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The Frugal Habits We Don’t Miss for One Second

What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done to save a buck? More ridiculous than arguing with a grocery cashier and her manager for a good 10 minutes over whether it was store policy to cap that 65 cent coupon at $1 after doubling it, or take off the full double value of $1.30? Let us know in the comments!

We’ve made no secret that we’re not naturally the most frugal people. Our only real frugal habit is keeping our house very cold in the winter, and sometimes we even commit the most grave frugal sin: opting to pay more to get something to better fit our triple bottom line ideal. Examples: paying more to buy organic produce, to buy goods from the bulk bins to avoid purchasing unnecessary packaging, or to support a local store or company instead of a big box store or online behemoth. We’d worry about having our frugal card revoked if we ever had one in the first place. And — fun fact — we’re much more likely to behave frugally when we’re talking about natural resources (conserving water, gasoline, natural gas or electricity, or attempting to avoid creating garbage that goes to landfills, etc.) than we are when we’re just talking about money.

We constantly come across new tips on how to get to “optimal frugality,” and while we think it’s great to continually try to optimize your spending, something that we now know to be true is that there’s never a point of ultimate optimization, a point when we have everything figured out perfectly. Rather, life is an ongoing process of subtracting things and habits that no longer (or never did) add value to our lives, adding other things that do, experimenting with some possible new habits and tweaking pretty much everything.

Over the years, we’ve done a whole bunch of things to save money, some of which we still practice today, and quite a few of which we’ve abandoned for any number of reasons… like arguing with underpaid cashiers over insultingly small amounts of money. And looking back, some of the things we did seem downright foolish. Others seem well-intentioned, but ultimately didn’t pan out as planned. So we’ve stopped doing a lot of those things, and are happier for it.

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Frugal Habits We’ve Happily Dropped

Our point in sharing this list is not to say that any of these habits are bad ones. But rather to say that sometimes it’s worth considering more than just the money cost of something. Like how much time it takes to save that money, how much driving all over town, how much it might affect your health for the worse, etc., etc., etc. In other words, it’s always worth asking, “Is this habit adding value to my life?” and listening carefully to the answer.

With all of that said, here are the frugal habits we’ve dropped, and not missed for one second:

Shopping at Costco — It’s pretty much Money Saving 101 where they tell you that you have to shop at Costco if you want to save money on your food and household products. And we did it for a while. But we always ended up with more of any given item than we really needed (along with more packaging than I was okay with), as well as the occasional impulse buy, which in Costco quantities is a big deal. Conclusion: It’s not a good deal if you don’t use it all.

Couponing — I could write a novel about this one, but I’ll just focus on the tip of the iceberg. I went through one of those extreme couponing phases, and definitely learned that it works. You can save tons and tons of money, often getting things free, if you’re willing to do two things: 1. Spend significant amounts of time finding coupons and matching them up to sales at local stores, and 2. Eat mostly the foods that have coupons, meaning highly processed and marketed foods that contain little to no nutrition. Ultimately we decided we weren’t okay with either of those stipulations, but not until after we spent countless hours finding deals (and sometimes arguing with cashiers about them) and many months eating highly processed crap that made us truly understand the old adage, “You are what you eat.” Conclusion: Health and sanity are worth more than a few dollars.

Regularly shopping at multiple stores — Even before the couponing phase, I’ve always been a price-conscious shopper, and I’ve long been aware that some stores have better deals on some items, while others have better deals on different things. For years, I went to like five different grocery stores to get everything at the best price, which now feels like madness. I have such limited free time, and the last thing I want to do is spend it driving all over town, burning more gasoline and wasting hours, just to save a few dollars. Now we do most of our shopping at just one store, but we rotate which store that is. We know we’re spending a little more on things here and there, but we’re saving tons of time, which feels worth it. Conclusion: Time is more finite than money. We try to remind ourselves to act accordingly.

Attending events for free food — There was a time, early in our careers, when you could get both of us to show up for something just by saying, “There will be free food there.” It was like moths to the flame. At a certain point, though, we didn’t like feeling like mooches, and wanted to start working toward self-sufficiency. Conclusion: Self-sufficiency tastes better than greasy appetizers.

Paying cash — After I got out of debt, I didn’t trust myself with credit cards for a while. The solution was to pay for everything with cash or, worst case, with a debit card. And while that did for sure help teach me better spending habits, we realized after a few years that we were missing out on some pretty significant credit card points. So after I’d gotten over my credit card trust issues, and we knew we could pay cards off in full every month, we switched to putting everything we possibly could on our airline miles and hotel points cards. Bonus: That made tracking our spending loads easier than when we used more cash. Conclusion: Free travel from points is pretty much the best thing ever.

Buying the cheapest products — We definitely fell into that trap for years, especially when we were renovating our first place, of thinking that the best thing we could do for our finances was to spend as little as possible on stuff, and therefore to buy the cheapest option for any given product. I can’t tell you how many times we left Home Depot with the very cheapest option of something, only to have it do a lousy job, or break, or not work at all. (Thank goodness for their liberal return policy!) Same goes for clothes — if we absolutely needed a piece of clothing for work, we’d hit up H&M or Old Navy and come home with something that lasted approximately two washes before disintegrating. We should have learned the lesson faster than we did, but eventually we learned that it pays to pay more sometimes, and even better if you can get something secondhand, from an era when things were made to last longer than the junk crowding the shelves of today. Conclusion: Buy for durability, not the lowest price.

