How to Be Frugal Without Wasting Your Time

bigstock-Portrait-Of-Happy-Business-Wom-64512829-e1455714572209A lot of people think frugality is about saving money at the cost of your time: you spend all day clipping coupons just to save a couple bucks on your groceries…that’s not what being frugal is. Your time is precious—more precious than money—and being frugal is about using both your time and money wisely. Here’s how.

Pick the methods with the biggest payoff.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “penny wise, pound foolish.” This means going out of your way to save $5 on gas when you have a $500 car payment or buying nothing but Ramen for the week when you mindlessly spend $300 on drinks while you’re out every month. It’s a waste of time to scrimp and save on the pennies when you’re blowing big money like it’s nothing.

When you’re trying to shrink your budget, you want to focus on the big stuff – meaning the categories with the largest payoff. These are typically the three most expensive categories in your budget:

  1. Housing: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing makes up about 30 percent of the average American’s annual expenses.
  2. Food: Makes up 12 percent.
  3. Transportation: Makes up 17 percent.

Some frugal solutions are easier than others, but to toss some general ideas out there, you might:

  • Move to a cheaper area.
  • Negotiate your rent.
  • Cut back on your restaurant spending.
  • Find a better way to meal plan.
  • Carpool on your way to work.

Making a single frugal decision in these expensive categories will give you the quickest, biggest bang for your buck. Similarly, when you’re trying to save money on anything else, keep your eye on the big picture—what money saving tactic will net you the largest overall savings?

For example, let’s say you’re planning a nice, relaxing two-week vacation. There are a lot of ways you could cut costs: stay in a hostel, cook instead of going out, house sit for someone in exchange for lodging. Those are all valid ways to save, but you’ll save more if you focus on the biggest expenses, like your flight and lodging. You can save a ton by simply flying at the right time, when travel is cheap. By choosing to travel six to eight weeks before or after high season (called the shoulder season), you could easily save you hundreds if not more.

Use technology to find deals and coupons automatically.

Focus your energy on larger items, then automate your savings everywhere else by downloading a few browser extensions to find deals for you.

We all love a good deal, but if it takes you two hours of research to find a new laptop that’s only $25 cheaper, that might not be the best use of your time. Thankfully, there are so many tools out there that find the best price for you. PriceJump is a browser extension for  that automatically finds you the best price while you’re shopping for an item on Amazon. InvisibleHand does the same thing, but it works for any online shopping site or even airline sites. When you browse items or tickets online, the extension pops up and tells you if you can get a better deal elsewhere.

You could also use a browser extension like Honey or Coupons at Checkout to automatically find coupon codes when you shop online at thousands of popular, participating retailers like Amazon, Target, Gap, and Best Buy to name a few. When you go through the checkout process online, the extension will automatically populate and enter in coupon codes so you don’t have to search for them yourself.

Beyond couponing, you can automate your frugality in other areas too. Save money on your monthly electric bill by installing a smart power strip that knows when to turn off all of your electronics, or tweak the energy settings on your TV, computer, and other gadgets. Call your utility providers and negotiate or find better rates for Internet, cable, cell phone service, gym membership, and car insurance. Even though this might require a little effort, you’ll save money every month without having to do any additional work.

Come up with rules for making smarter spending decisions.

Unless you’re Warren Buffett, you’re probably not in a position to drop $700 on a phone. So while it’s important to think about your spending, wavering over some purchases can also be a huge waste of time. To combat this, establish some rules for your spending decisions.

If you’re incredibly indecisive about even the most frivolous spending, try the “10/10 rule” for small purchases. If you’re thinking about buying something that’s ten dollars or less, try not to spend more than ten minutes thinking about it. This comes in handy when you’re in a store and you pick up something you like and throw it in the cart (especially at Target). Give it some thought first, but if you haven’t put it back and it’s less than ten dollars, then you could buy it – but if it’s more than ten dollars and you’ve spent ten minutes thinking about it, put it back on the shelf. It’s a really simple rule and helps for those one-off, impulsive items.

Another rule for larger purchases is setting a dollar amount at which you give yourself at least a week to think about the purchase – like a $100 pair of Nike sneakers. If you’re thinking about buying anything that costs $100 or more, give yourself a week to think it over. It’s not to say you won’t automatically buy anything you see that’s $99—this tactic just gives you ample time for larger decisions.

A few simple rules can help find a balance between being mindful about your spending and overthinking it to the point of wasting your time.

Make sure every purchase is worthwhile in the long-term.

When you’re trying to be frugal with both your time and money, it helps to consider the long-term impact of your spending too. This is why it usually makes sense to buy a quality item even if it costs a little more because the cheaper item will eventually cost you more in the long run. Let’s say you buy a pair of cheap boots that you have to replace every winter. You’ll actually spend more over time than if you were to just buy quality boots in the first place. Not only that, but also think about the time you spend shopping for new boots every year. Buying quality means you buy once, and you won’t have to waste time doing it again for several years – of course, expensive doesn’t equal quality, but your time is still valuable.

People often confuse frugality with being cheap and wasting time instead of money. Ultimately, being frugal is about getting the most out of your resources, including time – it doesn’t have to be complicated.

*Original article courtesy of Kristin Wong of TwoCents.com.

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