The Austerity Diaries: How Saving Money Is Better Than Earning It

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

By Daisy Luther

We live in a society in which we pay for convenience.

The very best way to save money is to spend time. This is one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned from my all-time favorite book, The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

Take a pizza, for example. Someone, somewhere, has to do the work to create that pizza. It might be more than one person.  But you pay for every set of hands involved in getting that meal in front of you. In a restaurant, you might be paying for the cook and for the server.  If you tend to get convenience meals at the grocery store, you are paying for someone else to have made the dough and assembled the pizza that you will in turn place in the oven at home.

But if you make that pizza yourself, you have taken the time to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, let it rise, punch it down, let it rise more, and finally roll it out onto your pizza stone or pan. Then you are spending your time making the sauce, spreading it on, and topping the pizza with your favorite meats, veggies, and cheeses.  All in all, you’ll probably spend about an hour of hands-on time making that pizza.  And time is money.

So, let’s take this down to dollars and cents. You might spend $30 to have that pizza at a restaurant or $15 to buy the pre-assembled pizza at the store. The ingredients are going to cost anywhere from $3-$5.  This means that your hourly wage for making that pizza at home is approximately, at minimum $10 an hour, and at maximum  $25 an hour. Best of all, it’s tax free and you know exactly what is in the pizza you make at home.

Now, let’s look at a bigger example. Let’s take the average 10 hour workday (including commute, lunch breaks, etc.)  Now spend that day productively at home.  Here are some things you might do that other people pay for:

  • Growing food $20
  • Yard work $40
  • Cleaning house $50
  • Preparing food from scratch $30
  • Mending clothes and doing laundry $20
  • Childcare – all day, simultaneous with other tasks $75 for 2 kids
  • Bathing and grooming the dog $65
  • Walk the dog at lunchtime $10
  • Make your own cleaning products and health and beauty aids $20

If you add all of those things up, you are talking about a LOT of money.  I based my totals on the prices of those services and goods in my area,  and on an average day, I could “earn” $330.  Tax free.  On an annual basis of a 5 day work week, that is the equivalent of just over $85,000 per year. Again, let me reiterate: tax free, which can save you another 15-30%.

Okay…I know that is not absolutely practical math and that people who work outside the home also do many of these things along with their workplace responsibilities.  The point is, we all pay for conveniences unless we make a concentrated effort not to do so. We have all purchased laundry detergent at the store for 20 times what it costs to make a toxin free version at home. We have all grabbed a frozen pizza to make our lives easier on a busy day. When we work outside the home, most of us have to pay someone to care for our children if we aren’t lucky enough to have family around to help out.  All of this stuff adds up, and some of it can’t be helped.

It’s vital, though, to look at the savings you are able to make, as money.  Spending your time instead of spending your money can be incredibly profitable.

So along these lines, have you stopped to consider whether or not all of the things that you do for money are really worthwhile? Or are you just trading that time for someone else’s time?  We all have to keep a roof over our heads and keep the utilities on, but we don’t have to have all of the little luxuries that the marketing industry strives to convince us are necessities.

If you make $20 an hour, think about how long you have to work to earn the following:

  • Starbucks coffee: 15 minutes
  • Dinner for 4 at a restaurant: 3 hours
  • Pre-made individual salads at the grocery store: 15 minutes
  • Bathed dog: 3 and a half hours

A thrifty lifestyle is great for your family

By doing things for yourself, you can save a fortune every year. You can reduce your outgoing expenses to the point that you might have the freedom to have one parent stay at home with the kiddos.

In turn, this can reduce your costs even more: suddenly there is no babysitter to pay and the at-home parent will have the time to do some of the other tasks for which you’ve previously had to pay for another person’s time.

Not only does this reduce your expenses though – it can improve your quality of life dramatically. Suddenly you have time for garden fresh produce, home-canned spaghetti sauce, and playing with the kids. You can teach your children how to grow and dry herbs, take them for walks to the library, and live the lesson that time is far more valuable than money. You can include them on the journey towards self-sufficiency and the reward is independent children who actually KNOW their parents.


A thrifty lifestyle can be much healthier

Many of the things that you do to save money are far healthier than the conveniences that you pay for. This is only true, of course, if you consciously choose the healthier option and not just the cheap option. A few positive health benefits might be:

Making these choices means that you suddenly have a lifestyle free of the toxic chemicals that most people are surrounded by.

It teaches a self-sufficient mindset

Remember the old saying from the Depression?

Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without

That’s like a creed in our house.

