Updated on 07.29.14

When Frugality Is Fun

Trent Hamm

goo!A little while ago, Five Cent Nickel published an article on the limits of frugality in which one of my own frugal activities was discussed:

First up, The Simple Dollar makes his own laundry detergent. He has done the math and for 8 loads of laundry per week, he saves $20 a year vs. the Kirkland brand found at Costco. The math comes out to a savings of about 38 cents a week. Since I do less than half the laundry that he does, the savings are probably closer to $5. The cost of this is the time necessary to mix the ingredients. Also, it doesn’t seem too neat as Trent calls his laundry concoction “a giant bucket of slime.” I’m sure a giant bucket takes up quite a bit of space as well. Perhaps Costco’s scale brings the cost and quality down to the point where it makes more sense to just buy their product.

The “making my own laundry detergent” reference actually refers back to my recipe for making your own liquid laundry detergent at home. According to the calculations on the homebrew formula in comparison to the Kirkland brand from Costco (the cheapest brand that does well on Consumer Reports tests), I found that I would save about $20 a year versus that Costco brand (not including the fee for membership at Costco).

Is $20 a year worth the time investment in making three (or so) batches of this homemade detergent? It takes about thirty minutes to prepare a five gallon bucket of this stuff and to store it, so that adds up to about an hour and a half over the course of a year, or about $13 an hour if you want to look at it as paying yourself for the work. For me, honestly, the cost alone is right on the fine line of whether it’s worth it or not.

But there’s another huge factor that’s being ignored here: frugality can be a lot of fun. In a lot of ways, frugality is a giant game for me, something to follow as a hobby to see how much I can shave off of my monthly expenses. I love doing things like moving to CFLs, clipping coupons, trying out generic brands, trying homemade recipes for things, cooking my own food from raw ingredients, entertaining myself with what I already have, and so on.

For me, frugality is a friendly competition against myself. Can I find new ways to shave some more money? Does airing up my car tires save on gas? Can I control my impatience and only drive the speed limit, thus saving even more on gas? Can I collect even more coupon flyers?

Beyond that fun and self-competitive aspect, the specific type of frugality that the homemade detergent represents meshes well with my other interests. One of my passions is homebrew science – that’s why I was so happy to get a subscription to Make as a Father’s Day gift earlier this year. I love doing stuff like this – making homemade formulas, taking stuff apart, building weird little things. Even more, my wife actually studied chemistry in college and she does stuff for hobbies like making optimized homemade soap.

In short, for me, frugality is fun in many different ways. It’s a hobby that challenges my creativity and, sometimes, it meshes well with other hobbies and interests of my own. For that reason, mixing up a big bucket of homemade laundry detergent is well worth the $20 I’ll save in a year.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Good post here that illustrates the personal debate we can sometimes have with ourselves regarding time v.s. money.

    Good to see you have a nice balance between practical frugality and knowing when to drop a few bucks (having your apartment cleaned at a great hourly rate) :-)

  2. Lise says:

    I agree. I actually referenced your homemade detergent in a post of mine about Frugality and Opportunity Cost, commenting that it seems like the fun of making the detergent was a large part of why you do it. It’s important to take into account the costs and benefits intrinsic to the act itself when considering whether or not a particular frugal strategy works for you.

  3. 60 in 3 says:

    Maybe you should stop thinking of the detergent as a frugal activity that saves you $20 a year and start thinking of it as a hobby. I know it sounds silly, but for me, saving $20 on 90 minutes of work is not worth it when I also look at storage and such. However, if I look at it as a hobby, then I just made $20 on an activity that was fun and enjoyable.

    It’s just a different way to perceive things, but it can make a lot more sense.


  4. Amber Yount says:

    Hmm how did you get into being so frugal? I’m trying to teach my husband about this stuff.

  5. Dean says:

    As far as coupons are concerned, I’m a little split on whether they are an actual benefit or not. Often times people clip coupons for many things that they wouldn’t ordinarily buy had they not had a coupon. They look at it as they just saved 50 cents but I look at it as they just spent $3.00 on an unnecessary purchase that they only bought because they had a coupon. Over time all of the extra purchases can add up and negate any coupon savings or cost you more.

