Breaking Down the Numbers on Why Frugality Works

Marco writes in:

Most of your “money tips” are stupid. Why would I waste my time doing this stuff to save fifty cents? I want to learn how to make money not how to save a nickel.

Whether or not you take advantage of the huge benefits of frugality is all a matter of perspective. If you spend your time looking at just the short term, I’d agree that many frugal tips aren’t big savers. Quite often, a given tactic saves you just some pocket change or a dollar or two once.

That’s an incredibly shortsighted perspective to have.

Let me walk you through the math on three different frugal strategies we use in our home so that you can clearly see how these things can put a lot of money in your pocket. (I’m using Marco as a straw man below with his permission.)

Homemade Laundry Detergent
I’ve written about how we make our own laundry detergent in the past. Instead of going to the store and buying a jug of Tide, I’ll often make a bucket of homemade detergent instead.

Why Marco doesn’t like this strategy: It saves you eighteen cents per load versus Tide. Eighteen cents?
Why I love this strategy: It saves us about $60 per year – post-tax money that goes directly into our pocket – for a little over an hour’s worth of effort spread out throughout the year.

I can make a batch of homemade detergent in about ten to twelve minutes (with the help of my kids). This single batch contains enough detergent for about fifty five loads of laundry, according to my count. Thus, I need to make about seven batches a year – about an hour and fifteen minutes worth of work, annually, spread out over the entire year in ten to twelve minute increments.

On average, we do a load of laundry each day. Every time we use our homemade detergent instead of the homebrew, we save the eighteen cents that Marco doesn’t think is worthwhile. Yet, if you do that every single day for a year, it adds up to about $60.

Now, if I actually earned that $60, I’d have to pay taxes on it. There are also costs connected to earning it – transportantion, time spent working, child care for the time working, and so on. It’s easy to see that I’d have to bring home well over $100 to match what I get from the detergent over a given year.

Eating at Home
I love cooking at home, as I’ve mentioned many times before. It’s turned into something of a passion for me, but I got started on doing it when I realized that we could easily save a couple dollars a head eating at home versus eating out.

Why Marco doesn’t like this strategy: Making food at home is a lot of hassle to save two bucks.
Why I love this strategy: We save at least $100 a week – money that’s after taxes, of course, meaning it goes straight into our pocket – by eating almost exclusively at home. That’s over $5,000 a year.

When we eat out as a family, it costs us – at the bare minimum – $20 to eat a decent meal. Quite often, it’s more than that. But, if you were paying attention this summer, I posted eight (yes, one two three four five six seven eight) detailed meal plans – with lots of pictures – for family meals that cost less than $10 each. The series covered a wide variety of cuisines, healthiness levels, and ingredients in an effort to show that you don’t have to wed yourself to one certain kind of meal.

Thus, each time we eat at home, we’re saving a minimum of $2.50 a head over eating out – usually, our savings is more than that per person. Even if we just calculate one meal a day in this regard, that’s twenty eight meals a week – even at $2.50 a meal, that’s $70 a week. If you consider that the gap between eating at home and eating out is usually greater than that and that we often eat lots of leftovers, most weeks our savings is well over $100 a week.

“Yes, but what about the time?” Well, in order to eat out, we have to leave our home and go to a restaurant (15 minutes), go inside and get seated (another 5 minutes – hopefully), order and wait for our food (thirty minutes), eat (fifteen to thirty minutes), then leave the restaurant (five more minutes) and go home (fifteen more minutes). That’s an hour and forty minutes.

At home, I can usually get a meal prepped from scratch in forty five minutes – some meals take less time, some take more. If we spend a half an hour eating, we’re done in an hour and fifteen minutes.

Usually, it takes less time to prepare a meal from scratch and eat it at home than it does to eat out.

You can amplify both the financial savings and the time savings by using tactics like quadruple batch preparation as well.

Yes, there are some caveats. The savings isn’t nearly as great if you’re single. Also, if you live very close to a restaurant district, the time investment for eating out is less, too.

Installing a Programmable Thermostat
A programmable thermostat lets you set up a program that will automatically adjust the temperature in your home while you’re at work and while you’re asleep, allowing your energy bill to catch a breather.

Why Marco doesn’t like this strategy: You spend fifty bucks on a thermostat and it only saves you five bucks a month.
Why I love this strategy: You spend fifty bucks on a programmable thermostat then save sixty bucks a year for the next fifteen years with no additional effort – a total of $900 for a $50 investment with no work.

The idea that a programmable thermostat will save you $5 a month is a very low-end guess – in most cases, the savings will be much more than that each month. This is particularly true if your house stands empty during weekdays and also if you live in an area where the climate varies wildly between summer and winter. But we’ll assume $5 a month for argument’s sake here.