We use the dish soap right down to the very last drop, then we add water, shake it up, and use that for a couple of days.  Before we began making our own toothpaste, we’d actually cut open the tube that most folks would throw out and have an extra week of toothpaste we could scrape out.  A basket sits in the living room beside a comfy chair.  That basket contains all of the things that need to be mended, as well as the necessary repair supplies. (I can’t be the only person who actually darns socks, can I?)  When I sit down with my family to watch a movie on Netflix, I like to do the mending. If there is nothing that requires repair, I like to make things, like dishcloths, rag rugs, or gifts.

A lot can be done with an iron and some spray starch to make older clothes look crisp and new.

Most of the consumer goods today are designed with “planned obsolescence” in mind.  I used to work in the automotive industry and learned that some vehicles  are designed with a 3-4 year lifespan in mind. At that point, components begin to fail and many consumers will then replace the vehicle with a newer model.The same is true with many other goods that you buy in the store. The mass manufacturers intend that you purchase a replacement in a few years. Items are not engineered with the potential for repair.

When making purchases, I would prefer to spend more money on a solidly made item with fewer plastic parts because I know it will last longer and that I will be able to either repair it myself or have it repaired if it breaks down.

Defy the mass manufacturers by doing everything possible to repair an item before replacing it. And if it turns out that you MUST replace it, go for something of better quality if it is at all possible. Sometimes that better quality item might actually be an older item found at a thrift store or yard sale, because back in the day, planned obsolescence was not the goal of engineering like it is now.

Even better, don’t replace it at all. If you can find a way to “do without” the item, you’ve won.  For example, my home has  a dryer, but I rarely use it. I got out of the habit in a previous home because my dryer broke and I didn’t have the money to have it repaired or to replace it. I discovered that for a few dollars I could hang a clothesline and have fresh, crisp, air-dried laundry. What’s more, it didn’t run up my utility bills.  Necessity bred a solution that was superior to the original situation.

I’m not much of a builder, but I’ve created relatively attractive bookcases using lumber that was kicking around the house and some sturdy boxes that I painted a nice color. When you think creatively, you’d be astonished at what you can create using what you already have on hand or can easily acquire from your environment.

When you think you “need” something, take a day or two to consider how you might be able to repair, substitute or adapt – often you will find that you didn’t actually “need” that item in the first place.

How do you save money by spending time?

The road to frugality is not earning more money – it’s spending less. Saving money is far superior to earning it because the government can’t tax what you don’t earn or spend. A philosophy of personal thrift goes a long way towards “starving the beast.”

Do you have anything that you choose to do for yourself that other folks pay for? Do friends and family stand in awe of your cheapness as they watch you refuse to pay for things that other folks spend money on every day? Share your ideas and stories in the comments below!

Use it up

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Thirty plus years ago, before marriage, I decided that I would not use paper towels or paper napkins and use cloth instead. I/we did this raising six kids. Their only objection was “animal pick up” Sooner or later animals will do something yucky that needs to be removed. Definitely a kid job, I offered reusable “rubber” gloves, old newspapers, and TP. They thought it simply awful that I refused to buy a roll of PT, but I felt if I purchased even one, they would use it up. I didn’t want to get into that trap. Today my girls are advocates of using cloth, but, alas, my two DIL’s and one SIL are not. I am convinced that it has to do with some warped “germ theory” problem. Paper is viewed as cleaner than a clean washed and dried in the sun (disinfected) cloth. Go figure.

    At this point we only buy TP, using cloth substitutes for other things, and if our personal economy bottoms out, I have a non paper solution.

    When I have been honest with people concerning the no paper policy, it is usually met with shock and disdain. How could I? What happened to “cleanliness?” I understand $200 a year can be saved by using cloth for a family of four. Most think the “savings isn’t worth it.”

    I started to clean the toilets, bath tub and shower stall with…pot ash. No kidding. It works rather well and you do not need a lot. In India they use it to wash dishes. As a warning, it can be messy. I only use it with a drain for and easy clean up. For those stubborn toilet stains, a pumice stone works. No, it does not damage.

    In addition, we use substitutes for just about anything that works using baking soda, Borax, vinegar, and ammonia (great for wool). We use common herbs and spices when possible as well as non medical solutions when appropriate.

    Glass jars with lids are used to store foods in the fridge.
    We may our own mayo.
    I cook from scratch.

    We got tired of buying one more toaster. We found that an iron griddle works great. An old Corning ware coffee pot has served as a hot water kettle for years and years. When the fridge goes, I highly doubt we will buy another. We usually find an older model or method to replace the item before even considering a new one.

    I am not fond of the WW2 motto. Using it up and wear it out is just common sense, but making do seems slap dash as a last ditch effort instead of working towards success and making it better. In hard times, however, doing without may be a reality.

