie Maran argan oil. C'est la vie. And in order to not ruin the skin I try so desperately to keep in check, I buy makeup from Sephora because that's what I've been doing for years and am too afraid to go back to the drugstore stuff I used when I was in high school and college. I've had my face wrecked by cheap makeup way too many times to risk it again, so I stick with $40 Too Faced foundation.

My hair is a similar story. It's another huge source of insecurity for me, so I do everything I can (and spend whatever is necessary) to not be completely embarrassed by it. I blow-dry it every day, which isn't good for it, I know, but I will either look like a 13-year-old who just hit puberty or like I stuck my finger in a light socket if I don't (just depends on how my hair feels that day). So to lessen the impact, when my old blowdryer from Target died last year I splurged on a Dry Bar dryer (I'm too embarrassed to admit how much it cost but you can click the link if you're really curious).  And since I heat style it every day it's pretty damaged, so I'm no stranger to high-end shampoo, conditioning treatments, and special hair growth vitamins that are costing me $1/day. 

And my natural hair color is crap so for years I was spending $150+ every 8-10 weeks on a cut and color, usually alternating between dark blonde and light blonde depending on the seasons. Recently I decided to break up with my longtime hair stylist for ruining both my cut and color, and since I'm not sure if I can trust another stylist, I've gone back to just dyeing my hair dark at home using $10 box dye, getting my hair cut for $35, and calling it a day. I'm not happy with my hair, but I haven't been happy with it the past few times I've spent $150 on it, and at least this way I'm basically saving money to put toward race fees, right?

Amazon Prime
I know I'm not alone in this. Amazon Prime has made it so damn easy to get almost anything I could ever want or need delivered to my doorstep with the click of a button and less than 48 hours of waiting. Things I have ordered in the last 30 days: $150 worth of study materials for an upcoming professional exam, KT tape, ribbon (to make my own running headbands...does that count as being frugal?!), clip-on lights for my shoes for running at night, a light for my bike for riding home at night, aforementioned hair vitamins....and those are just the things I ordered for myself, not for our household. Basically any time I have any inkling that I might need or want something, I've already typed it into Amazon and clicked the checkout button before I've had time to process what I'm doing. 

As we get closer to the new year, my budget has been weighing heavily on my mind. I feel like we've gotten to the point where we've reasonably trimmed the excess from our budget - we haven't had cable for 5 years, we've been sharing a vehicle for 2 years, etc. - that there's nothing left to cut without sacrificing our overall happiness and quality of life. I'm struggling with finding the balance between spending money on the bare necessities and the things that are extras but add happiness and give us a better quality of life. Any advice on how you've solved this conundrum or have achieved this balanced would be greatly appreciated!


  1. to be honest, all of that will fall into place as you get older. I'm going to be 40 soon and when I think about my 20s and even early 30s, i had different priorities/different things that made me happy etc so we spend money accordingly. the way i see it, if you're happy and not breaking the bank, then don't fix what's broken. i spend a fortune on skin care but i'm totally cheap with my clothes and basically everything else. my investment and retirement portfolio is on point (i've been contributing to my retirement since i was 16) and i can save like a motherfucker so when i spend, i'm ok with it because i know it won't break the bank. if this were not in place, i would focus on that until i'm at a comfortable level and then begin to loosen the purse strings. then again, people tell me i'm super cheap so there's that LOL...

  2. I can say you're light years ahead of where I am and hope to be in the coming year. Student loan debt and credit cards are holding me down right now but I have plans in place to start knocking those out. I think your "extras" are worthy extras - especially the running fees and necessities. And Amazon Prime is pretty useful. I like that it's an annual fee. It makes it easier.

  3. Ohhh man, Amazon Prime! That one click shopping is definitely my downfall. Race fees too. Well, more race fees and then all the money that goes into the race weekend, since I've done a fair bit of travel-to races. One I didn't even run! Ugh. At least that one was cheap.

    Have you ever tried I think it's powered by Quicken, which would probably work just as well. But I like that it gives me a green/yellow/red visual bar chart of each category so I can see how I'm doing for the month - and when I need to reign in the spending! It has some funky quirks and doesn't work with all banks, but I've been using it for years and really like it.

  4. I'm trying to find the balance myself & set some spending goals in 2016 myself.
    I too find Amazon WAYYYYY to easy to spend money - fast!

