Updated on 09.26.08

Personal Energy and Frugality

Trent Hamm

Me finishing Chicago Marathon by rbackowski on Flickr!Whenever I write about how I organize my life, I usually get several comments and emails from individuals who lament their lack of energy. “I get tired just reading that task list!” is a common thing that I hear.

Here’s the thing: compared to many people I know, I feel like a very low-energy person. As I’ve mentioned before, I have hypothyroidism (since birth) and I take Synthroid each morning as a supplement. One of the side effects of hypothyroidism is a fairly low energy level, and there are times when I really feel the effects. I have to make myself get going – and it takes about everything I have.

Because of that perspective, I’ve noticed many times that the frugal way of doing things is often the way that requires some significant energy output.

I could go out in the yard and play with the kids for free, or we could go watch a documentary and burn some electricity in the process.

I could bust my tail and make a delicious supper, or we could open up the pocketbooks and go out to eat – or have someone bring us food.

I could make up a batch of homemade laundry detergent, or I could just buy one at the store.

I could go ride a bike two miles to the post office to deliver a package, or I could fire up the truck and drive there.

I could stroll to the bandshell park and listen to a community concert, or I could just lounge at home on my couch and play with my Wii.

I could use cloth diapers and save on the huge replacement costs, or I could just buy disposables over and over again.

In each of these cases (and in many more cases), the frugal method often works better and is definitely cheaper than the big spender version, but the frugal way undoubtedly requires more energy output.

Given that, it makes quite a bit of sense that a lower personal energy level would result in more expensive choices. The low energy person would put a higher value on energy conservation than the high energy person and thus would be more prone to choose the more financially expensive route than the high energy person.

In other words, I tend to think that doing things to raise your natural energy level can actually have a financial benefit as well. If you feel more energetic, you feel much more like tackling tasks that can save you a bit of money. Air sealing your home doesn’t seem like an overwhelming task. Cooking a complex meal sounds like fun, not like drudgery. A bicycle ride is a happy experience, not a dreaded one.

Raising Your Energy Level
So how can a lower-energy person overcome that state in a healthy, stable way? As this idea has been percolating in my head for a while, I decided to look into that very issue. What actions can I take to overcome a low energy level without risking my health in other ways? How can I reduce my sense of tiredness and exhaustion in a positive fashion?

exhaustionI read through several books on the topic, but the one that really clicked for me was Laura Stack’s The Exhaustion Cure. For those who have read The Simple Dollar for a while, Laura Stack might be a familiar name, as I thoroughly enjoyed two of her earlier books, Find More Time (time management in one’s personal life) and Leave the Office Earlier (time management at work).

Here are the twelve most useful tips I was able to find in that read through, most of which I was able to apply directly to my own life pretty efficiently and quickly.

Get adequate sleep. You should be getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each day. The best way to do it is to make your sleep very routine – go through the same patterns before sleep each night. Stack also recommends drinking less fluids before bed – try cutting yourself off three hours before bed. This keeps you from waking up at night with a need to go to the bathroom. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, try a mild natural relaxant – a cup of warm milk or a glass of wine in the evening.

Get tested for sleep disorders or other problems. If you find yourself getting tired easily, especially in the morning, this may be a sign of a larger problem. Go to the doctor and describe the problems. There are lots of easily explained and easily treatable reasons for tiredness.

Eat better. A better diet can make all the difference. That doesn’t mean you have to go on some strict diet of nothing but vegetable greens and beans. It just means that you should strive to make better choices. Reduce your sugar and corn syrup intake. Eat more whole grains. Eat more fruits and vegetables that aren’t prepackaged. Drink lower fat milk.

Start a minimal exercise routine. Do something non-sedentary for thirty minutes a day, even if it’s just a walk around the block a few times. Do enough to get your blood flowing well and raise your metabolism level. You don’t have to go into triathlon training mode – just get things moving at least once a day.

Get up and move around if you start to feel low-energy or tired. If you feel your energy crashing, get up and walk around. Walk around the block, or walk around your office area. Stretch a bit – or even do some very simple yoga.

