If you follow these columns, or if you’re thrifty by nature, you may have noticed that being frugal sometimes means more effort on your part. Save money on food by cooking from scratch, go through your statements and cancel fees, shop around for insurance, make a menu-plan and use coupons--there are many ways to save money when you are willing to do some of the work yourself. After all, wouldn’t you take on an extra hour or two of work per week if it was well paid? Then why not make the same effort to trim your budget?
Although this might infringe on leisure time, it prevents the sense of boredom and “entertain me” attitude that too much leisure time can cause. Let’s not forget that when we have leisure time we often spend more. If we purposely start filling our spare time with little habits that save, it needn’t feel inconvenient or like work at all. An added bonus is that reducing spending quite often reduces waste and, in turn, can be very good for the environment.
Have you considered how much money you spend on things that you use once and throw away? Is there an alternative to this wasteful practice? For instance, have you got worn out t-shirts or towels that can be made into rags and reused rather than buying disposable wipes? Sandwich bags, paper plates and plastic cutlery exist only so that we save time on dishes—how about saving money instead? If you don’t have a potable source of drinking water at home, or if you prefer bottled water, consider that you can refill five gallon jugs of water for $3 at a water store as opposed to the high cost of individual bottles that need recycled.
On the subject of water, it really makes sense to reduce consumption in the home and teach your kids not to waste this valuable resource. Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth, don’t leave water running the whole time you wash dishes, and only use your dishwasher or washing machine when you have a full load. Have a look at your metered water bill, if you have one, and make it a family challenge to reduce your consumption and thereby the bill. Washing clothes in cool water saves on heating the water, and using a clothesline in summer gives you a bit of exercise while the sun and breeze do the rest. If you don’t like crunchy towels, give things five minutes in the dryer before hanging them out.
You can save on energy costs by turning your heat down a degree or two in winter. Wear socks, sweaters and snuggle under a blanket in the evening. Likewise, keep your home cooler in the summer by closing blinds, take advantage of shade and breeze by opening windows until the sun hits them. Use air conditioning as a last resort and when you do, keep it a degree or two warmer than usual.
If you have a spare refrigerator chugging away in your basement or garage, consider whether running it is worth the cost. The extra storage is nice but if it isn’t holding anything essential you can save by simply unplugging it. Food will continue to cook awhile in a hot oven even if you turn it off a few minutes early to save power. Once you remove the food, leave the oven door open (consider the safety of small children and pets first!) to take advantage of the heat.
If you are planning to be away for a few days, turn your water heater to vacation mode so that it isn’t continually reheating the tank full of water while you are away. Finally, have a look around your home and note how many chargers, electronics and appliances are plugged in that are only occasionally used. Take the kids around the house and take turns pointing out things that can be unplugged. Encourage your family to use less power and finally understand why your own parents preached at you to “shut off the light when you leave the room!”
Get in the Habit
You might say that frugal habits such as these won’t make a difference in your financial situation, and perhaps that is true. It is likely, though, that they won’t make your problems any worse and they might give you a sense that you are doing everything you can to live consciously and reduce unnecessary spending and waste. If you have extra time, spend it doing more for yourself, learning new skills and being choosy about where your money goes. Reducing waste and “going green” is a great place to start.