Can You Devote Fifteen Minutes A Day To Frugality?

Over the last few months, I noticed that on an average day, I spend somewhere around forty minutes engaged in some sort of activity intended to cut costs. I hang clothes out on the line to dry, clip coupons, and so forth, and at the end of the month I see the results of that effort when I add up my assets and calculate my net worth. That time spent day in and day out really does save money.

However, many people blow off the concept of frugality because it’s “time consuming.” I argue that all it takes is fifteen minutes a day to start seeing some serious benefits from frugality – big enough benefits that they start making a real impact on your monthly budget.

What can I possibly do in fifteen minutes that would save money? Here are twenty simple money-saving tasks anyone can do in fifteen minutes that can save you money – and it really adds up over time.

1. Clip coupons from the Sunday newspaper or trawl the internet for more
2. Write a grocery list (and stick to it when you shop)
3. Check the air pressure in all of your car tires and fill appropriately
4. Hang clothes up to dry instead of using the dryer
5. Go through the house and turn off all electrical devices you’re not using
6. Make your own meal instead of buying take-out or eating out
7. Do routine maintenance tasks around your home (change the furnace filter, etc.)
8. Make your own laundry detergent
9. Replace light bulbs with CFLs
10. Install a programmable thermostat
11. Plant and maintain a small vegetable garden
12. Sell off clutter that you don’t need and don’t use any more
13. Read through your community calendar for activities of interest
14. Drive at 65 or under, even on the interstate
15. Basic hygiene and health: wash your hands, drink lots of water, etc.
16. Prepare a meal (or a few meals) to stick in the freezer for easy cooking later
17. Take care of small financial tasks that you’ve been putting off (protesting fees, requesting a lower rate on your credit card, switching checking accounts, setting up a 401(k), setting up a Roth IRA, etc.)
18. Clean your car’s air filter
19. Learn how to sew and mend things like buttons, extending the life of clothing
20. Attend a garage sale instead of flying off to the mall

Here’s the challenge: for the next thirty days, spend fifteen minutes each day doing the things on this list and see how your money is doing at the end of the month. If nothing else, you’ll find yourself with more spending money – if you’re really swift, though, you’ll find better things to do with your newfound cash.

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  1. 60 in 3 says:

    Here’s another idea:

    Walk to the store instead of driving there. It will take 15 minutes longer but you’ll save on gas, plus you’ll be healthier.

    Gal

  2. Victor says:

    Do you really think you’re saving money?

    1. Clip coupons from the Sunday newspaper or trawl the internet for more

    And the newspaper is free? Where do I get one? Oh wait, drive to the store (waste gas & time), spend money (to save money?) and return home with a newspaper then spend time clipping coupons. Don’t most stores jack up the prices of those items that are going to be in the coupon book anyway? You think you’re getting a free lunch here?

    2. Write a grocery list (and stick to it when you shop)

    This doesn’t save money, it just means more trips to the grocery store. I’d rather buy cases of canned goods, spices, oils, and other non perishables in ONE trip rather than many trips (wasting gas again).

    3. Check the air pressure in all of your car tires and fill appropriately

    Unless you have an air compressor (spending money & time), you’ll have to drive to a gas station and pay $1.00 to fill up your tires with air. This costs time and fuel.

    4. Hang clothes up to dry instead of using the dryer

    And if bird craps all over my clothes, I’ll have to wash them all over again; quite clever.

    5. Go through the house and turn off all electrical devices you’re not using
    Duh.

    6. Make your own meal instead of buying take-out or eating out

    I tried this for a while. I can buy a Subway sandwich combo for $4.99 that comes with a drink, chips, and sandwich (peppers, tomatoe, onions, ham, cheese, olives, lettuce). Went to the store, bought all the ingredients and most items ended up spoiling by the end of the week. I was better off buying sandwiches “on demand” than buying and storing the perishable food items myself.

    7. Do routine maintenance tasks around your home (change the furnace filter, etc.)

    Yes, this does actually save money but it costs money too. Filters for my AC run $15/each so I spend $30/month on filters. There’s no free ride. Maintenance is part of the game.

    8. Make your own laundry detergent

    And if by some chance, I mix up the wrong chemicals and damage my clothing I’ll need to spend money buying all new clothes because I was too cheap to spend $6 on laundry detergent.

    9. Replace light bulbs with CFLs

    Great idea except CFL are like 5 times as expensive and $0.30 bulbs.

    10. Install a programmable thermostat

    Great idea, except this costs money and if you’re not electrician inclined, you’ll need to hire someone to install it for you. I’m sure eventually they’ll be a payback somewhere.