Let’s say you plunk down that $50 (or some similar amount) to buy the programmable thermostat of your choice. You spend an hour hooking it up and playing with the features. Yes, after the first month, it’s a big loss. After six months, it’s a loss. After a year, you’re just barely ahead.

The second year? Pure profit with no extra effort. The third year? The fourth? It’s all gas down the road – you use less energy without expending any effort to do so.

The Real Scoop
Most frugality tactics aren’t all that cost effective if you look solely at a single use. Frugality’s value kicks in when you alter something you do all the time, like eating a meal, heating your home, or doing the laundry. Shaving a few cents off of each of those uses adds up to a substantial chunk of change over the long run.

When you read frugality tips, ignore the ones that only apply to things you don’t do or things that you rarely do. They’re not really useful to you at all. Instead, look for the ideas that intersect well with your own life – the little tweaks you can make that don’t reduce your quality of life but save you just a little bit each time you engage in the activity. If you’re a meticulous cleaner, look for tips on cleaning supplies. If you use a lot of home electronics, look for energy-saving tips. If you’re a homeowner… the possibilities are endless.

It’s those “a few cents a day” tips that really add up. Do several of them and you’re saving “only” a few bucks a day. But those few bucks a day add up to a thousand dollars at year’s end – and that can make a huge difference, especially since they just fall right in line with your life.

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  1. Virginia says:

    Making a habit of saving those few cents a day on multiple tasks can be a life saver when your income suddenly gets cut in half – as ours did two years ago when my husband’s program was cut. Anyone worried about job security or a low retirement income (and isn’t that all of us now?) should consider what frugal habits they could reasonably try out now so that they are already familiar and comfortable with money saving strategies if their income or part of it is lost. I’m amazed at the fact that our family still gets by on half of what we used to make. I don’t think we would have been able to get through six months if we hadn’t been practicing a certain level of frugality all along.

  2. Brittany says:

    Excellent post AND I get to be the first to comment! (Unless I spend too long typing this…)

    I think you did a great job of addressing his skepticism of why a few cents here and there really do matter, but I also think it’s important to point out something else that weaves a current throughout this site–frugality isn’t about pinching pennies, it’s a mindset committed to responsible use of resources. Buy a programmable thermostat allows you save some money ANY energy. Making your own laundry detergent takes money from something you don’t care about (as long as it gets clothes clean, who really cares about the type of detergent you use?) and allows you to put it towards something you DO care about. Eating at home not only saves you money on food (and usually gas), but is also normally healthier (making effective use of your money by giving you a better nutrient-per-dollar value). It’s all about maximizing VALUE.

  3. Brittany says:

    Ouch. Should have proofread that. Sorry.

  4. friend says:

    I always turn the thermostat down at night and if I’m going to be gone for a few hours during the day. WAY down if I’m going out of town (just warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing). In the summer, I fiddle the AC the same way, so I get the benefit of it when I need it.

    So I’m wondering how a programmable thermostat would save me money — wouldn’t it just automate what I already do by hand? I hear a lot about them, but aren’t they more a labor-saving device than an energy-saving one?

  5. J says:

    I think my problem with a lot of frugality tips is some of the “savings” are basically noise when compared with a amplitude of a “big win”. In your three examples above, eating at home is the obvious big win, followed by the programmable thermostat and then the laundry detergent, which is a very distant third.

    If you like making your own detergent, that’s great — we all need hobbies and if you do it with your kids and have fun doing it, then more power to you. However, if you want to figure out how to save money, it often makes sense to try and figure out how to get some big wins first, and then figure out where you might have some intersection of things you like to do that could also save money.

  6. Little House says:

    The small savings do add up over time, and that can turn into a nice little savings account over a year or more. The whole “get rich quick” idea I think came from movie plots, and this is where people get confused on how everyday “Joe’s” end up with a savings account.

    I’m guessing that Marco is looking for a way to make more money with the idea he can save money if he made more. Most people who can’t save what they make in the first place, have trouble saving money when they make more of it. The frugal savers are the ones that end up with savings account and money set aside for emergencies, and a retirement for the future.

  7. J says:

    @friend — the benefit of the programmable thermostat is the automation. I guess it’s a combination labor and energy savings device. Most people won’t reliably remember to turn back the thermostat.

  8. J says:

    I’ll also add that an important part of the “big win” is having a financial plan. For our household, that means a budget and goals. I’ve encountered far too many people who spend time “saving money” by any number of “frugal living” tips, but yet they don’t maintain a budget (or other money plan) and they don’t have any idea where they are going. It’s likely far more useful to spend the time coming up with a plan and sticking to it, which does involve a time investment, than just blindly going around “saving money”. Once you know where you are going, frugality becomes a tool you can use in getting you there.

  9. Debbie M says:

    friend@4–a thermostat would actually cost me money. That’s because I turn off the AC or heat when I’m gone and I turn the heat way down at night. If I had a thermostat, I’d set it to turn on the AC just before I got home and to turn up the heat just before I woke up!

