You’ve heard it said that time is money. Well, it’s mostly true, and money is time too. Money buys you time, to retire, to pay someone to mow your lawn or watch your kids. In the same way, when you’ve got a little free time to spend, you can use it to save more money.

Here are a few ways to spend your time that can yield savings–big and small. I’ve included how much time I estimate they’ll take, based on my own experience or how I would go about doing them.

Saving Money on Groceries and Staples

1) Learn how to play the CVS game.

This is one of the more time-intensive ways to save money, but once you’ve learned how to do it, it becomes a lot faster (I hear). CVS offers coupons, sales, and ExtraCare bucks (good as cash) which you can combine to get lots of goods for little to nothing. Check out the tutorial linked above or this CVS tutorial on Being Frugal is Fabulous, or head on over to for in-depth instructions, plus tools and deals. (estimated time: several hours spread over several days of figuring it out and practicing)

2) Clip old-fashioned coupons.

If that’s too intense, try sticking with the old-fashioned kinds of coupons. You can get these in newspapers, fliers in your mailbox, receipts, at your workplace (mine has a box for people to bring in coupon sheets), and at your local library (depending on your library).

Stockpile the ones you get and use free time to sort through them and clip the useful ones. (estimated time: 5-20 min)

3) Find coupons and deals online.

Take some time to subscribe to blogs which regularly post coupons and deals. Then, when you’ve got the time to check your feed reader, see what you can save on right now.

Some good sites to start with are Common Sense with Money, Bargain Briana, Saving Cents with Sense, and Stretching a Buck.

estimated time: 20 min to subscribe, you can check reader in one go or here and there, 5-30 min)

Also visit places like FatWallet if you’re looking for a specific coupon.

(estimated time: 10 min)

4) Create a price book.

You use a price book to track the prices of items you regularly buy. It can be something as simple as tracking toilet paper and bread sales to tracking all your staples to tracking anything you might buy. The advantages of having a price book are a) comparing prices at stores more easily, b) finding out if an item is really on sale, c) figuring out the sales cycles at your local stores.

For more on creating a price book check out this price book post at Gather Little by Little.

(estimated time: an extra 10 min during shopping every week, another 20 min a week to compare stores. Or an extra hour to check out extra stores)

5) Organize your pantry.

Whenever I clean my cupboards, I discover things I’d stuck somewhere and forgotten: noodles, rice, spices, saran wrap. Saves me money on buying new items when I’ve already got what I need. Also keeps the money from being wasted if the food goes bad.

(estimated time: depends on your cupboards, for me about 30 min)


1) Combine your insurance plans.

If you’re insured under two providers (i.e. one home/renters and one car), you may be able to save some money by bringing them together. Call both providers and ask what kind of deal they can offer you or bringing over your auto or home/renter’s plan.

(estimated time: 30 min)

2) Call around looking for new deals.

It’s comfortable to simply renew your insurance year after year. But you could be missing out on savings with another insurance provider. Call the major companies (State Farm, All State, Erie, etc) and get estimates. Even if it’s not time to renew, you can tuck that away and call to confirm the offer’s still available when the time comes to renew.

(estimated time: 1 hour)

Save Money Banking

Ok, with banking it’s more like making money, but since the money goes into your savings account, it still increases your savings.

1) Open a high(er) interest checking or savings account at ING Direct or somewhere similar.

Many free checking accounts pay no interest. Why not switch (or move most of your checking) to one who does? I use ING’s Electric Orange Checking for everything but paying the rent. My money doesn’t earn much, but it earns over .25% more than my Wachovia checking. And I can immediately transfer money to my ING Savings, which is earning 1.4% and transfer it back before I need it (though savings accounts are limited to 6 withdrawals per month).

Neither is much to brag about considering rates a couple years ago, but rates go up just as they go down.

(estimated time: 1 hour)

2) Create a CD ladder.

One thing I love about ING is that it’s so easy to create a CD ladder there. Check out my post for screenshots and information. Opening a CD ladder can help you earn more on money that would have been in savings otherwise.

(estimated time: 15 min if you already have an ING account)

What about you?

