Save. Spend. Splurge.

You think you’re being frugal, but you’re not

I had a lady the other day crow about how she got such a great deal at Target buying 10 pairs of $5 flip flops in various colours when others are spending $20 – $50 on a single pair of flip flops with fancy brand names.

She scoffed at the ridiculousness of folks wasting money when they didn’t have to.

I didn’t want to point out that she bought 10 pairs at $5 which was the equivalent of a single pair of $50 flip flops anyway.

Also, I didn’t even have to ask to know that these were obviously plastic flip flops made in China where the colour stains your feet, whereas the ones people pay $20 or more for, are probably rubber or leather made in Brazil (as is the pair I paid $50 for).


When I mildly pointed out that the flip flops I was wearing cost me $50 (leather and rubber made in Brazil, and molded to your foot so they’re more comfortable than flat flip flops), she recoiled from me like I had told her I liked to bite the heads off snakes while they were alive.

Her: “Why would you pay $50 for flip flops!?

Me: “A few reasons why: Not made in China, Leather and Rubber, Molded to my foot and very comfortable, and I only own one pair, not 10.

Her: “But for the same price, why wouldn’t you want to own 9 more?

Sensing this would turn into another recoil at my more minimalist tendencies and tastes that gear towards the spendier, higher-quality spectrum, I just simply said I didn’t think I needed more than one pair and I wanted them to be perfect.

She was slightly mollified by my answer, but convinced I was a right idiot for not wanting 9 pairs to be able to wear out over however many years she would wear them.

So I started thinking about people who think that they’re frugal, when in fact they aren’t.


My run-in with the lady above is just one facet of this: They buy higher quantities thinking that it is cheaper in the long-run, when in fact it might work out to be the same thing.

She has 10 pairs of flip flops. They’ll last her maybe half a year for each pair. I in contrast, will be wearing my (better constructed) flip flops perhaps for equally as long and even if they do die after 3 years or less, I’ll have been more comfortable in them than in a pair of plastic, sweaty, cheap, foot-staining flip flops.

In the end, she paid the same amount I did. She’s just able to change the colours of her flip flops to match her outfits, but feel less comfortable in them than I do.

Is it really economy in the end? Or sheer, luxurious wastefulness?

My flip flops when they die (and if they cannot be repaired), will end up in a landfill. That lady will have 9X the amount of flip flops in landfills, perhaps in the same amount of time as I will go through one pair.


Another way someone thinks they’re being frugal is by saving money by buying a cheaper version instead of the real thing.

Why on earth would someone pay $5 for something they can pick up at the dollar store for $1?


..because tools at $1 don’t last as long as tools at $5.

I bought cheap pliers at the dollar store once. I paid $2. I went home, tried to fix my necklace, and ended up breaking the pliers because they weren’t made properly to begin with.


Frustrated, I tossed them in the garbage, went to the home hardware store and picked up a real pair of pliers for $5 and got the job done.

End result? I wasted time, and money on cheap crap, and contributed to an ever-growing landfill.

I am not the only one who knows this. Even without prompting or talking about the situation, people lament to me about how they purchased cheap crap (mostly from China), and were so disgusted by the quality they never bought anything from China again.


For starters, you should consider how they were able to make that item for $1 and not $10.

Take for instance a plate. What goes into making a plate? Raw materials, labour and overhead of a factory.

Aside from labour, where do you think they’re cutting on costs? The raw materials of course.

When you end up buying that $1 plate, you eat off it assuming that there’s no lead or anything harmful to leech into your body, but perhaps they used substitute chemicals instead of safe, industry-approved ones, because it was cheaper.

Who knows?

Or how about counterfeit cosmetics or fragrances?

Sure it SOUNDS like the real thing, maybe even smells pretty darn close to it, but if they aren’t spending thousands of dollars to extract the scent and essence of real flowers to obtain that smell, how else are they doing it?

By use of chemicals of course.


In the end, what you are dabbing on your face or on your body as a counterfeit, designer cosmetic or fragrance, could be literally damaging your health and body, all for a wont of saving a few bucks.


