Updated on 12.17.15

Nine Strategies for Cutting the Cost of Convenience

Trent Hamm

When you're short on time, you'll pay dearly for quick and easy solutions. Here are some ways to curb your convenience spending.

When I was in college, my academic advisor used to say something fairly often that didn’t really resonate with me at the time, but now strikes me as very wise.

The gist of it was this: When you are a child, you have energy and time but no money; when you are a young adult, you have energy and money but no time; when you are an older adult, you have money and time but no energy.

The whole “energy and time but no money” thing was true for me for the first 22 years of my life. I had no money during childhood and no money during my college years, but looking back, I had so much free time and so much energy. It really saddens me that I didn’t use it more productively.

Today, that equation has shifted. I have money. I have energy. But I seem to have no time.

The demands of my career, of married life, of parenthood, of being involved in the community, of trying to maintain at least a few friendships… it all adds up to feeling like there is very, very little time available to me.

Because of that, it’s tempting to use the resources I have – especially money – to buy the resource I want the most, which is time. In other words, convenience has an enormous amount of appeal to me.

I understand the appeal of hiring someone to clear the sidewalk in the winter. I understand the appeal of hiring a housecleaner. I understand the appeal of hiring someone to mow the lawn in the summer. I understand the appeal of stopping for fast food in a pinch.

All of those things equate to convenience. I’m trading my money for the ability to use my time on other things. The $20 (or whatever the price might be) spent on hiring someone to mow the lawn gives me an hour to do other things. The same goes with clearing snow. Paying a housecleaner gives me a few hours a week to do other things at a high price.

The problem with that, though, is that paying for convenience in that way takes money directly away from savings. We could be using the money spent on those kinds of conveniences to build toward financial independence. While we might be buying some time right now, we’re losing time later on in our lives. We’ll be working when we could have been retired.

That’s why, for me, I love convenience strategies that don’t cost much of anything – or, sometimes, save us money. They enable us to find more free time today without sacrificing that time down the road.

Here are nine such strategies that I like to use.

Strategy #1: Keep Some Reasonably Healthy Snacks in the Car

On the passenger floorboard of our Honda Pilot, you’ll almost always find a box of granola bars of some kind or another. I usually pick up a variety pack as long as they include some oatmeal raisin bars, which are my favorite (and, incidentally, the favorite of my youngest son, too).

I usually just pick up a box of them whenever I’m in the store. It’s a constant item on my grocery list. Then, when I’m loading the car, I look for that box in the bags that I’m loading, grab it, and put it on the passenger floorboard.

How is this convenient? Whenever I’m rushing about on errands, it’s inevitable that I get a little bit hungry. A few hours of errands often overlaps with meal times and that means that my body is ready to eat. In that situation, I have a few choices. I could just suck it up until I get home, of course. However, I’m usually driving by a few fast food restaurants and they’re awfully tempting. I’m hungry, some of the items on sale are tasty, and I can get it without even getting out of the car in just a few minutes? That’s pretty convenient.

The granola bars offer a similar convenience. They’re just sitting there right on the floorboard of the car. At a stoplight, I shift into park and grab one out of the box. Thus, the granola bars actually become even more convenient than a stop at a fast food joint – and healthier, too. This is even more true if I’m out and about with my children and/or my wife.

How does this save money? A box of granola bars offers several quick snacks for anyone riding in the car. A single box is far cheaper than two or three stops at fast food places, thus saving us quite a bit of money while offering the same time convenience.

snack drawer at work

Keep some granola bars or other snacks — bought in bulk, not at a convenience store — in your glove compartment or office drawer. Photo: Alex Gorzen

Strategy #2: Move Into a Smaller House or Leave Some Rooms Completely Unused

Right now, in our home with three young children, we use every square inch of our home. Yet, when our children move out, our house will quickly become quieter and at least two rooms will largely become redundant. Similarly, when we first moved into this house, there were a few rooms that really had no purpose.

It’s tempting to keep using those redundant rooms for various things. I could see the downstairs bedroom becoming a library of sorts, for example.

The problem is that having a house that’s too big is pretty inconvenient. Not only does it take time to keep those rooms clean, it also eats up money in the form of higher energy bills, higher property taxes, higher insurance, and so on.

