How To Be Frugal With Your Time, Not Just Your Money
What do you do with your time? The most common topic of conversation here on Frugalwoods is “what do you do with your money?” but I posit that how you use your time is directly correlated with how you use your money. In my opinion and experience, time and money are our two greatest resources and the resources with the power to impact every single facet of our lives. I’ve heard folks say that their health, their family, their children, or their pets are their greatest resources, but I think that all of those wonderful elements of life aren’t resources; rather, they’re the products of how we use our resources–namely, our time and our money.
The number one reason why Mr. Frugalwoods and I wanted to achieve financial independence and move out here to our homestead was to control how we use our time. Controlling our money was the crucial first step in making this happen, but ultimately, our goal was to have complete discretion over how the hours in our day are allocated (of course, as parents, how our time is allocated is a totally different story for a different day… ).
Empower Yourself To Use Your Time As You Want
I didn’t want to look back on my life at age 90 and realize I’d spent the bulk of it sitting in a cubicle in an office doing work for other people. And so, I committed myself to radically changing the way I utilize my money–I stopped spending, I started saving, and I invested. My money bought me my freedom, but what I mean by “freedom” is that my money bought me the ability to decide how I spend my time. Yeah, money is important, but money without control over your time is worthless. What’s the point of having mountains of cash if you’re not living the life you want to be living?
In this way, choosing frugality over spending is a way of empowering yourself to do the things you want to do–not the things you must do. It’s easy to get slotted into a predetermined mode of existence. It happens to most of us without our even realizing and it happened to me for sure. We find ourselves with a job, a mortgage, bills, debt, day care payments, fill in the blank payments, and so, we have to keep working a job we might not like in order to support a lifestyle we might not enjoy. Inertia keeps us going in a direction we might not have chosen, but that we see no alternative to. We work for the weekends, we look forward to vacations, we hope things will get better without taking any action steps towards improvement. Why do we do this to ourselves? It is possible to break out of this cycle. It is possible to regain control of your life. But it takes discipline and an overarching sense of knowing what it is that you do want out of life. And, contrary to popular myth, frugality is not inconsistent with using time wisely–I find there are many ways to spend both less money and less time. More on that concept here: Time vs. Money: How We Choose.
My question for you now is: what do you want to do with your time? And how does that compare with our initial query of: what do you do with your time? How far out of alignment are your answers? My answers to those two questions used to be poles apart. I was working in an office for other people in the city and didn’t have kids while what I wanted to be doing was working at home on my own business in the country with kids. Now that I’ve brought that aspiration to fruition, I find that I still have room to improve on my daily routines. How I use my time every single day equals the life I will have. Everything I do or don’t do will be reflected later on through either regret or pride.
In the past, I simply trudged through a day, a week, a month. I didn’t bring much intention to how my hours were used. I was young (I still am, right?!?) and I sort of assumed I had loads of time to accomplish things in the future. I was also a victim of doing things I thought I was “supposed” to do, as opposed to things I wanted to do. Now, I find myself in a very different iteration of life, with very little time to myself–that’s what parenting and homesteading will do to you. As a result, how I use my time underwent a dramatic shift. I get more done in less time and am actually far more productive than I used to be pre-kid and pre-homestead. This is not due to alchemy or magic, it’s due entirely to prioritization. Ruthless prioritization. I’ve discussed this concept before, but today I want to dig into concrete examples.
Conduct A Time Audit
If you find yourself not accomplishing the things you want (which probably applies to all of us… ), perform a time audit. In exactly the same way as we all track every dollar we spend, we’re going to track every hour of our time (hint: if you’re not tracking your expenses yet, I use and recommend the free service of Personal Capital for this task). You don’t have to do this forever, but for a day or for a week write down how you use your time. Where do the hours of your day go? What are the activities that comprise your life?
Now that we all know how we use our time, what can you eliminate entirely from your routine? Back in 2014 when Mr. FW and I outlined our plan to quit our jobs and move to our homestead, I had the realization that the ways in which I used my time and my money were inconsistent with my longterm goals. Another element of this exercise is to uncover if–like me–you have unrealistic expectations of how much you can accomplish in a day. I fight that battle with myself all the time and it’s an ongoing struggle for me to understand what’s reasonable for me to get done. It’s such a problem for me, in fact, that I have an entire post dedicated to the topic: The Tyranny Of Time Optimism.
Through my own time audit, I learned I was wasting both my time and my money on short-term desires that did nothing to get me closer to my aspirations in life. You all know the full story of how we stripped away all of our unnecessary spending, and if you’d like to follow the steps we took to save over 70% of our income and reach financial independence, you can take my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge. What you might not know is that around that same time, I eliminated tons of time wasters.
