Updated on 06.07.07

The Morning Money Routine

Trent Hamm

About once every three months since I was eight, I would spend a day keeping a detailed chronology of all of the stuff I did on that day. I kept a little notebook with me, noted things throughout the day, and would write it all out in great detail that evening in a notebook that I still use for this project. It is really fascinating to look at this notebook, as it has snapshots of my life dating back to third grade.

Recently, I looked at this journal over a period of time to see if I could notice how my spending changed and also whether there were any routines to my life that I could identify that were costing me money. Interestingly, I noticed that the one consistent routine throughout my adult life that cost me money was my morning routine. Here’s how it would go for the last ten years or so:

5:30 AM – wake up, morning hygiene, check my email
6:30 AM – leave for work
6:45 AM – stop for breakfast – cost: $8
7:10 AM – stop at a newsstand for the New York Times – cost: $1
7:30 AM – grab a cup of coffee before heading in – cost: $3
9:30 AM – morning coffee break – cost: $3

Let’s stop and look at this for a moment. That’s fifteen dollars a day blown on a morning routine. Let’s say I did this every day for forty eight workweeks a year for ten years:

$75 a week
$300 a month
$3,600 a year
$36,000 for ten years

This simple morning routine, one that could easily be analyzed and broken down, has cost me roughly $36,000 over my adult life – enough to write a check for two top-notch automobiles or make a 20% down payment on a $180,000 home, just so I can enjoy breakfast and drink coffee.

Over the last year, I’ve changed this routine quite a bit. Here’s how it now looks:

5:30 AM – wake up, morning hygiene, check my email
6:25 AM – drop a homemade breakfast burrito or breakfast sandwich into the microwave – cost: $0.50
6:28 AM – food is finished
6:30 AM – leave for work, drop son off at daycare, eat sandwich on the road
6:45 AM – arrive at work 45 minutes early, start up small coffee pot on my desk – cost: $0.25
6:50 AM – browse the NY Times website and a few others; print off any articles I may want to read
7:00 AM – get started on my day – I shifted my day to start half an hour earlier
9:00 AM – morning coffee break, drinking coffee I already made and reading articles I printed

Not only did I cut my morning routine spending down from about $15 a day to about $1 a day, I also freed up some significant morning time, enough so that I was able to alter my work schedule to start a half-hour earlier and thus leave a half-hour earlier (on average). Not only do I save money, but now my evenings seem longer, giving me more time to spend with my family, which is what is really important to me.

Spend some time looking at your regular routines. Write down a detailed rundown of a few random days in your life, then compare them and see what patterns you can find, especially those that cost money or waste time. You’ll be shocked at what you might find.

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  1. Josh says:

    “drop son off at daycare”

    That’s not free. ;-P

  2. He can’t really help that =)

    I really enjoy these articles on how to save some time and money. It really helps me keep things in perspective, that while I can be passionate about money and how I’m spending it… the key things in life should be having time and how you spend it with the people around you.

  3. PJA says:

    15 minute commute. That is wonderful.
    You forgot to record the investment return – that money put in a the vanguard S&P 500 instead of your tummy(for example) at its last ten year return (of 8.4%) would be worth $42,000K *after* taxes, and adjusting for inflation which could in turn produce $2100 a year (5% withdraw) in extra income and the principal would still grow faster than inflation.

  4. It is really amazing how quickly the little things we buy in our lives add up to big bucks. Food especially is one of those costs that, even at a few meals a day, can add up. I’m going to try to watch what I’m buying as I don’t have the disposable income to waste. No more of those $5.75 cheese plates from Starbucks!

  5. Eric says:

    15 minute commute? And you still drive?

    Even driving 8k miles a year @50c a mile for gas, upkeep, and depreciation you can save yourself another $4k/year. It’s not always possible, but if you want to live frugal it might be the way to go. Get up early and download some news onto you laptop with google gears ( offline more ) and read it on the bus or after your wife drops you off.

  6. Monica says:

    It also sounds like it would be cycling distance, which is good for your health as well as your bank account.

  7. ari says:

    While the practicality is correct, how many people in today’s society keep the same job at the same salary for 10 years?

  8. Beau says:

    I save tons of money by making lunch in my office. With an electric kettle, you can boil noodles. I make Asian dishes, spaghetti, etc. Just bring in some stuff from home and spice up your dishes so they don’t get bland. I still eat out maybe once a week for lunch, but that’s more social and to keep stay in the loop. The average lunch around here is probably about $7.00, mine costs $0.50. There’s another $6.50 to your daily savings, for ~$1700 a year!

  9. boomie says:

    If you must print articles (whose printer and ink are you using BTW?) try to print out on misused sheets of copy paper. Some have smudges or a few lines of print on them (use the opposite side) to save even more money.
    Take a moment and read the ingredients on a breakfast burrito package. Sure you want to ingest that? How about a bowl of old fashioned oats instead? or a made-from-scratch muffin you baked up and froze over the weekend?
    Since you live such a frantic lifestyle, your food should be healthier.
    Just my two cents.
    Thanks for listening.

  10. Erin says:

    I have to take Trent’s side on this one. Remember, a 15-minute commute in Iowa may be a lot further than 15 minutes in other places. Although, that 15 minutes does include dropping his son off, so it could be more of a five-minute commute without his son.