    J—good point about small savings being able to disappear without a trace.

    I think another problem for people like Marco is that making laundry detergent and cooking sound like no fun at all. Some frugal things actually do turn out to be fun or to have additional positive consequences. For example, anything you do for yourself can be personalized. And once you find a good recipe, you can have that yummy dish whenever you want and don’t have to rely on some business staying in business.

  10. Eden Jaeger says:

    Certainly good advice, but I never really understood the benefit of a programmable thermostat…I have one, but never programmed it. I set it at a certain temperature when I’m home and off when I leave, unless temps are extreme I might leave it on at a minimal level while away. Seems I could come out ahead that way? /shrug

  11. Paul says:

    I think Marco has a point about the detergent. 75 minutes plus the raw ingredients costs me way more than the $60 I might save…

    But eating in has significant benefits over eating out – as you mention, the time is about the same, but you can get more than one meal out of the same time; the monetary cost is lower, and it’s quite often easier to adjust to your dietary needs (I don’t like to say it’s “healthier” but that’s what most people would call it).

    The value in eating out is the high quality of the food (I eat out because they cook better than I do). I’d have to be pulling down some serious, serious coin to eat out every day.

    Likewise, the programmable thermostat has a solid long term return – unless you work from home, I’d have one.

  12. Jon says:

    Regarding cooking at home rather than eating out, the time involved isn’t really all that much. I can generally whip up something in about five or ten minutes, then let it bake or simmer while I do other things. Is it only all right to multi-task when you’re at your day job, or is it allowable on the home front?
    As far as quality is concerned, I can generally prepare a tastier and “fancier” meal at home for far less cost than at a restaurant. I keep a freezer well-stocked with various cuts of meat, seafood, and poultry. I buy in bulk and portion it out for my wife and myself, but if we invite another couple over, I just pull two packages instead of one.
    In addition, any leftovers I can pack up in my lunch for work, and I eat way better meals than I would if I went to the fast food joints like most of my coworkers.

  13. Kathleen says:

    The thing I like about your frugality tips is that it makes me think about why I do things a certain way or spend money as I do. Realistically I’m not likely to make my own laundry detergent, but reading your blog about it made me rethink the type and amount of detergent I use. By prompting me to think rather than mindlssly repeat my existing habits, I feel that I’m getting better control of my spending habits.

  14. friend says:

    Another frugality tip about laundry detergent, and this one is way easier!

    If you use the liquid, concentrated kind, chances are it comes in the same kind of bottle as the un-concentrated kind, with the same big cap. So you don’t need a whole capful of detergent any more.

    I just drew a line with permanent marker about halfway up the cap to remind myself (and others in the household) that we don’t need to use so much.

  15. momof4 says:

    Can you use home made laundry detergent in a front loading he machine?

  16. Jill says:

    There are certain types of CH&A systems that are actually more energy/cost efficient with a programmable designed for that kind of system than yo-yoing the temperature on your own. If you have heat pump heat (common in many southern areas), the system is designed to pretty slowly bring a room up or down to temperature, and suddenly cranking up the heat can cost more moeny (and will cost more if you have to turn on the emergency electric heating coils instead of relying on the pump itself)

    ************
    “If I had a thermostat, I’d set it to turn on the AC just before I got home and to turn up the heat just before I woke up!”
    ************

    Which is pretty much the point from a comfort standard rather than a pure frugality one. Easier to get up from bed on a cold winter day when the house has warmed itself to 65F than if it’s still at the nighttime 55F setting.

  17. *sara* says:

    I don’t make my own laundry detergent, but the idea of looking for ways to make something you buy without thinking has been inspiring! I do make my own yogurt, and candied ginger and other kitchen staples that at one time I assumed could only be purchased. Now I see that it can be really fun and satisfying (not to mention far cheaper) to have the skills to make it myself.

    So AS TRENT SAID – it the tip doesn’t work for you, fine! Be a little creative and find something that does work for you. You might be surprised at how enjoyable it is to save money and have superior results and learn something new!

  18. partgypsy says:

    I don’t think I’ll ever make my own laundry detergent because that just doesn’t interest me. However I do enjoy making and freezing homemade waffles, or making a big pot of steel cut oats so my kids eat a good but inexpensive breakfast every day. Find frugal tips that intersect with your interests/values.

    I also agree with #8; all the little wins won’t matter if you don’t have an overall plan where your money is going (I can be the weak link here, – esp now that Christmas is here : )

  19. Claire says:

    OK Trent, I think you’ve written this same post about five times. From now on, when people comment or email you on this subject, point them to one of your “defense” posts. Most of us here are sold on the value of frugality and it gets tiring to read you defend your ways over and over when what we really wish you would say to these people is, “Buzz off. Go find a different blog to read if you don’t like mine.” Sorry to sound irritated – it’s more at the constant questioning of frugality than it is at you.

