Ask Katy — How Much Extra Time Do I Spend Being Frugal?

by Katy on March 15, 2009 · 13 comments

Harry Potter Audio Book

Today’s Ask Katy question is from Tammy:
I’m basing my question on a quote by William de Kooning. “The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time.” I don’t consider myself “poor” but if it weren’t for my frugal nature, I certainly would not be able to maintain my business working with musicians. Who, despite much wealth in the talent sector, lack money in the purse!
So my question:
How much time daily do you spend frugalling? Is there any amount of money you consider too small to make a difference in your bottom line?
The amount of time I spend “frugalling” varies from day-to-day. But it’s pretty much so ingrained into my life as to be virtually indistinguishable from a non-frugal day.
Here is an example from a typical non-working weekday:
  • Wake up and start water boiling in my plug-in tea kettle for tea. I brew a pot of tea with three bags, which makes four cups of tea. This saves a tea bag, which is a ten cent savings.
  • Make lunches for my sons to take to school. This is usually a sandwich, piece of fruit, slice of frozen pumpkin pie or chocolate chip bran muffin and water. This saves maybe $1.50 per day.
  • Drive younger son to school, but make older son take the school bus. (The elementary school bus comes at 7:30, which is just too flippin’ early!) This saves a three mile round-trip drive.
  • Drink tea and check blog stuff.
  • Take a shower. I keep the hot water heater low and use a low-flow shower head. However, I tend to take a long shower as it is my think tank. I also am recovering from a broken tailbone and it helps to take a long shower and stretch it out. (I think I come out behind on this one.)
  • Put a load of laundry in. I use my homemade laundry detergent and wash on cold. I can only hang my laundry to dry about 50% in the winter months, as the clothing takes about two days to get completely dry. I air dry 100% in the non-rainy months.  This saves not only a large amount of money in the long run, but it greatly decreases my energy usage. Hanging a load of laundry takes maybe ten minutes, but is time I’m willing to spend.
  • As I’m doing dull household chores, I’m usually listening to audio books from the library. I’m currently listening to “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.” The last book was Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey.” (What can I say? I’ve got eclectic taste!) Whenever I think of a book I want to read, I check to see if the library has an audio version. I’m currently on hold for “The Wordy Shipmates” and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.” I’ll also pull audio books off the shelf at whim. This obsession is free and only costs me the price of recharging my AA batteries.
  • I spend an hour or so tidying up and taking care of business. I put the breakfast dishes in my $50 craigslist dishwasher. This takes no more time than if I used a $500 model.
  • I may then have a friend over, drink tea and go for a walk. It is rare for me to go out for coffee with someone, and rarer indeed to go to lunch with someone. I’ll often bake scones to serve, which are made from ingredients I always have on hand. (Flour, baking powder, sugar, butter, milk, cinnamon sugar and something extra like orange zest or chocolate chips.)
  • If I need to run errands, I’ll usually put it off until there’s a few things to do. Because I batch my errands, I’ll often end up needing to drive around town maybe only one day per week. Most of what I need to do is close-in anyway, so my driving is pretty minimal. We’ve owned our mini-van for four years, but have put less than 25,000 miles on it. This includes a number of road trips and annoyingly far weekend soccer games. (Because we drive so little, our insurance agent gives us a discount.)
  • When I grocery shop, I tend to buy mostly staples, and only rarely buy mixes or pre-prepared foods. (My one exception is the Jiffy corn muffin mix, which I like to keep a few boxes of in the cupboard to go with homemade chili.) This style of cooking saves me tremendous amounts of money, yet hardly takes any extra time. I always bring my own reusable bags, which takes no extra time, yet saves me 15-20 cents per trip.
  • Once the kids are home, (they both take the school bus in the afternoon) I’ll make them a snack. This is often popcorn which I’ve popped on the stove top, (cheap with minimal packaging.) They are welcome to help themselves to most anything they can find in the kitchen. The school bus saves us a ton of money. If I didn’t have this option, I’d be driving an extra eight miles per day.
  • I cook dinner from scratch. This is not fancy, yet almost always includes a salad. We drink water and only have dessert on Saturdays. 
  • If all homework is done, we might watch a DVD from the library. This evening my kids watched a vintage “The Outer Limits” episode from the library. It takes no extra time to watch a library DVD than a video store one. It actually takes less time because there aren’t those last minute drives to return a movie to the video store.  Every time we watch a library DVD, it saves us $4. 
  • Bedtime for the kids involve a library book and Goodwill pajamas.
  • I then do some writing, goof around on the computer, do some mending and maybe a read a bit before bed. 


