Frugality For Very Busy People with No Time or Energy

Designed by Freepik
For a long time, I've been getting comments from a sizable number of blog readers about how much they love my blog, but find most of the tips and things that I do not so relevant to them, as I'm someone with a lot of available time on my hands with which to do all these money saving activities, but they are either full time working moms, single moms, or otherwise have things in their life going on that don't allow them to do these time consuming money saving things. I have heard them and acknowledged that what works for me, with my greater free time, might not work for them, and I'd planned on writing a post on how to save money on household expenses when you are short on time and/or energy.

Since I got married 11 years ago, I was working part time, usually from home, other than a stint for about two years where I was working full time in childcare. My husband worked a standard work week, but was home in the evenings to help out. So I had a decent amount of free time and energy with which to do all sorts of frugal things.
However, in September, though, our entire life structure has been turned upside down, and I went from being one of those moms with more energy and time to one of those who is just struggling to keep up with the basics, let alone doing money saving things. My husband no longer has a standard work week; he is working a 90 hour work week on average, doing evening shift every day and night shift as well a few nights a week, plus every other weekend. When he's home, he's essentially sleeping; he definitely isn't available to help with the kids or housework or anything else, so it is all on my shoulders. And it is zapping me of energy like you wouldn't imagine, and I don't have nearly as much available time to do all my frugal things. I currently have to rework my frugality, to figure out what things I can still manage to do to save money on household expenses, while maintaining my sanity. I don't know how long we'll be dealing with this schedule, but it's my reality now, and I don't want to be spending all the extra money he's bringing in from his longer work week on non frugal things because I don't have the time or energy anymore, or it would all be a waste.

So, based on what I've been through recently, here's how to be frugal when you don't have time or energy to do all the "very frugal things".

Frugality For Very Busy People

Prioritize. What Get's the Most Bang For Your Buck? The number one most important thing that one needs to do when trying to be frugal in such a situation is to prioritize. If you have limited time and/or money you can't do every single frugal thing out there. It pays, therefore, to look at how much money each thing saves vs how much time it ends up taking to do it.
At this point, I've completely written off  the idea of hanging things to dry on the clothes line. Based on electrical usage costs in my country, I've learned that it saves me 25 cents each time I hang dry the clothes. But it takes me at least 30 minutes to hang it and take it down (if not more), which are not worth my energy to save 25 cents, especially since it is a chore I abhor. I've switched to only using the dryer and can't be happier. But something that I can do in a short amount of time and saves me more money, why not?
A big thing for me at the moment is that with all the time and energy that I am expending running my household, it's been hard for me to find the time/energy/motivation to do my paid work. Every time I go to do something frugal, I have to ask myself "Will doing this zap me of too much energy/time so that I won't be able to work and make money? How much money will it save vs how much money I'll not be able to make because I did it to save money?" For that reason, at this point in my life I decided to invest in disposable dishes (unfortunately our new dishwasher is broken and the repairman is causing problems, so I can't rely on that) because the cost of disposable dishes is insignificant compared to the amount of time it takes me to wash them, and the amount of energy it drains from me, which means that I don't get to do my paid work. Yes, its a compromise from a green perspective, but its the correct frugal decision. You need to compromise and prioritize if you are trying to be frugal without time or energy.
This basically sums up the rest of my post as well, as its the essence of how to be frugal when busy, but I'll break it down further with more examples.

Better Option, Even If Not Best. Much as I save money when going to the farmer's market for grade B produce, I'll admit that doing so drains me. (I know that people have this picture of me being this busy little bee with tons of energy that never stops, but that's so far from the truth it's laughable. Each time I go to the market, it ends up draining me of nearly all my energy for the next day or two, even more if I have to do a lot of work to preserve the stuff from the market, such as freezing it, rendering fat, making broth, etc...) So when I decide if that's what I want to do, I have to weigh my options. Will going to the market mean that I won't be able to do work? Sometimes I have slower periods with less paid work to do, so I will opt to go to the market. But lately, thankfully, I've had a lot of work to do, so I haven't gone to the market in a few weeks.
Instead, I try to remember that perfect is the enemy of good, and not just say "Because I can't get to the market to get really frugal things, lets throw frugality out the window". What I do is try to figure out what options I have available to me, and pick the best of those options, even if they aren't the most frugal. Within 10 minutes of my house I have 4 different shops that sell groceries. I try to pick which is the most frugal of those stores for what I need, and hit those up for those things, comparison shopping, etc... No, it isn't as cheap as the market, but it takes less time and energy, which I then have available to work.
Sometimes I can't make the most frugal meals, but I can compare whether or not it is cheaper to make one easy meal or another, and then go with the cheaper one, even if there are cheaper meals out there.