  20. Hannah says:

    @Claire
    I could not agree more.

  21. Jane says:

    I’m like friend #4 above in that I do the work of a programmable thermostat myself. In fact, we have a programmable thermostat and don’t even use it, because I’m so used to changing the temperature based on whether or not we are home that we don’t need it. I often factor in the temperature outside. For instance, today is the coldest day of the year we’ve had by far. Since my son is in day care for a few hours, when I came back from dropping him off, I put it WAY down. I’m pregnant and prefer it to be really cold. I think in the end I save more with the individual method than I would with an automated plan. Of course, this assumes that you are like me and constantly changing the thermostat.

  22. Mel says:

    My 2c about programmable thermostats. I grew up in a place where heating tends to be a standalone heater in the main room. I now live in a place where central heating is the absolute norm. Our rented flat had a programmable thermostat when we moved in, and my boyfriend programmed it immediately. Since then, we’ve thought about it maybe 5 times – when we go away for more than a night or two, and when the weather changes. Except for issues with the boiler (a completely different story!), the house is almost always the ‘right’ temperature – without a single thought from us. Oh, and the landlord pays the bill, so we don’t actually see the savings…

  23. Wendy says:

    I have to completely agree with you – the savings in a frugal lifestyle isn’t necessarily measured in dollars, alone, but in changing habits, which, over the long-term, will save money, but also a lot of other hidden costs associated with a consumerist lifestyle.

    With regard to the thermostat, we don’t have central heat or A/C, and so the only thing our thermostat does is tell us what the temperature is so that we know whether or not it’s really cool enough in the house to light the woodstove :).

  24. SimplySara says:

    Back in May of 2008 I made a conscious effort to change my spending habits in order to increase my savings account. I’d had my financial meltdown 5 years previous, paid off about $20K in credit debt (finished in 2007) and funded my retirement account to the maximum matchable by my employer but my savings account remained stagnant at about $1,500. Finally, through the help of your website and many, many others, I realized that just because I had some money available to me, I didn’t need to spend it. I started couponing, eating at home and making very small changes to my every day life. Despite having had several medical bills this year due to an injury, when I checked my savings account last night I had $9,000. So, all those things that Marco thinks will not make a difference actually accumulate to a lot.

    My boyfriend and I took a 7 night cruise this summer (we waited for a tremendous deal of $415/person) and were able to pay cash and had an amazing time. I am able to save my money and spend it on things that are worth it. When I think about how my money slipped away from me before I made those changes, it was never on large purchases, it was the $5 slice of cake at a coffee shop, the $1.50 bottle of water or $10 on some thing I saw in Target that I had to have that wound up in the Goodwill box the following year, and to be honest, I don’t miss those things at all.

    I also want to note that I don’t make a huge salary and I live in a very expensive part of the country (Southern California) but paying attention to the advice given to me on this website and others has allowed me to maximize what I earn.

  25. HSDell says:

    I’m not sure why it’s necessary to try to convince Marco about the merits of frugality.

    Most of us don’t change our behavior until we have some significant motivation to do so. Maybe when Marco is in debt, has no savings, and otherwise experiences a financial crunch, will it make sense to him why these ideas are worthwhile.

    If he doesn’t care now, so what? You know the saying: ‘You can lead a horse to water…’

    In any case, his post sounds a bit trollish.

    Thanks!

  26. Des says:

    @Paul

    “I think Marco has a point about the detergent. 75 minutes plus the raw ingredients costs me way more than the $60 I might save…”

    The $60 you save INCLUDES the cost of the raw ingredients. The question is not “will it save money” they question is “will it save enough money to be worth my time”.

  27. Larabara says:

    I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for quite a while now–ever since I read about it on this site. At first I did it to save money, but I quickly came to enjoy it, and I had been using vinegar instead of fabric softener (the results were great) and started hanging up my clothes instead of using the dryer. Well, my mother heard about my frugal habits regarding my laundry and decided that it was too much. So for my birthday, my mother and sisters gave me– a year’s supply of TIDE! They said that they felt bad that I “had” to make my own laundry detergent, and they wanted me to live an easier life!! So I unwrapped present after present to reval another and yet another box of Tide (Tide with bleach, Tide with Downy, Original Tide, etc). My niece bought me a big jug of Snuggle so that I don’t have to use vinegar. Even my broke cousin chipped in and bought me a box of dryer sheets–so that I can start using my dryer again. I’m not sure what to make of this…I’m not really struggling financially, but they figured that anyone who is making their own laundry detergent must be one step from destitution. I just smiled and made jokes at the time, but now there’s no reason to keep making my laundry detergent. I guess I’ll have to find another creative way to be frugal, so keep those ideas coming, Trent!

