10 ways to be frugal

happy moneyLaura’s note: I’m taking a vacation from blogging this week, and I’m re-posting a few pieces from the archives that you may have missed the first time around. I hope you enjoy them!

Time and money are both limited resources, but time is more absolutely limited. You can, at least in theory, make more money. You cannot make more time. All you can do is use the time you do have better.

That’s why I cast a skeptical eye at most frugal hacks. Many save you money…by using time. That seems like buying a fancy magnetic pole to fish a penny out of a storm grate. But here are a few ways to save money that are either time neutral or potentially save you time. Talk about a free lunch!

1. Make simple meals. Broad generalization: Meals with more ingredients tend to be more expensive than meals with fewer ingredients. They also tend to take more time to throw together.  So save them for special occasions.

2. Shop grocery store sales. No need to cut coupons or make elaborate meal plans, really. If you’re neutral between a few different kinds of produce, and one is on sale, why not grab that one? If you like both pork and chicken and the pork is on sale, this is a good week for pork.

3. Eat at home unless you’re doing it up big. I love over-the-top dinners at restaurants with creative chefs (like Blackfish in Conshohocken, PA — with dishes featuring fluke and beets, or smoked salmon and a poached egg and sweet potato crisp… mmm….) . I’m not so excited about waiting for 30 minutes to get a booth at Applebees, or even waiting for 8 minutes at Burger King because I made the mistake of ordering a smoothie. In both cases, I can make a serviceable dinner of angel hair pasta, tomato sauce and a side veggie in less time than it takes to drive there.

4. Get Amazon Prime. It may or may not save you money on shipping. I think I’ve spent more than $79 on shipping from Amazon per year in the past, but I’m not sure. The big win for me is that I now just buy a lot of staples like diapers from Amazon. That means I’m not going to Target where I find a lot of other fun things to throw in my cart. I’m sure this will change in the next decade or so, but it’s a lot less tempting to impulse buy stuff online where it’s not as appealingly arrayed as in retail establishments. Driving to Target also takes time and is harder to do during a boring conference call.

5. Stock your gift closet post-Christmas. One exception to the “skip Target” rule. I took a big trip there right after Christmas when everything was on sale and loaded up on toys for kids around the age of mine. We’re set for birthday parties now, and if we don’t wind up needing them all, my kids can get them for next Christmas.

6. Relish hand-me-downs. Wearing pre-loved clothes means less time spent shopping and less money out the door. Little girls look cute in camo pants! Also works for maternity clothes, smashing interview suits, etc.

7. Dye your own hair. I have probably saved thousands of dollars by buying L’Oreal Preference hair dye in the drug store for the past 15 years. In roughly 100 color applications, I’ve figured out how to do highlights, how to just touch up roots, etc. It takes less than half an hour each time. Of course, I’ve always worried that I’m missing out on some awesome color experience. So recently, I went to a salon in this area that had a reputation for being a bit fancier than my usual taste. As the stylist was studying my hair, I subtly brought up that I’d considered getting my hair colored in a salon, and what did she think? She looked at me and asked “you colored your own hair?” I nodded. She shrugged. “Well, you did it right.”

8. Get lots of cash out of the ATM at once. It means fewer trips, and also less money paid in fees.

9. Use the library. Often, when you’re looking for something interesting to read, you aren’t necessarily hunting for a specific title. Even the most out-of-the-way branch library likely has a few thousand books to its name. It will take you a long time to read through that. Or listen through that, in the case of music. Or watch through that, in the case of DVDs.

10. Take up a cheap sport. Running involves less equipment and far fewer fees than golf. It’s also better exercise.

What’s your favorite frugal tip?

photo courtesy flickr user by Materials Aart



2 Responses to 10 ways to be frugal


  1. Jenni Levy says:

    On eating out…yes, I might be able to make a quick dinner faster than I can get to a chain restaurant, but then I have to clean up afterwards, or somebody does. The key for me is to recognize *why* I’m spending that money. (and find someplace to eat that I actually enjoy, like Five Guys instead of Burger King). Sometimes it’s worth it for the relaxation – but that wasn’t true when my daughter was the age of your youngest two.

    And not just post-Christmas. We often buy a lot of fun stuff after Halloween. Emma loves to decorate the house and the yard, and we can get a lot more for our money on November 1st.

    Turn the thermostat down (or up, in the summer) and get a programmable thermostat, so that when you’re out of the house you’re not spending money to heat or cool it. Our thermostat turns the furnace or A/C off at 8:00 AM and back on at 4:00 PM M-F, since we’re all out during the day.

    Shop consignment or Ebay for special occasion clothes that you (or your kids) won’t wear more than once or twice.

    • Laura says:

      @Jenni – we have been heavy users of hand-me-downs. I sometimes feel bad for my 2nd kid as he gets *zero* new clothes. The two oldest are both boys, so there we go. The baby gets new pink stuff. She doesn’t get new jeans, though.