Saving money when you have no time

A few weeks ago, I participated in an “Ask the Experts” segment on a huge site in the mommysphere, CafeMom.com. The focus of the project was saving, budgeting, and frugality, and my job was simply to answer questions that readers sent in. Sounds easy, right?

Unfortunately, I quickly found that I am no longer equipped to answer many of the inquiries I would have sailed through just a few years ago. A few examples:

“Do you use an app or Excel spreadsheet to track your coupons?” asked one gal eager to save on groceries and consumables.

“Is there a great coupon app?” inquired another.

“Do you make from scratch your own laundry detergent?” asked a third gal. “Do you find the effort worth it?”

Gulp.

Fortunately, I didn't have to answer all of the 70-plus questions and was able to skip over the ones I didn't feel qualified to answer. Unfortunately, the entire experience served as a reminder of just how many money-saving strategies I have been forced to abandon over the years. The truth is, my take on saving and frugality has been forced to evolve along with my changing role as an entrepreneur, wife, and mother. Why? Because I just don't have as much time to devote to it anymore.

My evolving money-saving strategies

For example, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had coupons coming out my years. I spent countless Saturday mornings combing through the ads, matching sales to coupons and shopping at any number of stores. My friend had access to as many newspapers as I ever wanted, too, which meant that I often had duplicate coupons for many of the items I purchased. As a result, I built a stockpile of toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and diapers, and I added to my haul on a weekly basis. And since my oldest child was just a toddler, she was more than content to come along for the ride.

Fast forward several years and I am lucky to have an extra tube of toothpaste  on hand or a bottle of face lotion in my hall closet. I rarely use coupons at all unless they are right in front of my face in one of those blinkie machines at the store. Calm and organized grocery runs have been replaced with trips reminiscent of Super Market Sweep. The only difference is, now I've got two wild kids begging for various snacks the entire time — and I barely have time to go to one store, let alone five.

And Saturday mornings? Instead of clipping coupons, I now spend that time catching up on extra work or spending time with my family. After all, my daughters bounce off the wall when mom and dad don't have to work, and Lord knows I have plenty of mommy guilt as it is. As a result, I've had to prioritize. So goodbye coupons … hello family time.

Strategies for saving money when you have no time

I've heard many people express that something similar has happened to them at one point or another in their lives. When life gets busy or something changes, we are sometimes forced to let one strategy go in order to focus on something more lucrative or less time-consuming. And when it comes to money, sometimes it can even make sense to put your effort into earning more instead of saving on those little expenses. Of course, every person's situation is different. But what isn't different is that our strategies all seem to evolve over time.

When it comes to my own family, I am finding that the best thing we can do right now is simply to  stay the course. We are saving a large percentage of our income and we are relatively good at sticking to the zero-sum budget we create at the beginning of each month. But instead of focusing on things like couponing, we have changed our strategies to include these instead:

  • We aim for the big wins — Instead of trying to save small amounts of money, we are currently trying to focus on ways that we can save big instead. For example, our health insurance plan was recently cancelled since it didn't meet the requirements for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). I shopped around and found that we could save around $500 per month and enjoy a much lower out-of-pocket maximum if we joined a healthcare sharing ministry instead of buying traditional insurance. Those savings will add up to $6,000 in 2015, and that doesn't even count the $10,000-plus we'll save if we need to meet our deductible.
  • We  avoid lifestyle inflation — Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, we opt to keep our simple lifestyle instead. To avoid lifestyle inflation now, we are staying put in our reasonably-priced home, driving our older (paid off) cars, and avoiding purchases that aren't entirely necessary. Of course, this strategy can only take you so far.
  • We focus on increasing our earnings — Earning more vs. spending less is a debate that never ends in the personal finance world. In our case, we are taking both approaches whenever possible in order to achieve maximum results. So in addition to focusing on how we can save big, we are also trying to earn as much money as possible. And those hours spent boosting our earnings have surpassed, by far, any extra money I've ever saved on toothpaste and floss.
  • We shop sales and buy used — Even though we are somewhat limited in the ways we can save on food, we still manage to feed our family of four for around $600 per month simply by planning a menu around the sales at our local Kroger store (and by me not splurging on the snack foods that constantly call my name). We also buy in bulk when it makes sense and make it a point to eat leftovers until they are gone. These may not be big wins, but all of those small moves add up as well!

Saving where it matters lets me save when it matters

I must admit, I miss my couponing days. I loved getting toothpaste and shampoo for free and, most of all, the fun I had looking for the hottest deals. And yes, I have often wondered what the result would be if I did make my own laundry soap. How much would I save compared to the time it took? And would it work as well as Tide or any of the other popular brands?

