Frugality When Time is Short

Easy pasta salad
One comment I've gotten a lot of in regards to this blog is that while I have plenty of great ideas, they all take time, and they're only good for stay at home moms. I never really thought of it that way- frugal is frugal, right? And how much actual time does it take to do these things, after all?

I've never been a full time working mom. Only been part time working mom, working mostly from home, so I've had more free time to get frugal endeavors done. I never paid that much attention as to just how much of what I was doing I was able to do because of my being home. Because each money saving thing doesn't actually, truly, take that much time.

But lately, I've been much busier, doing a project that is as time consuming as a full time job (perhaps even more, because much of what I do is long after typical working hours are usually over, staying up until 2 am working), and yes, I've realized just how much of what I used to do to save money is just beyond me at the moment...

I'm too tired to think about money saving ideas.
I'm too spent to do some creative planning and multitasking that's necessary in order to get things done.
I just want easy.

And I can definitely see the allure in all the typical money sucks that the average working woman seems to have- cleaning help, disposables, takeout, processed food, etc...
And yet, I have not all of a sudden become rich, with lots of disposable money.
If you work hard, and then spend most of the money you make on conveniences to allow you to work that much, what have you gained other than stress?

So, despite my being short on time and energy, frugality can't go out the window in our home.
Frugality is alive and running.
How, you may ask?

I compromise on a few things that save lots of time and energy, even if they cost a bit more.
But for everything else, I try to find quick fixes that are frugal and easy.

I think one of the most difficult things to do frugally when pressed for time and lacking energy is actually food preparation, etc...

So here's what I do for frugal, quick, and easy food:
  • Starches:
    • Pressure cooking rice, quinoa, and potatoes saves a lot of time, and is very easy to prepare. It can be served with other foods as a quick to make, cheap filler, to complete the meal.
    • Baked potatoes and sweet potatoes and butternut squash are good. They just need a quick scrub, then toss the lot whole in the oven, and then go do your thing. Put on a timer and you can forget about it- less than five minute prep and then you don't need to focus on that anymore. Other cheap, easy fillers to make.
    • Rice cakes with peanut butter make a good, filling, cheap snack.
    • Instant mashed potatoes- insanely quick, filling, even if not too nutritious.
    • Pasta is cheap if you eat gluten, if you're gluten free it is more expensive, but its a splurge I've been allowing myself, but trying not to make it too often.
  • Proteins:
    • Eggs are quick and easy, and cheaper than chicken. I can't eat eggs, but I am making them for my family when I don't have anything prepared and they're hungry.
    • Frozen peas and green beans are good proteins. They're not the cheapest in the world, but, again, they're cheaper than chicken, fish, or meat.
    • Chicken breast is pretty quick to cook, so long as I remember to defrost it in time, and can be stretched easily in a meal. I bag mine individually in the freezer, so I can defrost just one or two at a time as needed. If I forget to defrost one in advance, I put one in a bowl of water and change that every so often, and it defrosts quicker. Once it's defrosted part of the way, I chop off the outside edges so the frozen inside is exposed to the water and can defrost.
    • Chicken gizzards can be cleaned, then tossed in the pressure cooker to cook. The cleaning can take a few minutes, but since it's cheaper than chicken it's worth it.
    • Frozen beans or canned beans. Prepare a bunch of beans in advance, 2-3 pounds at a time, and cook them all up at once. Bag them in 1 cup or 2 cup bags, and then freeze them so you can have stuff ready to use as needed. Or you can use canned, but I avoid it, because it's not so digestible.
    • Sprouted lentils are a good, quick protein. I soak mine overnight, then rise and strain every 12 hours. After 2-4 days they're ready, depending on how long you want them, and they can be eaten raw. My family prefers raw sprouted lentils to the cooked stuff. I prefer little lentils like black lentils or puy lentils sprouted, but green/brown also works. Red lentils also cook up very quickly.
    • Nuts and seeds are good, quick proteins. Either whole nuts, or made into nut butters or tahini.
    • Canned tuna or sardines. Not so cheap, but good in a pinch.
  • Vegetables:
    • Raw veggies are great. Peppers, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, etc... They can all be eaten raw, as is, or chopped and served with some prepared salad dressing (homemade ideally, but make a bunch at once so you don't have to make it every time) or just some salt, lemon juice, and garlic.
    • Chop veggies small if possible so they cook faster.
    • Consider using a grater to make veggies really small- a grater is better than a food processor since it is faster to clean and when time is precious, you don't want to make extra dishes for yourself.
    • Avoid veggies that take a long time to prepare. I'm staying away from greens, because washing and checking them all is not how I want to be spending my time now...
  • Snacks:
    • Fruit or veggies, whole, are a good healthy snack. Bananas, peaches, plums, pears, apples, oranges, carrots, etc... Try to get sub par fruits and veggies, from the reduced rack. They're much cheaper that way. I try to keep a good supply on hand.
    • Popcorn- cheap, easy, filling.
  • General Tips
    • Mix and match foods- be creative! So long as you know what flavors work together, experiment with what's in the house. The other day I made some rice in the pressure cooker, threw in some raw sprouted lentils, pumpkin seeds, and craisins, and then made a dressing out of homemade Italian dressing I had ready made, and some date syrup. The meal took a total of 15 minutes to make (including cooking the rice in the pressure cooker) and was really tasty and had all the necessary components of a healthy meal, in my opinion. (Ok, a few more veggies wouldn't have hurt.) You don't need to follow official rules- throw together whatever you have and is easy to use.
    • One pot meals! Less cooking time, less clean up time. Pasta salad, for example.
    • Use leftovers! Saves time because you don't have to cook twice, and saves money because it doesn't get wasted.
    • Crock pots are used by many as money saving, time saving tools in the kitchen, because it cooks things while you ignore them. I haven't put this tip to use yet, but I will soon.
Other frugal advice that doesn't take much time:

Stockpile! Even if you're getting more expensive convenience items, stocking up on them at a good price will prevent extra expensive trips to the store, and actually saves you time and energy because you spend less time shopping.

Just don't buy! Do without extra items. It doesn't take extra energy or time to stop yourself from buying expensive extras. In fact, time not shopping for luxuries is time you can spend doing other things to unwind...

One last piece of advice, and related to my last post, on cloth diapering...

Forgive yourself. You're human. If you're not perfect and opt for expensive conveniences here and there, that's ok! Just don't go overboard. Do what you need to do to feel human and not like a rag.

Are you a work at home mom, work out of the house mom, or stay at home mom? Do you find yourself very busy or generally with a lot of free time? Do you have extra time for frugal endeavors or would you say you're more short on time?
What are your favorite "frugality when time is short" tips?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Just an FYI peas and green beans are not significant sources of protein. Green beans have about 2 grams of protein per 1 cup of beans and peas while a little better with about 8.6 grams per cup still do not compare with Navy beans at 15.8 grams of protein per cup or the 31 grams of protein in 1 cup of egg. Peas and green beans are better left to serve as veggies not protein sources.

  2. Dear Penny,
    I like your ideas and your creativity very much! As a working Mom, I realized I have been relying too heavily on takeout foods. My goal this week has been to shop at the beginning of the week for ingredients I need for planned menus, to avoid that costly and not-so-satisfying habit. I made a vegetable soup on Sunday that came out very good- I haven't done that in ages!
    Just wondering- why did you stop writing your column for the magazine? I notice that they have a different columnist now.
    Thanks again for your helpful posts.

  3. Make your own frozen dinners...

    When you have time, cook large batches then freeze in meal-sized portions. When you don't have time, just reheat the frozen portions.

  4. Just curious why you said canned beans are not as digestible. If anything I read that the canned variety are free of oligosaccharides (I know I didnt get that right!).... the gas-causing, stomach-disrupting offenders.

    1. They're certainly not free of those, because if you rinse off the liquid in which the beans are canned, you'll get much less gas than if you leave that liquid in your food. I find canned beans very digestible after rinsing.

  5. Great ideas. I wanted to add to your crock-pot suggestion (because I LOVE my crock-pot!). I have been perusing several websites that help you with bulk, crock-pot meal making/freezing/planning. The idea is that you identify foods that are on sale (i.e. chicken) and plan a number of meals around a bulk purchase. You then take a couple of hours in one day to cut and prep everything for the meals, freeze them in freezer bags and store them in the freezer. Then, you pull out a bag, drop it frozen in the crockpot, turn it on and let it cook. I'm planning on doing some of this during the summer months to prepare for the fall and winter months.

  6. Omelet + potatoes + green salad.
    Grilled cheese and homemade soup (previously frozen and just reheated)
    a thermal carafe in which I make tea and I can drink it all day
    A huge batch of pancakes made on teh weekend that can be reheated during teh week for a hot breakfast.

  7. Just discovered your blog and really love it! We too are living frugally and I have really tightened our budget around certain aspects that we used to spend mindlessly..... although I feel there is ALWAYS room for improvement! There are two MAJOR splurges in our life and that is Russian language daycare for our son and good quality food. I have become so mindful to what we eat after experiencing some food intolerance issues like you describe and we have also eliminated most baked goods, white flour, and limited dairy and grains. Russian language (or another language in general) is very important to us, (my husband is russian speaking) so this is a very expensive yet important splurge for which we get some childcare compensation. I look forward to exploring your blog more to see where else I can save! thank you.

  8. Great advice! I have always worked outside the home (except for maternity leave) so I kind of roll my eyes at the idea that frugality is only for at-home moms. I don't do everything I'd do if I were at home more, but I'm still able to save money lots of ways.

    One of my favorite frugal time-savers is to clean and shred a lot of veggies or cheese at once (after buying at a good price) and freeze recipe-sized portions like 1 cup or 2 cups. I use the food processor to do all that shredding quickly--sometimes several types of food one after another--then clean it just once. In an hour I can prep ingredients that we'll use in 10 or more meals, and when we make those meals the veggies and/or cheese will be pre-shredded and easy to use! The small bags thaw quickly, and for some recipes you can even toss in the veggies still frozen.

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