One of the biggest criticisms of a frugal lifestyle is that it involves too much time “pinching pennies”- that any savings gained by frugal choices are insignificant, and in any event are nullified by the amount of time expended to obtain the savings. I take exception to this criticism on two grounds:
- The savings gained are rarely insignificant, because they add up over time.
- Many frugal choices involve very little extra expenditure of time
I’ll give you an example of how a “penny pinching” choice earned us $72, plus interest, over the course of a year, without any extra time expended.
Giving Up Coffee for 30 Cents/Day
In 2012, I announced to my husband that, in an effort to be frugal, I was not going to drink anymore coffee until I had used up the backlog of teas that had accumulated in our pantry. He looked at me, unimpressed by my declaration. “That’s only going to save us a couple cents a day. Just enjoy the coffee,” he said with an amused smile.
I’m nothing if not tenacious about this whole frugality thing, so I wasn’t dissuaded by his lack of enthusiasm. But it did get me curious as to just how much money I was saving. Here’s how the calculation worked out:
We were buying ground coffee in bulk (3 pounds for $7.99), so one serving of coffee was only 17 cents. But, I also used 13 cents of cream in each cup of coffee. So the grand total of a cup of coffee was 30 cents a day.
That works out to $9 per month, or $72 plus interest over the course of a year. Now, if I had previously been buying my cup of coffee at Starbucks every morning, then I would have saved $3 a day (approximately $90 per month) by switching to tea. $90/month is definitely worth giving up coffee- there are many things I’d love to spend $90 per month on other than coffee, like a date night, or a weekly box of farm fresh vegetables, or gymnastics lessons for our daughter. But, alas, I had been making my coffee at home, so I was only netting 30 cents a day in savings.
Was it worth it to me to only save 30 cents a day?
Yes, and here’s why. First and foremost, I find that consistency is paramount to maintaining a frugal lifestyle. Making exceptions (i.e., “I’m frugal, except I don’t bother to save 30 cents”) creates a slippery slope: pretty soon, I’m making exceptions for larger things: “I don’t need to bother saving $2 on those groceries, or $10 on those tickets, or $500 on that car, because it’s… [fill in the blank: too much of a hassle/takes too much time/too embarrassing to negotiate a deal]. Making too many exceptions threatens my ability to limit our spending. That’s not to say that I believe in saving money at all costs- certainly there are situations where the amount of time incurred is so disproportionate to the money saved that it could validly be called a bad choice by even the most frugal person. An example would be driving 30 minutes round-trip to a second grocery store just to buy an item that costs 25 cents less than the first grocery store you went to. In that example, not only is 30 minutes an enormous amount of time to spend on saving 25 cents, but the fuel costs and wear and tear on your vehicle might actually nullify the savings entirely.
But in most instances, a frugal choice does not require a large expenditure of time. In my case, it didn’t take me any extra time to brew the tea instead of coffee, so it was just a matter of me making a conscious decision to pick the frugal option. Yes, it only saved us 30 cents, but I gained something more: the habit of being frugal. I find that consistently making frugal choices helps my mind develop this habit, as opposed to maintaining a general attitude of, “well, it doesn’t matter if I save money here and there, I just want to do what I want…” Developing frugality as a habit then helps me make frugal decisions in situations where a lot more money is at stake.
And in all honesty, an extra 30 cents a day, when added up to $9 a month, really was useful to us. As it turned out, the stockpile of tea only lasted 4 months, but I continued to forego coffee for almost year after that, so we ended up saving $72, plus interest, which we used for toys for our daughter. I eventually returned to drinking coffee, but I didn’t feel guilty about it- I was happy that I had made a temporary change that yielded a great benefit.
Do you think 30 cents a day is worth it, or was I taking frugality too far?