More Frugal Habits In Our Future

Of course, on the flipside, there are frugal habits we wish we had more time to do, but currently don’t. We expect more or all of these habits to move into our rotation after we quit our jobs in 20 months or less and have more time on our hands:

  • Making all of our own home cleaning and toiletry products — right now we make some but not all
  • Working a weekly shift on a local farm in exchange for a CSA share
  • Hanging up our laundry to air dry outside
  • Preserving more foods  — I’ve made a few batches of salsa, tomato sauce and jam the last two summers, but dream of a pantry overflowing with preserved goodness
  • Doing all home and car maintenance ourselves — we still rely on the pros a lot because of our limited time, but can’t wait to change that

What Frugal Habits Are In Your Past and Future?

We’d love to hear from you guys — what frugal habits have you ditched because they were too much trouble? What can’t you wait to do when you have more time in the future? Any embarrassing tales you wish to confess when you’ve behaved badly to save a few pennies, like my story with the cashier? Spill it! :-)

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122 replies »

  1. I’m with you on giving up on shopping multiple stores and using coupons. It’s not worth the time and most coupons aren’t for something I’d normally buy, or aren’t less expensive than regular prices at ALDI (or getting it out of the garden). We do hope to expand our garden and preservation efforts this year and can/freeze a lot more of our harvest.

    • We’re so jealous of people who have access to ALDI! I’ve heard it makes it easy to give up coupons. Sadly, Trader Joe’s is the best we can do in that category. I look forward to hearing about your expanded garden! We have such a short growing season in the mountains, so can’t really do much of a garden (boo hoo!), and I love living vicariously through others who live in a better gardening climate. :-)

  2. We get these $1 off gas coupons in the mail. They always come in groups of 4, and there have been times where I’ll go to three different gas stations just so I can save $3 (you can only use one coupon per visit). I tell myself it’s OK because all the gas stations are on the way to my destination :) and I have no plans of stopping this silliness! As for frugal habits I’m done with, I don’t buy myself cheap coffee anymore and I’m trying to limit the cheap/free coffee I drink (Keurig at work). One, it tastes like donkey piss and, two, I don’t care to support the cheap coffee industry. I’m also considering ditching travel rewards and cash back rewards programs that credit card companies offer. This one is hard because I’d be giving up free hotel nights and cash back options, but these CC companies pay for those rewards programs by charging the local merchants I care about in my community high interchange fees. I know this can’t always be avoided, and it probably even sounds weird to some people, but the other side of these credit card reward programs has been bothering me lately.

    • Haha — if you love the gas coupon silliness, then do it! There was definitely a time when I got a thrill from couponing, feeling like I was beating the game. But then it wasn’t fun anymore, and so we stopped doing it because it was such a time suck. I’m all about not supporting the coffee pod people — that stuff is so beyond wasteful, it makes me crazy. And on the credit cards, do the points cards actually charge higher fees to local merchants than non-points cards do? That’s news to me, and I’d love to know if we’re doing something bad. If that’s the case, maybe we stop using the cards when shopping at small, local businesses!

      • According to this infographic ( http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-hidden-plastic-economy ) using a rewards card can raise the cost of a processing fee. However, in my limited research I have not read this anywhere else. I do know that CC companies pay for their rewards programs out of these fees (they’re not just going to give us free money, are they?!!) so it makes sense that these fees ultimately get passed on to the consumer in some way, shape or form.

      • I’ve always just assumed that our annual fees covered this stuff, since rewards cards generally have fees, while non-rewards cards don’t. But if there’s a chance that using my rewards card dings local vendors, I will switch to debit for local stuff. Still no guilt about using them with the big airlines or hotels, though! :-) Thanks for sharing this helpful info!

    • Thanks, Ernie, for making me an ongoing consumer of Honest Roast Coffee! :D

      I used my rewards card for my last purchase so that’s rather a bummer if those types of card are resulting in higher fees for small businesses. Seeing that Visa profited, by their own reports, over $6 billion dollars last year, you would certainly think that they and other credit card companies could not dip further into the pockets of small business owners. But, then again, what do I know? Gotta love capitalism :)

      • I asked a friend who owns a small business if she noticed different fees for some cards over others, and she said no. But I’m going to keep looking into this!

      • That’s good news to hear. You would think that the transaction machine wouldn’t be able to necessarily differentiate between the types of cards. A Visa’s a Visa and should be charged the same no matter what. If they were doing that, the next thing you know they’d be charging different fees for cards that do/don’t have a yearly membership fee. It’s all madness! lol

      • Yeah, it would seem that way to me, too. But then who knows what kind of agreements those companies force merchants into. I’m going to ask more people to be sure.

  3. Of the past? Greyhound for interstate travel. DEAR GOD, NEVER AGAIN.
    Of the future? One day, I’d like to learn some basic carpentry (so I can do built-ins for my home) and start a raised/covered edible garden in my backyard.

    • Hahahaha — Yeah, I’ve not heard great things about the Greyhound. :-) But you get major bravery points for doing that! And you should definitely try carpentry! We learned some things when we renovated our first place, and found that much of it is not hard, it just requires attention to detail. But there is so much guidance online these days that there’s no reason not to learn.

  4. I can relate to almost everything in this post and we have come to almost all of the exact same conclusions except we still shop at Sam’s club, though we have reduced it to 2-3 times/year and we go strictly off of a master list to stock up on bulk items.

    Where you really hit the nail on the head though is this:
    “life is an ongoing process of subtracting things and habits that no longer (or never did) add value to our lives, adding other things that do, experimenting with some possible new habits and tweaking pretty much everything.”

    This is the thing that we most struggle/enjoy about figuring out the whole FIRE process from looking at frugality to investing philosophy to what we want to do with our time post FIRE. It is an ongoing process and we (none of us) will ever have everything all figured out and even if we do optimize certain aspects of our current stage of life, as life changes so will there be a new optimal. Great post!

