Updated on 08.13.10

Taking Notes

Trent Hamm

Whenever I’m traveling in new circles or meeting groups of people I don’t know well, the conversation usually turns into discussion of what everyone does professionally. When I explain that I’m a writer and mention The Simple Dollar, it’s not long before people at the table are usually tossing money-saving tips at me of all kinds.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting across from an elderly man when this same conversation thread came up. He looked at me and said, “Do you want to know what the best way I’ve ever found to save money is?”

“What’s that?”

“Take notes.”

I was baffled by this idea. What exactly did he mean?

I was already a person who carried a constant pocket notebook and jotted down notes all the time on various things. I considered it useful for not forgetting things – like ideas, things to do, appointments to keep, and so on – but I never considered it incredibly useful as a pure money-saver.

So I asked the man to elaborate – and he did, at length. He pointed out several opportunities when taking notes can save you a huge amount of money.

When people are talking about deals If you overhear people talking about places to find bargains on an item, pulling a notepad out for note-taking can result in a lot of money saved.

At the doctor’s office Asking for everything you can do to help your condition – and writing down those tips – can make a huge difference in overcoming a physical ailment and avoiding further medical bills.

When repairmen tell you things Similar to a doctor’s visit, asking for further preventive steps – and writing them down – can save you further bills.

At the store I already did this, but he also mentioned the advantage of simply having a pad and pen out at the store to jot down any seeming bargains.

Preparing a list If you keep your pad with you as you do housework and work in the garage, it becomes very easy to jot down things that you actually need as well as the specific brand and size you use. This saves on guesswork, mistaken purchases, and unnecessary extra trips.

These are all incredibly useful ways to save money just by having a notepad near you. Over the last few years, I’ve adopted the habit of having some sort of note-taking device (I’ve tried several, but I usually wind up back at the basic notepad and pen) in my pocket and I simply pull it out any time I think of or hear something noteworthy, from appointments or ideas to the kinds of money saving tips mentioned above.

In terms of little things that save me lots of money and time and energy, my pocket notebook ranks right up there near the top, and these money-saving ideas are just icing on the cake.

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  1. Greg says:

    I found a good alternative to notebook and pen: my cellphone (a bare-bones Nokia 1200). I write down the note as a text message (which is very quick with T9 dictionary completion), but then I save it as a draft instead of sending it. Extremely useful for taking notes while I am walking, or in a moving vehicle, or in a situation where I have only one free hand (for example carrying a grocery bag with the other hand).

  2. LP Morgan says:

    What a great idea. I’ve been doing this for many years both in business and personally. I have worn our numerous small tape recorders. Just began using an IPhone3 to test or email directly to myself.

    Please, Keep up the great work. The simple Dollar is simply The best.

  3. Deb J says:

    I’m a good note taker and keeper.I have several places I transfer notes to when I get home. I have several categories that I keep as tasks in Outlook and I add things to these. I also have a running shopping list that we keep on the side of the refrigerator until we do our monthly shopping. When I go to the doctor I always take a list of my medications, any changes other doctors have made in my care, and a list of questions and subjects I want to cover. I had this to the nuser as she takes my vitals and she attaches it to the chart. That way the doctor has this info without the nurse having to write it down and knows what I want to talk about. I have a copy too and I write down the answers, etc.

  4. Brent says:

    The site lived up to its name on this post. Simple, and money-wise.

  5. Matthew says:

    I have long made it practice never to be without a pen. This has helped out in many circumstances.

  6. Maureen says:

    Now THIS is a great idea!

  7. par717 says:

    @ Greg (#1) I do the same thing but I do send it. I have myself set up in my phonebook as “me” and it goes right to my email inbox. Then, when I get on my computer later, there it is.

  8. Dorothy says:

    Alas, men have an edge here. Most women’s garments don’t have pockets so it’s hard to keep an item like a notebook handy.

    I select pants and shorts that have pockets — one of my major criteria!

