Trying to save money on the things you already buy or want to buy is a smart idea, especially considering that according to NerdWallet.com, the average household with credit card debt is carrying $15,310 on its cards.
Ouch! Sure, every penny you save counts, but there are smart ways to save and then there are long, grueling, ways that are almost always not worth the time and headaches.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Unless you are in dire financial straits, it’s probably not worth it to sweat the small savings if you have to give up your time to get it. Are you spending 30 minutes a week clipping coupons that ultimately save you just $10 a week at the grocery store? In essence, you’re earning $20 an hour for your time. Maybe that seems like a good deal, but remember that this isn’t actually money that you’re earning; it is free time that you are giving away. That could be time spent on your hobbies, with your family, or making dinner instead of eating out of a box. You may be able to save a similar amount by using a cash back rewards credit card as long as you pay off the balance each month.
Another easy way to spend gobs of time with little savings to show for it is to become swept away in price comparison shopping. Writer Kristin Wong described in an article for Lifehacker how she used to price compare everything, even toilet paper. Eventually, she realized that spending her evenings haunting price comparison websites and apps wasn’t really worth the few dollars she saved on the small stuff.
Sweat the Big Stuff
These days, Kristin limits herself to price comparing on items that are $30 or more. If you price compare, make it worth it. Spending 15 minutes to save $50 on a new comforter set you love is way smarter than spending the same amount of time in order to save $3 on laundry detergent. When you think about all the purchases you make in a given year, we bet that a small percentage of purchases will represent the lion’s share of your spending. Things like rent and mortgage payments, your car payment, your student loan payments, large electronics, appliances, and vacations will eat up a big part of your income each year. These are the things that are worth taking your time to buy.
For example, let’s say that you are finally ready to buy a home and are stuck deciding between two finalists. One home is selling for $325,000 and the other $350,000. You may think that the difference in price between the first and the second is only $25,000, but at 4% interest on a 30-year loan, you’ll be paying $42,967 less for the cheaper house over the life of the loan. That adds up to savings of $119 per month on your mortgage bill. You’d have to clip a lot of coupons to make up that monthly savings.
Likewise, vacations are a great area to save money. Taking a few hours after work to compare flights, check hotel deals, and even skim around on savings sites like Groupon could save you hundreds of dollars on your trip! (You could save even more with a staycation this year.)
Of course, be smart about your savings. Is saving $50 really worth enduring two layovers and tacking three extra hours onto your flight instead of choosing the direct flight? Not really!
Your time is valuable, so treat it that way! Take the time to save on the big stuff, but don’t feel guilty about paying a little more for the small stuff, especially if that gives you more free time to enjoy your family and your life! You can learn other great lessons on saving, like Five Mental Money Jedi Tricks to Build Up Your Rainy Day Fund, in our investment and saving article archive.