    • I think there is nothing wrong with the warehouse stores — they just didn’t work for us and how we eat. Plus we get better deals on things like toilet paper through Amazon Subscribe & Save (and we stopped using paper towels — switched to washable rags, so it wasn’t worth it to pay the membership fee). And yeah, we totally agree — there is no perfect. It’s too personal and ever-changing! So we expect to keep evolving on this stuff forever. Who know, maybe in a year we’ll be writing, “Why we rejoined Costco and love it!” :-)

  5. We have ditched pretty much all of the same frugal habits you did… mostly because I value my time over money. I have tried a few others like making cleaning products – only to learn my husband hates the smell of vinegar. I do like to bike/walk whenever possible. And recently we are trying some gardening and composting – although that is more of my husband, because I tend to kill plants. Oh and I tried cloth diapering – yeah, kind of messy.

    • Ooh, here’s a tip: lavender or orange essential oil both do a great job of covering up that vinegar small! Mr. ONL hates it, too, so I mostly use it when he’s away for an hour or two. It doesn’t smell after it evaporates. We can’t wait to bike more places when summer comes around! And we love composting — it keeps so much stuff out of the landfill, which makes me happy. :-)

  6. When I first decided to start making coffee at home, I also decided that it wouldn’t be very frugal to buy ANYTHING other than the straight-up necessities. So I bought coffee beans at Costco and a used coffee bean grinder off of Kijiji.

    I then proceeded to do a variation of cold brewing where I let the coffee sit in cold water overnight, and then strained it – not through something as luxurious as a coffee strainer, but using paper towels. All told, this process was a pain in the ass and took like half an hour, because the paper towels didn’t drain very quickly, and made a huge mess.

    Let’s just say we still went to Starbucks pretty frequently.

    Eventually, my boyfriend got fed up, bought us a $20 french press, and figured out that we could grind beans at our local grocery store when we got them (a good thing, because my second-hand grinder crapped out on us about a month in.) Ever since I gave up on my “super-frugal” coffee making ways, life and weekend mornings have been SO much better – and we don’t even miss going to Starbucks now.

    Lesson learned: buy the freaking french press.

    • Hahahaha — That sounds like a lot of things I’ve tried, so I’m totally with you. My biggest laughable frugality moment in the kitchen was when I insisted for a while that we buy absolutely no premade foods, but only whole ingredients. Which meant that you’d look in our pantry or fridge and see literally nothing that you could just take out and eat. Sadly, my aspirations to make everything from scratch couldn’t keep up with our hunger, and my plan led to a lot of takeout food, ordered out of hungry desperation. Hahahaha — now I know to buy a few convenience foods, at least for now, while we’re still working. Like your lesson learned: buy the freaking chips and salsa.

  7. This isn’t really a habit since it was a one-time thing but I was given a bar of money soap which had a bill from $1 – $50 in it. Instead of using the soap in the shower until I got to the money… I took a knife to it and of course found a one dollar bill :)

    My favorite newer frugal habit is not buying books. Library all the time!

  8. We share pretty much the same frugal habits – although I continue to shop at Costco, but with one caveat: I have done the math (no, seriously…on my calculator) and know which items are a better deal at Costco. Then I make it a game to go and get ONLY the things on my list. Always items we will use up, and NEVER anything that will spoil! And I do clip some coupons, but only for items I routinely buy – 50 cents here, a buck there…

    • If you’re willing to do the math on Costco stuff, then I think you could get TONS of value for your membership. I just wasn’t willing to work that hard — ha! But good for you for sticking to that list! That was always hard for us when we shopped there.

  9. We need to be more frugal now that I don’t have an “active income” anymore, but I have a hard time wasting my time on many of the things you mention. I agree with you on warehouse club shopping – we are a household of 3 and many of the quantities are just too much. That said, when we need new tires or have another big purchase, the membership is worth it.

    • Have you looked at tires online? Mr. ONL swears by Tire Rack, and says he gets Costco level prices without having to pay the Costco membership fee. (I take his word for it — he manages all the car stuff.) We live in a place where we have to have summer tires and winter tires, so tires are a thing people in the mountains think about more than most. :-)

  10. I have done some stupid things to save small amounts of money….sleeping in an airport to save $21 on a hostel comes to mind. I can’t believe you’re at 20 months, whoo hoo! I look forward to your series on canning and preserving food, because that’s something I’d also like to get into one day. :)

    • OMG — I have a story like that, too! I had to catch a train at like 6 am, so I figured I could skip the hostel and sleep at the train station. Little did I know that they close the train station every night to avoid it filling up with homeless people, so I got kicked out at like 9. I went to a movie to kill a few hours, then couldn’t find anywhere else to sleep, and ended up sleeping in a jungle gym at a park. Well, not really sleeping. I’m sure the movie cost as much as the hostel, and I got no sleep, and proceeded to miss the train ride the next day because I was so tired, and then crashed on the beach, fell asleep there, and got the worst sunburn of my life. HA! So yeah, pay for that damn hostel. :-) And yeah, 20 months! So exciting!

      • And I didn’t even mention how I couldn’t sleep for days after THAT, because all my sleep was supposed to be on night trains, which are freezing, but I couldn’t stand having the itchy wool blankets they provide on me because of that sunburn. LOL — it just got worse and worse. To avoid spending $20 on a hostel. Lesson: Don’t be such a cheapskate!

  11. For the past: Couponing for processed foods and brand name baby formula. Just get the generic formula and whole foods and be done with it! We opted to spend more (probably) and joined a CSA for the first time this year. I am so excited for the boxes to start arriving!