Directly address the things that are worrying you. Is a relationship stressing you out? Don’t let it fester. Go to the person and talk through the situation. Let that other person rail for a while if it makes them feel better. Resolve the problem. If it’s a personal task that stresses you out, either tackle it directly or spend your time coming up with an actual detailed plan for tackling it.

Keep your environment well-lit. Don’t work or relax in a dim environment. Keep bright lights on as often as is reasonable. This is actually something I implemented recently in my office – I upgraded the brightness in the light bulbs, and it actually lifted my energy level for working.

Scale back a bit on your required duties. If you’re feeling exhausted even thinking about your to-do list, take a serious look at your responsibilities and choose a few to scale back on. Tell your boss that you’re overloaded and you need to step back from a particular project. Don’t sign up again for a volunteer task. Reduce that to-do list to something that doesn’t overwhelm you.

Do work as far in advance of deadlines as you can. Don’t let deadlines crunch you, leaving you worn out and beaten down. Instead, as soon as a project comes up, start working on it and strive to get it done well before the deadline. This keeps you from doing the last minute crunch to get it done and lets you manage your time in a healthier fashion.

Find friends that are active and/or positive in attitude. If your circle of friends prefers to just sit around and be negative towards each other and everything else, they’re likely lowering your energy level. Seek friends who are engaged and want to do things. Also, seek friends who have a positive attitude and talk about you – and other things – in a positive fashion. Negative friends sap your energy.

Get involved with something you truly care about. Having a deep passion is a sure-fire way to get you doing something and raise your energy level throughout your life. If you’re not involved with anything that stokes your fire, spend your spare time trying lots of different activities and groups until you find the thing that clicks for you.

Read. This might seem shocking – reading is as sedentary as you can get, right? Actually, reading is incredibly mentally stimulating and can actually raise your energy level if done in moderation. Choose items that aren’t easy reading for you – instead, find things that push your understanding and knowledge and make you learn and discover new things about yourself and the world.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Jaymo says:

    Interesting and fortuitous post, Trent. I actually think this is critical in conjuction with how one focuses their efforts. It’s one thing to direct but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good if you are de-motivated. Kudos amigo.

  2. Karen M says:

    I have struggled with depression for most of my adult life. As anyone who has this knows, depression can often lead to lethargy and lack of energy. I have been fortunate to find a way through it using a combination of things, one of them exercise. On the days that I exercise, I feel so much better and so much more energy than the days I don’t exercise. I would still rather sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and read a book or watch a DVD than go out running, but I make myself get dressed, put on the running shoes, and head outside. The increased energy I have is worth it.

    I have often regretted missing a run. I have never regretted going on one.

  3. Susy says:

    Someone lacking in energy could also be an introvert and not know it. Introverts are often overstimluated and thus their minds & bodies try to cope with low energy levels. Read The Introvert Advantage for ideas on how to deal with this. I have so much more energy now that I’m following the suggestions in this book.

  4. Kevin says:


    Excellent points and very appropriate, given the stress many of us will experience during these tough economic times. Although it’s tangentially related (similar to your 6th point,) I would add, “be at peace with yourself and treat others as you would wish to be treated.” Sparing yourself stress and angst will go a long way toward feeling better and more energetic. Thanks for this post!


  5. Great post. I can identify. Exercise, involvement, sleep, and being realistic about time commitments are key for me.

  6. George says:


    Stress is certainly something that drains energy. Stress from work. Stress from a strained marriage. Going thru martital problems certainly will give you those chest pains and feeling of tiredness. Those things knock you out.

    Things that increase energy as you point out is exercise. Getting 8 hours of sleep does wonders. Walking around the block does wonders. Having God in your life is certainly helpful as well.

  7. Shevy says:

    Interesting that you feel like a low energy person. That’s certainly not the impression I think most people have of you (what with formerly working full-time, being involved with your family and writing this blog).

    I’ve felt for years that I have enough energy for about half of my life. When I put my energy into one aspect something else inevitably suffers.

