“Honey, that’s not worth my time.”
My Dad and I had this conversation in high school, and at the time, I had no idea what he meant. How could saving money be a waste of time?
Now I get it. Traditional finance advice encourages you to waste your precious time in order to save pennies. Here are three money-saving tips you should avoid.
Time-Waster #1: Coupons
The TV show “Extreme Couponing” glorifies it, but couponing can hog your energy and cause you to stockpile things you don’t need. This energy-draining activity requires:
- Gathering coupons
- Printing or clipping the coupons
- Filing them in your wallet
- Hunting for a specific brand in the aisles
- Double-checking that you’re buying the “right” quantity
- Shuffling through your coupon stack at the register
- Stockpiling a 6-month supply of salsa just because it’s on sale
- Weeding the expired coupons out of your wallet on a weekly basis
I’m exhausted just typing it. Not only does couponing eat your time, it commands your energy and attention — and you should take great care about how you direct your energy. Our minds can only juggle so much.
Total Time Clipping Coupons: 2-3 hours per week.
Number one, buy stuff that offers the best combination of price + quality. It’s penny-wise, pound-foolish to buy something that will break in 3-4 months.
Secondly, grab a discounted gift card to the stores you normally shop at (for me, that’s Target and Home Depot, but for you, that might be a specific clothing store or chain restaurant.) I stash a few of these in my wallet and use it whenever I happen to be at that store.
It saves me 7 to 10 percent off whatever I buy, and it’s hassle-free: no expiration, no clipping coupons, and no stockpiling. You basically get a few bucks off every purchase with almost zero effort. (Total time: 5 minutes).
Time Waster #2: Bank-Hopping
Too many people shuffle their money between banks because Bank #1 is offering a savings account with a 0.025 percent higher interest rate than Bank #2. This interest-rate-chasing requires keeping up-to-date on savings yields, opening and closing accounts, and reading the fine print to make sure you won’t be hit by some surprise fee which would wipe out your gain.
Total time: 2-4 hours per month to keep up-to-date, plus 1-3 hours per new account opened.
Ignore that stuff. Find one bank that you like and stick with it.
If you have $10,000 in a savings account earning one-half of one percent, you’ll earn $50 a year. If you DOUBLE it after hours of painstaking internet research, you’ll earn an extra $50 per year.
The time cost? Let’s be generous and assume you “strike gold” after just 1 hour of online research plus 2 hours to open the new account. For the rest of the year, you spend only 1 hour each month scanning the Web for a better deal. Total time = 14 hours per year, or $3.57 per hour.
You’re far better off starting a side business or simply enjoying time with your friends and family.
Time Waster #3: Some – But Not All – D.I.Y. Projects
Don’t get me wrong; our friends regard Will and I as the King and Queen of do-it-yourself projects. I often write about these: I grow veggies in the yard and file my own (complicated) taxes while he repairs our rotting rental home: building a deck, installing new windows, tearing down walls.
But certain D.I.Y. jobs just aren’t worth our time.
Here’s my rule of thumb: a task that must be done repeatedly is worth learning. A one-time task — like certain technical back-end things for a website — are not worth my time to learn, since I’ll never need to do it again.
There are exceptions, of course. Some one-time tasks are ultra expensive, so they’re worth learning. And some repetitive tasks are so cheap that they’re worth outsourcing. That’s why Will says he’ll never change his car’s oil again.
To change your own oil, you must:
- Go to the store.
- Buy the oil/filter/pan.
- Wait for your car to cool once you return home.
- Lift your car with hydraulic jacks.
- Make sure it’s secure, so you don’t get crushed.
- Drain oil into a pan.
- Remove the filter (which is slippery and hard-to-turn).
- Pour in new oil and replace filter.
- Scrub your arms/hands/face, which are now covered in oil.
- Dispose of the used motor oil pan – probably requiring a second trip to the store.
Total Time: 1 – 2 hours plus $10 in supplies, including two trips to the store: one trip to buy the oil plus a second trip to properly dispose of your used oil.
Cost to outsource it: $20 with a coupon — yes, this is one coupon worth having.
Photo courtesy Krossbow.