Parallel to my desire to move to our homestead was my desire to build up my online business and I couldn’t do that (while working full-time) with all the drains on my time that I’d incorporated into my life. I wanted to start doing the things I’d always said I’d do–namely, writing for a living–and so, I eliminated activities that didn’t bring me fulfillment and didn’t align with my priorities. Why waste time doing things that don’t matter in the long run?
Here are some of the things I stopped doing in order to claw back more hours in my day:
- Painting my finger and toe nails. I did this ritual myself, which made it cheap in terms of money, but not cheap in terms of time. I spent hours each week on my home manicure/pedicure. By giving this up, I regained those hours and saved money on nail polish as an added benefit. I now paint my nails once or twice a year for special occasions, which makes it a fun treat as opposed to a weekly time-draining chore.
- Watching TV. Mr. FW and I watch one show together every night, but that’s it. No TV during the day, no second TV show, no movies (too long). We could eliminate this one TV show, but we enjoy relaxing together on the couch and it’s part of our evening wind-down ritual after Babywoods 1 goes to bed. (side note: here’s how we watch TV for free).
- Daily hair and makeup. I greatly simplified my morning routine and stopped wearing makeup most days. I usually put my hair up into a simple bun, which takes very little time and lasts all day. I started having Mr. FW cut my hair and, as a result, saved a boatload of money. But most profound of all, I became more confident in who I am and what I look like. I occassionally wear makeup for fun, but it’s no longer a daily preoccupation and time suck.
- Cleaning the house. OK, I didn’t stop cleaning the house, but I did decrease the frequency of my cleanings. We still pick-up the living areas and clean the kitchen every night and I clean our main floor bathroom and vacuum weekly, but other stuff… doesn’t get done quite as often. And you know what? It’s totally fine and it takes me much, much less time.
- Shopping. I don’t shop anymore. Groceries are essentially the only thing we buy on a regular basis. Ceasing my trips to thrift stores just to browse or in search of great deals on clothing served to: save time, save money, reduce stress, and reduce the amount of clutter in my home. I still cruise garage sales on occasion but I try to focus in only on things I know we need.
What I realized in either eliminating or reducing the amount of time I spent on all of these activities is that I’d been dedicating precious hours of my life to things that ultimately don’t matter to me. Watching TV doesn’t make me a happier, more productive person and a lengthy morning routine doesn’t mean I’ll have a better, more fulfilling day.
Identifying and then eliminating drains on my time that serve no lasting purpose is an ongoing quest for me. I question my routines constantly and I question the things I choose to do because I only have so many hours in a day. Between parenting Babywoods 1 and working from home and helping out on the homestead and being pregnant, there’s only do much I can accomplish in a given time frame.
Thus, the things I decide to do have to be in alignment with my longterm goals. Given this, there’s a whole lot that I just don’t do. For example, people are shocked that I don’t do arts and crafts–I mean, come on, I’m a frugal momma on a homestead! But frankly, I hate arts and crafts and don’t want to spend my time on them. So, I don’t. I’d rather do yoga in my free time and so, I do.
In that same vein, there’s a whole lot that I don’t spend money on. How my time and money get used are unique to me, very personal, and related to what I want my life to look like. How you choose to use your time and money will necessarily be different because your goals, your circumstances, and your likes and dislikes are different than mine. The key is that you do what works for you and what makes you happy.
What About Required Stuff That I Hate Doing?
It’s easy to chop out unneeded activities (like surfing social media and watching TV), but then there’s a whole slew of things–we’ll call them chores–that we have to do but might not enjoy doing. How to handle this category of items? I approach these required tasks with several guiding principles:
- Enshrine efficiency
- Create a routine
First, efficiency. For everything I have to do, I find ways to do it as efficiently as possible. I get to this point of efficiency primarily through trial and error. I consider the most efficient time of day for a chore and the best way to get it done. For example, the most efficient way for our laundry to dry outside is in the morning when the sun shines onto our back porch.
Hence, I start loads of laundry first thing in the morning before I even eat breakfast. If I don’t do this, I’m left with partially dried clothes that have to be brought inside to dry overnight, which creates more work for me. By leveraging the sunniest part of the day, I economize the time I spend doing laundry. (This works in the wintertime too when I dry clothes in our kitchen taking advantage of the morning sun that streams through our bay windows).
