Living Frugally: Getting Off Track – It Happens to All of Us

Taz Bright helms this series. Taz is a father, speaker, long-time business owner and graduate of the school of hard-knocks. Taz uses his past business and personal finance experience to help steer others in a positive financial direction while, hopefully, avoiding the mistakes he’s made along the way. As a former 6-year victim of Identity Theft, Taz shares unique lessons learned while trying to regain his financial footing. Taz is a member of Toastmasters International, a martial artist, former bodyguard and a CrossFit athlete. As the owner of Bright Balance Ministries, Taz’s goal is to help as many people as possible reach long-term, solid financial stability.

Living Frugally Piggy BankMany of my friends know I’m all about being financially smart. They’re well aware of my belief in living below one’s means while expanding your means (generating multiple streams of income) and also the need for an emergency fund. These are the basics for saving and preparing for a satisfying retirement.

They know I love all things financial including investing in stocks, supporting small businesses and spreading the word about living frugally.

I’ve discussed with them the advantages of paying bills a few months ahead and saving for one year’s worth of bills.

In a recent conversation one friend made a statement to me to the effect of, “… as if you ever have money problems. You’re the money management guy.” Throughout the conversation she made it clear that she believed my frugal attitude plus the financial lessons I’ve learned equaled a life without money problems.

This is the part of the conversation where I laughed uncontrollably.

It did get me thinking that maybe Savvy readers have reached the same conclusion about us frugal, finance bloggers. Maybe people are under the impression that we’ve risen above making mistakes, slacking off and giving into temptation. Oh, how I wish this were true. So for any of you who feel your frugal living is supposed to be free from money problems, or that financial blog writers like SavvyJames and I never run into money woes, I write this post.

A while back I was at the store and saw an item I wanted. I picked it up, paid and left. Later that day I grabbed a meal at my favorite vegan restaurant, Field of Greens. Then after taking a friend’s son to GameStop, I suddenly found myself the proud owner of three used PlayStation games I’d wanted for quite a while. As if that wasn’t enough I ended the day buying two new outfits and seeing three movies at the theater. Yes, three.

What’s the problem with these purchases?

Shopping MallThey were all outside of my spending plan. I had a budget already in place. I saved, paid bills, donated to a charity and reduced my debts. I should have been done spending at that point. But, I failed to control my impulse buying. Instead of remaining disciplined I gave into materialistic desires and marketing schemes. Despite having a definite path on which to travel, I veered off course. A budget is like the guard rails on a highway, it keeps you within the lines of discipline.

What’s the big deal about getting off course in this way?

Well, while going on this spending spree I didn’t look at my budget or my online bank account even once. I didn’t want to admit I was spending too much so I made it a point not to look at those things that would force me to confront the truth. The result was a negative balance in my checking account. Yes, you read it correctly. The “money management guy” was in negative territory. I had failed to take my own advice and went against what I teach others.

Live More Frugally … Save Money

So, how did I get back on track? Thankfully it was not difficult. Since I am generally not a spender I had some money in savings. I transferred money from savings to my checking account so that it was no longer negative. In order to help make up for that loss from my savings account I made three appointments to donate plasma at $25/donation. I also made myself return the games I bought. Did I enjoy doing so? Of course not!

I enjoy gaming now and then like the next man. However, the goal of catching up and getting back on track was more important than games I could repurchase later if I desired. Also, I sold a few items and was paid by a friend of mine to take her to work a few times a week. Thankfully I had some stocks that were doing really well so I sold a good portion of them and added the profits to my checking account.

Deep breath in … and out. Relief.

Streams of Income - Read MoreI didn’t enjoy this time behind the eight ball. The added pressure of having to play catch up while not falling behind in other areas was stressful. It reminded me of why it’s so vital to not only stay on track but stay ahead of the game. Remaining frugal and responsible is not only financially wise but it also has the added benefit of keeping additional stress @ bay.

No, we finance bloggers are not perfect. We stray, we make mistakes. The good news is that returning to our disciplines ways will get us all back on track and moving toward our goals once again. My encouragement to you, Savvy reader, is to learn from my mistake not your own. Stay away from impulse buying. Unplanned purchases can hurt you. They are the financial equivalent of jumping from a ledge that’s too high. The results are crippling or fatal. Either way, stay away from them.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. It’s easy to get caught up when things are on sale — or are just so darn shiny!