  28. Stefanie says:

    @Larabara: you could return those boxes and containers of detergent and put some of the money toward new hand-made stuff and some in a savings account!

  29. Courtney says:

    We make our own laundry detergent and it is so cheap and easy – we’ll never go back to buying detergent. We wash at least a couple loads a day and save well over $60/year.

    Programmable thermostats have always seemed unnecessary to me, unless you are very forgetful. Why spend all that money for one when it’s easy and free to just remember to adjust your thermostat a couple times a day?

  30. Larabara says:

    Stefanie, good advice, but I’m afraid they didn’t give me any receipts. If I had to approach them for the receipts, they’ll figure out what I’m planning. Trust me, I really don’t want to be in the crosshairs of a family of angry women :-)
    But since I’m saving a year’s worth of laundry detergent (actually more since I still have the supplies for a couple of more batches of homemade), I’ll take the money I save and put it in an interest-bearing savings account. Maybe I can buy something nice for them next year!

  31. Brittany says:

    Sounds like you handled that well, Larabara. I would have been so frustrated/offended at their complete lack of “getting” me and my values I wouldn’t have known what to do or say!

    Major chains like Wal-Mart will take back products they sell without a receipt for store credit. You could perhaps take a guess a where your family tends to shopw back some of them for grocery money or something.

  32. Jane says:

    @Larabara
    I’m not sure what to make of what your family did either, especially since I don’t know them or your relationship with them. But I imagine they know that you are not struggling financially. In some respects, I think it’s kind of offensive that they didn’t respect your choices. I had a similar thing with my husband’s grandma, who found out that we were using cloth baby wipes (we use cloth diapers, so it is no problem to throw wipes in the washer). Next time we saw her, she had bought us tons of disposable wipes, “so we wouldn’t have to use the other ones.” I think it boils down to the fact that they don’t like your choices, but really it’s not their business. It’s certainly not worth offending them, but you could reiterate in the future that you actually LIKE and prefer homemade detergent.

    And Brittany is right. Walmart will take back anything that they sell, even if you don’t have a receipt. I imagine they carry most of the detergent you received. If you returned it all, perhaps you have years and years worth of supplies!

  33. Noadi says:

    I have a lot of very nice clothes (not expensive, a lot of vintage and good quality thrift store finds that I love) so making my own laundry detergent wouldn’t be a saver for me since it is a bit harsh on clothes. You have to balance what is important for you when it comes to being frugal. The detergent thing, not so much for me.

    I love to cook so eating in is a big win for me. I save lots of money by doing something I enjoy. Another benefit is that it is healthier to make your own food, you’re more conscious of what goes into each meal. Eating out is a rare treat.

    The same is true for clothes shopping, I love vintage looks and classic styles so I love to thrift store shop and most of my clothes last for years as long as I take good care of them. Since my fashion choices aren’t tied to what’s “in style” I don’t worry about it being out-dated. I sew pretty well so I can tailor finds so they fit better and augment my wardrobe with the occasional more expensive piece from a small designer or crafter.

  34. Dawn/FFL says:

    It has probably already been said but I will say it again.

    Make $1 – after taxes you get 65¢ – 80¢
    Save $1 – no taxes

    I’d rather cut back than spend more time working for someone else to make the $1

  35. Alexandra says:

    Some of the things we do to save money seem ridiculous, but it all adds up faster than one would realize. Better to do it voluntarily now than out of necessity later.

  36. Rosa Rugosa says:

    We wouldn’t want to live without our programmable thermostat – love the fact that the heat gets up in the morning just before we do during our New England winters. And it kicks in just before we get home from work. I think this is a good example of balanced frugality – maximized comfort while dimishing fuel costs. Doing it manually wouldn’t allow us to get up to a toasty house or come home to a toasty house.
    I want to know where Trent takes his family to eat for $20.00? We don’t eat out often anymore, but when we do, we generally spend over $100.00 for the two of us. We figure that on the rare occasion that we do go out, we’ll do it nicely. (We do live in the greater Boston area, which has a fairly high cost of living).

  37. Karen says:

    Being a tad on the forgetful side (ahem), a programmable thermostat was a HUGE moneysaver for me. To the tune of about $100/month, between the reduced electricity to run the furnace, and the lowered bills for oil. One thing I love is that you can boost the temperature if you’re cold, but it will return to its programmed setting after a bit, you don’t have to remember to turn it back down again.

    It was definitely a good investment of $24.99. :) We just moved into a new house and that was the first thing I installed, again paying $24.99 because they were on sale everywhere in October.

  38. Caroline says:

    All that and frugality is usually helping the environment and healthier for you too!