This post is far from comprehensive, just some money-saving ideas that I’ve been thinking about lately. What have you found gives the best ROI when you spend free time to save money?

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Erica August 14, 2009 at 8:40 am

Pay for things with cash – even though it takes time to plan out the cash budget, to walk inside the gas station instead of just swiping, it saves money and time later. With cash, it’s preplanned, I know I can afford it, and I don’t have to write the purchase in the checkbook and reconcile. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about it.

Miranda August 14, 2009 at 8:55 am

My husband loves a good deal. So whenever we buy some consumer item (TV, lawn mower, etc.), he checks Consumer Reports to figure out what is the best value, then calls around town and checks online to see where we can get the best deal.

I do think it is worth noting that sometimes the time is more valuable. In some cases, we do a quick assessment and decide that taking the time to do something really isn’t worth it; we’d rather have that time to spend and spend a little more money.
.-= Miranda´s last blog ..Retail Sales Illustrate New Spending Habits =-.

mrsmicah August 14, 2009 at 10:09 pm

@Erica, all-cash and envelope budgeting are some very good ways to make sure you don’t go over your spending limit. 🙂 I’d make an exception at our gas station because it’s always full and everyone pays in cash (one of two in a heavily populated area). But if you’re willing to spend the time, it helps.
@Miranda, because I don’t have a lot of free time, I generally limit my deal-seeking/couponing to large consumer items as well. Saving money on them pays off nicely.

Leigh August 15, 2009 at 7:46 am

I’m a huge believer in spending some time doing a kitchen inventory every couple of weeks or once a month. I also like to do what I call a kitchen clean-out once a month. I basically round up anything that’s been in my fridge or pantry too long and find a recipe that allows me to use it. I have sort of an internal contest with myself to see how many new and creative ways I can come up with for using up things.

(not sure what you’re linking policy is but I’m linking an article below – feel free to remove)
.-= Leigh´s last blog ..Home for a day or so =-.

Marcy August 15, 2009 at 7:53 am

This is great info! Thanks so much for sharing, and for the link to my site. 🙂
.-= Marcy´s last blog ..$1/1 Naked Juice Printable Coupon =-.

chessiq August 15, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I was wondering if things like cooking your own meals (to brown bag or just not to eat out) qualifies. It takes sometime but it can yield some nice savings. May be it is not inline with the theme of the post?
.-= chessiq´s last blog ..CPA Exam REG preparation (6 days to go) =-.

Kandace August 15, 2009 at 8:42 pm

I have a magnetized notepad on my refrigerator door and when I open a new box or container of an item I use often, such as dishwashing liquid or olive oil, I write that item down on the list. The notepad acts as a running grocery list for me.

I save time by buying a “spare” the next time I am at the grocery store and not making a special trip to get it. Keeping my pantry stocked saves me both time and money in the end. I can also pull together something to eat from what I have on hand
.-= Kandace´s last blog ..Spaghetti Pie =-.

marci August 20, 2009 at 8:18 am

Do It Yourself.
Take the time to sew your pillow covers, sew your curtains, do your mending and repairs, sew on the buttons to make clothes last longer, and sew Christmas gifts. All save money in exchange for time.

Paint your house yourself – easy enough. Saves oodles of money.

Grow a garden. Harvest your garden.
Go fishing, clamming, crabbing, hunting, and preserve your catch. Learn to can, freeze, dehydrate, and cook from scratch with your home stocked cupboards. Saves big money!!!

Find your library’s online order site – Put a hold on library books, movies, music, magazines. Then just go in and pick them up at the front desk. Save money by not buying the books!

Cook huge once a month or twice a month and freeze meals for easy eating later. Is cheaper to do large batches, and saves that dining out money when you are pressed for time to fix dinner.

Take the time to ask yourself – is there some way to do “this” without spending money, or without spending as much money??? Learn to do it yourself, and save oodles!

Roger August 22, 2009 at 1:31 am

Good list of ways to use your time in order to save money. My best conversion of time into money savings is to compare the sales at various local stores along with online sources.

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