    Also, I made yogurt at home without any special equipment. It tasted soooo amazing (like whipped cream almost), but I had to baby it, turning the oven on and off for hours. I probably won’t try it again.

    For the future: Canning and making some of our cleaning products at home. If you have tips or tricks for this stuff I’d love to learn more from the experienced!

    • I can’t wait for you guys to start getting your CSA boxes! We miss getting them, but with our current work travel schedule, it’s just not practical. Sigh. :-) And homemade yogurt does sound amazing, but yeah, I can see how that would be too much trouble and energy used. On canning, that’s a much longer post. :-) But for cleaning, just start with white vinegar. You can use it for everything, and it’s dirt cheap. For the tougher things, baking soda and a steel wool pad are your best friends. :-)

  12. Your triple bottom line is something that I totally agree with and want to move towards more and more, especially with making my own cleaning products. I’m trying to move towards a more low tox life, but it’s going to take time. I’m with you on coupons and multiple stores. I covet my time so there is no way I’m doing all those trips in a day.

    • The triple bottom line is not a perfect system — sometimes there’s no way to meet all three criteria. But giving it a name has helped give us more resolve when we see something cheaper, but that was obviously poorly made, or has tons of packaging, etc., etc. I’m better about sticking to my guns now, even if it means paying more sometimes. And as for cleaning products — seriously, straight up white vinegar works wonders. We use it for almost everything, and there’s no “making” required. (Plus, it’s loads cheaper than the toxic stuff.) And glad to know you don’t waste your free time zipping all over to visit different stores — NOT a good use of life force. :-)

  13. Such a great topic! Mr. AR and I have gone through many variations on the frugality theme trying to come up with workable, real life solutions to saving money without driving ourselves crazy. Some of them have worked out very well, and a few of them have been miserable failures. I found coupon clipping to be one of the most tedious endeavors I’ve ever undertaken. I ended up purchasing things I would normally never buy, and not using most of them once I got them home anyway. The food options were nearly always of dubious quality, processed boxes of garbage that sat around for months until I finally begrudgingly made them (because we saved so much money!), or threw them away. We have completely abandoned that project and it’s one frugal habit I will never reinstate. Complete waste of time in my book. We still use our Amazon Prime (there’s a lot of items that are not readily available up here), and we still shop at Costco, but we’ve reduced what we buy there to only those items that are healthy as well as an outstanding value. Air chilled free range chicken, coconut oil, peanut butter, Kerrygold butter and cheese, and a lot of their organic options are staples around here. We get everything else from Trader Joe’s, with the exception of produce and meat, which we purchase from the local farmers’ market, a worthwhile investment for us. We no longer shop the big box discount retailer or the discount grocery store. I miss the savings, but consider the higher quality food an investment in our health. We gave up our 2008 gas guzzling SUV for a new hybrid after I figured out our “paid for” behemoth cost more to operate than the zero interest payment on a hybrid. We don’t use credit cards (the only ones we still carry are the airline miles cards anyway); I still don’t trust myself to use them for monthly expenses and rack up the miles, and with several aging pets I doubt we’d go anywhere anyway. I don’t do my own taxes; the investments require special expertise I simply don’t have and don’t care to learn. Again, for us a worthwhile investment. I do make most of our cleaning products, and hang clothes on the line (or a rack), but I actually find the process enjoyable anyway. I scrimp on odd things like greeting cards (I buy the Amazon multi packs), because paying five or six bucks each for some canned sentiment seems outrageous to me! I don’t refill printer cartridges (they never last), or buy off brand dollar store batteries (they also never last), or use cheap toilet paper (for obvious reasons), but I’ve tried all of the above. I don’t avail myself of free food for any reason (who knows what’s in it), or buy cheaply made clothing (I hate mending). I try to be frugal where it counts for us. Supporting local small business where I can, avoiding excessive packaging, eating healthy food, doing a little gardening, being cognizant of resources, whatever we can do that makes sense. When it starts feeling like a job (read: clipping and sorting coupons), frankly I can’t be bothered.

    • I love knowing how you’ve changed your ways over the years, and the things you now find worth the money. We’re starting to wonder if maybe we’ll keep paying for snow removal after we quit, just because we’re often out of town, and come home late, and the last thing we need is to not be able to get into our driveway! So that may be something we end up shelling out for that could be free, because of how much it helps our quality of life. Sort of like you guys paying for investment management (the new fiduciary standard rules must have you jumping for joy!!), or having your taxes done. Those are things we happily do ourselves, but that’s the great thing about this *personal* finance stuff — we all get to find what works best for us. :-) And I’m so glad that you’re focusing on healthier, unprocessed foods — that will ensure that you have lots of healthy years in front of you!

      • I sure hope so! Health is one investment that always pays off. And as a P.S., I would absolutely pay for snow removal. Being out of commission for weeks because of a back injury isn’t worth the savings to me! I am considering doing our taxes next year, since the very expensive CPA just transfers all my work to his system and charges an arm and a leg to do so. We’ll see, if I can decipher the year end statements I may just give it a go.

      • You make a good point about the snow! And let me make a pitch for doing your own taxes, besides saving money. We use TurboTax, and they have the ability to automatically import all of your 1099s from your different banks. You just enter your username and password for, say, Vanguard, and it automatically fills all of that stuff in — no form deciphering required. Best of all, each year it remembers what you entered in the previous year, so you never start from scratch except the very first time. It will ask you, “Do you have any income from Vanguard this year?” You click yes, enter your Vanguard login, done! And best of all, our total for federal and state this year was $92. That’s with a rental property and a slew of 1099 income, in addition to our w-2s. And it maybe took me 90 minutes. Food for thought…

      • I have a year to research it, I’d love to make the switch and save some serious money. We file for a trust as well, and it appears complicated to me (but I am uneducated in that arena). It’s worth checking out to avoid the delays and the costs. I used to file our taxes with no problem, but the trust and investments scared me off.