  9. Steve says:

    @Dorothy: Uh, I’d beg to disagree – I’d argue it’s a lot easier for women to carry several notebooks and pens in their purses than it is for men – who are probably already carrying keys, wallet, phone, various other doodads, etc. – to keep a notebook in their pockets. I have trouble always keeping a notebook on me because my pockets are usually jammed full of other things (unfortunately mostly kids’ toys…)

  10. moom says:

    That’s what a handbag is for (lack of pockets on dresses). But really I wouldn’t carry a notebook in a pocket as a man unless it was a jacket pocket. So usually I do have a backpack or bag with me.

  11. almost there says:

    Years ago a U.S. Navy “sailor of the year” was asked what was the best magement tool to use and he answered a stack of 3×5 cards kept in the pocket. That way when all the “to do” things were crossed off one could descard the individual card. Of course, that was way before the internet/pda age.

  12. I have long felt, but haven’t tested this, that note-taking can also be weaponized. If you feel someone, like a doctor, gives you a lesser treatment than you deserve, taking notes could help signal that they’re not going to get away with that, and put them on the straight and narrow.

  13. Taking notes is an essential part of my every day ife, for all the reasons the authormentioned and more.

    My memory was pretty good before my son was born, but I guess after all those sleepless nights, I don’t remember near what I used to.

    Taking notes is an invaluable part of my day.

  14. deRuiter says:

    “A short note is better than a long memory!”

  15. Tracy says:

    I love to browse in bookstores – love it. I always have a pad and pencil with me to jot down titles of books that I’m interested in. I then will go on-line to my local library and search there to see if the title is available to reserve, which it almost always is. I use the library almost exclusively these days, and take advantage of their used book sales, but I do treat myself to a book or two of my own when I am going away on vacation.

  16. Evangeline says:

    It is the simplest things that make the most impact. I’ve been doing this forever and it works like a charm.

  17. Margaret says:

    I heard this story a long time ago, so I’m hazy on the details, but I have an Uncle who used to make daily notes of what was going on (so like a diary, I suppose, but probably just facts e.g. baled north quarter; replaced tire on car etc). Anyway, at some point there was a huge problem with either taxes or some kind of deal that went on where he could have been on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars. However, because he had made a note of whatever it was, he had evidence that either something had been done or said that absolved him of responsibility. Kind of makes me think I should start doing that too.

    Love the idea of the index cards for stuff that you don’t necessarily want to keep a record of forever.

  18. With my mush I call a brain. I have to write everything down. But it has to be convenient,too. I usually write down on my phone to be easily retrieved or emailed. But there is the problem of organizing them. My Dad has pages of notes and to do lists. Just seeing all his notes makes me happy he’s doing it and I don’t have to. I’m not a list person.

  19. Aaron says:

    I have to admit a notebook has become essential for me in the last few years! As a Stay At Home Dad my pockets are filled; wallet – back left, phone – front left, keys, chapstick (dry in AZ), thumbdrives, pen – front right, misc – back right. I found the X-tra small Moleskine Volants are the perfect size to go in my pocket with my BlackBerry. Same size and very thin. I even forget that I have it sometimes. They are also the perfect size to put in the car, on the table, by the phone, etc.

  20. Nana says:

    @Margaret — I have heard of these things too. The original “day” books, they were actually more like a ship’s log. In my area, farmers used to keep them as a record of snowfall, weather, times of harvest and seeding (which kept hazy memories from declaring “this is the worst winter ever”) As an amateur historian, they are, bar none, the best item ever for information on the everyday lives of settlers. I have heard of them as far back as the medieval times, where record of treatments for illness and plague were recorded, and if a householder came across a problem that was new to him, he would read back through the years to see if his father or grandfather had any ideas to offer.

  21. Sheila Skemp says:

    Like Greg I use my cell phone. I try to have as few possessions on my person as possible at all times and really do not like carrying a purse. Unlike Greg, I send my notes to my email. Anything I need to remember (bring something for someone, a change in schedule, a new song I want). I have unlimited texting so it doesn’t cost me extra. When I check my email in the evening, I transfer the notes to their appropriate places or move the item I need to bring next to the door so I don’t forget. This is the most effective system I have found yet. An added bonus, is that I don’t have my brain cluttered up with things I have to remember.

