Monday, February 12, 2007

Tiny Tips

Lots of people think of saving money as getting $50 off a big ticket purchase, or buying a two-year-old car instead of a brand new one. Far too often I've heard disparaging remarks about sensible frugal practices. I agree that it's possible to be penny wise and pound foolish, but I bristle just a little bit when people imply that small economies are silly or not worth it.

My gut feeling is that all the little homely economies I practice every single day save me as much each year as the "big ticket" items. Small changes such as these are as much a part of a frugal lifestyle as getting debt under control, and then getting out of debt entirely. Moreover, not everyone can get out of debt overnight. But anyone can make the choice to clean a sheet of aluminum foil or wash ziploc bags. If you don't have the immediate means to clear your debt, at least you can start with the small things.

These are some of the small, practical things you can do every day to save a little money at a time. As Amy Dacyzcyn says, it's okay to sweat the small stuff. Remember, it all adds up!

  • Buy the heavy duty aluminum foil so it will hold up to repeated washings. See how long you can make a single piece of aluminum foil last. The heavy kind is stiff enough to stand up in a drying rack after you've washed it.
  • Spices - If you have the room, keep your spices in the freezer. I use a shoe box to stand all the jars upright so it's easier to find what I want. I even go to the trouble of writing the name of the spice on a piece of masking tape taped on the lid of the can. That way I can see at a glance what's what. Spices are among the most expensive ingredients in the kitchen, and they lose their potency quickly, especially ground spices. Buying whole spices and/or keeping them in the freezer is the best way to prolong shelf-life.
  • Use cloth napkins. Most of us have a few of these lying around. Start using them! If you don't have any, you could cut some out of the better part of worn clothing or bedding. Around your birthday or the holidays, let it be known you'd like some everyday cloth napkins. These will last you for years or even decades. And you'll save money each and every time you choose a cloth napkin over a disposable paper napkin.
  • Keep a plastic bottle of water in your car at all times. Not only will this save you from making a purchase because you're thirsty, it could conceivably save your life in an emergency.
  • Wrap feminine hygiene products in pages from an old phone book (which is free) instead of toilet paper (which you pay for) . If you have a septic system, this will mean fewer solids in the tank, and thus longer intervals between servicing.
  • Sign up for electronic bill payment whenever possible. This will save you the cost of stamps, the price of which is always nudging up, and also on your checks if you must pay for them. Be sure, however, to review your bills for errors just as carefully as you would if you were writing out that check. Sign up for automatic bill pay with caution. Make sure you will always have the funds available in any account that has an automated payment coming from it. Don't save the cost of a stamp only to get dinged with an overdraft fee.
  • Bake multiple items at a time & freeze some for later. In the winter, make the most of the heat by leaving the oven door open after use.
  • Capture the hot water from boiling pasta or making tea and leave it in a pot to moisturize the air and impart a little extra heat to the house.
  • Choose the size of your pans with care. They should be wider than the burner below them, so that the heat goes into the pan and not up around its sides.
  • Cover every pot or pan you cook in, unless you are trying to reduce the amount of liquid in a pot.
  • When baking potatoes or sweet potatoes, pierce them lengthwise with a metal skewer. They'll cook faster by about 10 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven when whatever you're cooking is 90% done. Don't open the door until the food is ready though. This won't work for everything, but it will for many things.
  • Use only as much shampoo and toothpaste as is really necessary. Don't believe the commercials. You don't need a palmful of shampoo or an inch of toothpaste. If you get lots of frothy suds in your hair when you shampoo, you're using too much. Switch to a dollop of shampoo the size of a quarter and a quarter inch of toothpaste. Adjust up or down as necessary until you use just what you really need.

  • Cut down on fridge load by cooling your leftovers well before refrigerating. Place food outside in the winter if you have no animals to worry about. Tiled, brick or natural stone floors will also help cool food in metal pots quickly. Move the pot around the floor every few minutes for a while so the heat is always dispersing into a new cool spot.

Please add your tiny tip in the comment section, and I'll add more of my own as I think of them.


Anonymous said...

Awesome tip regarding wrapping feminine hygiene products in pages torn from the phonebook. I am always on the lookout for these kinds of little tips, but I don't think I ever would have come up with that. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I've always mixed the last bit of dishwashing liquid, shampoo, conditioner or handsoap with water to make sure I get every last bit out of the bottle. I was surprised to learn that this thought hadn't even cross the mind of one of my friends. Must have saved me hundreds over the years!

Kate said...

Danielle - yes, those things are second nature to me now too. I think even before my seriously frugal days that was one trick I did use.