  39. Vanessa says:

    Even if you would usually manually change the settings of the thermostat yourself, a programmable one can still save you money. Since you can get it going a bit before you need the temp change, you can set it much lower/higher than you would normally set it to manually. When it does get cold down here in Texas, I want the house to be at least 60 degrees when I get up in the morning. So if I were manually changing it, I would but in on 60 at night, than crank it up to 68 during the day. But instead I turn it to 40 at night (essentially turning it off) and program it to heat to 68 starting about an hour before I get up. It doesn’t usually get colder than 50 or so in the house. And during the summer,. when we want it cooler at night to sleep, I can program it to turn off a few hours before we get up. Since our house is well insulated, it will be up to about daytime temps soon after we get up this way and that is hours that the AC was not on (which is WAY pricier to run than our natural gas heater).

  40. Gretchen says:

    @Rosa, If I remember correctly he also gets 2 or 3 meals out of one pizza.

    You will also never convince me to make my own laundry detergent. Ever. I tried and it’s not enjoyable on any level to me.
    Also, maybe Marco already works 2 jobs and doesn’t have time to spend making his own detergent. Or whatever.

  41. kim says:

    I think everyone is just too fixated on the homemade laundry detergent. It’s just an example. There are many ways to achieve the same end result. I’ve made the detergent and didn’t like it. Instead, I save money on laundry by black belt couponing and stocking up on detergent when I can get it nearly free. It’s just a different method of achieving the same end. There lots of different ways to be frugal. Pick what works for you.

  42. Kate says:

    RE:laundry detergent—I began making my own when gas prices shot up to $4+/gal. My thinking was this: Why am I shlepping liquid laundry detergent from a local discount store (Did you know one gallon = 8+pounds?) when I can use the water from my faucet to make homemade and save gas $?

    The most important thing about all of this frugality is that we’re making conscious decisions about how we want to earn/spend $. Thanks for all these good ideas!

  43. Kenny says:

    Now this is good but not enough……Marco is completely wrong, but we need ‘spenders’ in the US, so please do not try to change everyone, since our GDP will be permanently 1.0% instead of the 3% avg every year over 20 years.

    Let me ask these questions, and think out of the box:

    1. Why is it necessary to throw everything for a wash everyday and create one laundry per day? What makes everything so dirty or messy or so filled with germs? NOTHING. Think outside the box.

    2. What makes eating raw vegetarian foods like cereals, eggs, fruits, vegetables so difficult? Why does everything have to be cooked? NOTHING. Think outside the box.

    3. What makes people keep their homes at 72-76 degrees in the winter and 74-76 degrees in the summer? Why not 66 degrees in the winter and 80 degrees in the summer? NOTHING. Think outside the box.

    4. What makes people buy drinks and snacks from outside instead of packing it from home in little plastic containers just in case we get hungry. NOTHING. Think outside the box.

    5. What makes someone throw away a product before the engineering life of it is over? Just cause a new one came out? Do you do that to your Washer, Refrigerator, Desk, Plants, Pillows, Socks, Fans, Toaster, Loaf of Bread, Spoons, Patio, Clock, Door, Wall Switch, Toilet, Headlight of a Car? NO WAY. Think outside the box and use the products to the end of the life, since that was the intent when we bought it.

    Bottomline is that I can keep going. Every convenience and impulsive thought/action has a HIGH COST associated with it. Every planned thought has a lower cost and higher savings associated with it.

    Bullet 5 will give you the BIGGEST SAVINGS in life than anything else.

    As a result, I paid off my 1st home at age 41, have had no debt on credit cards or loans, have more money in the bank than myself or my kids will need (buy only you know that), and have been handed down a portfolio from my parents that I do not even know what to do with, so told my Dad that I will be the ‘gardener of that portfolio’ and pass it on to my kids.

    Not bragging…..Just preaching what I do. Not trying to change anyone – Just showing a different road. Not boasting about my no-debt (since it is too personal to me), but you will ENJOY LIFE MUCH MORE during/after these changes.

    Hope this view is different and helps, but along the lines of the author of this article.

    Kenny

    ps: Please publish any of these ideas in any article if you like it.

  44. Ashley says:

    This laundry detergent thing: I purchase Arm & Hammer laundry detergent (150 fluid ounces)when it goes on sale (it is an item that tends to go on sale on an eight week rotation in the form of buy 1, get 1 free at my Stop & Shop). I buy a bottle for $8.99, and get the second one free. It claims to contain enough for 96 loads, but as I always use only half of the suggested amount, I eke out 192 loads PER BOTTLE. So with my two bottles, I get 384 loads which will last us over a year. And cost per load…2.3 cents!

    But there are ways we truly do enjoy cutting back. Based upon an article by a dentist in Mother Earth News, we now make our own toothpowder…just baking soda, a little salt, and some winterberry essential oil from Whole Foods. (Note…this concoction doesn’t have flouride). Our dentist has been very pleased with our teeth, and our mouths never felt cleaner! The cost…about thirty cents a month!

  45. Melissa says:

    Trent, I couldn’t agree with you more. But when you compare apples with apples, I think that the savings are even bigger and go beyond cold hard cash.