  5. I am so with you on spending money on hair, skincare and make up! You get what you pay for in those areas. Sure I might have a $9 face wash because you wash it down the drain, but my serums and moisturizers and stuff aren't cheap. I think we all have things we are willing to spend a little more on. As long as we keep ourselves in check in other areas, it all balances out...right? :)

  6. I think you guys have done a fabulous job! Paying cash for school is NO JOKE- that alone is something to be proud of. Jared and I also pick and choose what areas of life we're willing to "splurge" a little and what areas we are okay with leaving out of the budget. I think it's definitely all about balance and I feel you have that already! :) We are in the process of overhauling our budget as well. Once we paid off our student loans we treated ourselves to some fun new things but we know there area bigger goals we still want to achieve. I think looking at your budget monthly is a great idea. I agree with the suggestion. They break it out by categories and you can truly visualize where everything is going each month.

  7. I don't have advice but I totally know what you mean! There are things that are easy to cut out - restaurants and alcohol, excessive clothes shopping, etc. And then there are those borderline things. Like I don't actually have enough workout gear for every day of the week, but I rarely go through all of it and shouldn't I just wash my clothes more often? Do I really NEED it? And then there's home organization stuff, which is something I have almost no discipline with. Yes, we can get by without it, but it's useful every single day. Should I be cutting that out? They don't cost THAT much.

  8. I'm the same way with makeup and skincare... skincare in particular because I feel like without good skin, even expensive makeup isn't going to look good! It's such a sick cycle and a pain in the butt!

  9. I think there's some psychological manipulation at play when things cost a certain amount. Enough for us to not think of them as "cheap" but not so much that we laugh when looking at the price tag (that can't be just me). I think that's what's going on when we're enticed toward things like expensive coats or rain boots and bags.

    I love racing for the same reason you mentioned. The fact that I don't really have a personal running community here helps me avoid registering for some of them though, hah. Except then I end up traveling several states away to race and that's a bigger expense than the $30 10k a town away would be... But still, race fees are pretty much always worth it. No need to stop :)

    For whatever it's worth, your hair looked amazing last time I saw you so your $35 cuts and $10 box dye are working just fine!

    I owe you an email reply saying pretty much the same thing, but I totally hear the dilemma between trimming enough so you can feel satisfactorily frugal, and not trimming so much that your quality of life or general happiness declines. Not that money buys happiness—it doesn't—but mercilessly inspecting every penny spent and agonizing over every purchase isn't something that makes a lot of people happy. It's a balance.

  10. I do the same things as you with hair/makeup. I need a new cut/color, but I know it's going to be $150 if I go in, so I keep putting it off. I also have really sensitive skin, so end up buying all Sephora makeup, because I have certain ones that I know don't irritate it as much. Also, I buy cruelty-free, which makes it harder to find good things that I can afford. Luckily, it lasts for quite a while. I hate that my skin is so picky sometimes; I'm traveling right now, and anytime I travel, it's all off balance and I break out again.

  11. Ah. This is a refreshing read. I think we're in a similar boat, although I can name off the top of my head things we should cut back on.

    I was having a conversation with a girlfriend the other day. She mentioned she wanted to buy a horse. HUGE HUGE HUGE investment of time and money. She said her husband thought it was a stupid idea. But here's the thing: being around horses gives her SO MUCH JOY. I told her that in my opinion, nothing that brings you that much joy is a bad investment.

    So, invest in the things that bring you joy. It's great that you're saving like you are. That will help so so much later on. Why don't people save like they're supposed to? Even little bits? Do at least the bare minimum, people!

    Anyway, that's my two cents. ;)

  12. I seriously cannot believe that your hair is such a big insecurity for you, but I completely understand at the same time if that makes sense. I say that because I love your hair and honestly think it always looks like you've had it styled by someone else. I think the race fees and gear are definitely an investment-- not only as a hobby, but something that helps to keep you healthy! I think it would be different if at each race you bought like every single piece of merch or something like that, haha. I really don't have any advice for you, but I think it sounds like you guys are doing a great job.

  13. I've been trying to donate a bag (or more) a month from my closet/dresser. It seems neverending! I haven't totaled my clothing purchases (casual/work vs. workout)...I think the latter is probably greater this year! I am lusting over the new GTS16, but I know I should wait until its closer to GTS17 and get them for 30-40% off :)


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