  14. I was in a long-distance relationship for a few years in college (file that in a separate category of mistakes!) and would book the cheapest flight when I traveled, even if it included a completely out-of-the-way layover, multiple layovers (which sometimes ended up with me stuck in some random city for a night), or sleeping in the baggage claim area overnight to catch a 5:30 AM flight. These days, I’ll happily spring for a more expensive direct flight just to avoid the chaos of delays and missed connections.

    • Haha — I was in one of those relationships, too! :-D Good times. Though your travel to make it work sounds downright nutty — I’m glad you’ve changed your tune. :-)

  15. I am totally with you on Costco. Their quantities are just too much for our household of 3. It took me years to finish that giant bottle of shampoo and I was stuck with the same flavor for so long. We only shop at two stores now, organic food at Whole Foods and non-food items at Wal-Mart. Eating organic makes me feel better and healthy. It does cost more to eat organically, but I never waste anything and eat more consciously. Saving money is important and I believe a well balanced approach is better. The pre-retirement life is as important as the post-retirement life because the second one is built upon the first one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Yeah, I know Costco is a good deal for a lot of people, but it just didn’t work for us either. Nevermind that Mr. ONL would go into meltdown mode with all the crowds and chaos there. Haha. I think your current system sounds great! We don’t shop at Walmart because of how they treat their workers and the fact that they push for lower environmental standards in places like China, but that’s just us, and we don’t expect everyone to pass up great prices on principle like we do. :-D I think the principle is totally a great one — buy the stuff you can only get at Whole Foods there, and shop somewhere cheaper for the rest. Good system!

  16. I have zero shame in paying extra for convenience. I will work as long as possible to avoid having to do any major home or car maintenance DIY! That sounds about as fun as going to the dentist. :)

    • It could totally be that home improvement is just not your thing, but see if you can watch an episode of This Old House here and there. We’ve learned that nothing about home improvement or maintenance is hard, and there’s a YouTube video showing how to do literally everything. I just find it way more satisfying to do the work ourselves, not to mention about 1/10th the price. But hey, if it’s worth it to you to keep working, then more power to you. :-)

      • I think it’s similar to the adapting to the cold thing. I can afford handymen and don’t find it to be an excessive expense, so I will farm it out. If it got to the point where it was an excessive cost like monthly mid 3 figures for heat, then I’d suck it up and figure out how to do it myself…its definitely not my thing though.

  17. Very good topic! We keep debating the warehouse club every year. We were members of BJs and recently switched over to Costco. For now, I think we’re going to stick it out as we do use it probably every couple of months and leave with a giant cart’s worth, but it’s hard to know if you’re actually saving that much with it… and I just haven’t taken the time to compare the pricing to our regular grocery store.

    I used to be a big coupon guy as well, but we’ve also pushed that one to the wayside… time versus money I guess.

    It sounds like we had the same problem with debt and credit cards at one point in time. I got back to the cards a number of years ago, but I pay them off every payday weekend (every other week) instead of waiting until the payment is due. That seems to be the plan that works best for me and keeps me at ease. And I do agree that the rewards and the tracking can be real bonuses for using them!!

    — Jim

    • Nothing wrong with Costco if you get value out of it — might be worth actually doing the math for yourselves. I’ve heard that it’s often not actually a money saver, though our quitting was more to do with feeling like we wasted food, plus we just hate the crowds and chaos at the store! I think your credit card strategy sounds great if that helps you sleep at night! That IS my least favorite part of it — knowing that we have to pay them off in full and feeling like I’m always thinking ahead to the due date. After we retire and aren’t charging tons of work travel expenses that rack up points, we may end up going back to debit cards — who knows!

  18. One thing we’re not doing is paying things in cash. I don’t buy the argument that using cash will reduce your spending. We use our credit cards like a debit card – only spend the money when we have it in the bank account. We also always pay the balance in full. To us, the reward points are more worthwhile.

    I see your point about Costco but we still shop at Costco. I think the trick is to have an itemized list when you go shopping so you only buy what you need. :)

    • Totally with you on credit card rewards! Plus it really does make tracking spending much easier, which is not nothing. And if Costco works for you, great! Honestly I *wish* it worked for us, but not having kids, we just don’t go through that much of things, plus we just can’t handle the chaos in the stores. ;-)

  19. I’m with you on most of these! (Though we do spend nearly 70% of our grocery budget at Costco… because up here, it’s cheaper even if you DON’T eat it all… which we usually do anyway since there are five of us and all…) Car maintenance is the one thing we have NO CLUE on. Mr. T can reroute gas pipelines and youtube how to put in new windows, but automotive scares both of us considerably! I’m sure we’re paying a pretty penny for that fear, but everytime they tell us we “need” something, we’re too scared to argue! Maybe one day we’ll figure this out. :)

    • I think Costco is great if it works for you, and I’m glad that it saves you money! And yeah, I’m not gonna lie — car maintenance does scare me more than home maintenance, but I think it’s something we can get over. Mr. ONL is already a pro at changing headlights and batteries, and we’ve done a few other things here and there. I’m not going to say that we’ll do every car thing ourselves, but we like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from knowing we can maintain our own stuff. It’s worth getting out of our comfort zones for that feeling… oh, and the money savings, too. :-)

  20. Mr. PIE and I are working through similar issues, all be it at an earlier stage than you. In trying to cut our embarrassingly large grocery bill we have quit our Whole Foods habit and stared buying more at BJ’s and Stop and Shop. I have even been know to clip a few select coupons recently, but like you I’m very reluctant to by junk.We’re learning to walk that line between less expensive foods and foods we still want to eat. We have a way to go yet!

