American Family Budget: Battling Frugal Fatigue


I felt guilty as I handed my debit card to the waiter, and guiltier still when I signed the slip to pay for a drink and some fancy roasted vegetables at a party in the back room of a bar in Southern California.

I did the math in my head, and I knew that I could have prepared the same drink and food at home for less than ¼ the cost.

Maybe even less than that, because I have been growing vegetables in my own garden for a few months now!

I wasn’t paying with my “fun money.” I wasn’t paying with “restaurant money.” I wasn’t using cash.

I was spending outside the budget.

I had attended an event – for free – where I was with friends. They all wanted to go to the bar to continue the fun.

I hadn’t planned ahead for this, and I had run out of my spending money days before.

I didn’t want to be a buzzkill, and I wanted to keep socializing.

Sure, I could have had water and waited until I got back to the car to eat – I had packed my own snacks before I left, figuring it would be a long afternoon.

But when the crucial moment came, when the waiter said “Would you like to order a cocktail?” I said yes. And I knew I was breaking the rules.

Frugal Fatigue — It’s Real

My husband and I have stuck closely to our budget since November 1, 2013.

I’ve been the spreadsheet jockey, entering every penny spent, noting every dollar that leaves our bank account, knowing how much should be in every cash envelope at any given time.

We’ve managed to stretch our savings, and I’ve brought in enough extra money, to keep me at home with our school-aged boys.

But I’m exhausted. I’m over it. I’m sick of skipping events or not going out with my friends because it’s not in the budget.

I hate skimping on gifts for people I love because we are saving those pennies for other uses. And I really miss just buying what I want to at the grocery store.

Apparently, what I am experiencing is an actual thing, and it’s called “frugal fatigue.”

Coming Clean…

The wise people of Mint have a million suggestions for how to beat it, even.

I wish I had read those posts before last weekend. Maybe if I did, I would have given myself a little break, and avoided the guilt trip I wound up taking.

Because I was so done with the constant mental work of staying on a budget, I wound up overspending with something of a vengeance.

I went out three times and bought gifts that I didn’t have money set aside for.

You’ll probably laugh. My “over-expenditures” only totaled $105.66. With a little work, I can earn that money and cover those costs.

But that’s not the point.

I’m supposed to be sacrificing here. I am a grownup. Getting sick of my budget is whining.

You’re probably already sick of reading me whining. I don’t blame you.

But it’s natural for a person to grow weary of such diligent attention to detail, especially when the effort is applied to her life over a long period of time.

Lately I have found myself thinking “Screw this. I should just get a job, already.” I was getting so, so tired of counting pennies.

If I had realized what was happening and mentioned it to my budget partner, my husband, the very person I was hiding my activity from, I could have had a great conversation and been able to commiserate with him.

We might have allowed me some wiggle room, and shifted a little bit of money out of a different category (we haven’t used the $30/month “babysitter” category once since we started this!) to allow me a tiny splurge.

And I wouldn’t have felt so guilty. Instead I snuck around, swiping the debit card and feeling worse and worse.

In the end, I totaled up my four expenses, entered them into the spreadsheet, and forgave myself.

And Moving On

Nobody’s perfect, least of all me.

I’ll go back to inviting people over vs. going out to dinner. I’ll continue perusing the grocery store sale flyer.

I’ll be proud of the numbers in the spreadsheet, and I’ll remind myself of the reason we are doing this.

It’s the same reason I am primarily a stay at home mom.

Two reasons, actually. And they are so worth it.

Kim Tracy Prince is a Los Angeles-based writer who has a husband, two little boys, and an obsession with spreadsheets.


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