The old saying, “Time is money,” is true in a lot of ways. This is literally true at work. You put in time, you get paid. In some cases the more time you put in, the more you get paid thanks to overtime. It’s also true when it comes to frugal activities or other activities related to finances. An hour spent clipping coupons saves you more than an hour spent shopping in the mall. An hour spent learning about investing is worth more than an hour spent reading the latest Stephen King novel. How you use your time often equates to the health of your finances.
That’s not to say that every minute of your day needs to be devoted to a money making or money saving activity. You need fun, too, and there are some things that have to be done regardless of how they impact your bottom line. But if you’re wasting a lot of time on things that don’t bring you joy or don’t move you forward in some way, the argument can be made that you need to use your time more efficiently. We all have a limited amount of time, so it needs to be used wisely.
When it comes to recapturing wasted time, most of us are pretty good at identifying the big time wasters. Recreational shopping, hours spent watching TV or playing video games, and random Internet surfing are all examples of things that can gobble up large chunks of time. However, there are plenty of smaller things we do every day that waste little bits of time here and there. They don’t seem like much, but if you add them up you probably come up with a couple of hours a day wasted on tiny stuff. If you can recapture those small bits of time, in addition to eliminating the big time wasters, you can create much more free time for yourself to deal with your finances, or work on other goals that get you where you want to go in life. Here are a few examples of tiny time wasters from my own life to get you started.
Get rid of unwanted emails
A few weeks ago I wrote about how cleaning out my inbox saved money. It has also saved me time. It used to be that every morning I would have to wade through tons of sales, newsletters, and offer emails (and that doesn’t count the stuff that was automatically routed to spam). It could take me anywhere from ten to twenty minutes just to go through the box, scan the subjects/senders, delete what I didn’t want, read the interesting stuff and then get to my really important emails. One day I sat down and really looked at all of those emails. I was deleting most of them unread. So I unsubscribed from everything but the important things. Now when I get up in the morning, it’s a breeze to deal with my email because all that’s in there are things that I really need.
Get rid of houseplants
I used to have a lot of houseplants because houseplants do have their benefits. Most of mine were high maintenance, though, requiring lots of water, fertilizing, and pruning. It took a good fifteen minutes every day to deal with them. As they died, however, I stopped replacing them. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy them, but they took time to water and properly care for. Then when we went on extended trips, I had to find someone to take care of them for me. It was getting to be more trouble than it was worth. Now I’m down to just two very low maintenance plants and I have more free time during the day.
Deal with the mail as soon as it hits the box
When I bring the mail in from the mail box, I don’t just throw it on the table for later. I open everything, toss the junk, and file the important stuff. Managing my daily mail takes less than five minutes now, and that includes the walk to and from the box. When I was less organized, I’d let it pile up for a few days and then it took much longer to wade through it all, sometimes as much as thirty minutes. It probably averages out the same, but I’d much rather spend a few minutes each day dealing with it than spending a long time on one day to handle it. That longer block of time seems so much more wasteful.
Don’t answer the phone or use caller ID
I used to answer the phone every time it rang. But then I realized I was wasting minutes every day dealing with sales calls, political surveys and other nonsense. Now I use caller ID to screen calls or I just let everything roll over to the answering machine. If it’s important, people will leave message and I can call them back when it’s convenient.
Get on the Do Not Call and Junk Mail Opt Out lists
To help with the two tips about the mail and the phone, put yourself on the government’s Do Not Call list and use the junk mail opt out services. (For credit card and insurance offers and for general junk mail). Using these services will greatly reduce the amount of stuff you have to deal with in the first place, saving you even more time.
Streamline your errands
If you have to go out, figure out the most efficient route and combine as many errands as you can into one trip. This will save you the time involved in running back and forth across town and making multiple trips.
Streamline daily tasks
or find ways to eliminate them altogether. You can streamline many of your daily chores. You can keep cleaning supplies in each room, for example, so you don’t have to trek back and forth across the house. You can figure out a better system for cleaning that has you moving from room to room in a time-saving pattern rather than just randomly cleaning rooms. You can streamline your cooking process by learning quick and easy recipes, or by doubling recipes and serving the extra portions later in the week. Can you get by with dusting every other week instead of every week? Some things may not have to be done as often as you think they do. Think about all the things you do every day and see if you can come up with a faster, more efficient way to do them, or to eliminate them or reduce their frequency.
The more you automate your chores, the more time you save. Instead of sitting down to pay bills every week, you can use online banking to automate your bill paying. You can automate your contributions to savings, meaning you don’t have to sit down and do it yourself. The more things you can automate the more time you’ll save.
Leave the house less often
Since I work from home, I find that I save a lot of time by not even leaving the house in the first place. I do almost all of my shopping online, except for perishables and things that are hard to fit like swimsuits. I use a bank that lets me deposit checks online so I don’t have to visit the physical branch. Some would say that this makes me a shut-in, but it makes me more efficient. Instead of running around town, I’m saving driving time and avoiding having to go to another store when the first one is out of what I need. Even if you don’t work from home, doing as much as you can online will save you time (and it doesn’t lead to you make side trips or buy a lot of things you don’t need because you walked past it in the store and thought it looked like a must-have item).
Invest in a “No Soliciting” sign
We were always getting visits from salespeople, landscapers, house washers, religious groups and so on. While many times I’ll just ignore the door when these people come calling, sometimes I’m unfortunate enough to be caught in the yard when they come. We bought two “No Soliciting” signs and put one on the mailbox and the other by the front door. Voila. No more annoying people wasting my time. If any do catch me, I just say I have a no soliciting policy and point to the sign. They leave right away.
Get rid of toxic or annoying people in your life
Have you ever gotten cornered by the person who just won’t shut up? You’re trying to get on with your day and this person shows up (or you run into them while you’re out) and suddenly you know you’re going to be trapped for half an hour listening to their complaints, brags, or mindless chatter. It is possible to get rid of these people, although you might have to be a bit rude about it. You can first try giving them the brush off a few times. “Oh, sorry, but I’m really in a hurry,” you can say as you slide past them. If that doesn’t work after a few tries, you may just have to say something like, “I appreciate that you have problems (or that you need company, etc.), but I’m really busy right now.” If they’re a “friend” you can dump them or just quietly move on. If they’re family, you may be stuck.
Cut down on social media
I’ll admit to not understanding the complete fascination people have with Facebook, Twitter and the like. But if you want to free up some time in your day, cut down on your use. Unfriend some of the people and companies that do nothing but annoy you. Update your status once a day instead of three times. Don’t respond to every post someone else makes. It seems like no time at all to type out a quick Tweet or post a status update, but when you do it all day long, it adds up to a lot of wasted time.
Look at your rituals
Do you have anything that you do ritualistically, but that serves no real purpose? Do you habitually get up, check your email and then hit the same succession of websites to see “what’s new,” even though you don’t really need to know something? Do you always take the same route to work, even though another way is quicker? Do you go to the mall on Friday, just because it’s what you always do, even though you don’t need anything? Look at the things you do out of habit or because you’ve “always done it that way.” You’ll probably discover that some of the things you cling to are not time-efficient and dropping or changing the habit will free up some time in your day.
You probably have some of these in your life, as well as other tiny time sinks. As you go through your daily routine, look for things you can eliminate or do differently to save you some time. Ask yourself if these things you’re doing have a real benefit to you, or if they’re just sucking your time away.
(Photo courtesy of Rennett Stowe)