  22. John says:

    Thanks for the article. It reminded me of a time when I was looking at cars at a dealer.

    A man was looking at the same car. We were discussing the car, and for some reason or another, he brought up the stock market. He rattled off a number of stocks that he had purchased that made him very rich.

    I jotted down the stocks he told me about on the papers I had with “car” information on it. He was right on the “money.”

    You took notes as a school student so you could “study” them later. Why not apply the same “learning” technique as an adult?

  23. JC says:

    I use my blackberry notes app in a similar fashion as Greg (#1) does.

    Except I have multiple files going. One is a generic list of immediate things to remember to do/buy at the store. The other lists are fun stuff like books to read, movies to see, wines that I liked. That way I can look things up at the library, update my netflix queue, etc.

    If I’m in the market for something (like a rug or a new appliance) I use the blackberry notes to record thoughts and impressions of a product as well as the store and the price.

  24. Tim C says:

    I have adopted a note taking system that I once read some other place…

    I have also tried many different ways, always finding the process of fitting a notebook in my pocket very cumbersome, and furthermore the notebook looked like it had been through a war after about a week. I tried the index cards, but they also didn’t seem to stand up real well in the pocket, plus involved buying something extra on a regular basis that really wouldn’t be used for anything else.

    The system I use is incredibly simple – a single piece of 8.5×11 plain paper, folded twice (in half once, and then in half the opposite direction once). This gets used for a day (sometimes 2 or three, if it doesn’t get too disheveled), and simply doesn’t get thrown out until everything on the paper has been reviewed and is either irrelevant or has been transferred to a more long-term note/list.

    Very simple, cheap, and effective.

  25. aj says:

    I am also frustrated due to the lack of pockets in womens clothing. I have some dress pants that have fake pockets in them…why not just put the pocket there, for heaven’s sake!

    I do carry around a small notebook to write everything down in…everything that isn’t already in digital format that is. (I have been using & loving Evernote for a place to organize info I want to keep. I can’t access it at work so I have to just send an email to my Evernote account but this makes it easy to file away bits of info I might need in the future.)

    Whenever I am have a moment while waiting at an appointment, etc. I read over my notebook from the beginning to review. It is amazing how bad my memory is…I will read something I had written and totally forgotten about! But that is what the notebook is for, so it IS doing the job!!

  26. Carolee says:

    I find I use my Blackberry a lot for making notes.

    I have just started a grocery list as I can never find the list to write things down, or I firget it at home….

    Nothing saves money at the grocery store than knowing what you need and buying ONLY that!

    It’s also great for writing down any ideas that “come to you” at strange times.

  27. Doug R says:

    I ALWAYS take a notebook to the doctor’s office. Going into the appointment, it has questions I want to ask (I always forget one or two). Coming out, it has answers he gave me, plus other stuff that came up that I’ll never on God’s earth retain. I’m also studying flute, sax and clarinet with a guy who’s been playing for 40 years, and I ALWAYS pack my little Zoom H2 and record everything (another form of note-taking), then transcribe his little nuggets of wisdom verbatim–I find I misremember a lot of what he says, some of which is pretty arcane, otherwise (and end up practicing “wrong”). Next to the music on my practice stand I keep the lined pad with notes from the last lesson, which I refer to repeatedly until the concepts “stick.”

  28. Aurie says:

    my iPhone is super friendly to this idea and I will be more diligent about taking these ideas to heart. Very good post and I appreciate it. I also like to take quick pictures when possible for visual memory as well as using the notepad feature. Another good thing is that I can email myself these things or sync to the computer to store the info for personal use, a blog posting idea, or just to share with family & friends.

  29. Carol says:

    I have a really really bad memory. I’m not sure why I didn’t even opt for an epidural when I gave birth. Taking notes really is a life saver – same as money saver. I try to take notes everyday. But it gets lost somewhere. I try to put it in my phone but I don’t carry it around the house so that’s a problem. Having a pocket notebook is also the same as my phone – I don’t carry it around the house. What do you think I should do?

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