Frugal fatigue has set in after years of pinching pennies

Tape measure around dollar bills

A new study by the Harris Poll shows that, while Americans are doing well on cutting out big expenses, we're dropping the ball on the smaller things.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

In June 2011, 67% of respondents said they were going for generic brands. As of December 2011, that number had dropped to 61%.

While 45% to 48% have been brown-bagging lunch since June 2009, that number is now 42%.

But other numbers are holding steady: canceling land line or cell phone (14%), cutting back on salon expenses (37%) and cutting down the dry-cleaning bill (19%).

I'm not really surprised.

In 2008, personal finance experts screamed that we should cut every penny out of our expenses that we could. Cook dinner every night! No more $5 lattes! Buy everything used!

I stopped replacing my running shoes every 300 miles, refused to even look at the Gap sale racks and started baking my dog's treats.

But this study points to what's happened in the four years since: frugal fatigue. It's like when you try to diet by cutting out everything that's bad for you. In most cases, it doesn't work. You need to cheat every once in a while.

Which is what this study shows about our frugality.

We're tired of slicing every corner and seeing little difference in our wallets in return.

I went back to my running shoe buying ways, I give myself the OK to buy those $10 T-shirts at Gap's season-end sales and my dog seems to like the store-bought treats much better than anything I've ever made.

Sure, those things cost something, but I also cut my land line, saving $60 a month.

That saves $720 a year -- more than making up for those tiny frugal changes I was making. And, like 19% of Americans, I ratcheted down on my dry-cleaning bill by buying only washable clothes, cutting down on a major expense.

If you're experiencing frugal fatigue but still want to save money, look at those bigger regular expenses: cable bill, the cost of having two cars, even your mortgage or rent.

You'll do far better budget-wise by chopping rather than scraping from your expenses.

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