When Frugality Goes Too Far

Cheap lifestyle choices aren’t always wise moves.

A businessman with a jar of coins
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The pawn-shop Christmas present. Buying used items can save money, but it's risky with electronics since they are often sold as-is and the warranty may not apply. Determined to stick to her Christmas budget two years ago, Julie Sturgeon of Indianapolis bought her mother an iPod from a pawn shop. "There was no financial reason I couldn't buy my mom a new iPod," Sturgeon says. "I simply had it in my head we're all supposed to budget, and I clung to that stubbornly."

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When her mother opened the gift and Sturgeon tried to play a gospel song she'd loaded onto the iPod, they both got a surprise. "I'll never know what went wrong, but apparently the iPod still had songs from the previous owner that didn't show up in the list when I checked it, and the machine blared [one] into my mom's ear—some rap song with the f-bomb all through it," she laments.

Then, the iPod died—"mercifully at that point," notes Sturgeon—and she returned it to the pawn shop for a refund. "My husband was so deeply embarrassed, he used the money my mom gave him for a Christmas present to buy her a brand-new iPod in the box from the Apple store," says Sturgeon.

Corrected on 04/02/2013: A previous version of this article misstated where Rebecca VanderMeulen relocated. She moved into a roommate’s house.