It is one thing to be frugal by saving your money and spend it on a beautiful item that will last your whole life and be able to pass on to the next generation (this is how I’ve started thinking about things that I purchase).

It is another thing altogether to call yourself “frugal” because you’re really just a cheapskate in disguise.

You spent less money, saved that one you didn’t spend for the real thing, but you probably opened yourself up to having to repurchase cheap crap again more often, contributing more than is required to landfills, and possibly harming yourself in the process.

At the end of it all, I look at it like this:

If you were dying from all the cheap crap you bought, you would very definitely on your deathbed, offer every penny you saved in your bank account from your “frugality” to restore your life.

Think I’m exaggerating? You only have to recall those imported lead-poisoned toys that harmed children, and tainted wheat gluten pet food that killed dogs and cats across America to realize that sometimes you need to take precautions against your own frugal nature and spend the money.

Maybe you’ll get off scot free and not die or be harmed by your cheap crap, living a long, healthy life until you die.

…but in the event that you won’t? What will you do then?


  • Athena

    I love this article so much! I agree with you that buying cheap does not equal frugal and sometimes in the end means you end up being more wasteful. I used to buy black flats for $35-40 and always needed to replace them every three months because they weren’t made for everyday wear. However, I bought a pair of $125 Michael Kors flats I lusted after for over a year and they have lasted a year. Instead of buying four-five pairs this year, I’ve only had to buy one. That’s why I ended up allowing myself to buy $80 winter riding boots instead of cheaper $30 ones.

  • Michelle

    I wish that I didn’t know that Frye made purses. Sigh. After spending a year not shopping, I learned the hard way that quality before quantity all the way. Also, people who live in places with cheap goods have a difficult time managing saying “No” to ourselves because at the moment of purchase things just are so cheap. It’s this endless supply of stuff that continue to delight and seduce us with their wiles.

  • Kassandra

    I have always gone for quality over quantity, it just that now I really evaluate when I am due for a new pair of shoes or purse, the price point. I recently splurged on a Frye purse but I waited patiently for months until I found the one I wanted but discounted (scored it via directly from Frye via Amazon). I paid a little under wholesale price and got 2 day shipping thanks to our Prime membership. I cannot stand wearing the kind of flip flops that lady bought – my feet would kill me!

  • Jen @ Jen Spends

    When I first started out, I was a “deal blogger” and I remember other deal bloggers acting as though $1 flip flop day at Old Navy was a national holiday not to be missed. And it was the same every year because of course those $1 flip flops don’t last. There are “frugal experts” making a great deal of money promoting cheap crap to people who can’t afford to waste their money. It pains me. Our lifestyle on our income would be impossible if we were replacing cheap stuff all the time. It’s hard for me to spend a good bit of money up front, but I get over it, especially when I can count the years I’ve used the thing.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      It takes a lot of guts to admit that. I was never a “deal blogger”. Always an “overspending blogger”, but more because I have a problem with wanting to see variety, options, etc.

  • Lila

    I used to buy cheap shoes and then I would pay for that decision because the cheap shoes used to pinch my toes and the back of my foot, I ended up with blisters and generally they were very uncomfortable for an 8 hour workday or just even for hanging out with my friends & bf.

    I don’t mind buying quality items when they go on sale, in fact I love scoring deals. It’s awesome. But, I *refuse* to pay for items that are poorly made anymore just because they are cheap. I also don’t like the idea of owning more just because one has the financial means to do so.

    I currently own 2 sets of flip-flops and that’s all I want right now. I hate cleaning, maintaining, organizing and labeling, and when you’re doing that, you realize you could be doing something else that is more meaningful to you instead of cleaning and organizing.

    So owning 9 pairs of flip-flops isn’t that appealing. I also have other shoes: ballet flats, sneakers, snow boots, house slippers that “round out” my shoe collection. I own about 10 pairs of shoes altogether which fits my lifestyle right now.

    In the past I’ve owned more shoes, got very overwhelmed when they had to be cleaned, organized, and generally I tend to be overwhelmed when I’m around too much stuff even if its all nice stuff. I can’t deal with too much stuff.