    11. Plant and maintain a small vegetable garden

    Once again, the amount of water, fertilizer, care, & time spent on “gardening” is a negative ROI. Industrial farms can produce 100x the produce at 1/4 the cost.

    12. Sell off clutter that you don’t need and don’t use any more

    13. Read through your community calendar for activities of interest

    And then drive to the events (wasting gas), get there and spend $10 on cookies for some “worthy” cause, end up paying $10 for parking.

    14. Drive at 65 or under, even on the interstate

    Why not just fly?

    15. Basic hygiene and health: wash your hands, drink lots of water, etc.

    16. Prepare a meal (or a few meals) to stick in the freezer for easy cooking later

    Ahh, the great taste of microwaved left-overs..mmmm……

    17. Take care of small financial tasks that you’ve been putting off (protesting fees, requesting a lower rate on
    your credit card, switching checking accounts, setting up a 401(k), setting up a Roth IRA, etc.)

    It takes me 30 minutes to simply READ through all my financial statements; where you getting 15 minutes from anyway?

    18. Clean your car’s air filter

    I think you mean replace, you can’t clean carbon gunk off of paper filters (which I think most people have in their cars)

    19. Learn how to sew and mend things like buttons, extending the life of clothing

    Dry cleaner does a much better job, faster and more reliably than I could ever do it and I don’t have to keep inventory of buttons, threads, needles, stuffed tomatoes. Didn’t you advocate getting rid of clutter a while back?

    20. Attend a garage sale instead of flying off to the mall

    One man’s clutter is another man’s treasure? How quaint.

  3. Elaine says:

    Love your site…been lurking for several months. Lots of great info. I am known by several friends as the “super saver” and it’s actually quite a good rep if you ask me! Saving is like a game to me.

    Reading thru today’s article, I see that I do all but 5 things…but I replace those with other saavy things!

  4. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Victor, most of your statements are quite demonstrably wrong. You talk about TCO, yet you’ve quite obviously never investigated most of these concepts with any degree of seriousness, nor ever even tried most of them, and in many cases you provide counter-options that actually cost more money. Having a dry cleaner replace a button? Give me a break.

  5. Monica says:

    Sheesh you’re negative Victor. And inaccurate.

    1) Assuming one already gets a newspaper subscription, I assume. (Here our newspapers don’t have coupons anyway.)

    2)I don’t think Trent meant you should not stock up on non-perishables. I think he meant your list should help you avoid impulse purchases like junk food. And when you make a list ahead you are probably also planning meals ahead, which means you’ll have everything you need and avoid waste.

    3) This is free where I live.

    4) None of the people I know who hang their clothes to dry have ever had a bird crap on their clothes. It won’t happen often and it would only land on one item of clothing anyway!

    6) Depends what you eat I guess. If you want to have very elaborate sandwiches with many ingredients that you do not have a plan for using up within their shelf life, then maybe you are right. Personally I don’t eat that way.

    8) Presumably you would TEST the detergent first on some old clothes. I can’t really see it wrecking your clothes though, probably the worst that would happen would be they have soap residue and you have to rewash them.

    9) CFLs will save you money on electricity. They are cheaper in the long run. If you like, wait until your incandescents burn out and THEN replace them with CFLs.

    10) Where I live the power company will give you a discount for doing this. There is also an environmental group that subsidizes low-income families.

    11) Try square foot gardening. Industrial farms are bad for the planet and bad for your health.

    13) Or you could walk, bike or take public transit to get there. Selecting the activities of interest would probably also mean avoiding those that cost money for things you don’t need. Instead choose to see an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play that is funded by donations — bring your own snacks.

    14) Flying is expensive and bad for the environment.

    16) I don’t have a problem with microwaving stuff. But even so, some of the food that I freeze is not microwaved. For example, I make extra spaghetti sauce, freeze it, and reheat in a saucepan on the stove. I also make lasagna ahead, and then bake it in the oven.

    17) ONE of those tasks will take less than 15 min.

    19) Dry cleaners are expensive. Mine charges $7 to get pants hemmed. It is not hard to do it yourself if you get a secondhand sewing machine (ask around — I bet someone has an old one). If you want to save money, why not stop buying clothes that have to be dry cleaned? I haven’t taken anything to the dry cleaners in 5 years.

    20) Yes, sometimes it is. If someone is getting rid of their cast iron frying pan, why not take it rather than buying a new one? It makes sense economically and environmentally?

