I often write about how a person can save a few dollars here and a few dollars there by making a few little changes in their life. For some of my readers, this seems pointless, and they’re quite happy to tell me so. “Why bother saving $3?” they’ll ask.
Over the last month or two, I’ve really begun to understand the reasons for frugality: those little choices snowball into something big over time. Let me show you exactly how it works.
Make your own laundry detergent
Let’s say I decide to try out being frugal by doing something that’s quite fun (at least for me): making a big bucket of homemade laundry detergent. Each load done with the homemade detergent described in that recipe versus the cost of Tide with Bleach Alternative saves me seventeen and a half cents. We do a load of laundry each day, so that adds up to $5.25 a month in savings.
Use that savings to buy a big pile of CFLs
You save that $5.25 every month and after three months, you have $15.75 saved up. You take that $15.75 and use it to buy a set of four 100 watt equivalent CFL bulbs and replace the 75 watt bulbs in the light fixtures in the room you spend a lot of time in - say, four hours a day. Since the bulbs are then free, you can rack up the savings. Each bulb is now savings 52 watts, or a total of 208 watts every hour they’re on - plus, they have the lifetime of five incandescent bulbs. So, over the course of the next year, you’ll save 208 watts over four hours each day for 365 days, plus the cost of three incandescent bulbs (roughly the number that will burn out over that year). If your electric company charges a dime per kilowatt hour, that means you’ll save $30.36 on your electric bill over the next year, plus you save on the cost of three incandescent bulbs, which cost about eighty cents each, you save $32.76 over the course of the year, or $2.73 per month.
Use that savings to buy a big pile of cloth diapers
Now, from the CFLs and the detergent, you’re saving $7.98 per month. Now you find out you’re pregnant, so you save up that $7.98 per month for seven months, giving you $55.86. You use that money to buy a three-pack of bumGenius cloth diapers from Cotton Babies (bumGenius are what we’re using). These diapers save you $0.26 per diaper change over disposable diapers and you’re able to run a load each day. That’s $23.40 for the first month, and then after two months, you’re able to order another batch of three, and after the third month, another batch - all paid for by frugal savings. After that, you’re saving $0.26 per change on an average of five changes per day - a savings of $39 per month. When the child grows out of diapers, you just keep saving that money anyway.
Use that savings to buy all of your nonperishables in bulk
Now that your savings all around is $46.98 per month, you are able to start buying things in bulk at the store. Instead of having to cut corners, you can buy things like rice, beans, dishwashing soap, garbage bags, bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, fabric softener, deodorant, and so on in bulk. You use one month’s worth of savings to get a membership at Costco and thereafter cut about $25 per month off of your spending because you’re buying many items in large quantities, storing them, and using them as you need them.
Use that savings to buy a deep freezer and start buying food in bulk to freeze
Your savings is now $70 per month with basically no lifestyle change at all. At this point, you set up an automatic deposit into an online savings account - $70 each month goes into that account, which earns 3% interest. After five months, you have $352 in the account, so you use it to buy a deep freezer for the frugal benefits. You then start buying items like bread and milk in bulk and freezing them, saving you another $5 a month. After two months, you’re able to afford buying a portion of a cow in bulk from a local farmer, already cut up and processed for you, substantially cheaper than at the store. You store this in the freezer, too, and all told, you wind up saving about $20 more a month on food costs.
Use that savings to buy a used, fuel-efficient economy car
You’re now socking away $90 a month into that savings account. Nine years later, the kid is old enough to be involved in a pile of youth activities, so you start looking for a more fuel-efficient and reliable car. You look in that account and magically there’s $10,971 in there ($90 a month, compounded at 3% annually). You trade in your current vehicle and pay for the rest of that late model fuel efficient car in cash. Your monthly gas bill drops by $60 and on average you’re saving $20 on repairs, too, with this new, efficient car, and that doesn’t even include the savings from not having to make a “normal” car purchase with payments and such.
Use that savings to pay for college
Now you’re socking $170 a month into the account. Nine years after that, your child is ready to go to college. You peek into that account. $20,724.57
And it all started twenty years before by making a batch of homemade laundry detergent.
That, my friends, is what frugality gets you. One little change, conserved over time, can snowball into something amazing. Why not get started today by finding a little change you can make in your life and putting away that difference?
The Simple Dollar chronicles a man's road to recovery from "total financial meltdown." As author Trent Hamm puts it, "The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two." We'll post a couple of entries a week, but you can check out his writing daily at www.thesimpledollar.com