Does Micro-Frugality Matter?

One of the strongest sources of negative feedback I receive about The Simple Dollar is my “obsession” with what I’d call micro-frugality.

I’ll be the first person to admit that my attention is often grabbed by small details. I like to know exactly how much I’m spending in water usage per minute in the shower. I like to understand how much heat is lost when I open the oven door – and what that’s costing me.

Micro-frugality is a pretty nice catch-all term for those things. When I use that term, I refer to the money we spend during a particular small slice of our lives, just doing the ordinary things we do every day. Micro-frugality is all about turning the incidental nickel you might spend during a particular slice of your day into three pennies spent instead.

For some, it can be really easy to just ignore those things or, if they do pop into our mind, to just shrug them off. There are really three reasons why I even think about this at all.

First, most instances of micro-frugality are repeated. A lot. In our house, at least five showers or baths are taken daily. Little things, like using the restroom or cooking food or simply enjoying the ambient temperature of the air are done many times each day around our home.

Let’s say you found a frugality tip that could save you a cent. That’s not a big deal, right? In fact, who cares? If there’s a frugality tip that saves me a cent once, it’s not worth my time.

Now, let’s say that tip could be executed without even thinking about it once you got used to it. Even then, I still likely don’t care about that tip.

Now, let’s also say that tip is repeated in your life ten times a day.

That’s the point where I start getting interested, even though others might not care in the least.

Why? If I do things in a “better” way ten times a day, that’s 3,650 times a year. That adds up to $36.50 in savings a year for something that’s newly automatic in my life.

Because of that, I eventually cast my eye at everything I do that’s repeated with any significant frequency.

The second reason I pay attention to micro-frugality is that sometimes it turns out to not really be micro-frugality at all, but a rather large savings that you didn’t initially see.

The best example I can think of here is our experiments with the thermostat in our old apartment. By simply setting our indoor temperature two degrees lower in the winter and two degrees higher in the summer, we chopped about 20% off of our monthly energy bill when comparing year-over-year. (In truth, the change was significantly more than that; this is what we could attribute to our heating and cooling change.)

I didn’t anticipate such a little detail would add up to $20-30 per month, but it did. A two degree shift in temperature seemed like complete triviality. When we put it into practice, the change was small enough that it didn’t cause a major quality of life issue for us – in fact, we tried different changes until we found a change that we didn’t notice at all.

It seemed like such a tiny detail, but it literally added up to hundreds of dollars per year. They don’t all turn out this way – in fact, most do not – but occasional experiments in frugality end up being enormous wins.

The third reason is simple curiosity. I want to know how my home works and my car works. This isn’t just driven by a desire to save money. It’s driven by a desire to understand the basics of plumbing and of home electricity and of basic carpentry. Sometimes, time doesn’t let me explore this as deeply as I would like, but the curiosity is always there.

In the end, I look at frugality as a hobby that saves a bit of money while letting me dig into the specifics of why and how I do things in my life. The Simple Dollar is a reasonable place to share what I figure out.

Sometimes, the results won’t be worth it to you. At other times, they’ll prove quite useful. Everyone has different lives and different thresholds as to what’s useful to them.

For some, a simple tip that only saves $1 a month can make a big difference to certain people, and if I’ve done the legwork to figure that out, then that’s great. For others, that $1 tip isn’t worth it in their life – and that’s also great, because that means that they’ve found more valuable things to be doing in their life.

On the other hand, I might find that some particular way of saving money doesn’t really save much at all – like using limited amounts of a particular product, for example – and thus it might convince people that they don’t actually need to scrimp on their toothpase or whatever it might be.

When I find that by slightly altering a habit of mine I might save a penny or two when I engage in that habit in the future by doing it a better way, that change is worth it to me, not so much because I’m going to get rich off of it, but because I’m doing things more efficiently and I know that I gave that aspect of my life serious attention.

John D. Rockefeller once said, “The secret of success is to do the common things uncommonly well.” In order to make that happen, you have to sometimes cast your eye at the common things in your life. Simply because you don’t always find enormous potential for change doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look. Simply because the change you discover only results in a minor savings doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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