  6. Mardee says:

    Monica, you were very nice to point out to Victor the extreme inaccuracies of his statements, but I think that he was probably just trolling. I enjoyed your comments, however (and Trent’s original post). And I accept the challenge – it will be an interesting experiment. I already do some of the things of there, so the goal will be to work on those I don’t – like hanging out my clothes to dry.

    I do disagree about coupons, though – I’ve found that most of the coupons are for things I wouldn’t buy anyway. I’ve found I can save more money by buying generic items – and usually those generic items come from the same companies that issue the more expensive brands. They just have a different label.

  7. Rob in Madrid says:

    The odd troll will help keep Trent humble :)

    Dryers ruin clothes faster than anything, if you don’t want to hang your clothes outside (due to pollen) get an indoor rack, I’ve been doing this for 7 years ever since we moved to Europe. Even when we did finally buy a dryer we hardly use it. If you live in a damp area a small fan will hasen the drying process. Down here in Madrid it is so dry that clothes dry within a few hours.

    CFLs are horrible; expensive dark and slow to brighten (perfect of kids who leave lights on all day) much better are stylish compact fluorescent light bulbs(those ugly things you see in
    offices and warehouses) I only discovered them when the place we moved into had them. Instant on and twice the brightness and half the cost of CFL bulbs. I will never put CFLs in my house.

  8. Mardee says:

    I have CFLs in my house and the newer ones are great – depending on the wattage, they can be very bright and flip on right away. There is maybe only a half second delay. I’d give them up in a second, though, to live in Madrid. :) I was in Spain last year and loved it!

  9. Cheryl says:

    Nice article, great tips….I posted a link to this article on my blog.

  10. Re: coupons: I pick the cheapest Sunday paper for about a dollar, and I definitely get more than $1 in savings. If there is no insert that week, I don’t buy it. Who buys a newspaper for day-old news?? ;)

    This past weekend, my wife and I essentially combined #2 and #6 (cooking and shopping list) after a particularly expensive and unhealthy week of eating take-out. We made a chart of a week of meals, and the things we’d need to buy. I’m out of the supermarket much more quickly and making dinner isn’t delayed by indecision. Healthy, faster, less expensive and tastes better. Plus, lunches are planned-overs (left-overs), so we’re saving there too.

    The chart took maybe 10 minutes to make.

  11. Nigel says:

    Rob in Madrid, I thought CFLs were “compact fluorescent light” bulbs.

  12. Josh says:

    Rob, you wrote “CFLs are horrible . . much better are stylish [C]ompact [F]luorescent [L]ight bulbs”

    Out of curiosity, what does CFL stand for in Spain?

  13. Alexis says:

    I don’t want to scare off anyone from making their own meals as it is a huge moneysaver, but it can’t be done in 15 minutes a day. The most you could do in that time is save out some dinner leftovers to freeze or make a sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch. Those are good things (especially the sandwich), but to really make a meal in rather than eating out will require at least 30 minutes.

  14. Lynnae says:

    Great tips! I’ll do the challenge. I already do a lot of the things, but there’s always room for improvement.

  15. Posco Grubb says:

    I am thoroughly confused by Rob’s comment. He says CFL’s are horrible. Then he says that compact fluorescent light bulbs are much better. Does not CFL stand for compact fluorescent lamp?

  16. Jon says:

    Re: Monica: 14) Flying is expensive and bad for the environment.

    Flying may be expensive, but small planes are more efficient than SUVs and only slightly less efficient than driving a medium-to-large car.

    Flying commercially is far more fuel-efficient than driving.

  17. Dawn says:

    Rob, CFLs _are_ Compact Flourescent Light bulbs. I think you’re referring to incandescents, which are the traditional light bulbs.

  18. Literanista says:

    You have a great blog while this is a good list, almost all of those activities take way longer than 15 minutes, perhaps more like a couple of hours.

  19. Caroline says:

    Victor, you only need to change your air conditioner filters every 3 month!! See you will save money now!

  20. Stephanie says:

    I think that I’m going to try to make my own detergent now. I already make my own window cleaner and now that I finally ran out of kitchen cleaner I’m going to try that.

    I guess for the food thing and the 15 minutes a day I like to make enough for several days and no matter what it always ends up less than 15 minutes if I look at it per meal. Such as last night I made 4 chicken breasts (frozen from Sam’s in bulk, which means that each one was SUPER HUGE on top of that) so that should make my husband and I at least 4 meals now. Also, it helps the whole weight thing when you are in complete control of what you stuff in your mouth and well, 67% of America is now overweight (Time Magazine) I figure that it may help us there too.