The best solution is to simply live in a house that doesn’t have excess space for you. It’s worth noting that “excess space” includes space used to store things you don’t really need. If that’s difficult for some reason, you should simply close off unused rooms completely by turning off heating and cooling in there and eliminating electrical use in that room.

How is this convenient? The less active living space you have, the less time you’re going to spend cleaning it and taking care of it. It also keeps you from accumulating a bunch of stuff that you rarely use, which takes time to sift through whenever you need a particular item.

How does this save money? A smaller home has smaller bills – lower property taxes, lower insurance rates, lower energy bills. Even if you’re just closing off rooms, you’re enjoying the benefit of lower energy costs.

Strategy #3: Make a Double or Triple Batch of Any Meal You Make and Freeze the Extra Batches

Dinner time can sometimes be a challenge at our house. All of us have various evening activities – martial arts practice, soccer practice, community groups, and so on. That can sometimes mean that it’s hard for us to meet up together all of the time. It’s similarly hard on some evenings to even find the time to cook a decent meal at home.

That’s why, on evenings where there’s time to make a meal, we’ll make one or two extra batches of that meal and freeze them. Let’s say I’m assembling a pan of lasagna. I’ll just make two or three at once, put lids on the extra pans, and stick them in the freezer.

Doing this only adds a little bit of time to the meal prep. I’m already cooking lasagna noodles, so just cooking twice or three times as much in the same pot doesn’t add much time. I’m already setting up an “assembly line,” so just assembling two more pans doesn’t add much time.

How is this convenient? If it adds time to meal prep, how is it convenient? In reality, it only adds time to meal prep on evenings where I can afford that extra time. On other evenings, when we might consider ordering takeout or delivery, all I have to do is pull a meal out of the freezer and pop it in the oven (usually, we’ve thawed the meal in the freezer overnight). It’s actually quicker than ordering a meal or stopping to pick it up.

How does this save money? For us, a meal from the freezer replaces a meal that would be delivered or picked up. Since a meal for five that’s delivered or picked up costs at least $20 (and usually more) and a meal from the freezer costs maybe $5, we save money each time we do this.

Strategy #4: Buy All Frequently-Used Items in Bulk

What items do we use around the house every day that get used up and replaced? Toothpaste. Shampoo. Soap. Deodorant. Garbage bags. Granola bars (our children take them to school for a snack). Conditioner. Hand soap. Toilet paper. Those are just some of the items we use daily.

When we run out of those items, we need to get to the store pretty directly in order to pick up more. Going to the bathroom without toilet paper is a non-starter, as is not having a bag to line the kitchen trash can.

Our solution is to simply buy these items in bulk. I will usually refill these whenever they’re on sale or whenever we see a good price per item at a warehouse club. Even if I think we might have plenty on hand, I’ll make another bulk purchase of those key items because I know we’ll use them.

How is this convenient? We never, ever run out of those everyday use items. If we run out in the moment, we know that there’s more right over there in the closet. That means no emergency runs to the store. We just have what we need, always.

How does this save money? Buying nonperishable items in bulk means that you’re spending less per item than you would buying normally. It then costs a little less each time you take a shower, each time you go to the bathroom, each time you take out the trash…

Strategy #5: Keep Items for Simple Meals in Your Desk at Work

This was a strategy that I started using during my last year or two working outside the home. I simply kept the elements for several simple meals in my desk at work so that I could have a quick meal on days where I might otherwise order food to be delivered.

I usually kept a plate and a fork and a bowl and a spoon in a drawer. I also kept a few containers of soup, some crackers, a jar of peanut butter, a few cans of tuna, some granola bars, and a few other odds and ends in there.

That “food drawer” would become my lunch two or three times a week. It was my fallback on days when I didn’t have leftovers to bring or we weren’t taking a guest out to lunch (which was roughly a weekly occurrence).

How is this convenient? I have lunch right there in my desk. I don’t have to call for delivery. I don’t have to go out for anything. It’s right there. I can pull out some soup, put it in a bowl, and microwave it in the office microwave. I can put some tuna on crackers. I can eat a granola bar. You get the idea.

How does this save money? It is way cheaper than delivery. This technique drops the cost of lunch down to about $1 per meal (or less), which is substantially cheaper than any kind of delivery or restaurant food.