    Your co-worker makes the mistake that her economic values should be other peoples economic values as well.

  • Taylor Lee

    While in theory I definitely subscribe to buying quality over quantity / “frugality” I always have a hard time finding clothes at ANY below-$250-an-item price point that doesn’t just fall apart in a couple years. If you know any good clothing brands for petites, I’ll take any suggestions!

  • kay ~

    I bought a manual can opener for $2 one time thinking I’d gotten a really great deal. Fast forward to opening the first can I tried with that thing and it snapped in half. Like you with the pliers, I had to go buy a more expensive one. All I did was waste $2. I’m still not sure why I didn’t return that thing.

  • Revanche

    I used to have a bit of that mentality: More for cheap means that I have variety and that’s great! But then I learned that more variety was usually of crap stuff. And more crap was just … 10x more crap.

    I do agree with Sally about SOME things being fine when cheap: Our dishes are “cheap” compared to fine dinnerware but they’re made in the US, and unlike every other dish or bowl set we have, are nearly me-proof! I haven’t broken or chipped one yet 🙂 We won’t be replacing those as often as any of the other stuff that’s pricier and nicer.

    But for sandals, I’ve worn the same Rainbows for … ten years now! They were a gift, granted, but I have only had to buy 1 other pair of fancier sandals that were really comfy for walking in since then. The cheap ones wear right through and get tossed in a landfill – useless to me and for the environment!

    • save. spend. splurge.

      I have Corelle dishes because they’re cheap and easy to use for regular meals. For bigger meals or more fancy ones, we have nicer plates but our everyday dishes are Corelle.

  • Rose

    I have one pair I bought for $79 from J.Jill, 16 years ago. They needed one repair each, the same repair when the straps slipped out from the inside of the strap meeting the sole, one summer 8 years ago. The soles still look amazing and not needed repairs ever. I have not felt the need for another pair and they get compliments every time I wear them. I am trying to see if they can make it to 30!

  • Sally

    I’ve had three pairs of Rainbows in 11 years. One pair lasted 4 years of near daily use, another was less than 2 years since my then=puppy attacked them, and now I’m on my third pair, which I got in August. While I’ve bought some others over the years, I know my Rainbows will last and stand the test of time as long as I don’t get another puppy ;). We’re definitely buying less cheap crap. However, there are also things we buy cheap that we know will last. We’ve had hand-me-down Ikea dishes since we moved to California (5 years ago) and they’re excellent. Now that we’ve broken a few and will eventually get a new set, I still plan to get the same Ikea whites for bowls and plates. I already know they serve every purpose- we use them everyday but they look nice when we have a party to present fancy food on plain white dishes (chefs prefer it!).

  • Mariah

    I love everything about this. You are spot on- next time I find myself in the same conversation with somebody I will just send them here!

  • Kathy

    I used to buy cheap stuff in the past because that’s all I could afford. Now that I have more money available, I buy things that cost more but are of higher quality … my Coach purses (sorry, I just had to sneak that in). When things last longer, I don’t have to replace them as often which in the long run saves me more money than going with the cheapest.

  • The Asian Pear

    I really think it depends on the product, the quality and to some degree one’s values and lifestyle. You can purchase some items fairly cheaply and they can last you a really long time. I’ve also purchased items which were expensive and broke within a year. (I almost cried when that happened.) I agree that purchasing 10 of the same items is not really being frugal or cheap. Perhaps the right word is more like “excessive”.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods

    I agree that the cheapest is not always the best or most frugal option. Sometimes it really does make sense to pay more for a higher quality product. I pay more for organic produce and shoes that are comfortable and I’m fine with that. Like you said, I think it’s all about spending on things that bring value into your life.

  • Petrish @ Debt Free Martini

    I actually think that getting so many flip flops is a great deal. Now since she has so many she will not have to buy any sandals for a couple of years, which makes that $50 a great deal. I agree with you that some people do go overboard when thinking they are being frugal when in turn they are just buying junk that will not last, but with this example I think this chick got a great deal. It could be me because I loves shoes

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