When you think about ways to save money, your mind may fill itself with lots of little things: drying clothes on the line, eating more beans and less meat, cleaning with rags instead of paper towels, and so on. Each of these habits can save you a few dollars here and there, but none of them will make a big difference all by itself. To give your budget a real boost, you need to look deeper and see how each of these small steps is really just one example of three larger frugal habits.
Frugal Habit #1: Think Before You Buy
Most people put some thought into a big purchase, like a car or a major appliance, but it’s worth doing with small purchases too. Before you buy, try asking yourself: “Do I really need this? Is it worth the money to me? Could I find something just as good for less?”
Adopting this habit can help you in countless little ways on a day-to-day basis. For example, suppose you spot a nifty red sweater on sale. If you stop to think before whipping out your credit card, you might realize that you already have several red sweaters at home and you don’t really need another. If you pause before plunking down $4 for a grande cafe mocha at Starbucks, you might conclude that you’d be get just as much enjoyment from a cup of cocoa you could fix for yourself at home. Before picking up a book at your local Big Box Books, you might decide to check and see if it’s available at your local library.
Frugal Habit #2: Don’t Pay Someone Else for a Job You Can Do Yourself
Lots of the things we pay people to do are things we really could do ourselves. A few obvious ones are cleaning the house, tending the lawn, or changing the oil in your car. However, some are less obvious. For example, every time you go out to eat, you’re paying someone to cook your meal for you. The same applies to convenience foods. If a bag of pre-washed salad greens costs $2.59 and a head of romaine costs 99 cents, buying the bagged salad means paying someone $1.60 to wash and tear up your lettuce for you. Considering that you could do this job yourself in 5 minutes, you’re paying this anonymous person the equivalent of $19.20 an hour. (Also, Consumer Reports found in March 2010 that “pre-washed” salad greens often contain unsafe levels of bacteria and recommended that consumers wash them before eating-so the bagged lettuce actually saves no work at all.)
Of course, there are some times when it’s worth paying someone else to do a job. For example, if you don’t know much about car repair, you’re better off taking your car to a mechanic when it has a problem. You won’t save money if you make a small problem bigger by trying to fix something you don’t understand. Likewise, in some cases a professional can do the job a lot faster than you can. If you need electrical work done in your house, and an electrician can do it in one day, while you’d have to stretch it out over several months, it’s probably worth paying the electrician to get the job done fast. In this case, your “hourly wage” for doing it yourself will probably be minimal. And on special occasions (which could mean birthdays, anniversaries, or days when you’re absolutely exhausted) it may be worth paying for a restaurant meal. But it’s still worthwhile to think about it first and weigh the pros and cons of doing the job yourself before you make a decision.
Frugal Habit #3: Make Your Stuff Last
It’s often said that we live in a “throwaway society.” When something breaks, the easiest thing do to is throw it out and buy another. In some cases, replacing an item is actually cheaper than getting it repaired professionally. However, it’s often possible to fix something yourself with just a little bit of effort: sewing up small holes in clothing, for instance. It’s also possible in many cases to keep things from breaking or wearing out in the first place by taking good care of them. For example, following your car’s maintenance schedule to the letter will keep it in good running condition and prevent bigger, more expensive problems down the line. And when an item finally does wear out, you can salvage the parts that are still good and put them to another use, such as turning old socks into cleaning rags. Because it reduces your use of resources, this frugal habit is a green habit, as well.
Adopting these frugal habits basically comes down to being more mindful about the things you do each day, from buying products and services to taking care of the things you have. Once you get into the frugal mindset and make these three frugal habits a part of your life, you will find that they lead to all kinds of savings, both large and small.
“Bagged Salad: How Clean?” Consumer Reports.