    Most of your suggestions for raising your energy were pretty good but, much as I like a nice glass of wine with dinner, it’s not a good way to get uninterrupted sleep. It puts you to sleep okay, but interferes with normal sleep, often resulting in night waking and trouble getting back to sleep.

  8. Vanessa says:

    Great post and comments.

    I think it’s also important to think about frugal things that are also low energy, for either people who are naturally low energy or for people with normal energy levels who are having a very busy week. Some ideas…
    – Go to bed an hour early and read, write, or draw.
    – Have one day a week to sleep in and have drink herbal tea or flavored coffee in bed.
    – Get books from the library or go the the library on a rainy day and read magazines and international news papers.
    – Watch old-time movies in TV- you’re paying for cable anyways!
    – Soak in the bathtub and give yourself a mini-pedicure.
    – At your next social event or potluck, also have a book or clothing swap with your friends.

  9. Nicole says:

    I’m with you on feeling less energetic from the hypothyroid issue. If my meds are right, I feel great and full of energy – I’m able to make meals at home, keep the house clean and do things efficiently. When things start to get off… well, all bets are off too. I do what I can to keep my medication dosage appropriate and it definitely helps… especially because I love to keep my home in order and spend less money when possible, and doing that gives me an extra boost!

  10. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve got hypothyroidism as well, and I’m an introvert. I so agree with many of your points, especially negative energy zappers. This is a biggy for me. Life is too short for negativism. I have much more energy if I fill my life with sweetness.

  11. Mark says:

    I’m a low energy person as well and was often frustrated at how much other people can achieve without waring themselves out. Anyway, what I found most helpful for myself is 9 hours of sleep, diet change and herbs, among which the most helpful have been Ashwagandha (Indian ‘ginseng’), Eleuthero (Siberian ‘ginseng’) and Nettle seeds. All these have helped tremendously. So if you find that lifestyle changes aren’t enough for you, you might want to look into these and other helpful herbs. They might just help.

    For more see also:

  12. Lisa says:

    The biggest energy robber of my entire life up until about 8 months ago was disagreeing with and fighting with other people – especially my husband. Refusing to fight or be drawn in to fights changed my life – and eliminated the reasons for the fighting too! They just disappeared! You, Trent, don’t seem like the fly-oof-the-handle type but for those who might be – look into ways to avoid fights and handle anger and get MUCH more energy!

  13. Dorothy says:

    Low energy is something i really struggle with as well. There is so much i want to do and achieve, but it is really difficult to make the best of the energy i do have. Unfortunately it is a medical problem that responsible and worse, easily treatable turned into waiting for a miracle about a decade before i finally had a full diagnosis. Health and early recognition of problems is so important. Even doctors give up if they can’t explain problems easily, but it’s worth prevailing. The hard to detect stuff is often the one that makes the most trouble later.
    That said, I’d be really curious to hear how you make the most of limited energy.

  14. jan says:

    Good post, Trent. Lots of good ideas. Do you have a solution for the low energy that comes from the body just plain getting old! LOL I find letting go of the resentment that I can no longer “do it all” helps. After 65 I still have the thinking of a 35 year old and the body is not keeping pace. Each day is a gift and I am lezrning to enjoy that concept.

  15. Tim W says:

    Great topic Trent, nicely covered.

    I read somewhere the other day (I’ll have to look for it) that the number one energy booster was……

    Getting up and going for a slow, natural pace, walk. It left people feeling awake and energized, it even beat out strenuous exercise. I think they are right. When I’m beat down dog tired, usually from stress and mental exhaustion vs physical work, I find myself falling asleep in a chair or on the couch, If I get up and go for a slow walk it wakes me up and energizes me like nothing else.

    A great book in the same subject area: Take time for your life by Cheryl Richardson.


  16. Carrie says:

    Excellent and well-timed piece, Trent. I also have hypothyroidism, but I still often beat myself up for not having as much energy as I’d like. Exercise, eating right, and getting enough sleep all help me a lot. I also consciously avoid stress-inducers where I can (not always successfully, though!).

