From Spotlight: Are You Nickel-and-Diming Your Home?

Are You a Cheap vs. Frugal Homeowner? How to Tell the Difference

Sometimes trying to save will actually cost you more. Here’s when that happens.

Broken rusty hammer
Image: David Smart/Stocksy United

You've got all the loyalty apps (free burrito after you buy 10!), you shopped around for the lowest rate on your mortgage, and you never go to the grocery store when you're hungry. You're frugal, and the rising amount in your savings account is a testament to that.

Since saving cash is never a bad thing, you've got nothing to worry about, right?

Unless, of course, you venture so far past frugality you enter the world of cheap. And cheap homeowners always end up paying more in the end when quick fixes and half-solved issues become big, pricey problems. 

Here are six things homeowners do when they're trying to be frugal, but instead they're really being cheap (yikes!):

Using the Wrong Tool

You've finally decided to paint the molding in your foyer. There's not much to paint, so you figure you can get by with that 2-inch flat brush in your garage cabinet, even though the paint guy recommended a different (and pricey!) one. Why buy a new one when you already have a perfectly good one at home?

Halfway into your project (which you thought would take two hours, and now you're into hour four), your back is aching from trying to get those bare spots in tight spaces. And the paint just doesn't look right. It's uneven and splotchy.

Turns out you used a brush meant for latex paints, and you're using oil paint, which requires natural bristles to get a polished look. Plus, you needed an angled brush to get into tight corners. Four hours wasted, and it looks worse than when you started. Now you've got to buy more paint — and that darn brush!

Financial planner Daniel Grote says not buying the brush the paint guy recommended is a classic sign of cheapskate-ness: "Frugal homeowners buy when it's necessary — and are fanatical about good-value purchases. Cheapskates don't buy, even when they should."

Some other cheap tool moves homeowners often make instead of spending money:

  • Using glue when you really should use a screw.
  • Using chemicals for clogs instead of calling a plumber or investing in an auger.
  • Using cheap screwdrivers that strip screws.
  • Using a hammer in place of a mallet.
  • Using a manual saw in place of a table saw.

How to be frugal: Invest in the right tools, not cheap knockoffs. "Finding the right tool is important," says personal finance expert Bob Lai. "It will take less time and money in the long run." If it's an expensive one that you only need once or twice, rent it or borrow it.

Bonus: You'll find DIY projects get easier because your skills (and the results) will improve with the right equipment.

Related: They'll Think You Hired a Pro If You Use These 5 Painting Hacks

Letting the Yard Wither Away to Avoid High Water Bills

You swear your water bill is trying to topple your heating bill as the king of Utility Mountain. You're terrified it just might do that next month. You may just as well give up and stop trying to nurture your landscaping. Survival of the fittest, right? Besides, that means less time maintaining it.

But a wilting yard also means a drop in the value of your home (read: $$$ lost when you sell). Or if you're in an HOA, you could face costly fines that'll make you pine for those high water bills. 

How to be frugal: Invest in water-wise landscaping. It's not just about desert-friendly plants, it's about plants that thrive on the amount of rain that naturally occurs in your climate, which translates to less watering and lower utility bills. And if done right, it can actually boost your home's asking price when you sell. Plus, you'll still get the advantage of less maintenance. For even more savings, invest in rain barrels. That water is free.

Never Paying Retail

Everyone knows that if you're patient enough, you'll be able to get that slate flooring (it's slip resistant, yay!) for your new bath at a deep discount.

So you waited, and, yes, the price was cut almost in half. But, wait, there's not enough tile left to cover your entire floor. Sigh. Back to square one.

In the meantime, your contractor is threatening to walk out because you're running more than two weeks behind schedule, and he's got another job lined up he doesn't want to risk losing while sitting around waiting on you.

How to be frugal: Definitely do some serious comparison shopping, but don't forget to consider delivery times and prices as part of the equation. Once you've identified the most-value-for-your-money price, lock it in.

Otherwise, you risk costly delays and disappointing results if you keep waiting for a lower price.

Focusing Only on the Bottom Line When You Get a Bid

Crooked countertops. Misaligned tiles. Paint that warps and cracks if it's even the slightest bit humid. Cheap contractors often cut corners to give you that low quote — and fixing their errors is definitely not cheap.

How to be frugal: 

  • Make sure each bid has the same line items.
  • Ask why high prices are high and low prices are low.
  • Check references.
  • Scour online reviews.

Putting Off Maintenance Tasks to Save Money

You know you're supposed to keep your gutters clear, but, geez, it's like your trees are laughing at you and raining down debris as soon as you get them clear. You don't have the time to deal with it, so you're going to have to pay a pro.

That being the case, what's the real harm in waiting until the end of the leaf-falling season to clear the gutters? Pay to have it done once instead of twice or thrice? That's how to save, right?

While you're waiting for all the leaves to fall, your gutters already are full. And that means water could already be sneaking into your foundation because it's spilling over the sides instead of through the downspouts that take water away from your foundation. Clogged gutters can also damage your gutter system, forcing you to replace part of it or suffer even more costly damage. A clogged gutter can also create an ice dam, which can slowly release water into your home's walls and roof causing thousands in damage. So much for saving a couple of hundred of dollars. 

How to be frugal: Anticipate maintenance costs, knowing that they are insurance against more costly repairs. Build them into your budget so they don't feel like unexpected expenses.

Overestimating Your DIY Skills

When you got the bid for refinishing your hardwood floors, you thought, "Why not do it myself and save that $5K?" So off you go to your big-box store to rent a sander. How hard could it really be?

You'd be surprised. You could create dings, dents, and even valleys if you're not sure what you're doing. And keeping it dust-free during the polyurethane stage is practically impossible unless you're such a neat freak that no speck stands a chance.

It's not just the sander. Other powerful tools, like power washers and lawn aerators, can cause more harm than good in the hands of amateurs.

How to be frugal: Concede that sometimes paying someone else really is the better fiscal thing to do. If you ruin your floors, you've hurt your home's value. If you sell, you might not get the best price. Or you'll have to replace the floors completely, which would cost more than hiring a pro in the first place. Research the difficulty of projects and tools before committing to them.

No one wants to be a cheapskate. Now you can be sure you're not.


Author photo of writer Jamie Wiebe
Jamie Wiebe

Jamie Wiebe is a writer and editor with a focus on home improvement and design. Previously, she worked as a web editor for "House Beautiful," "ELLE Decor," and "Veranda."