    • I’m sure you know this, but there are actually tons of deals to be had at Whole Foods if you know what to look for — Google “best values at Whole Foods” if you’re interested. The prices in their bulk bins are pretty great, and same goes for the local, seasonal produce and store brand stuff. But I also understand that that store can be a massive impulse buy trigger — I still struggle!

  21. You have just reminded me that we once travelled from London to Munich by bus to save money; it was 16 hours of hell that I will never repeat.
    Mostly, we like to do frugal things that help the environment – switching the shower off while we lather up, keeping the temperature in the flat as low as we can and not buying convenience foods for example.

    • I’m laughing out of sympathy with your story! Check out the story I recounted to Kara in the comments on this post if you didn’t already see it about my comedy of errors that ensued from trying to save one night of hostel charges in Paris in my youth. Hahaha. I think the choices you guys make are great ones — I especially love choices that are both money saving and resource saving!

  22. I have never been into couponing. I don’t buy the newspaper and we don’t have a printer at home, so I’d have to print out coupons at work. There have been one or two occassions when I printed out an amazing coupon for something we were going to buy anyways, but that’s it. Besides, we usually buy generic for everything and there aren’t any coupons for those items.

    • I’d say you got it right on your first try, then! If you look at the comments, quite a lot of us have tried coupons and later given up on them — so you skipped that huge time waster to begin with. Nice job! :-D

  23. I’d argue that couponing and arguing with the cashiers, when done not in excess, is still very good for your bottom line. I’ve found that Safeway overcharges us by approximately 5% simply due to mistakes (counting a product twice, ignoring a discount, entering the wrong product code when barcode doesn’t go through,…). Add it all up, and we’re talking $300~$400 a year.

    It’s all about checking the bill before leaving the shop. It’s a 2 minutes process.
    I’m not talking about trying to enforce a coupon they don’t want you to, but simply pointing out mistakes when they happen.

    • Oh, totally agree! I always check the receipt on the way out of the store. Whole Foods is bad for this, too. I’ve definitely seen lots of mistakes over time — double counting items, not honoring a sale price, etc.

  24. The one I relate best to is not going to 5 stores to get the best price everywhere. The reason is the same: time is precious! In my case, also literally. I leave around 8pm and the grocery stores close at 9PM. It that tile frame, I can do about 1 store only.

    When a student, I did volunteer work abroad to have cheap travel: food and shelter was offered in exchange for my work time. Weekends were free. Not sure I would do that again now to save moneY. I will encourage my kids to do this, but for the experience.

    On a roadtrip in Mexico, we took a night bus to save a night in the hotel. The main driver was to be in an ancient site way before the Cancun tourist buses! Big win for us. We had virtually the whole site for us during 2 hours. we actually have pictures of the main temple with no people on it.

    • Wow, your time really is precious if you’re not leaving work until 8 pm! I don’t blame you for sticking to a single store. And your experiences volunteering for cheap travel sound like great life experience, even if you wouldn’t repeat those experiences now! But wow, getting to see any major world heritage site without crowds — that’s a pretty incredible gift. The bus experience sounds a little scary, but what a reward you got in return!

      • Looks Like I need to be more clear. On Fridays, I ma home around 6:45. I put the kids to bed, eat and blog a little, then I go grocery shopping.
        The bus was not scared at all. I can not remember what kind of bus it was, But I do remember having the site to us! That matters.

      • Ah, okay, that makes sense! I’m glad for your sake that you’ve already had family time by 8 pm when you go shopping. :-) And great point about what ultimately matters: the experience, not just what it takes to achieve it.

  25. We’re pretty much right with you for the most part. Generally, we try not to be wasteful and never go shopping just for fun. That saves a ton right there. The 1-2 times a month we go out to eat, we first check Groupon for anything interesting and that usually saves 30-50% right there.

    Stuff like couponing or driving to multiple stores, we usually don’t bother with.

  26. I’ve actually given up on making my own cleaning supplies. It takes a lot of time, and it actually doesn’t save a lot of money. We go through three bags of washing powder per year, for example, as a family of two. (Hint: clothes can often be worn more than once. Hint 2: try to reduce the amount of product you use – often you can use a lot less than what you do now). Making that ourselves would maybe save us $10 over the course of that year, but would of course cost some time (to get all the ingredients and to prepare and mix them). We don’t do that anymore.

    Same with cleaning supplies. I’m not sure how often you clean, and perhaps the size of the house also matters here, but we go through only a small amount of supplies over the course of one year, and could again maybe save $15-$20 if we were to replace all supplies by handmade ones. Again, not worth it.

    • I’m a big fan of straight white vinegar for most cleaning tasks — no “making” required. And we buy our dishwasher detergent and laundry liquid from the bulk bins at our local food coop — no extra packaging required. But I definitely understand your point that a lot of that stuff takes many ingredients to make and doesn’t save money! Sometimes it can be worth it to have control over the ingredients, which is honestly what I care about a lot more than price. I’m more interested in making things like our soap, or maybe even sunscreen. The non-toxic products on the market are so expensive, and many of them are actually easy to make at home.