Unfortunately, that is an experiment that will have to wait because, at the moment, I barely have time to buy laundry detergent let alone brew up my own batch.

Right now my kids are little and they need me. And since there are only 24 hours in a day, I have just had to let some things go. Maybe one day I can pick back up with the many money-saving strategies I once loved. And maybe, just maybe, my kids will want to get involved then as well. But for now, I'm not only finding more time to spend with my family in these important years, I am also finding that I save more every month using these strategies — and ultimately, spreading that gap between what we earn and what we spend is what will help us build wealth in the long run.

We all know that saving on the big stuff is important, and the little stuff matters too. But most important is what you do with your savings. I didn't have time to save the way I always had, but that reality helped me find new strategies to save so I could focus on what matters most.

How do you make time to save? Have you given up on some money-saving strategies in order to pursue others?

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Mrs. Frugalwoods
Mrs. Frugalwoods
5 years ago

We have a really similar approach–it’s all about being on frugal autopilot for us. We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our budget since we already know what we need to do (or not do) in order to save our desired 65%-85% every month.

We also still have full-time jobs, so, we prioritize earnings alongside savings. Once we retire early, the balance will shift a bit and I could imagine having time to, say, make my own laundry detergent (maybe…).

Holly
Holly
5 years ago

Great job on your huge savings rate- wow!

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

As you mentioned, focus on reducing (or eliminating) monthly money-drains, such as monthly services, and reducing the big things people tend to overspend on (housing and cars), you’ll find yourself always ahead of the game. Although I was regularly saving nearly more than $1500 per month earlier this year until I left my job, I never used coupons (they never had coupons for what I use anyway) and I really didn’t go out of my way to save money. I bought in bulk and because I’ve been using the same type of products (toiletries) for years, I buy multiples of… Read more »

zambian lady
zambian lady
5 years ago

I no longer pay much attention on saving strategies as it is all now part of my life. However, one thing I make sure of is to avoid lifestyle inflation which can lead to higher spending habits.

Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

I can relate to this post. There was a time when saving £1 gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. I now also concentrate on the big few things that make a big difference and I always try and boost my income through side hustles. On occasions my lifestyle has inflated however I’ve kept it from spiralling out of control. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

Jen
Jen
5 years ago

I think it’s all about priorities. I have two kids probably around the same ages as yours (2 and almost 4) and I still manage to do all of the things I did before if not more out of necessity. I actually do make my own cleaners; I just do it when they go to bed. It takes about five minutes. Or I do it with them teaching them how to measure and mix. I don’t coupon, just look for things on sale and stock up on my normal trip. My usual grocery trip is two stores every other week… Read more »

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
5 years ago

I went through the same thing with coupons when I got pregnant. I had a rough first half and had no energy for, well, anything! I still have my coupon folder, but I only use one when I remember it’s in there. It hurts a little when I pay full price for something I know I could probably get free, but miraculously my overall grocery budget hasn’t gone up since then….

Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich
5 years ago

A 100%, emphatic YES to aiming for the big wins. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as thrilled as anyone to save $2 on a bottle of shampoo when I have a coupon (and I do still use coupons, don’t get me wrong), but I’ve found that aiming for the big wins makes MUCH more financial sense. For example, I could spend a couple hours coupling and going to different stores to save maybe $50 on my single-person groceries for a month, or I could spend that time travel hacking and finding ways to earn mileage points to get a… Read more »

Another Beth
Another Beth
5 years ago

I love saving the occasional $1 or so, too, but like you, I’d rather spend my time trying to save on the big-ticket items or trying to increase my income.

Although I will say that making your own cleaners does make financial sense. You have complete control over the ingredients and it takes two minutes to mix. Yep, we make our own detergent, too!

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago

I think, for me, at least, there’s less of a temptation to buy things we don’t need when I’m not combing coupons or looking for sales. So we save money by only buying things when we need them whether or not they’re on sale. (Though for staples, we will pick up a couple extra when they’re on sale because we’re buying them anyway and we’ll have to buy them again in the future.) We do look for coupons and sales *after* we’ve decided to buy something (usually something big). Sites like retailmenot and so on are really easy to check… Read more »

Beth2
Beth2
5 years ago

The more basic my food purchases, the less opportunity there is to use coupons. I don’t sweat the ‘lost savings’ though, as I’m confident (having done the math many times) that I’m ahead of the game. Like these ladies seem to indicate, I’m brand loyal to some extent and uses store brands when feasible. The ladies also refer to managing their pantry, which can be key to keeping food costs down. Letting canned goods (or other staples) lock up cash just isn’t the smartest strategy around.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

I agree! I’m not going to avoid a staple food just because it isn’t on sale, nor am I going to buy a bunch of stuff I don’t need because it is on sale. I seldom read flyers. If it’s on my list and it’s on sale, I’ve got room in the budget and the cupboards or freezer to buy a few extra.