So did it take me any extra time to make frugal choices?

I don’t think so. Maybe if I was buying frozen lasagnas at Costco, but otherwise all my “frugalling” takes no extra time. I actually believe that it takes less time.  For me, being frugal is about what I don’t do.

Is there any amount of money you consider too small to make a difference in your bottom line?

I suppose I wouldn’t spend hours on a project that would save me 50 cents. But . . .  if it were an activity that I enjoyed, then I might actually do it. 

What are your days like? Are your frugal choices second nature like mine, or are you having to force yourself to spend less than you’re comfortable with? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jinger March 15, 2009 at 7:29 am

On my non working days, I love having no routine…just spending the time any way I desire. The only other occupants of my home are my 20 year old granddaughter (college student) and our dog. I am outdoors as much as possible, walking on the trails that abound or in the warm months, swimming at Barton Springs or other neighborhood spring fed pools in Austin. I look for any free event..this coming week SXSW with free music everywhere, the Blanton Art Museum free on Thursdays, and yoga in the park on Wednesdays. At home, I do hand quilting and projects made from recycled materials. I cook from scratch, clean thoroughly, maybe once a month, and daily wash dishes and tidy up. I also love thrifting and last week found a new $16.00 tart pan for 25 cents!
I love my simplified life where I spend very little, but have so much.


Meg from FruWiki March 15, 2009 at 8:41 am

I’ve found that I have MUCH more time since I started thinking frugally.

I often see people on frugality blogs asking (and not always politely) why they should spend time fixing or making things when they can just go to the store and spend “just” $X. They forget how long it takes to go shopping or eat out! Assuming you have the parts on hand, fixing things yourself is often a lot quicker than getting in the car, fighting traffic, finding what you want (good luck!), waiting in line to check out, and then driving back. And eating out is a similar routine.

Since we stopped shopping and eating much, my husband and I have found time we didn’t even realize we had! We’re reminded of it when we do go shopping and end up wasting the afternoon looking for something that no one seems to have — no matter how simple it seems to be. Then I tell myself that next time I’m just going to head straight to the internet and save my time and gas.

Sure, we still have to go grocery shopping, but the way we shop we can stretch it out if need without having to devote too much space to stocking up on items. For example, we could buy a jug of tea, but instead we buy loose leaf tea (which is cheaper, less wasteful, and better tasting than bagged, imho). A month’s worth of loose tea fits in a small box — even though we hardly drink anything else. It lasts a lot longer, too, even without preservatives. And most of the prep time is just waiting, during which time we can be doing other things.


Magdalena March 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Yes, maybe my extreme frugality takes more time, but right now are monthly expenses couldn’t get much lower. The water recovery system here (rainwater, springwater) takes some time, but if we do a little everyday, rather than letting it go to once a week, we never run out and it doesn’t tke all afternoon to fill containers. Handwashing is time-intensive, but once the clothes are soaked, it doesn’t take long to scrub out a few stains, wring them, and hang them up to dry. And we don’t have to buy a washer, or go to a laundromat. It saves probably ten dollars a week. (A secondhand washer might be inexpensive, but it uses a lot more water than my tubs.) Ad with the slowcooker, delicious homecooked meals with very little expense happen daily. That gives me time for sewing, knitting or whatever project I want to do.


Susan Lee March 15, 2009 at 6:04 pm

We have found that NOT going out keeps us frugally minded and un-busy plus we end up with way more time as was mentioned above. We have spent entire days (which meant having to eat out supper because we’re still not home yet) looking for something we “needed” and never actually found. So with gas+wasted time+dinner out ($$$) and coming home empty handed = worn out and disgusted. When we resist going out in hot pursuit of something, we are way more relaxed, have more time for important or unimportant things and end up way less stressed out. And it took no time at all! There may be a little bit of pouting by whoever wanted that sought-after item, but they get over it. Frugality just takes brainpower, not necessarily buckets of time. Sometimes you make lots of time available by being frugal. And that’s always a good thing! Long live idle time!


Kristin March 15, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Since I’m involved in so many things (my own business, teaching PT at a local college, serving on two boards), being frugal has become easy for me. I don’t have time to spend money!

It also helps having a money saving blog, since you have lots of readers helping keep you in check. For me, saving money doesn’t take a lot of time. I cut coupons and plan meals while watching TV. We subscribe to Netflix, which saves us thousands of dollars versus buying and hundreds of dollars versus renting movies. Our local library doesn’t have a very good DVD selection. I borrow lots of books and audio books and listen to the radio during the day.

