Finding time to be thrifty

Spending Time vs. Saving Money

TDS Reader Contributors

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The Challenge

I am a second-year graduate student who is interested in being frugal. However, I have to put my studies first and comparison shopping, cutting coupons, etc. takes a lot of time and energy. Any ideas on how to save money on a tight budget, tight time and little energy to devote to thriftiness? What are the big things that I can do to save money?

Some Savings Don't Take Time

Here are my suggestions for this grad student:

  1. Remember that small savings on small items add up over time. So...I don't recommend coupons or price clubs. Buy store brands always, if you have a discount grocer in your area (we have ALDI which we love) use them. A lot of the store brands, even off brands are as good or better than regular brands. Everyone sticks with some name brand items but you can afford those with the other savings.
  2. Entertainment is the library! Most libraries have a large video selection now. If you are patient, you are likely to see a movie recently released on video. Also, CD-roms, books on tape and magazines in addition to good old books. Also, we use our local $1 show for movies. ($1.50 in some places now). These are usually as cheap or cheaper than a video if viewed by 2 people. (and you get the big screen experience).
  3. I catalog shop, primarily from JC Penney. It reduces impulse buying because you can look at an item forever before the actual purchase. Phone in order from catalog, pick up and if it doesn't workt they take it back with full refund. Sizes are nearly always in as are colors. Numerous sales catalogs and discount coupons come to you once you've ordered with them.
  4. Dining out. We really use our Entertainment book as we do enjoy dining out. 2 meals from nice restaurants will usually pay for the book. We really haven't used much besides food and movie coupons (rent one, get one free and ask video stores other than those in your book if they honor competitors coupons-alot will). There are fast food coupons galore in addition to fine dining. We base eating out (or try to) on what coupons we have available and usually eat half- price for that.

Those are my NO TIME money savers. I also recommend paying for things with green dollars (not dollars and change) and saving all your change. It's an easy way to start an emergency fund, vacation fund, etc and adds up quickly.
Kelly in Indiana

Biggest Savings in Meal Planning

I would focus your limited time on planning your meals and snacks. It is so easy, when you are rushed, to buy convenience food either at restaurants or in the grocery store. I would spend an hour or so each week planning your meals for the week and buying the necessary ingredients to make them from scratch. Shopping and cooking this way really doesn't take that much longer and it will save you money and time in that you won't have to spend time wondering what you'll have for lunch today or spend money grabbing a $5 sandwich somewhere because you didn't have any food in the house.
Deborah G.

Five Tips from a Former Grad Student

I was in grad school a couple of years ago and here are some of the things I did to save money:

  1. Grocery shopping - find a store that offers "buy-one-get-one-free" specials. They usually run a new ad each week, so you can pick up good bargains without having to clip coupons. The items are usually student-menu-friendly (cereal, pasta, canned goods).
  2. Share books - my professors always had a long list of "suggested" or "supplemental" books for their courses. I shared the cost of the books with friends and photocopied any parts I might have to refer to frequently. We usually worked out the sharing of the entire text without much fuss. (Of course, always buy used books if you can.)
  3. Thrift shops - there are always neat second-hand clothes shops around campus. You can usually find some great clothes for a fraction of new clothes prices (and the styles usually fit in just fine with the college crowd).
  4. Quick lunches - I always carried snacks and water in my back-pack so that I wouldn't have to pay snack-bar and vending machine prices on campus. The $2 or $3 dollars you save each day really adds up!
  5. Parking permits - Don't buy one if possible! They're usually very expensive. I walked to school as often as possible. For the days that I had to drive, I bought a stack of one-day permits. The $25 that I spent for 25 days was much less expensive than the hundreds of dollars I would have spent for a full-semester pass.


Coupon Believer

Believe me, the time spent cutting coupons and using them at the store is well worth it. I work full time and take grad courses part time and I still find time to cut coupons and look through grocery store circulars to get the best deals. When I do my grocery shopping and use coupons carefully I can save anywhere from one dollar to 20 or 30 dollars. If you are really committed to saving $$, you must find the time to do what it takes.
Melissa M.

Stop the Waste

For many people, the biggest out-of-pocket expense is eating out. Find a convenient grocery store and start cooking at home. Make brown bag lunches (and breakfasts and dinners) to save expenses. Don't worry about clipping coupons or following sale ads. You will save money by cooking for yourself over eating out even if your nearest grocery charges twice as much as one across town.
Susan S.

Savings Without Coupons

Here are some Tips on Saving Time and Money when Food Shopping: You can save a lot on food without clipping coupons. Most coupons are for convenience foods and items that we don't really need. Have friends or relatives send you coupons for your favorite brand-preferred items. Eat simple foods that are close to their natural state. Buy things when they are on sale. Eat produce which is in season. Save time shopping by cruising the perimeter of the store: produce, dairy and meat items are generally found here. Most of the other aisles contain things that we don't really need. Make large portions when you do cook and freeze the leftovers. Keep your freezer stocked with these homemade convenience foods. These are much cheaper and better for you than purchased convenience foods and you save preparation time. Shop at a local market rather than a large chain store; their prices tend to be cheaper overall. If you don't have time to compare prices, pick up the circular when you enter the store. Peruse the first and last pages and mentally note which items you will buy.
Jane B.

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'Network' Your Time

Tell her to start pooling her money with friends. Also have each friend look for deals and discounts then report back to the group. Store info in lists/databases- what's needed & when; the best resources & prices; who offers what; etc. Refer to the lists frequently adding and deleting when necessary. Setting this system up requires time. However, further changes requires only require minimal effort. It is really worth it!

Other time & money savers: take advantage of university and public facilities, property, supplies, offers, etc. Also ask (local) merchants for student discounts (if the answer is "NO" ask "WHY" and explain the benefits of having a rush of students continually using their business, not to mention the power of word-of-mouth and the good will created with the university and students).
Arthur H

Easier Once You Start

Find a roommate who is accomplished at saving & stretching income. Also, remember that it takes more time & energy to get a system in place than it does to maintain that system -- once you master discount shopping, you will find it doesn't atke much more time.

As you compromise your standard of living, remember that it is temporary -- you will earn your degree within a certain amount of time & then will adjust to a a different income.
Jean M.D.

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