  6. Bill says:

    Go read the “Tightwad Gazette” and you’ll see Trent dodn’t go anywhere NEAR the limits of frugality.

  7. Rebekah says:

    While I enjoy being frugal (it’s either “enjoy” or “resent” with the cost of my health insurance – over 45% of my salary), and I clip coupons (Dean – only for things I’d buy anyway! – others, I leave on the shelf for other consumers), I’ve got a question about this laundry slime. Is it biodegradable? I’ve shopped around for “green” detergent (Trader Joe’s own is less than half what I used to pay at the health food store!!) and will pay more because it’s worth it to ME to be conscious of the environment. We all have our priorities (again, I’d spend on books before I’d spend on a DVD) and this is one of mine. I don’t spend much on clothing because it’s not in the budget (and, besides, I don’t need more than clean jeans and a nice, clean blouse for work) and, therefore, am willing to pay more elsewhere.

  8. Rob in Madrid says:

    very interesting. It is one of the biggest challenges when you first start climbing out of the hole. How not to get discouraged, plain and simple spending money is fun, not spending isn’t. By turning it on it’s head and very making not spending money a competition makes it fun. Every week I try and see if I can spend less the week before, can I save more than I did last week. Can I push hard and get my savings above X so on and so forth.

  9. Berda says:

    I made a batch of this soap last night and this morning it just looks like water with soap in it.
    What did I do wrong, it did not gel up.

  10. kleanchap says:

    Check this link out for frugal living.


    Some pretty neat ideas from the Japanese on living in small spaces.

  11. m360 says:

    The question of $20 a year being worth the hassle is pointless. It all adds up in the end. And that’s more saved that can gather interest too.

  12. SwingCheese says:

    @Rebekah – Yes, Trent’s recipe is very eco-friendly, especially if you use Fels Naptha laundry soap. For me, the time involved was worth the savings. In order to calculate the amount I was saving, I used the cost of the green detergent available to me (no Whole Foods around these parts), and found the savings to be well worth it. In addition, I also make my own dish washing powder. Again, I used the cost of the detergent I would buy, versus the cheapest detergent. I am willing to pay more for certain items, but if I can make a cheaper alternative, I’m all for it!

  13. Karen Isaacson says:

    Someone mentioned that they have no Whole Foods nearby. I do, more than one in fact, and won’t shop there because they do not treat their employees well [they are very anti-union] and their prices are higher as reported by people who have comparison shopped, and a lot of everyday grocery stores carry green products. Frugality stops when it is at the expense of other people trying to earn a living – same reason I don’t shop at Wal-Mart.

    Now, aside from the politics of all that, I do have a multipurpose spray bottle that does let me have fun while being frugal: it does everything from discipline the cats to clean my counters. How? To clean my counters and my stove top, I use the spray bottle’s contents and let it soak. To discipline the cat, I use that same bottle’s contents and spray the cat or cats doing something naughty like rattling plastic bags at me…am I being cruel to the cats by spraying them with counter cleaner? No, ’cause it’s full of nothing but tap water. I do something similar with the microwave [no cats involved, though] by putting a mug partially full of water in to cook on high for 4 minutes. When it is done, the microwave is all steamy and ready to wipe out.

  14. st says:

    What’s wrong with being anti-union? Companies can purchase labor from unions, or from individuals. Why are companies who choose not to purchase labor from unions somehow bad? It’s just one option for them. What, you think they should be forced to use unions? Are they anti-individual then, if they use union labor?

  15. I make my own laundry detergent too, but I do the powdered version-which is even easier because you don’t have to add the water or do the boiling or store a big amount-1 TBS of the powder washes the whole load. For me, with a food processor, it only takes about 10 minutes to make a batch.

    The recipe I use is about halfway down this post:


    Since I use my new (to me) larger food processor I now skip the “drying” step I talk about in that article.

  16. Tao Kuei says:

    Damn you Trent! You made me stay awake reading another interesting article. I am so going to try to HAVE FUN being frugal after this.