Strategy #6: Keep a Shopping List Front and Center on a Whiteboard

In our entryway, about four steps from our pantry, you’ll see a giant white board with an attached dry erase marker. On that whiteboard, we write down anything that we notice that we might need. If we’re running low on anything, it gets written down.

When it’s time to go to the store, I’ll make a meal plan and a grocery list from that meal plan, but I’ll also just take a quick picture of the white board. Together, those two things form my grocery list for the week.

This simple technique works really well for making sure that we never run out of staples and that we pick up things that we might not always think to buy, like light bulbs.

How is this convenient? I don’t have to look around the house when assembling a grocery list. It’s right there. At the same time, it’s very rare that we run out of items in the moment, meaning that we rarely have to make “emergency runs” to the store.

How does this save money? The fewer trips I make to the store, the better. Any trip to the store tends to end with at least a few unexpected purchases. There’s also the issue of gas spent on the trip to and from the store.

Strategy #7: Freeze Leftovers as Individual Meals for Later

At the end of many of our family meals, we have some leftovers. We might have half of a pan of lasagna left or a quart of soup or something else along these lines.

Sarah and I will always package some of those leftovers up for lunch the next day, but what about the rest? It’s kind of a waste to throw it away.

What we do is package those leftovers as individual meals. We’ll put them in a small freezer-safe and microwave-safe package, label it with a piece of masking tape, and pop it in the freezer. It takes about 30 seconds.

How is this convenient? The convenience appears during lunches and evenings when we need something quick. We can just pull individual meals out of the freezer, microwave them for a few minutes, and a person is ready to eat. No take out needed, no advance planning needed – it’s just ready to go.

How does this save money? We’re not throwing away half of a meal. Instead, we’re getting a second use out of that meal. This means that instead of being thrown away, it’s taking care of the cost of a meal for our family.

Strategy #8: Do Chores for Exercise

The yard needs mowed. The house needs cleaned. The snow needs scooped. And you need to go to the gym.

Those problems, believe it or not, actually solve each other. Just approach household chores as a cardio exercise. Push mow the yard and you’ll get a good cardio workout. Scoop the driveway and your arms and hips will be sore. Clean the house as vigorously as you can and you’ll work up a sweat.

The key is to just do them at a high tempo. If you’re not making yourself breathe hard, you need to be going faster (if at all possible).

How is this convenient? You need to do the chores anyway and you also need to go to the gym. This just combines the two tasks together into one activity. That means your chores get done and your exercising gets done at the same time.

How does this save money? You don’t really need a gym membership if you do this every day and take on a variety of tasks. You also don’t need to hire people to handle some of these tasks. You can just take care of them yourself.

Strategy #9: Use “Blitz” Cleaning to Keep Housework in Check

This goes hand in hand with the previous strategy. It’s simple: I block off a fairly small amount of time each day for housework and during that block, I pick a narrow focus and just hammer it as hard as I can for that period.

I set aside thirty minutes for housecleaning each day, and when I do that, I pick an area of the house and make that area as clean and organized as possible in that timeframe. I usually do it at such a pace that I’m out of breath (which works with strategy #8).

By doing this, I’m minimizing the time spent cleaning the house, keeping key problem areas under control, and also getting a little cardio.

How is this convenient? It compresses the time I spend cleaning the house, so that I’m not spending nearly as much time as I once did on housework. Almost all housework isn’t very cognitively demanding, so I strive to do it as quickly as I can so I can move on to other things.

How does this save money? This strategy keeps the urge to hire a house cleaner at bay. It also helps with the need for exercise.

Final Thoughts

Convenience can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of ways that you can reorganize your life to spend less time and get more things done without simply opening your wallet and throwing money at the problem.

In the end, convenience boils down to the idea that you’d rather be doing something else with your time. In effect, you’re really just shifting time around – if you spend money to save time now, you’re going to be working to make up for that money later on, so you’re just shifting money to work.

That’s why convenience strategies that don’t cost money are wonderful. They don’t subtly add hours to your work. Instead, they simply find some additional free hours for you to spend at home by finding smart ways to double up tasks, create resources for later use, and make everyday tasks more efficient.

Without these strategies, I’d throw money at these problems. I’d spend money to save myself time over and over again. But when strategies are available that save me time and saves money, too, it’s a no-brainer.

I hope you’ll find some of these strategies effective in your own life.

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