    At this point in time, I refrain from this subject in general conversation as it is usually a waste of time. I got tired of seeing the disapproval. It is their loss.

    Hubs and I love beating big corporate at their own game when we fix and repair to make it better than before.

  • Another way to say the same thing is to look at how much money you have to earn to buy something that costs ten bucks:

    first you have to earn the ten bucks
    Then you have to earn enough to pay the income tax on that ten
    (both federal and state) say 30% (or three bucks)
    and the sales tax on that ten (another seventy five cents or so)
    And pay for transportation to the store and back (35 cents/mile) plus the taxes you paid on that income.

    that ten bucks comes out of your take-home pay, not your overall income. So do your transportation costs.

    so for every ten bucks that you can avoid spending, it can be worth fourteen dollars or more of your gross income. Makes it seem a little more worthwhile when you look at it that way.

    On a related note, this is why small changes in tax rates can have such a huge impact on the economy: every transaction is impacted by tax increases, every cost for manufacturing, transportation, and retail sales goes up.

    Raising taxes is like shading a garden – every plant gets less light, and is stunted, weaker, more susceptible to disease and pests, and less able to thrive or recover from injuries.

    • Very well said.

      Earning more isn’t always the answer.

      I love making jams/jellies out of items that otherwise might have been thrown away ex beet jelly, pear skin jelly, & corn cob jelly. I am sure there are others.

  • Nope, you are not the only one who still darns socks! Another trick is to wear 2 socks — my hubby has found that well made wool socks are the bees knees when it comes to work-wear (especially in ND!), so to protect the expensive socks, he wears a pair of cheap, durable acrylic ones over them.

    I started darning with the wool ones, since they are expensive, but now I only have to darn the acrylic ones instead. Once they’re too far gone to darn (usually just on the foot-bottom), I snip the ankle part off, which is still good, and it gets quick-stitched to more of the same and I nearly have enough now to use as the batting for a quilt (topper and backing also from recycled/thrifted fabric).

    The same, salvaged from a couple nicer wool socks have been upcycled into wrist/hand warmers. A bit of creativity goes a long way!

  • I get to where I just don’t tell anyone that I make my own laundry soap, bar soap and cleaning products. People look at me like I have two heads! I cut the tops off of old underwear and use the elastic tops for holding the garbage liners on and so forth. I dry my clothes on the line, because I like to! I have more time than money, and so do many others if they would turn off he TV and electronic devices.

  • Thank you all for the article and comments. I’m still new to this, and the information here has been so incredibly helpful.

  • Buying second hand is a good way to save money. I buy most of my books second hand. If I can’t get the books second hand I go to the library and get the books there. The library is a good place to get all your entertainment needs met for free.

    Besides providing music, movies, Internet use and books, the library can provide you with a free education. Anything you want to learn you can pretty much learn by yourself from a library book or many books. Do it yourself skills learned in this way can save a pile of cash. Hubby taught himself how to use tools and how to renovate; we still use professionals for some jobs like plumbing and electrical but other jobs –hubby does the grunt work and we save the cash.

    Teaching your children early how hard it is to earn money is also a way to save money. When my sons were babies, I got a flyer route and they helped me to deliver flyers. Nothing teaches a kid the value of a dollar than delivering hundreds of flyers for a dollar in winter cold and darkness. Older boy is now very tight with his earnings; younger boy is uninterested in spending his cash.Both of them are teenagers and still remember that flyer route.

    Life is much more relaxed if you are willing to be frugal early on. Mind you it’s wise to spend money on some things. We spend a ton of money on fresh fruits, vegetables and chicken. I like to buy decent coffee beans. I like chocolate. I sometimes send buddies a care package. You can’t be too tight or you dry up completely.

    The clothes line idea is great. My mother in law taught me that trick. She even puts out the wash in winter.

    Life is short. You have to save money. But you can’t deny yourself too much. Best to strike a balance. Put the clothes on the line, buy chocolate, teach the sons to be frugal and yet once in a while order in pizza. I think it is almost time for me to go on a yearly date with hubby to a restaurant (we go out once a year).

  • Hi Daisy
    Just love your common sense articles! With regard to doing it yourself knitting (socks, toques, scarves, sweaters…all acceptable for family and gifts!) and sewing (a sewing machine is a great investment) are good skills to have!
    Best regards,

    • Hi Annette! Thank you for your kind words about the articles. 🙂

      My youngest daughter just got a sewing machine for her birthday last fall and is well on her way to a fantastic new hobby. I am hoping to learn to knit soon. Right now, I crochet, but that’s my only “make it” skill with regard to wearable things.

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