      • We used homemade products and then tried Better Life. Now, we Branch Basics now, which offers a plant-based, ultra concentrated product. I think this bottle of concentrate will last at least another year. Time will tell if we return to homemade or if we replace the bottle. :)

      • Keep us posted! There are certainly some tasks where having something stronger than vinegar would be helpful, but not willing to use the toxic stuff, even if it works better. ;-)

  27. I’m not a big couponer and it is not so big in Australia. But we have an ALDI within 2kms of our house so that saves at least $50 a week for our family of 4. I’ve made some crazy combinations of food to avoid going to the supermarket – satay chicken with pasta, anyone???
    I have been known to darn socks multiple times. When my running shoes have holes in the soles, I know it is time for new ones so now incorporate some good quality ones in my budget on a more regular basis.
    And if my kids have more pocket money than I have in my purse, I get some pangs of jealousy ha ha

    • LOL — We love those wacky food combos that help clean out the pantry. We call ours “canned corn creations,” whether or not they contain corn. :-) I wish we had ALDI near here! I keep hearing that they’re going to expand in the U.S., and it will be welcome news when they do! And I’m sure you know this, but it’s so bad for you to run with broken down running shoes. Please do your knees, hips and back and favor and buy some new ones, even if your feet have holey socks on them when you put on your shoes. :-)

  28. Never be fooled into buying the following:

    1. Inexpensive single malt Scottish whisky
    2. A cheap burgundy that’s the store managers “favorite”

  29. This post definitely struck a chord with me! Let me count the ways…

    -Costco – was there to buy eggs and alcohol for a party. Spent $120.
    -Couponing – I think for the most part it’s a waste of time. I’m all about saving money when it’s simple and convenient, but I’m not going to spend time looking in newspapers for $0.25 coupons to double and then coming home with a wall of toilet paper.
    -Shopping at multiple stores – for the most part I shop at Amazon and/or Target online. I figure the cost savings of going to different stores is outweighed by time, gas, and extra crap you might buy if you go to the store.
    -Paying cash – I just used my card the other day for a $0.25 charge.
    -Buying cheap – I bought Kirkland/Costco shoes for $18. Hurt like hell. Ended up returning it.

    • Ouch — those cheap shoes sound painful! And yeah, that was pretty much how Costco went for us, too. Plus the “organic eggs” had the lightest color yolks imaginable, which made us wonder if they were even organic at all. Definitely they weren’t from happy chickens. :-)

  30. We are definitely on the same page when it comes to being environmentally frugal. I love the idea of bulk bins because there is no packaging waste (when I remember to bring my containers). I actually started not flushing the toilet every time to save on a little water. This is environmentally good and saves a little on our water bill. I also like to support local businesses and farmers but have been struggling with this one most recently as there is often a big price difference. Last summer we actually stopped going to the farmers market because prices were more expensive than buying local/organic foods at the store. This one still baffles me as there is no middle man. I am still trying to find the right balance of when to be frugal and when it doesn’t matter but unfortunately there is no one right answer.

    • If it’s yellow, let it mellow! :-D We do the same thing.

      On the organics at farmers markets vs. supermarkets issue, I always find this piece super helpful: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/13/magazine/13ORGANIC.html?pagewanted=all. Basically, supermarket organic is just as industrialized as the non-organic stuff, it’s probably traveled 1000 miles or more to get to you, and it’s likely to involve more packaging, as well as also possibly having poor worker safety protections and environmental standards. Huge bummer, I know. But give it a read and then decide if it makes you want to go back to the farmers market — I think it’s a tough call, and we all have to decide what we’re comfortable with!

      • Thank you for sharing this article. It certainly makes you think twice but we are fortunately enough to have lots of local farms who do sell their products in some of the local stores and it is these products that can be less expensive than the farmers market and it drives me nuts.

      • You’re welcome! And heck, if you can get local farm produce at the store for less than at the farmers market, then DO IT! Our supermarket organics are all in clamshells, grown in Mexico, so we only buy those as a last resort!

  31. We have definitely stopped being so frugal with our grocery budget and it shows! We only shop at two stores now (Costco is one of them!) and never keep track of coupons. Like you said, nutrition – an investment in future health! – has become more important than minimizing spending in that area.

    • That’s great! And it sounds like you’re at peace with your higher spending. I’d argue that healthy food is one of the most worthwhile things we can all spend our money on, so I love stories like yours. :-)

  32. I think you covered every one of ours! It took a while to realize our time was more valuable than the madness we were putting ourselves through to “save a buck” when in reality, it was probably costing us more by driving all over the place and purchasing quantities we had to dispose of.

    Great post!

    • Thanks! Given how many of us have had such similar experiences, you’d think the conventional frugal wisdom around this stuff would change! Hunting all the deals is clearly not a winning strategy. :-)

  33. Watering down milk; living on bread and cheap carbs!

    And oh yes on the free food. Now I’m a bit of a food snob as well so I actually often turn my nose up at the catered food at events!

  34. Haha, this is great. I was having a conniption the other day in Costco. We hadn’t brought enough cash to pay for our groceries and I didn’t want to pay the ATM fee. Looking back I was being a bit ridiculous, but in the heat of the moment I didn’t want to pay that ATM fee. I finally did for the sake of my glaring wife and the angry shoppers behind us. Great read. :)

  35. We were guilty of shopping at different places at a time until we realised “is it really worth walking/driving all the way to the other store to save $1?”. So we dropped this practice and replaced it with sticking with the shopping list. We still buy cheap most of the time but for items that we know we’re going to use for a long time, like shoes for example, we try to go with quality over price. Cheaper is not always the better option and I think we learned that the hard way. I like your list of frugal habits to take after retirement. More than saving money, I think you guys will have fun doing them too!

    • I’m glad you dropped the hassle factor of shopping at many stores — I’m so happy to have that time back in my life! And cheap vs. quality — I’m still definitely a deal-hunter, but I try to at least buy brands that I know won’t fall apart, though I’ll happily take those items at a big discount. :-D And yeah, I agree that doing that DIY stuff in retirement WILL be fun. We love making things ourselves, and so we’d probably do all that stuff even if it didn’t save money!

