10 frugal hacks I like

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 DonkeyHotey


21 thoughts on “10 frugal hacks I like

  1. Hmm, I’m not sure I can think of any other ones. I’ll let the question roll around in my subconscious for awhile and see!

    But I second the “make simple meals” idea. Mark Bittman is a good resource for recipes, and Cooking Light has some cookbooks that focus on fast and easy, too.

    1. @Cloud- I barely even bother with the recipe concept anymore. Maybe I’ll do a simple meals post one of these days. We are talking a dinner like a sweet potato, green beans (with a little crushed garlic on them for flavor) and salmon. Or a DiGiorno’s frozen pizza with cut up mushrooms and red peppers on it. Spaghetti with a jar of sauce and Italian sausage mixed in. The kids tend to eat separately, or sometimes I’m only cooking for me anyway. Cooking elaborate stuff for the kids is just an exercise in frustration.

    2. My kids like a friend’s suggestion of brown rice (cook extra when you make it and freeze) and black beans (canned) topped with shredded cheddar and tortilla chip crumbs.

  2. Oh, I’ve written about my struggle to save money over time many times on my blog! It’s an ongoing struggle. With young kids, saving time is now more important than saving money. Priorities shift!

    I loved Amazon Mom when I got it free for one year. It’s free for 3 months and then if you do enough qualifying purchases, they extend up to one year. I still buy diapers from them now because prices are still OK but I miss that magic combo of big money savings and time savings.

    I love this list of tips, because time is as precious if not more so than money!

  3. I have to think about tips too. I would add that for the library, at least in Los Angeles, you can reserve books from any public library branch. There’s no extra cost and they notify you when the book arrives at your library branch.

    I also get cash at the grocery store or drugstore. There aren’t any bank fees and I can get cash and grocery shopping done at the same time.

    1. @Oilandgarlic – all great ideas. I haven’t done Amazon mom — I just order diapers and wipes when I see we’re running low. I feel like if I got them auto-delivered every month I’d wind up getting one month too many (oh, we are getting tantalizingly close on potty-training the 2.5 year old), and that would negate the savings on each per-box order. But I’ve figured another time saver of having Amazon Prime. I don’t hunt around the web to see who has what, or what kind of prices. I just order everything I possibly can from Amazon. I am sure that’s precisely why they started the program. But I like that I don’t put any mental energy into deciding if I should buy things from different places.

      1. Amazon has recently decreed that you can’t get the “Subscribe and Save” discount along with the “Mom” discount, which makes the prices MUCH LESS attractive.

        The Target brand of both are ridiculously cheap and have worked well for us now that my daughter’s skin is less sensitive than when she was a tiny baby, so we brave Target and just don’t buy the extra stuff. It’s enough of a savings from Amazon now that it’s worth it (but we live really close to Target and our Target also has a grocery section too).

  4. My list would be similar to this one. Like you wrote about in All The Money, we all have to give some thought to what is most meaningful to us and let the “other” categories take the frugal hit.

    One thing I’ll mention is kids clothing. My kids wear the same favorite items over and over no matter how much stuff fills their closets. I’m very careful about spending in that area. And it’s easy to find cheap cute stuff in lots on eBay (and I don’t have to spend time shopping, which I despise – I make my girls pick their own clothes on eBay to save time).

    But living without fresh reading material is a life not worth living to me, so books are an important part of my budget!

    1. @Carrie- I approve of spending money on books! Clothing acquisition is still, mercifully for us, a commodity issue at the moment. Go to Old Navy, load up on 5T stuff because he doesn’t really have preferences. Recycle the 4-year-old’s old clothes for the 2-year-old.

      1. We’re the last of our friend group to have kids so everyone is eager to unload their baby/toddler stuff and clothes on us, which has worked very well. I barely bought T anything new for the first year, and now I just need to buy a couple of packs of staple solid color shirts for her at Old Navy, and nearly everything else is covered… Hand me downs are awesome (while she still doesn’t care!).

  5. I have always worn handme downs since childhood and I do buy new things but like the fun of consignment and the fact that it is often faster to just do up what someone else got semi right than go through all the stuff.. I did just buy new blue heels at Macys and I LOVE THEM… agree about simple food.. I just made myself a samosa from leftovers in the fridge… it is important to value your time.. not waste it… as a billable hour

    1. @Cara- I think you have hit on the difference between an entrepreneurial mindset and an employee mindset. To the entrepreneur, time is viewed through the lens of being a billable hour (in which you get the billing). Or at least that time can be turned into money in a fairly clear fashion.

  6. Laura!

    I just finally came to your website after devouring your 168 Hours book! I’m hoping to do a book review on it on my blog soon… Love that you are so active in the comments on your website! It pertains to health because so many people’s excuse to getting healthy is that they don’t have time! Thanks for your work.

    1. @Archer- thanks so much! I’m glad you liked 168 Hours, and I hope you enjoy the blog as well. I try to keep a good discussion going here, and we have some very smart commenters!

  7. I love this post! I have been doing the year-round “gift closet” thing for my daughter because she ends up with SO much stuff on her birthday and holidays (only grandchild on both sides). This is also helpful if we have to give a birthday gift to one of her same-age friends – I can often find something I bought her that would work.

    Your post inspired me to write one about our hack to rent a vacation home instead of a hotel room in Ireland (and our general vacation strategy):

    1. @ARC- cool! I like to rent houses for longer trips too. It’s often not cheaper (I seem to be more price sensitive on hotels) but much nicer for all the reasons you mentioned. Space, fridge, etc.

      1. I used to work in consulting for a big firm, so my hotel preference is pretty expensive 🙂 I can no longer stay in a Motel 6 or whatever unless we’re literally on the road and going to spend less than 10 hours there.

        So for a trip longer than 3 nights, the rental nearly always works out cheaper, unless I can find a screamin’ deal on Hotwire or something.

  8. Great tips, I use most of them (except for simple cooking, I love food too much not explore new recipes–I do make extra and freeze it though) and I have one more–buddy up. My best friend and I will buy different books/DVDs (etc.) then swap. We will also double buy sale items (anything from nail polish to camping equipment) so the other doesn’t have to make the trip. We have a shared online list, and we MMS photos if necessary. I was able to cross two items off my list before I even had my coffee yesterday morning.

  9. For those who like gardening (or who like the idea of having fresh herbs available ready to hand) an aquaponics garden (where fish and vegetables are raised together) is great. There’s a significant set-up, but once the garden is in place, it requires almost none of the hard/boring work you’d need to do for a regular garden. Plus no need to run to the market for the things you’ve got growing in the garden (chives, green onions, rosemary, parsley, basil, etc.)

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