I don’t have much luck with coupons because they usually aren’t for products I buy.

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
5 years ago

I hear you Holly. We’re in the same boat. We look for he big wins too. Working full time, running a blog, being, the wifi, and social media police and chauffeur to our 3 kids keeps me pretty busy. If coupons are right if front of me I’ll use them, but don’t go out of my way to clip them.

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

For some people its not having time but for me its not having energy and time. Between work, school and caring for my health (which is sometimes a full-time job), I’m usually tapped out by the end of the day. I had to learn to not sweat the small stuff and go for what really matters financially.

Fred
Fred
5 years ago

Great ideas from the buy side. The other side is the invest side. In other words, how do you save your savings. The best way is through a 401k or 403b, where your savings are automatic. You can also set up automatic withdrawals from your bank account which can go into an investment account, a mutual fund, or even a bank savings account (even though they don’t really pay any interest).

Tina
Tina
5 years ago

Coupons don’t work for us since the coupons are never for things we need. I watch sales and pick up sale items on the way home from work, etc but I found better ways to save more money: 1) we pay our house payment bi monthly. This reduces the interest on our home and by using the same amount of money, we are paying off our home faster. 2) shop for better insurance before renewal time. 3)set up auto pay on all bills. This keeps me from getting a late fee forgetting to pay the bill. 4) look at your… Read more »

The Uncommon Cent
The Uncommon Cent
5 years ago

All of these strategies are too familiar! Frugality is earned especially when time is scarce. I like early mornings. Getting a head start on the chaos helps to stay focused. Keep up the great writing!

Jeroen
Jeroen
5 years ago

Thanks for this article. I find it very inspirational, especially since I am in a (hopefully) transition between being somewhat poor and jobless to somewhat better off and in a job (without time).

Jill
Jill
5 years ago

It’s clear the problem is the kids. You had time before they came along and as we all know Time=Money. So the result is less money…

Tricia
Tricia
5 years ago

My savings strategies have definitely evolved over the years. We have 4 kids, and when they were small(up to 5th grade), I worked weekends (RN) so I could homeschool, couponed, grew a huge garden/canned produce, and shopped yardsales every Saturday…with a kid or 2 in tow. I now have two in college and two in HS, and we are living in Hong Kong, where garden space and coupons are nearly non-existent. My husband teaches at and International school, I also work there full time now. I spend my free time playing the travel/credit card game and have literally saved thousands… Read more »

Tricia
Tricia
5 years ago
Reply to  Tricia

I should clarify, because someone is sure to catch it: I worked wekkend NIGHTS when my kids were little so that I could go yardsaling on Saturdays and to church on Sundays:)

paridhi
paridhi
5 years ago

Everybody have a power to save money when u have more less time.

Thanks for sharing
paridhi

Beard Better
Beard Better
5 years ago

The biggest drain on my finances has always been convenience, because I was always trying to save time without wanting to plan ahead. This led to many last-minute trips to convenience stores or gas stations at night to pick up soda and snacks that could’ve been had for much cheaper at the grocery store. I made a pledge to stop going to convenience stores, and have so far stuck to it, and found that it saves me both time and money. By planning better, I can also make a few smaller trips to the nearby grocery store during the week… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago

An FYI to couponers: CouponMom.com matches available coupons (including electronic ones) to sales at drugstores, supermarkets and even dollar stores. The site includes the date the coupon ran (“Red Plum, Nov. 29”) so you don’t necessarily have to clip — just file the ad inserts and go back when you need them. I just did an article about dollar stores and the Coupon Mom founder, Stephanie Nelson, sent me info on a previous week’s finds. Sixteen items were free that week, others cost between 25 and 75 cents. These freebies were things plenty of people use: children’s vitamins, Band-Aids, allergy… Read more »

Jeffrey
Jeffrey
5 years ago

Love it! “lifestyle inflation”. Wish I would have thought of that one.

Kind of like “act your wage”

JEff

DealForALiving
DealForALiving
5 years ago

You have to be as strict with your time as your money, moreso actually. To be fair, I still do the little things like coupons just because it feels like I’m saving.

Financedin
Financedin
5 years ago

I love your strategies; make more, spend less and live within your means. Many people are accustomed to spending money that they don’t have, keep up the great posts.

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