A lot of people think frugality is about saving money at the cost of your time: you spend all day clipping coupons just to save a couple bucks on your groceries. That's not frugal at all. Your time is precious — more precious than money — and true frugality is about using both your time and money wisely. Here's how. Clock and money image from Shutterstock
Pick the Methods With the Biggest Payoff
You've probably heard the saying, "penny wise, pound foolish". This means going out of your way to save $5 on petrol when you have a $500 car payment. Or buying nothing but instant noodles for the week when you mindlessly spend $300 on booze every month (not that I'd know anything about that). The point is: it's a waste of time to scrimp and save on the pennies when you're blowing big money like it's nothing.
When you're trying to shrink your budget, you want to focus on the big stuff: the categories with the largest payoff. These are typically the three most expensive categories in your budget:
- Housing: According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, housing makes up about 18 per cent of the average Australian's total household expenditure on goods and services
- Food: Makes up 17 per cent
- Transportation: Makes up 16 per cent
Some frugal solutions are easier than others, but to toss some general ideas out there, you might:
- Move to a cheaper area
- Negotiate your rent
- Cut back on your restaurant spending
- Find a better way to meal plan
- Carpool on your way to work
These are just examples. The point is, making a single frugal decision in these expensive categories will give you the quickest, biggest bang for your buck.
Similarly, when you're trying to save money on anything else, keep your eye on the big picture — what money saving tactic will net you the largest overall savings?
For example, let's say you're planning a nice, relaxing two-week holiday. There are a lot of ways you could cut costs: stay in a hostel, cook instead of going out, house sit for someone in exchange for lodging. Those are all valid ways to save, but you'll save more if you focus on the biggest expenses, like your flight and lodging. For example, you'll save a ton by simply flying at the right time, when travel is cheap. Here's how money writer Libby Kane puts it:
By choosing to travel six to eight weeks before or after high season, I save money on flights, accommodations, car rentals, and most everything else by making one decision and never thinking about it again.
It seems obvious, but a lot of people don't do it.
It isn't the off-season. I'm not going during monsoon season or blizzards. Really, the only difference is a few degrees — a light sweater, or removal thereof….By travelling in the shoulder season instead of the high season, I've consistently been able to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on incredible trips by making a two-minute choice.
This isn't to say you should never try any other money saving tactics. It's not to say you should only try to save on housing, food and transport, either. Just don't lose sight of the pounds when you're trying to pinch pennies.
Use Tech to Find Deals and Coupons Automatically
Focus your energy on the big stuff, then automate your savings everywhere else by downloading a few browser extensions to find deals for you.
We all love a good deal, but if it takes you two hours of research to find a new laptop that's only $25 cheaper, that might not be the best use of your time. Thankfully, there are so many tools out there that find the best price for you, so it shouldn't take you two hours to find a deal. PriceJump, for example, is a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that automatically finds you the best price while you're shopping for an item on Amazon. And InvisibleHand (Chrome, Firefox, Safari) does the same thing, but it works for any online shopping site, whether it's Amazon, Ebay, or even airline sites like Virgin Airlines. When you browse items or tickets online, the extension pops up and tells you if you can get a better deal elsewhere.
You could also use a browser extension like Honey (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera) or Coupons at Checkout (Chrome) to automatically find coupon codes when you shop online at thousands of popular, participating retailers. When you go through the checkout process online, the extension will automatically populate and enter in those codes so you don't have to search for them yourself.
Beyond couponing, you can automate your frugality in other areas, too. Save money on your monthly electric bill by installing a smart power strip that knows when to turn off all of your electronics. Or tweak the energy settings on your TV, computer and other gadgets. Call your bill providers and negotiate or find better rates for internet, pay TV, mobile phone service, gym membership and car insurance. That last one requires a little effort, but the point is, you'll automatically save money every month without having to do any additional work.
Come Up With Rules For Making Smarter Spending Decisions
Unless you're Warren Buffett, you're probably not in a position to mindlessly drop $1000 on a phone. That's a lot of money to most of us, and we want to make sure we spend it wisely. So while it's important to think about your spending, wavering over some purchases can also be a huge waste of time (I once spent a week thinking about whether or not to buy a $30 pair of joggers). To combat this, establish some rules for your spending decisions.
For example, I'm incredibly indecisive about even the most frivolous spending, so I established "the 10/10 rule" for small purchases. If I'm thinking about buying something that's $10 or less, I will not spend more than 10 minutes thinking about it. This comes in handy when I'm in a store or buying something online and I see some "add-on item" that I want. I give it some thought, but if I haven't put it back in ten minutes and it's less than ten bucks, I just buy it. If it's more than ten bucks and I've spent ten minutes thinking about it, it goes back on the shelf. It's a really simple rule and doesn't work for all purchases, but for those one-off, impulsive items, it works fairly well.
Here's a rule for larger purchases: set a dollar amount at which you give yourself at least a week to think about the purchase. For example, my friend has a rule for spending more than $100. If she's thinking about buying anything that costs $100 or more, she gives herself a week to think it over. It's not to say she'll automatically buy anything she sees that's $99 — that's not quite the point. The point is to give yourself ample time for larger decisions, but not waste too much time on smaller ones. Set a limit that works for your own situation.
A few simple rules can help find a balance between being mindful about your spending and overthinking it to the point of wasting your time.
Make Sure Every Purchase Is Worthwhile in the Long-Term
Speaking of the future, when you're trying to be frugal with both your time and money, it helps to consider the long-term impact of your spending, too.
This is why it usually makes sense to buy quality over crap: the cheap stuff is too expensive. If you buy cheap boots you have to replace every winter, you'll spend more over time than if you were to just buy quality boots that last, even if they're expensive. Not only that, but also think about the time you spend shopping for new boots every year. Buying quality means you buy once, and you won't have to waste time shopping for boots again for another several years. Of course, expensive doesn't equal quality, but your time is still valuable.
You also want to make sure you get a lot of use out of your purchase. The more you use it, the more it pays off over time. The $1 per use rule is helpful for this. Make sure you get at least a dollar's worth out of every use of an item. For example, if you buy a new computer for $800, and you use it every day for five years, you're spending less than $0.50 per use. You don't want to use this rule as a justification to buy stuff you don't need, but it's a helpful gauge for figuring it out the long-term value of something. Similarly, it also helps to calculate the cost of your time. This way, you assign an actual value to your time that you can measure against your spending decision.
People often confuse frugality with being cheap and wasting time instead of money. Ultimately, though, frugality is about getting the most out of your resources, including time. True frugality shouldn't be complicated.