    Still, riding a bike would mean strapping the kid onto a seat on the back of the bike along with all his daycare gear. The bus may not go near the daycare or run frequently enough to make it possible.

  11. 60 in 3 says:

    Thanks for the great article Trent. Just a few comments from me:

    “6:30 AM – leave for work, drop son off at daycare, eat sandwich on the road”

    Gal – Eating while driving (or doing anything while driving) is one of the main causes of accidents. Since accidents usually end up costing you money and health, this is one habit that’s probably bad for you.

    “6:45 AM – arrive at work 45 minutes early, start up small coffee pot on my desk – cost: $0.25”

    Gal – Water is free, and far healthier. You’ll be more productive once you kick the caffeine habit.

  12. Louise says:

    Since the breakfast burritos/sandwiches are homemade, I’ll bet Trent is pretty satisfied with the ingredients he’s ingesting.

  13. guinness416 says:

    You’re very lucky to have an employer that wil allow you to “adjust” your working hours and sit printing the NYT at the office – in every place I’ve worked, when you’re in you’re expected to be working, and coming in at 7 is more of a deliverables requirement than an option! Ah, the joy of the construction industry …

  14. Eric, I’m not sure that the bus takes Trent’s kid to day care and then to Trent’s work. It might be difficult to make the bus change the routes they have planned.

    Having his wife may be an option, but that the same amount of driving as far as I can tell (wife drives from home to Trent’s work and back). The only thing is that it’s far less efficient as she loses a half hour round trip.

  15. Mark says:

    Printing out articles at the office? How bad do you want that pay raise? Don’t waste your company’s simple dollar printing what should be printed on your own dollar. Always be sure to ask for permission to use company materials and resources to peform non-company related functions. Think about it, if you could save the company a buck fifty a day, would that translate into an extra 25 cents a day for you? Or would you rather waste a buck fifty of your employer’s resource and accept a severance package if any is available when your employer finds they are running out of cash due to employees taking advantage of what is meant for the company’s need.

    Just my two cents.

  16. Lisa says:

    Want to save more time and money, while improving your present and future health? Quit the coffee habit! I decided to quit caffeine and was amazed by the money I saved. I also was able to quit the antacid/prilosec routine. I even lost the joint pain I had put down to getting older, although that took about a month. Without the caffeine and joint pain I slept less but better. By sleeping better but less I had a better attitude and was more productive. It seems coffee, soda, chocolate ect are acidic and combined with the caffeine my body just couldn’t handle it anymore. Plus time and money are saved on making coffee and buying the associated supplies.

  17. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    My organization gives all employees a certain number of pages per week that we’re allowed to print for personal use. All you have to do is type in your personal code. They found that by doing this, they actually reduced their overall paper usage because people stuck within their allowance rather than sneaking through their personal stuff on other codes.

  18. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Also, my setting is pretty rural with almost no traffic to speak of. A fifteen minute commute means about thirteen miles. I drive more than sixty almost the entire way to work. Replacing that with a bicycle would mean a much, much longer commute unless you’re Lance Armstrong.

  19. Mark says:

    I like that concept your organization does for personal use. I will have to implement this in my b&b for my employees so they can be more happy. What kind of organization is this you work for?

  20. Leo says:

    Great post. I make my coffee at home and eat breakfast at home before I leave — it’s a peaceful morning routine for me, and I like to enjoy my breakfast in quiet. Waking at 4:30 helps me do that.

    Also, 13 miles is not hard to do on a bike once you’ve been doing it for a little while. It’s doable — it would obviously take longer than 15 minutes, so you would have to wake up earlier, but at the same time, your exercise would be done for the day. I’ve been trying to do this more this year, and it’s been a good thing.

  21. Yep! Great stuff! I had to share it. Thanks for the post.

  22. Beth says:

    I’m an biker, but I don’t think a bike commute is for everyone – if I had a small child at home I would rather maximize the time spent together.

    I used to occasionally do a similar bike commute (and it worked out to an hour each way, plus shower time), but I rode with friends and didn’t have anyone at home I was rushing to see – my commute was more about the journey than the destination.

    Now I live 3.5 miles from work so when I bike, I get a better workout carrying the bike up to my 3rd floor apartment than I do from the 20 minute ride!

  23. Killer Bees says:

    Lately I’ve been grocery shopping at the Asian supermarkets in our Chinatown area (most major cities have one of these areas).

    I buy lots of frozen things like pork dumplings and Thai fish cakes etc and keep them in the freezer. I can spend $50 there and buy more than enough food for myself for two weeks until the next pay and I find that I’m not even managing to eat all the food before the next pay day comes around.

    Also, I’m eating more healthily because all this stuff if microwaveable (saving on fat and power) and I’m slowly losing weight as a result. And I’m a big eater, but I find that I’m full on less food eating this way. I pack my lunch from the leftovers and just have instant flavoured oats/porridge for breakfast.

    They also sell interesting things like minute noodles and candies I’ve never seen before and munchy healthy thing like rice crackers.

    And a lot of their food is vegetarian, so I’m cutting out on expensive red meats as well. I love red meat, but I can’t afford it all the time. The only things I buy from regular supermarkets is things like toiletries and tissues/toilet paper etc.

    I’m proud of myself because not only am I saving money without hardship, but I’m also saving my health and electricity by using the microwave to cook my food.

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