  17. dancing kitchen says:

    I add lavender and tea tree essential oils to my homemade laundry soap. Shopping on-line for specialty laundry soap, the same scent and possibly the same “green” recipe is 16.00 + shipping for 64 oz. I think I’m saving a bundle…and my clothes smell and look fabulous.

  18. Cindy says:

    I think it is important to be frugal. I homeschool and so we live on one income. However, being frugal should not prevent us from leaving a smaller enviromental foot print. When you factor the cost of using eco friendly products or your laundry soap, your soap comes out way ahead and you are being friendlier to the enviroment. Also cutting down on adding to the land fills. Thank you so much Trent.

  19. Ray Skiba says:

    If it won’t gel, you didn’t use washing soda. Baking soda can’t be substituted 1-1. You can cook baking soda to make washing soda, it takes about 4 hrs @ 450degrees, but your running your oven. Oxy clean is washing soda and you can make multiple batches for a one time investment.

    I just made the infamous slime and I think it works great! I used safeguard soap, cuz it’s what I had on hand. Everything smelled clean when I pulled it out to hang it on the line. It’s as biodegradable as what goes in your shower, if made as prescribed.

    One of the benefits that I get, and my wife doesn’t understand yet, is the satisfaction of being independent. I’m no longer at anyone’s mercy to buy their detergent, or their tomatoes, meat, or their diesel fuel for that matter. Their shipping cost increase can’t affect me, at least, not as much. I appreciate sticking it to the man by saving my $600 and not being a consumer. I most enjoy screwing the power and fuel companies as I think of it. I live in SC and have a $40 – $60 a month power bill. My next door neighbor in a smaller house is 2-3x that!

  20. Indy Rocks says:

    Yes, this an eco-friendly detergent!!
    Borax and washing soda contain no phosphates, which is good for our waterways. And you added the water to the dry ingredients in your home, rather than at a plant and then using gasoline to ship to a warehouse/store/your home. You will also be reusing plastic containers saving even more pertoleum.

  21. Linda M. says:

    I also make my laundry detergent with Fels Naptha laundry soap. The smell is wonderful. I also use both the washing soda and the borax. For whatever reason, I have found that I no longer need to use fabric softener, so add that to your savings! I love it.

  22. Joan Balaguer says:

    Can this stuff be used with a toploading high efficiency washer? I’ve been told NOT to use regular detergent but now wonder if that’s just another manipulative ploy.

  23. Patt Colucy says:

    Being frugal is fun. I love the hunt and I love using my imagination to create what I want out of nothing. Example: I have accumulated many Christmas ornaments over the years and most of them have a lot of meaning to my family and me. Problem: It gets a little boring. Solution: decorate the orniments. Last year I put wired silver ribbons on each orniment. Next year I am going to do something really cool. I’m going to put a ring of stars around each orniment. Starting with a circle made of cardboard from cereal boxes, larger than my largest orniment I’m going to glue small evergreens. On top of that I am to put stars made out of blue jeans and tinsel glued to the edges alternating with small pine cones and top the whole thing with a silver cord bow, ribbon from Goodwill. One of the most fun parts of being frugal is sharing it with others. My sister and I love to go shppping and find good deals or brainstorming to find a frugal solution to a problem. I hope you have fun and save money for things that you have to have money for.

  24. Eva says:

    How do you make dishwashing liquid? Can you use the laundry detergent (slime) for dishes? Also, any recipes for the dishwasher. The stuff I use for the dishwasher is cheap but not very good for my dishes and for the environment either.

  25. kelda says:

    One thing i noticed that is missed in your statements is a simple eco one you are reusing existing said bucket saving on the production of all that goes into the packaging of any brand of detergent as well as the simple fact that you are creating a very basic simple product where you controll what dye’s and perfumes that go into it youu know what chemicles you are using and you can chose to buy ivory or some other pure soap making this a more sensative skin friendly item so there is more then just being frugal there is the saving the gas to the grocery store you save and the eco friendlyness of it so help save your pocketbook and the planet at the same time and still have clean clothes how can anyone not see the good in this

Leave a Reply

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