    I’m pretty impressed that you went out of your way to drum up the extra money instead of just shrugging it off and thinking, “Eh, I won’t do that again.”

    • Abigail, thanks for the compliment and for your time. I thoroughly believe that going through the steps of drumming up the extra money will help me remember my mistake in the future & help keep me in line when those “shiny” things start tempting me.
      I look forward to your future comments.

  2. A Google+ reader notes …

    “I used to be a spender but I saved too. I have now realized that in my past, I like to buy things. The thrill was the research, the purchase and the ideas about what I would do with whatever it was I bought.

    After two years of traveling with nothing more than a backpack of stuff, I discovered I was much happier than with a house full of things.

    I have a home again now but I am very careful about my spending. I only buy what is really needed and a few things to make life easier. I no longer hoard stuff. Anything we don’t use is sold or given away. Having a small place really helps that a lot.”

  3. Before I started diving into the behavioral aspects of personal finance, I alwasy thought I was money conscious. I rarely spent money…or so I thought. I was spending impulsviely! Which by way of Mental Accounting didnt seem like that much – but it was! I wasnt conscious at all! 🙂

    My wife and I have built in a system to reduce this – We only buy things that were on the list. So if we see something, we can go home, put it on the list, and go back the next day (if we still want it). Even if it’s “on sale”.

    It’s worked great as it requires not emotional judgement. “Is it on the list?”

    • I like the approach of placing things on a list and then returning at a later point to make the purchase … if it’s still desired. My guess is that a fair amount of time the decision is made not to purchase in the intervening period between the time the item is placed on the list and the decision to buy is made. Good stuff. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and add to the conversation, Luke.

    • I love that you and your wife have the discipline to pass on a sale item Luke. That word has trapped so many into thinking they’re “saving money” when in fact they’re spending impulsively @ the cost of a better financial future.

      Great job!

  4. I’m great with money… commenting from my favorite bar. But today was a very rare day I happened to be driving right by, how could I resist. Cheap awesome wings, good beers. I was beating myself up psychologically the whole way here. Difference when you splurge like this once every several weeks and beat yourself up about it verses the average person who does a couple times per day without a second thought!

    • Great point. It’s one thing to have a plan and deviate occasionally and quite something else to be operating without a plan in the first place. Thanks for stopping by, Kyle. Great input to the conversation.

  5. I’m so bad with impulse spending that I’ve had to create a system that simply won’t allow me to spend to excess. For me, the system that works is a budget that I form with my husband. I feel like spending off the budget is letting my end of the agreement down, so I don’t like to do it at all.

    • As you touch on, the key is to develop a system that recognizes your own shortcomings and will all you to stay on track to meet your financial goals. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation, Hannah.

    • I love that you mentioned your husband Hannah. When one is married one must act married. Sounds so simple but many stray from that. I have known many, husbands and wives, who hide purchases from each other and it only leads to tragedy. You have a team mindset. This will serve you well in curbing your temptations as well as securing trust within your marriage.

  6. It happens to the best of us. I’m certainly guilty of a day of spending (usually online) that wasn’t in the plan. All you can do is forgive it and get back on the horse.

    • So very true, Adam. We all slip once in a while. The key is to recognize when you’ve slipped and work quickly to get back on track. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Hello Adam. Thanks for reading my contribution to James’ blog. We all have our weaknesses and I’ve definitely fallen victim to the ease of online shopping. I think I spend more when I splurge online than in a physical store. I stay away from Amazon if it’s not already in the budget. 🙂

      Hope to see you around in the near future.

  7. I’m getting much better at reducing my spending on unplanned purchases. Like you I end up returning it if I ever strayed.

    • Mrs. Budget (love that name) Thanks for stopping by. It’s definitely a learning process and I’m glad you’re woman enough to admit where you need work. You’ll get there with that positive attitude.
      Got blog topic suggestions? I’m sure James would love to hear feedback.
      See ya soon.

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