In these times of economic woe, ideas for trimming your budget abound. However, unless you’ve got unlimited amounts of time, you’re not going to be able to implement every single money saving idea you come across. And honestly, some money saving ideas are just not worth the time or the effort or the feeling of deprivation they bring.
So, here are 10 penny pinching tactics you should skip, along with 10 things you should do instead.
- Taking extra condiments and napkins from restaurants
If you’ve getting takeout and you’ve got extra soy sauce or ketchup, then by all means, use those up. But for goodness’ sake, don’t take extra from the restaurant when you’re eating out. Not only is it in poor taste, it’s also pointless.
Any condiment that’s out there free for the taking is going to be worth almost nothing (That’s why things like barbecue sauce are behind the counter but ketchup and mustard are not). An entire bottle of ketchup costs little more than $1, and you’d need a huge pile of ketchup packets to equal what’s in the bottle. Napkins, especially the thin type that restaurants stock, cost very little as well.
If your budget is so tight that ketchup and napkins are difficult to afford, there’s no sensible reason for you to be eating at a restaurant. You’ll save a whole lot more than the price of a few condiments by cooking a meal at home.
- Couponing for items you don’t use
Though it can be thrilling to get anything for free, if you’re looking to maximize the return on your time, you should focus on obtaining items you can actually use. Free hair dye is awesome if you use it, but not so awesome if you don’t.
[Image courtesy of jarmoluk/pixabay.com]
On a related note, even if you’re obtaining items you can use, it doesn’t make sense to stockpile large amounts.
It’s true that you can sometimes donate free items you don’t need, but if you’re spending a whole lot of time and gas obtaining these free items, you may want to consider whether a cash donation would make more sense.
Find deals on items you use, buy less than a lifetime supply, and then focus your efforts somewhere else.
- DIY-ing everything in the kitchen
While you can save big bucks by cooking at home, not every kitchen project is an effective money-saver. If you’re making your own version of an expensive food (granola is a great example of this), then a DIY recipe makes a lot of sense. But if you’re making your own colored sprinkles or are making a labor-intensive condiment, the return on your time will be very poor.
Focus on savings-intensive kitchen projects and don’t worry about the rest.
- Eeking extra years out of a car seat
Car seats have expiration dates on them for a good reason: after sitting in a car for a number of years, the parts begin to deteriorate, making them ineffective in a crash. A new seat is expensive, but it’s nothing compared to hospital bills or worse, losing a child.
Second-hand car seats are also an iffy option unless you know for sure the seat hasn’t been in a crash.
Pay attention to the expiration date on seats you own, and keep an out for a sale when it’s time for a new one.
- Making an extra trip to save on gas
Obviously, you’ve got to use gas in order to get your car to the station, so don’t make an extra trip to find a cheaper station. It only takes a few extra miles of driving to completely negate any savings on the actual gas purchase.
Plan to get gas when other errands take you near a gas station, and if you can’t do that, fill up at a nearby station. This will almost always save you more than driving to another station.
- Sewing your own clothes
There are plenty of reasons to sew your own clothes (you can customize the fit, you can use the fabric you want, you can avoid supporting sweatshops, to name a few), but if your focus is saving money, there are better ways to go. Fabric, thread, patterns, and notions such as elastic, buttons, and interfacing all add up quickly, and it takes time to sew as well.
Shop thrift stores, consignment stores, yard sales and clearance racks to stretch your clothing budget.
- Shopping at 10 different grocery stores
Grocery stores do all tend to run great loss-leader sales each week, and it’s tempting to visit each one of them to snag their best deals. But if the stores aren’t very close together, you’re going to be using a fair amount of gas during your bargain shopping trip. Plus, multiple store stops take a lot of time.
Pick a handful of stores that run the best deals and stick with them. You’ll still be saving money, but you won’t be wasting gas and time.
- Nixing insurance
Life insurance, car insurance, health insurance, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance can feel like unnecessary expenses, but skipping out on them is penny-wise and pound foolish. If you ever find yourself in a place where you need the coverage, you’ll seriously regret not having it and the expenses you’ll incur will be far more than the amount you saved on premiums.
Pick another area of your budget to trim. Call around to get quotes from different companies. Get a high-deductible plan to reduce your premium (Just be sure to save up enough to cover your deductible.)
- Eating processed foods
There are always fantastic deals to be found on packaged and processed foods, and foods based on refined grains (Ramen, anyone?) are much less expensive than meats, dairy products, and produce. But a low grocery budget is no bargain if you end up with a poorly nourished body.
Buy produce in season, make use of frozen produce (it’s just as nutritious as fresh), stock up when you find a sale on healthy foods, and focus on naturally cheap whole foods (brown rice, oatmeal, root vegetables, legumes, chicken thighs, and eggs, for instance).
- Implementing frugal practices you hate
Thought we all have to do things we dislike, it’s best to pick and choose the money-saving activities that are the least painful for you. The odds of you sticking with a habit you loathe are slim to none, and frugal habits are most helpful when you stick with them over the long haul.
If you hate shopping at consignment stores but love cooking from scratch, focus on the cooking. If you don’t mind using cloth napkins, washcloths and towels, but would rather die than give up your toilet paper, then just keep on throwing a pack of TP into your cart.
There are plenty of wise ways to save money without sacrificing your integrity, health, sanity, or all of your free time, and if you choose carefully, you can keep your budget and your attitude in good shape.
What penny-pinching tactics do you skip?
Kristen is an east coast wife, mom, and blogger behind The Frugal Girl. In an effort to inspire others to live frugally, Kristen contributes to the CareOne blog, a community that provides debt consolidation and money-saving advice.