  36. As it turns out, Costco is also not a good deal if you’re a single person with no car. ;)

    I am beginning to find myself truly weary of reading article after article about how to be more frugal, so thank you for presenting an alternative viewpoint. :) For me, the balance between saving money and preserving one’s sanity currently involves making impromptu purchases at coffee shops just so I can sit down/use the restroom/get out of the rain while waiting for the bus. Also definitely no coupons.

    • Haha — makes sense! Even when we were together, with a car, but lived in a condo in the city, we didn’t do Costco because we didn’t have space to store a case of toilet paper or a 60 oz bag of chips. But yes, most frugal tips are only appropriate for people who have entirely too much time on their hands. In the real world, for us working folks, we have to protect our sanity and figure out which frugal tasks are worth the effort. (My view: most aren’t.) Better advice: Just don’t buy a lot of stuff. :-) And I think your coffeehouse spending makes total sense! The only coffee we avoid these days is takeout coffee (and I still get it if I’m traveling for work) — but if we’re going to sit down for a while, then we don’t feel like we’re doing anything bad — and you shouldn’t either! Ignore those latte factor posts and enjoy your practicality. :-)

  37. I knew I had lost it when I would go to sketchy convenient stores in the worst part of town to buy $500 gift cards to churn for airline miles. All the gift cards at convenience stores in the safer parts of town would run out immediately from other miles and points geeks in the area. I now get my miles and points in other less dangerous ways :)

    • Holy crap — but at least you realized it and stopped doing that! I know lots of people get tons of free travel from card churning and manufactured spending, but I didn’t realize it was so rampant that you can’t find gift cards in safe areas! Whoa…

  38. I must admit, as a former cashier in my younger days, it hurts my heart a little that you’ve yelled at someone in that position :-P lol

    First off, excellent post! As far as something that we’ve changed…we no longer make it a point to go to Sam’s Club and Walmart as often as we were. When we were in college, there was one of each about two miles away from our apartment so they got a LOT of our money! :|

    Now, where we live in South Dakota, our closest Walmart is nearly two hours away and the nearest Sam’s Club is in Rapid City about three hours away. When we first moved here, we made many weekend trips to “save” money but have since realized (especially since our son was born) that the HOURS stuck in the Jeep to get there and back are simply not worth any menial savings we may see. If thinking of my limited free time in a monetary sense, I value it (at a minimum) as if I am working OT at my job. If I’m not saving at least $45-55 dollars for every hour spent trying to save some money, then it’s not really worth it from that perspective.

    We now order some things online that are shipped free to our house; otherwise, our food comes from an IGA and incredible meat locker that are about 45 minutes away. We, like you, also have no qualms about paying more for quality items and haven’t clipped a coupon since we were in college a few years ago. Although I will admit that, when we were cutting coupons, the greatest savings we ever accomplished were with shampoo. Between the sale and BOGO coupons, I got my shampoo for about 20 cents on the dollar and have enough to last me well into the 2020’s! Sadly, if my hair continues to thin as it has been doing for the past several years, some bottles may still be hanging around in the 30’s! lol

    • It hurts MY heart too that I yelled at a cashier! But it definitely taught me that I was taking frugality too far, and needed to stop acting like a crazy person. :-) I’m so glad you’ve stopped the madness of all that driving for deals! And YES, there are crazy good deals to be had with a lot of that drugstore stuff — shampoo, toothpaste, body wash, etc. I did used to get tons of free toothpaste, or $.25 shampoo, and I would donate it all to a women’s shelter… so I miss that part of couponing. It was nice to feel like I could do it to help others. But still not worth the time required!

  39. I would say for me, buying cheap shoes just because they were cheap only to have them fall apart a few months later. I now generally invest in better quality shoes though I always cringe a bit when I have to spend the money on them (and clothes). I actually hate shopping and actively avoid it as much as possible so I wear out my clothes probably for far longer than I should.

    I still go to different stores for the different deals, but often these prices are pretty significant probably $2-5. And when I find a good deal at one chain (like CVS or Duane Reade) I try to go to as many as possible so I can get as much of it as possible. I limit it to things I know I’m going to use/eat. Recently we got my BF a pack of 5 razor blades for $1.59! I don’t mind the shopping around though. I walk to all of the stores and I count it as my exercise so besides saving me money on groceries I also save money on a gym membership :)

    • Oh, I used to buy cheap shoes too! And besides falling apart, they were so uncomfortable. I’m like you — it stings to pay higher prices now, but it’s a better deal in the long run (and better environmentally and for workers!), and my feet are happier. :-) And nice job getting those great drug store deals!

  40. I tried crazy-couponing for a hot second and realized the amount of time it took, plus the fact that there were never coupons for the things I usually bought, made it not worth it. Now, the only time I use coupons is if Target’s Cartwheel app happens to have something that was already on my list, or if there’s one of those store coupons stuck on the shelf of an item I was already planning to buy.

    Regarding things I want to do when I have more time, hanging laundry out on the line sounds so lovely! I also anticipate beefing up my home-improvement skills, so that I could do the problem-solving and insourcing myself when something breaks.

    • Glad to know you’ve been there, too, with the crazy coupons! Man, it’s a whole different way of approaching shopping, and it was fun for a time, but ultimately just not worth it! :-) I love the romanticism of hanging clothes on the line, but I’ll probably stick to using the dryer, at least to remove some wrinkles at the end — haha. But totally with you on the insourcing and DIY! To us that’s a win-win: saving money and feeling more self-sufficient.