As someone who is often caught in the dilemma of saving money vs. saving time, I appreciated this post by Laura Vanderkam about her top 10 Frugal Hacks. These tips are meant to save you money, but not at the expense of taking away your time.
Her post got me wondering if I could come up with my own “3-in-1” tips for those who are more financially strapped and/or want to be “green.” In other words, can you save money, save time and save the planet?
Here are my Top 10, some adapted from Laura’s list, some new, and some which I may have written about before:
1) Streamline your errands: Plan out your day so that you can finish at least two errands in one trip. If you’re going to the gym, stop at the market on the way home. Getting a hair cut? Is there a drycleaner near by? Do you need to get gas? Think it out a bit and I guarantee that you will save time and gas. I also recommend keeping a shopping list with you at all times (by paper or on your phone) so that you can just pull it out once you’re at the store. Bonus tip: Many retailers let you take out cash when you pay with a debit card, saving you a trip to the bank.
2) Learn to cook a few dishes well, and focus on recipes that are very adaptable with ingredients. To me, this would include Italian rice salad, Chinese stir fry, frittatas, fajitas/tacos/burritos, and omelettes. As an example, if you make frittata, all you need are eggs, olive oil, salt, pepper and some cheese, ideally parmigiano. The list of possible ingredients include bell pepper, onions, spinach, leeks, sausage, ham, mushrooms, and so forth. The same principle applies to stir fry, which you can whip up quickly with a variety of vegetables and one protein. The green angle? Versatile recipes are also great for reducing food waste.
3) Shop Sales and What’s In Season: In general, if you buy fruits and vegetables that are in-season, it’s both fresher and cheaper (and better for the environment). Not coincidentally, what’s in season is often what’s on sale at supermarkets. This doesn’t only apply to seasonal items. As Laura mentioned, if pork is on sale, buy the pork.
4) Use your local library: Borrowing books or DVDs is obviously a money-saving choice, too. However, it’s not simple or green if you have to drive far to get to a library. I’m including this because I assume that most people don’t have to drive far out of their way to get to their local branch. The Los Angeles public library system (www.lapl.org) even allows you to reserve books from any of its branches. You log into your library account, put books on hold, and get an email when the books arrive at your local branch. You can pick these up at your convenience (within a two-week timeframe).
5) For Travel, Think Local and Flexible: While I love traveling far from home, there’s no doubt that international flights exact a heavy environmental toll. If you stay closer to home, you won’t have to shell out big bucks on airline tickets. Hotels will still cost money but sites like www.priceline.com can save you a lot if you’re not set on exact dates or a certain hotel. Another helpful booking website is www.backbid.com. I tend to scour several sites for the best deal but that takes up precious time. What I love about backbid.com is that it allows you to post up your hotel reservations and then get competing bids from nearby hotels. If you like the new offer, you can book it and cancel your existing reservation.
6) Use Amazon.com: If you’re into coupon clipping and drugstore deals, Amazon.com might not offer the lowest prices on household goods. However, if you want to save both time and money, many items like diapers and wipes are reasonably cheaper via Amazon’s Subscribe & Save option. With Amazon Mom or a $79/year Prime membership, diaper and wipe prices even beat Costco and drugstore deals. I’ve also found great deals on selected cosmetics, coffee and a host of other items, so it’s definitely worth comparing prices on Amazon before buying elsewhere. I think the environmental cost of shipping is offset by fewer trips to a physical store.
7) If you must clip coupons, use www.couponmom.com: Coupon sites like www.couponmom.com does the hard part for you by making it easier to match up sales with coupons at drugstores and supermarkets. However, remember that driving around to get the lowest price or stocking up on things you don’t need is not good for the environment.
8) Check in on your smartphone: I’m a bit of a techno-phobe but I had a chance to try out a fancy smartphone recently. Most people know about free apps for scanning product bar codes and coupon apps, but the most useful app for me was Yelp. With Yelp’s free app, I got 15% off just for checking in at a restaurant. Checking in can be a pain if you are wrangling kids, but I often use Yelp anyway so this wasn’t a time-consuming step. This app can also save you time. If you’re running errands and suddenly realize you need cash, you can look up nearby banks instead of driving around. Smartphones are not necessarily a green choice, especially if you upgrade constantly, but there are tons of other apps that can help you save both time and money. Do you have any favorite apps that save you time/money and the planet?
9) Buy and Sell Used, the Smart Way: I like the idea of buying used because I’m keeping something out of the landfill. The only downside is that it’s often simpler to dump things in the trash. However, even if you’re short on time, you can call the Salvation Army and schedule a free pick-up. What if you’re short on time but could use the extra cash? I recommend listing items on ebay or Craigslist at bargain basement prices. If you list items at very low prices, you can usually find an eager buyer quickly. This is a nice compromise between donating and selling to make a profit. Extra tip: Have a buyer meet you at work if your home is not centrally located.
10) Buy Organic, the Smart and Cost-Efficient Way: Buying organic is expensive but good for you and better for the environment. If you can’t afford to, focus on avoiding the dirty dozen, i.e. fruits and veggies that retain pesticides. In general, if the peel is thin and you’re likely to eat it, go organic (ex: apples, strawberries, potatoes, sweet bell peppers). For thicker-skinned fruits and vegetables, you can stick with non-organic (ex: avocados, bananas).
Bonus Tip: Streamline your local deals: I am a fan of Groupon-like deal sites, but there are so many similar sites nowadays that it’s time-consuming to keep track of deals. I also don’t have time to read multiple emails from Groupon, Tippr, Living Social, and other deal sites. That’s why I use www.dealery.com , a site that aggregates daily deals for your selected city or cities. So much easier! Note: This tip doesn’t really save the planet but I just wanted to share…
Do you have any tips to add?