    For the car air filter you’re better off getting a lifetime one (a K&N) and it’s probably about the cost of having your local lube stop or whatever replace it a couple times.

    I’ve started hand washing things and hanging them up to dry in our spare bathtub (just bought an extra shower curtain rod and put it in the middle) and let them dry that way.

    Even though I don’t use EVERY coupon in the paper, I use about 4.00 worth of them a week on stuff I actually would buy and give the rest to friends that can use other stuff so they can save some money also.

    I replaced my bulbs years ago and LOVE them. I had one of those strips in the bathroom with like 8 really hot bulbs on it and my makeup would melt off before I could finish putting it on. These things look a little funny, but I like tht I haven’t replaced a bulb since we bought our house 4 years ago.

  21. jon says:

    Personally I do my grocery shopping online – in UK. It costs a little extra to get it delivered but I spend a vast amount of time by not going into the shop, I can keep a tight view on how much it’s going to cost and put back stuff I don’t really need and can’t afford. I also save on petrol by not going there, stress by not going there, it’s massively quicker and there’s almost no impulse purchasing (maybe on bulk reduction stuff).

    When I moved into my flat about 2.5 years ago we bought a cheap pack of replacement lightbulbs – about 6 I think. When those run out I’ll consider energy saving ones but normal tungsten ones seem to have lasted remarkably well.

  22. Enso says:

    Well, this is pretty funny. I do remember when living in Eastern Europe under communist rule in 1980s we used to test similar recipes. Not because we wanted to save money but of necessity – decent detergent were hard to buy. Sadly, no matter how much everybody likes to believe that these “home-made” detergent are as good as the commercial ones, the truth is – they are not. Every half-decent commercial detergent contains enzymes that help to break down starch, proteins, etc. Borax and soap mixture cannot do this trick. So, you will have to use higher temperature to attack tough stains. What you save on detergent you will spend on electricity. Good luck cleaning grass or blood with this concoction! It is not going to work even in 100 deg.

  23. FloridaLizz says:

    For those who don’t like coupons, check out The Grocery Game.

    The trick to using coupons is to pair them up with the best sales. If you pay attention to the sales cycles (most things go on sale every 12 weeks or so) you can buy enough to last you until the next sale. Ideally you never have to buy it when you “need” it and as a result pay full price. Buy when on sale, with coupon, and have enough on hand.

    Coupons are available for just about every product (yes, including healthy food). The key is to not be brand specific.

    We saved over $1200 in under three months by using this system (a total cost of $1 for the trial and $20 for eight weeks) and have only bought brand items. No more generic for us! (More coupon myth busters: We buy very few prepackaged food items, almost no “junk food”, no soda, and we don’t buy things we don’t need.)

  24. Kate says:

    I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of several types of grocery stores, a mailing center, a general store, and a thrift store. Walking to any of these places requires a 10-15-minute walk each way, so I get extra exercise in my week when I choose to walk. With a little planning and a sturdy canvass bag, I save gas and burn calories with every trip!

    What a pleasant way to save money.

  25. Kathy H says:

    I have done meal planning and that it’s self will save you money. As making it homemade is a budget saver.
    This week to feed a family of four for five days, I spent a total of 65 dollars for all three meals. This included homemade cookies for dessert. They were not fancy meals, but were well planned out and healthy. So yes, no impluse buying at the store, go after having a bite to eat, and knowing your meals ahead of time. On top of writing a list and sticking to it will save money in the long run.

  26. Tao Kuei says:

    Concerning, number 19. This is advice that I knew and considered valid. My clothes mean a lot to me. Recently though, I’ve been… God, this is embarassing… considering purchasing patterns with the aim of eventually sewing my own clothes. Too much? I’m really not sure, when you consider what an expense clothes can be, and what an investment good quality clothes are, and what better way to ensure it than do it yourself. Furthermore, I have done some sewing in the past (this just doesn’t get any easier to write).

  27. Tao Kuei says:

    Got any thoughts on the above, Trent?

  28. Dana Seilhan says:

    I dunno about the making your own detergent thing–we have ingredients now that they didn’t have in Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain. For instance, oxygen bleach is widely available now, and you can get it in powder form, which means it’s easy to mix in with a homemade powder formula. The stuff works great, especially if you catch the stain while it’s still fresh.

    You can also still buy Fels-Naptha soap. The stuff gets poison ivy off your skin–I can see where it’d be a great addition to laundry detergent!

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