    When we make laundry detergent it’s often more ecological, so comparing it with store bought ‘green’ detergent making it is cheaper (I’m not in the US so assuming Tide isn’t ‘eco’). And we’re not just saving money, we’re reducing pollution.

    When we eat at home, we can make healthy meals with quality ingredients for less than eating out – improving health, saving petrol, teaching our kids important skills and saving money.

    Thermostats are a bit beyond my experience (we don’t have heating or air con) but I’m assuming that it’s reducing carbon footprint as well as saving money.

    Saving money is great, I’m a big fan, but there is so many more benefits to being frugal that makes frugal living (and saving small change here and there) to me really exciting. As they say: “from little things, big things grow.”

  46. Larabara says:

    Well, to clarify the family dynamic, I’m used to them not “getting” me, since I’ve always been the “weird one” in the family. I’m always getting the “Jeez, you are SO weird!” comments whenever I try a creative way to stretch the funds. Up unti now they’ve just rolled their eyes and accepted it, but I guess the homemade laundry detergent has sent the family over the edge.

  47. Larabara says:

    Ooooh! I just read the comment from Ashley about making her own toothpowder–maybe I can get my family to buy me a year’s supply of toothpaste!

  48. Kathy says:

    @Larabara, maybe you could donate your year’s supply to Tide to charity or something like that? Tide runs commercials for a charity that helps displaced people have clean clothes. Or maybe a homeless shelter could use it? Or you could show them how much softer your clothes are with the vinegar fabric softener than they would be with the commercial stuff. :-)

  49. Kathy says:

    I think people need to get past the homemade laundry soap and look at the bigger picture. Yes, Trent sometimes comes across as arrogant when he talks about how he makes his own laundry soap, but some of the people who disagree with him sound just as arrogant when they defend why they don’t make their own laundry soap.

    I do make my own laundry soap and use vinegar as fabric softener, because I tried it and it works for me. If it did not work for me, I wouldn’t still be doing it.

    The bigger picture and the point that Trent is trying to make with all these tips, is that if you want to save money, it’s those little things that you do to save pennies here and there that will do it and not anything major. It’s like dieting. Both are lifestyle changes and to be successful, it takes baby steps. If you plunge headfirst into either, you will fail and go back to your old ways.

    There is always a bigger picture when saving money, and you have to look at the bigger picture. With eating out, for example, yes, it’s cheaper to cook for yourself, but in the bigger picture, if you cook from scratch and don’t rely on convenience and processed foods, you will save money on your health care costs when you are not suffering from preventable diseases brought on by eating these foods.

    Frugality forces us to stop and slow down and work for things. People who want instant gratification are not going to embrace frugality unless something happens to them to force them to be frugal. And when they see the benefits pay off, they will wonder why they never thought of doing this before. Being frugal requires patience.

  50. Patty says:

    Also when you change a habit you not only ‘save a few cents’ but also don’t have to deal with inflation costs on that item. The toll fees have gone up twice already since I stopped driving the toll road. Thats compound savings! Just changing the daily commute path and skipping those daily toll booths has saved me ~$140 a month of after tax dollars. Less of my daily work must pay for my daily commute which frees me up greatly to do the things I enjoy.

  51. Kathryn says:

    Cooking meals at home can be a cost saver for single people as well as families. Instead of buying skinless chicken breasts for stir fry as I used to, I now buy a whole chicken and roast it, at a savings of $3 or more dollars a pound. A 4 lb chicken lasts for several days – the delicious first meal with veggies and a favorite starch, then sandwiches or burritos for lunches and then the chicken soup I make with the carcass. All delicious, plus I have control over how much salt, fat and even sugar is in my food. In restaurants, you really have no idea. I still eat out once or twice a week and feel I can afford to with the money I’ve saved in other areas. And, because I allow myself that indulgence, I don’t feel deprived.
    As for laundry, I average two loads a week. A large container of concentrated detergent costs less than $20 and lasts me bout 10 months so I really don’t feel the need to make my own.
    Although one reader complained about you repeating the arguments for frugality, they do need to be repeated for the new readers.

  52. sbt says:

    Other ideas that cost less and are greener at the same time.

    Make-up remover: Add a couple drops of a mild essential oil (for scent, I recommend rose. otherwise totally optional) to a cup of vegetable or mineral oil, and you’ve got a cheap, effective and healthy makeup remover. Just use it on a cloth or a cotton ball.

    Homemade bath salts are easy. There are lots of recipes on the web. Or just add a drop or two of your favorite essential oil for a special, scented bath.

    Cloth napkins. The synthetic ones wash beautifully.

  53. NYC reader says:

    Learning to live within or below one’s means (and yes, it’s LEARNED behavior) requires two distinct lessons:

    1) Learn to distinguish between “want” vs. “need.”

