Does it Cost Money to Save Money?

Clipping coupons, looking at sales papers. Shopping around for better rates on car insurance. Researching before a major purchase.

Money saving experts typically recommend these types of strategies when asked how to save money. They have one thing in common: they take time.

When does it stop being worth it?

I have five kids – that makes time a very limited resource. The graphic above shows an estimate of about $15 per week “saved” with coupons, and the monetary value of the time that takes.  What is difficult to quantify is how much money would have been spent without researching grocery sales papers, finding good deals, making a grocery list…

This graphic is based on my average personal experience. This article at the Wall Street Journal shows entirely different numbers, so it may vary based on the local stores and coupons you have access to, motivation, family size, etc. The author says:

If motivation is an issue, the next time you find yourself facing a stack of coupon booklets and flyers don’t ask yourself if you can be bothered. Try asking yourself if you’d like to earn more than $100 an hour for a job you can do, at home, while sitting on the sofa watching TV.

Again, this has not been my experience with coupons, though there have been some weeks that I’ve saved more than $15.  I’m a huge advocate of coupons; I enjoy using them and most weeks I feel like they add value to my budget. Other times, though, I question whether they are as useful as I perceive them to be.

Sometimes we have time but not money. Other times we have money but no time. I’m not a money saving expert, but I’m beginning to believe that, just maybe, whichever resource is the most scarce at the moment is the one that we value the most.

I’m trying to prioritize and make sure that the things I am spending my time on are the things that are the most valuable. “Value” is not relegated to a financial context, though. Time, for instance, can be given a dollar-value in some contexts, but how do you decide how much money it’s worth to spend an hour with your children? your husband? cleaning the house? These things vary from person to person (and sometimes day-to-day).

No discussion about money is ever “just” about money. That’s probably why Jesus spoke about money more often than he spoke about heaven and hell combined. The way we spend our money reflects what we value.

What about you? What types of “cost savings” do you take advantage of? Is clipping coupons worth it for you?

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8 Responses to “Does it Cost Money to Save Money?”

  1. em says:

    It is more appropriate to say is it worth more than watching Fringe or Bones or whatever you waste your time on than something like working. It is easy to say you could have worked that time instead — but the question you have to keep in mind is would you have?

    • Lindsay says:

      Alright, that one hurts!

      So how do you quantify "down time"?

      • em says:

        Sorry – there is nothing comfortable about the journey you are beginning to go through.

        I don't quantify down time. I just try to fit it in where I can when I need it — and when I do, it is a MAJOR priority. My body and mind tend to let me know when that is.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I have to agree with you on the coupons. I do think they are valuable and I do use them as much as possible but I rely solely on looking them up online once I know what I'm getting. If I find coupons for what I already plan on buying, then I download and print them. The problem there is that they eat up a bunch of my computer ink and paper so there's a cost there as well. I simply do not have enough free time available that I'm willing to use a large chunk of it on researching sales and matching up coupons and clipping/organizing coupons. I have yet to save more than $20 on one trip and usually it's just under $10. For the time I put into finding those coupons on those occasions, I feel like it was worth it, however, for me to see the big savings that you hear about, I would have to spend hours. Hours I don't have.

    So, to answer your question about what we do to save money, the answer is several different things. I got rid of the expensive cell phone plan and am on a really cheap one. We only eat out on Sundays – this one has saved us the most money. We used to eat out ALL the time and spend several hundred dollars on fast food each month, now it's only $80 for both of us put together, which is pretty good! I have been cloth diapering part-time now to save on buying diapers (I use ones I purchased when Brooklyn was a baby and never used on her much). I barely leave the house to avoid using gas for anything other than going places like church and to the store. (this one is starting to get to me – I am having a little cabin fever).

    Saving money is hard work!

  3. Louise says:

    we don't have coupons in Australia, but I wish we did. I think it can be a great way to save if you can get stuff you use. I'd skip a lot of the processed foods and it is about weighing up how much the time it takes costs you.

  4. Brian says:

    Those aren't necessarily quantifiable in fixed, hard-dollar costs, either. For instance, if you can get oil and filter for $10 and it takes Jeremy an hour to change the oil, are you still ahead of the 15 minutes and $20 it would have taken at Jiffy Lube?

    In this particular, I say, "yes," but I have a low time preference. Very low. In addition to the saved money, Jeremy could use the time to bond with the boys (or girls) and teach them valuable life-skills–i.e., how to change the oil in one's car. Likewise, you and Jeremy could, for example, have conversation time while you both clip coupons; I'm sure other apples-to-apples comparisons abound.

    Also, as far as the economic costs associated with the time spent (e.g., how much money could I earn instead), unless you are instead actually doing something to earn money at the time, the question is moot.

    • Lindsay says:

      I agree, Brian, but my question is – should I USE that time to clip coupons or should I use that time to work? This isn't always true, but often it's a choice between the two.

      Still, the comparison isn't perfect. Since I HAVE to make a grocery list, and that will take 45 minutes, I'm probably not adding an entire hour to that particular job when I'm clipping coupons. It's very difficult to quantify.

      That's why my final conclusion remains: "…whichever resource is the most scarce at the moment is the one that we value the most."

  5. [...]  Then I remembered, “I don’t need that for any meals this week.” So without clipping a single coupon, I saved $7.  (This wasn’t the “best sale ever” so I didn’t have a problem [...]

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