I think of saving money as a hobby and I really enjoy doing it.


Klara Le Vine March 15, 2009 at 10:23 pm

ok, just a little thing – hope you don’t mind – I don’t use electric tea kettle for boiling water – somewhere I read electricity costs more than gas, but mainly it’s because of other ideas I have about cooking with electricity (gas being more natural – but that’s for a different group). But our focus is on little things that make differences, right? also just read (sorry, forgotten where, one of the frugal sites) about which electric appliances when unplugged save on electricity – my brain doesn’t remember which, so I’m always unplugging appliances which aren’t in use.


thenonconsumeradvocate March 16, 2009 at 12:51 am


Thanks for the electric kettle tip. I do pay extra to get the “green energy” electricity. But really, using an electric kettle is better for me, as I have a tendency to boil water and then forget about it. So. . . you could say it’s a safety issue.

I can hear the click when it shuts off from across the house, and I get a Pavlovian relaxation response as I know tea is coming. It’s quite pathetic.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Evie Abat March 16, 2009 at 4:27 am

Whenever I take the bus to my cooking class I save the money (about 3 bucks equivalent to an argentine peso) it would have cost to take a cab. They’re relatively cheap for expats living in US dollars, but it adds up when you’re living on pesos. It’s a little quicker, too, as the busses are kinda reckless and drive really quickly! 🙂

Right now, cooking takes up a lot of time, especially since i’m still learning how to cook. I’m getting better, but I’m still having problems doing all the tedious prep work (chopping, measuring, etc). My food–especially the vegetarian dishes–are way better than I would find in normal veggie restaurants here that are heavy on the bread.

I’ve also taken to showering “Asian style”, which involves scooping out water from a bucket. It sounds primitive, but my bath ritual (I do this in the shower, of course, not out in the jungle somewhere) takes 5 minutes and it saves TONS of water. I make it a fun challenge to use only 1 bucket, and it’s usually more than enough. I join my husband in the shower once in a while as a splurge.

We rarely, if ever, use the dryer, so it takes a little longer to dry, but there’s no problem there.


tammy March 16, 2009 at 6:36 am

Katy honestly, your life sounds like what i’d love mine to be! At 50 I work at least 60 hours a week and I work on weekends as well. I have always lived very frugally and I honestly enjoy not indulging in mindless spending.
But I need to get to where you and Jinger are! I went through a divorce when I was 38 and had to start all over again financially. I often wonder if that is where I got so “behind”
Thanks for thinking my question was valid. I love your responses and the rest of the comments Katy. Keep up the fine work!


ToilingAnt March 16, 2009 at 7:01 am

My frugal choices *are* second nature, but they do take time. (Making a batch of bread, no matter how fulfilling, still takes a lot longer than grabbing a loaf at the store.) Even so, I find that I am almost always willing to trade my time to save my money.


Pennie March 16, 2009 at 8:19 am

My perception is that living simply actually saves me time, as I always feel that have more of it when I’m on track. And the results of my efforts are more satisfying, too. Meals are prepared from scratch, there is time to send off birthday cards or make a phone call to someone.

Planning ahead on things, i.e. combining errands, once a week grocery shopping, meal menus, multi-tasking (I get together with a friend once a week and we drink tea and sew together–fun combo that gets things stitched AND meets my social needs all at once!) takes less time for me than running helter skelter all week retracing steps and doing forgotten tasks last minute.

My life is vastly more relaxed and purpose-driven by choosing to living simply.


Kassie March 16, 2009 at 8:32 am

Like any lifestyle change, being frugal takes some practice, which in the beginning can require more time. I think it is important to take a slow approach- baby steps- as to not get dismayed and give up! Start with what you are good at. I am a lousy scratch-cook, I have taken the semi-homemade approach and try something new each week. I may never be proficient at making my own bread, so I have found that the bread outlet meets my needs and saves me lots of $. Recently I sent a freind to my fav. Thrift store, she found the experience very frustrating- it can be overwhelming and takes time to locate quality items, I agreed to go with her and show her how to “run through a rack.” Blogs such as this one are great for ideas but dont think you can master a frugal lifestyle in a day- it takes time, effort and patience to see results.


marianne March 16, 2009 at 5:24 pm

i feel i have more time being frugal. Less time shopping at the mall means more time for other things. Less shopping online means more time with my family. Buying sale foods in bulk leaves more time at home to cook meals from scratch. and a lazy 30 minutes out in the sun on my patio with my dog regenerates me more than some re-run sitcom.

The less things you have on the outside, the more freedom you have on the inside!


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