  17. I’m sort of a naturally high-energy person…then again, I’m not sure exactly how much of it is natural and how much is lifestyle related. I stay active, and I’ve always gotten a good night’s sleep, and my family raised us to be hard-working people.

    At any rate, I definitely agree that a good amount of energy is super helpful when you’re trying to live a frugal life.

  18. Robyn says:

    I agree with these points and in a slightly different vein (I just made similar comments on GRS) I also think living a low-energy life can lend itself to frugality…as an example, I’d really love a latte right now, but since I don’t have a car, or the energy right now to pull it together to go to the bus stop and make it down to the coffee shop, I’ve opted to stay home and clean my house. It needs it bad enough that I’m finding the energy for that. Plus I just saved myself $4 and the hassle of getting to said coffee shop. On the other hand as mentioned above, when it is time to do errands, I enjoy the walk to the bus stop or bike ride to get the errand done.

  19. Anne says:

    I really appreciate this post. My thyroid starting to wig out on me about a year and a half ago and I’ve been on meds for 9 months. It really helps to hear people who have been dealing with hypothyroid longer than I have admit that sometimes it’s not all sunshine and roses but that you can push through the exhaustion. Thanks again.

  20. Sense says:

    oh man, i was diagnosed w/ hypo earlier this year, but they said i was borderline so my doc told me to get tested in 3 months to confirm. I just got tested and AGAIN they aren’t going to treat it! I am SO tired ALL the time. When I can get myself to work out i have to lay in bed for 2 days after to recover! How is this normal?? Why wouldn’t they treat it? I’ll never understand.

    I’ll look into reading the book you suggested, Trent–thanks for the advice.

  21. It’s the sleep thing that always gets me. By the time my child sleeps through the night, I’ll be having another :)

  22. Georgia says:

    At 71, my energy is great. It’s just the mind set I need to change. I have always taken the easy way out & so I do the least strenuous things and forget a lot that needs doing around home.

    I have hypo also – have for about 30-35 years, at least. But it doesn’t seem to be my slower-downer. That could be a good excuse if I wanted to use it.

    My best bet has always been to set up a schedule and go by that 95% of the time. However, since I’ve retired, that doesn’t get done either. So, wish me luck. I am going to try again.

    As one gentleman said once, we talk ourselves into most of our problems in life. He said we are 90+% subconscious and it is deaf, dumb, and blind and it believes everything we tell it, even if we don’t really believe it. I have told myself and everyone else for over 50 years that I am lazy. Better change that to “I’m energetic with things I like to do, so find a reason to like most things I need to do.”

  23. Lise says:

    This post really resonated with me, Trent. My low level of personal energy is what keeps me from accomplishing all that I want to accomplishment. On weekends it seems like all I can manage to do to get out of bed. I don’t know what to chalk it up to – my thyroid is normal, but I do suffer from depression, and, as someone above pointed out, I do have a little bit of the “introvert who tends to be ‘out’ too much” going for me.

    I’ve requested the book you mentioned from the library (thank goodness that’s easy!). I also just need to be patient with myself, some days.

  24. rob says:

    I’m interested as to why people think it’s so hard to cook dinner. ‘Bust my tail and make a delicious supper’. We cook just about every night and don’t consider it draining at all. Just chop some stuff up and stick it on the cooker. Not really very challenging, is it?

  25. Mneiae says:

    Wonderful post! I’m so glad that you put up your time machine because otherwise I would have missed this one!

  26. Charles Cohn says:

    One possible cause of low energy is an iodine deficiency. Since there is not much iodine in the American diet, people have been depending on iodized salt. So if you give up salt, like I did for my blood pressure, you are bound to be iodine-deficient and you could probably stand to take an iodine suppplement. Take a look at .

    Life Extension magazine said you should take your temperature as soon as you awaken in the morning. If your temp is less than 97.1 you need iodine. Mine was 96.1, so I went right ahead and ordered up their iodine supplement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *