If you are trying to save money, and pay off debt, then you probably collect frugal living tips.
If you are like me, then you probably think they all sound "do-able" at first, and pretty clever.
Later, you learn that they weren't worth the trouble at all!
That is exactly why today's post is focusing on five money saving tips that didn't really save money in the end.
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I've tried all of these personally, and can give you my opinion and experience with them. That doesn't mean they won't work for you.
But before you say that any penny saved is a good penny, let me at least argue that your time is worth more than a penny.
If a frugal life hack takes up time you could be making money or spending time with your kids, (while providing little in return), then it isn't worthwhile.
Now, lets look at five methods of pinching those pennies that don't really save much (or any) money at all:
1. Saving Butter Wrappers
I ran across this several times, and it seemed logical. Saving empty butter wrappers could save money in the long run, since you could use them to grease pans or skillets...stretching your full sticks of butter out just a little farther.
What I learned: I don't eat enough butter for this to be a fruitful hobby.
One wrapper is not enough to grease a whole pan. (Which I rarely do). So we had a surplus of butter wrappers that stuck together, melted, stuck back together, and took up freezer space.
I buy butter for $1.30. I only buy it once ever six weeks or so. If you eat more butter than that, or if you regularly bake and need a buttered pan, then saving the wrappers might be helpful.
But I really think that the time spent fumbling with the greasy, yucky wrappers could be better spent elsewhere.
What Works Instead:
- Buy off-brand butter
- Buy and freeze butter when it is on sale
- Use less or no butter in certain recipes
(Example: you can make instant mashed potatoes without butter. People usually butter them again anyhow once they are on the plate, so save a little money by leaving it out while cooking.)
2. Only Doing Laundry Once A Month
Okay, We tried once a week. I can't remember where I read this, but it was touted as being a sure-fire way to save a lot of money.
I've seen lots of older people doing it, so we tried it for a couple of weeks, just to see...
And now it seems absolutely ridiculous.
The Frugal Theory:
Only washing clothes weekly, every two weeks, or once a month saves money.
No it doesn't. Whether you wash 10 loads in 10 days, or 10 loads in one day, you still wash 10 loads of laundry.
It actually cost more. It took more stain treatment, more soap, and some bleach for whites that got yucky in the basket. It was a lot more work to salvage the clothes, and we had a couple of items mildew. (I can't imagine how icky it would be after a month!)
(ETA: I've had a couple of people mention placing soiled clothing in the deep freezer to keep them fresh until laundry day. I'm not even gonna try this, because seeing a baggie of month old dirty undergarments chillin' with the ground turkey is just...yeah.)
What Works Instead:
- Washing clothes once a day or as needed, to prevent mildew, odors, and stains.
- Washing clothes during non-peak hours.
- Re-wearing lightly worn clothes, such as a shirt, for two days.
- Buying cheaper laundry soap.
- Skipping fabric softener
- Washing clothes in cold water
- Line drying certain items.
3. Soap In a Sock
This was one of those "things" my grandmother did. One of her less frightening, extreme frugality measures.
I thought I would give it a shot.
I still think the same thing I thought when I was a kid. It's gross.
Save soap slivers in an old sock and use the sock as a self-sudsing bath scrubbie. Saves money on soap by using up every bit.
- The soap slivers get slimy.
- In our hot, humid climate, the sock mildews almost immediately after the first use.
- For some reason, fruit flies love it.
- It didn't save that much.
So, its gross and slimy. You can't wash it. It mildews. And it attracts bugs.
AND it doesn't save money?
I guess that would depend on just how much soap you actually use. Or what brand you buy.
My husband is the only one who uses bar soap. I buy a big bottle of Suave shampoo for $1 and use that as shampoo, body wash, shaving gel, etc. (bonus, it also cleans the tub and makes cheap bubble bath.)
Basically, my husband got one use out of the old sock, before tossing it. Which he could have done by wadding all the soap slivers together in a ball and using them once.
He still buys a package of cheap bar soap once a month. All told, we spend about $5 per month on our bathing soap. Saving the slivers saved one shower's worth of soap in a month.
On the other hand, it cost us $7 to get rid of the fruit flies.
What to do instead:
- Dissolve the soap slivers in water and spray around your yard to deter bugs and pests.
- Buy bar soap in bulk when practical.
- Use the diluted soap as a cleaner for your tub, floor, etc.
- Buy soap on sale.
- Use coupons or savings apps.
- Use generic brands or dollar store bars
- Use only as much soap as you need.
- Store your bar soap between uses where the water doesn't melt parts of it away when others are showering.
4. Saving Garbage
Have you ever been to a house where you had to open five or so Country Crock containers before you found the actual butter?
My grandmother did that. She saved every single butter bowl, and reused them to store food in the fridge.
That sounds pretty good.
BUT...she HAD like five sets of new, nice storage containers that people had given her over the years. Every time someone saw all those poor butter bowls they would give her a huge set of Tupperware or Rubbermaid food storage containers, and she would toss them in the back closet.
And get this...if she wanted to send food home with you, she would send it home in one of the Tupperware dishes, and tell you not to bring it back because it was in her way.
But if you threw out a disgusting butter bowl from the fridge with 100 year old mashed potatoes floating in it...she would literally go Pulp Fiction on you.
Despite this bad memory, I did try to save money by hanging on to a few reusable items.
Then it dawned on me that I had kitchen cabinets stuffed with...garbage. I wasn't using any of it. It was just hanging around in case of a zombie attack or whatever kind of emergency.
Reusing containers and other disposable items will save money.
- Re-using food containers can lead to wasted food, because you can't see what's inside.
- Garbage eventually becomes clutter that takes up space.
- You may spend money to buy storage solutions for the extra clutter.
- It takes more time to dig in your home for what you actually need.
- You probably don't save enough leftovers or buy food containers often enough to make this worthwhile.
Unless you are a compulsive food-storage-container shopper, I don't think you will have many emergencies come up where you are in debt due to a Tupperware crisis.
As for other stuff, we personally don't use enough foil, sandwich bags, etc. to justify re-using them. We buy one box of bags and it lasts us for months. I think I buy foil twice a year.
The time and soap spent to clean and store these is worth more than the savings on a sandwich bag.
What works instead:
- Invest in a good set of food storage containers. Glass is best, and can be reused for years if cared for properly. Choosing multi-purpose glass containers that can be used in the fridge, freezer and oven can farther cut down on wasted money (and clutter!)
- Don't use a baggie to start with when a reusable container will work.
- Buy off-brand foil and bags, or buy on sale
- Use scissors to cut foil so that you only get exactly what you need. (no wasted foil thanks to the cutter tool on the box!)
- Save only what you know you will reuse soon. Have a specific use for it in mind before stashing it back.
5. Spending to Save
Sometimes this makes sense. Sometimes, it doesn't.
And it depends on what you are saving.
When we bought our dishwasher, we weighed the pros and cons, and decided that the time I would save was more valuable than the cost of running the dishwasher (responsibly). So far, that has turned out to be true.
I gained two hours of online work time, and we spend only $2 more per month since the dishwasher has been installed. We saved from the beginning by getting a used appliance from people we trusted. We also installed it ourselves.
It also saves (sometimes) to buy a more expensive quality item if you can afford to, rather than buying a cheaper version over and over. Not always an option on low income, though.
However, we will not drive from store to store to save a few dollars.
This may work if you live in a big city where competitive stores are close by one another. Here, it means driving 15, 20, or more miles!
For example, one town has a Save-A-Lot, where you can buy much cheaper canned goods and boxed goods. But their meat and produce is questionable to say the least.
They are also much higher on other items we need. We would have to drive to a completely different town to get those items for a better price, then back to our town to pick up the best deal on something like cat food and soap.
This is why I love the Walmart Savings Catcher App. We can go to ONE store and get money back if they find a lower price somewhere else. No need to drive all over wasting fuel.
What Works Instead:
- Using apps for better grocery deals
- Using coupons if they are really for stuff you need
- Choosing the store with the best overall prices rather than driving for each item
- Keeping an organized fridge and pantry so you don't buy what you already have.
- Carrying a good calculator to figure if you are saving on gas by driving to another station or on food by buying store brands or bulk packages.
There is a fine line between being frugal, and being cheap. There is a fine line between re-using, and hoarding. And there is also a fine line between actually being frugal, and just feeling frugal because you did something rather silly.
There are no best methods for everyone, because frugal living means something different to everyone. And it is also something that people practice for different reasons.
In general, if it saves you money, then being frugal is a good thing. However, if it doesn't save a noticeable sum, or it ends up costing more in the long run (or taking up time you could be earning money), then you should consider ditching it and trying something new.
There are tons of different ways to save money...you just have to find the best ones for you!