Mr. FW and I apply efficiency-oriented principles to everything we do and we look for ways to streamline our work. One of the primary ways that we get things done with a toddler underfoot is knowing what we can do with Babywoods 1 and what we can’t do with her. Let’s continue with laundry. Babywoods 1 LOVES to “help” me fold and put away laundry; hence, I save that chore for a time when she’s awake. Folding laundry during her naps would rob me of the opportunity to do things I can’t do with her around (namely, writing). Hence, my days and my weeks are largely oriented around things I do with Babywoods 1 and things I need to do alone. When she’s napping or with Mr. Frugalwoods, I am usually on my computer working. And when she’s with me, we are doing an active chore together like emptying the dishwasher or picking tomatoes in the garden.
Second, delegation. This works if you have other people living in your household. If you live alone, this point may be moot, although let me know if not! Mr. FW and I have a clearly divided list of household responsibilities that we very rarely (if ever) deviate from. We have this division of labor for several reasons:
- It eliminates (most) fighting over household tasks. We don’t argue over who will get the baby up or cook dinner or take the trash out because these are all enshrined in our division of labor. There are fewer decisions for us to make in a day because we both know what’s expected of us.
- It engenders fairness and equality. There’s less resentment in our marriage because we feel that this division of labor is equitable and so there’s no argument over who is doing more work for the family.
- It allows us to specialize in our areas of expertise. By doing the same chores over and over again for many years, we’ve both gotten better at what we do and refined our techniques, which in turn allows us to get our chores done faster.
- It ensures everything gets done. We don’t get to the end of the day and wonder why the floor is dirty and what we’re going to eat for dinner and who will take Frugal Hound out because we’ve each taken care of our respective tasks.
Thirdly, routine. Similar to our division of labor, we both adhere to a routinized schedule. I always do the laundry and clean the downstairs bathroom on Mondays. Mr. FW always goes to the grocery store on Mondays. This routine creates even more efficiency by eliminating time spent dithering over when to make a grocery list and also lets the other person know what’s happening in the household on a given day. It eliminates the mental energy of trying to determine if the bathroom is dirty or not (it is), it simply gets cleaned every Monday, no questions asked.
Mr. FW, our household cook, utilizes efficiency and routine in how he approaches our meals. Rather than cook every single night of the week, which between working and homesteading and parenting he never has the time for, he only cooks once or sometimes twice a week. Seriously. He whips up a huge batch-o-food once a week (right now it’s kale, chard, and green bean stir fry to use up all these veggies from our garden) and then we eat that all week long. Other times, he’ll freeze large batch meals and we’ll defrost something different each night. Either way, we eat inexpensive, healthy, home cooked meals every night with a fraction of the time and effort.
Enshrine efficiency into everything that you do with an eye towards spending your time (and as a result, your money) in ways that YOU enjoy and in ways that YOU want to–not in ways that you feel you must or have to.
Set A Bed Time
I want to mention another ironclad element of our routine: a strict bed time. Before getting our lives together–both financially and in terms of how we use our time and what we want in the long term–Mr. FW and I went to bed… whenever. We stayed up late. We were tired and grouchy every single morning. We stayed up even later on the weekends, which threw off our entire sleep cycle.
It took us YEARS (we’re not fast learners), but we finally figured out that we both need A LOT of sleep. Like a lot. And so, we go to bed at 9pm and then read for awhile and turn our lights out at 10pm. Every night. We wake up when Babywoods 1 wakes up, which is always sometime between 6:30am and 7am. I told you, we need a lot of sleep!
No matter how much is undone at 9pm, no matter how many unread emails we have, no matter how tempting another TV show sounds, we go to bed. It’s non-negotiable because we both operate better, feel better, and are just generally nicer people with a full night’s sleep. Trying to cram more work into the wee hours is not a way to create greater efficiency (at least not for me). For me, it’s better to do less and still get all of my sleep than to eat away at those hours of rest and compromise my ability to function (and function happily, might I add). More sleep makes me more productive.
I want to mention that while this system works remarkably well for us, it might not work for you. However, I know people who are unhappily stuck in patterns of using their time and money in ways that are frustrating and unfulfilling to them. The goal here is to identify what works in your life and what doesn’t work and what you can change to improve how your week flows.
I am fond of saying that, “in the end, the only person who will care how you’ve lived your life is you,” and it bears repeating here because how we use our time is perhaps the best indicator of the type of life we’ll have. How we spend our money can prevent or enable a lifestyle, but ultimately, the true measure of who we are is how we use our time. How do you use yours?
What strategies do you employ to ensure that your time usage is in alignment with your priorities?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.