    2) Learn to harness the need for instant gratification and embrace delayed gratification instead.

    In my experience, I first had to identify the situations where I went the instant gratification route, and then determine what was really going on in my emotional life. Trent describes being depressed or upset as his trigger.

    For me, it was a sense of hopelessness about the future. “There’s no point in denying myself this purchase, it won’t make a difference anyway, I’ll never get anywhere financially because I came from working class and I didn’t have the financial/social/safety net advantages of folks with money.”

    Then it became a self-fulfilling prophecy; I’d spent more than I could afford on things (mostly intangible experiences, like travel and eating out, not on material items), and I was juggling bills trying to make payments while still spending more to make myself feel better.

    I got the first lesson down pat pretty easily. The second lesson took time (measured in years), introspection, and analysis.

    Interestingly, the more I learned to control the instant vs. delayed gratification, the more hopeful I became, not just in financial areas, but in all areas of my life. I’m actually happier.

    I saw money piling up in my accounts. I stopped having to juggle bill payments. I was able to save, invest, and help others in trouble without a second thought. It was a tremendously good feeling when I could write checks for many thousands of dollars several times to help others in a severe crisis, without expectation of ever being paid back, because it was the right thing to do and I because could afford it.

    I had a medical emergency that ended up costing me many thousands of dollars out of pocket. It was wonderful not to worry about hassling with the insurance company about treaments and payments; I paid whatever I needed to pay to get the best care possible, and later I dealt with getting reimbursed from my health insurance. I didn’t get reimbursed appropriately, but it doesn’t bother me, because my health is now so much better. I can always make more money, I can’t replace my health.

    I had a potential job layoff situation in the past year, and the combination of my emergency fund and my savings/investments eliminated most stress about the potential job loss. I knew that I would be fine for several YEARS of unemployment if I was willing to tap into the money I had saved up for a hefty down payment on a home.

    The reduced stress made me much more relaxed during job interviews because I wasn’t desperate to land the jobs, and much more selective about which jobs I would consider in the first place. I ended up with a pretty good job after all.

    After I got the job, the interviewer commented that I seemed so relaxed and confident in the interview, which really stood out, that he felt I truly was head-and-shoulders above the other candidates in terms of skills and abilities.

    I also know I can walk away from this or any other job if I need to. That is a hugely liberating feeling, and it’s all because I have reduced the amount of money that I need to survive on, and because I have saved and invested the excess funds over the years.

    In a few years, I plan on retiring at a reasonably young age. I will do some charitable work, or possibly some low-paid work that does good things in the world, and I won’t have to worry about making enough to make ends meet.

    That is true freedom. Freedom tastes wonderful. I’m willing to delay gratification to get there.

    The changes in my spending habits (distinguishing between wants vs. needs, delaying gratification, and paying myself first for saving/investing/retirement) are now ingrained. I don’t have to think about it at all, and it’s not some tremendous sacrifice.

    I still eat out, I still travel, and I live in an expensive city. But I’ve learned how to cut expenses where it matters little to me, so I can spend more where it DOES matter to me.

    On my paycheck, I take home about 57 cents for every dollar I earn. Taxes, insurance, etc. eat up 43 cents of every dollar I am paid. I am much better served by saving an extra dollar vs. earning an extra dollar. Also, I can control my savings. I can’t control what I’m being paid.

    When the company I worked for had a business downturn due to the economic crisis, the first thing they did was freeze salaries, and eliminate raises, bonuses, and awards. Then they started eliminating positions and talked about cutting salaries for the remaining employees. That’s when I bailed out.

    For the record, I will NEVER make my own laundry detergent (and I was a chemistry major!). I do make my own window cleaner, however. Not because it’s less expensive (it is), but because it works better on the window exteriors which get very soiled with city air pollution.

    Much of the personal financial information in books, on the Web, etc. focuses on the mechanics and “how-to” of financial decisions. To really make positive changes in our lives, I think we have to look at the EMOTIONAL aspects of money in each of our lives.

  54. Georgia says:

    I do make my own detergent, but as for shampoo and dishwashing liquid, I just put 1/2 in another bottle and fill both up with water. Squeeze out as normal and it works great. I have about 15-16 bottles of dishwashing liquid and I live alone and don’t do dishes as often. I bought them a $1 a bottle just before they went up and the total oz. were lowered. Quite a savings I’m getting. Financially I am comfortable in retirement, but I realize that costs are going up and there may be a time I need more. Therefore, I am saving as much as I can while I can. I even have an emergency fund which will replace my current car with another good used one if this one conks out. Wish I had learned all these lessons earlier, but I am not going to moan. I will just do what I need to now.

  55. LOL doesn’t that person understand that one as to creep before walking. The mindset of some individual is that he/she need to be at the top of the ladder before actually learning how to reach there. Your answer to this writer was excellent.

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