Combining Errands. Speaking of grocery shopping, in general I find the best way to save money while not expending too much time or energy is combining a few trips into one. If I anyhow have to be in the city for something (I have a regular meeting there), I do try to take the time out to hit up the more frugal stores. Yes, it may take more time and energy, but since I'm doing a few things at once, it saves me the trip and I combine all my exhausting/time consuming activities into one go, leaving me more time/energy to do frugal things or make money the rest of the time.
While shopping in frugal places, it's also hugely helpful to bulk buy. This can be bulk buying from specialty bulk stores, or just stocking up on things that are more frugal there. When I get to the store that sells gluten free rolls cheaply (my kids take them to school every day, so its essentially a package a day), I buy as many as I can fit in my freezer- last time I bought 20 packages of this bread. If I bought 5 at a time, I'd have to go to the store 4 times as frequently, so stocking up really is worthwhile. Same goes for anything I buy- I try to buy enough at a time (especially when it's a good price) that I don't have to go back there for a while. Produce, meat, fish, milk, and cheese I try to get enough to last a week or two, if not more. Things that are longer lasting (especially if I buy them cheaper from places that are further and therefore more time consuming to get to) like cereal, rice cakes, canned tuna, canned tomato paste, rice, pasta, honey, jaggery syrup, etc... I try to buy enough to last for a month or two at a time, if not more.

Frugal and Easy Cooking. Remember what I said about prioritizing? This holds true for cooking as well. If you're limited on time and/or energy, you might not be able to make meals that are as frugal as possible, as doing so can be a time and energy suck. So you prioritize and make things that are "more frugal" even if not the most frugal.
For myself, for example, I haven't cooked any legume meals in a while. My kids haven't been agreeing to eat them, and I can't eat them. If I make legume based meals, I can sometimes fight with my kids and push and push them to eat them, but that also drains me of time and energy that I'd rather not be spending on that, and then at the end of the day the food ends up going into the garbage because no one finishes it before it spoils. Doesn't matter how "frugal" a meal is, if it ends in the trash, it's no longer frugal. Not to mention that it also wasted your time and energy, and in my case, I end up cooking a second time so that they will eat something...
Also remember that half way measures are still cheaper than nothing at all. Making frozen pizza is still cheaper than takeout from the pizza store, even if its not as frugal as making pizza from scratch.

Figure Out Frugal Easy Meals. Using my cost of meat comparison chart that I've figured out, I already know that meals based on chicken wings and chicken breast are more frugal, and ground chicken, turkey, or beef when bought at a decent price. I also know based on other calculations I did, which meals end up being more frugal for my family, and since I found a place (locally! woohoo!!) to buy eggs at half the price they used to be, I know they also are a frugal option. If your family will agree to eat canned beans, compare the cost of a bean based meal to a chicken or egg based meal, and see which is cheaper. (Depending on local costs, you may be surprised.)
I stick to buying veggies that are cheapest and in season, even when going to local shops, so meals for my family more often than not are chicken/meat/fish/eggs and rice/gluten free pasta (bought in a cheap store)/instant mashed potatoes (that I bought in bulk) and veggie spears or veggie salad. Cheap easy meals. Less cheap but also easy and not too pricey is sauted or baked veggies (carrots/zucchini/mushrooms/bean sprouts) or frozen green beans.
Make a list of frugal easy to make meals that your family will agree to eat. If it works for you to have a menu plan, do so, and if not, just having a list means that you don't have to think about and come up with ideas when you're feeling wiped.

Bulk Cook. Most meals, when cooking for one, five, or 20 takes the same amount of time to make. (Unless its things like meatballs or fancy dishes that require wrapping or rolling out each thing.) Make double or triple batches of everything you cook, so that you save yourself the time and energy and don't need to cook another meal. My friend Alea Milham, author of book Prep-Ahead Meals From Scratch and the blog Premeditated Leftovers focuses a lot on that specifically in her writing and recipes- I like the concept of "premeditated leftovers". You cook and have leftovers, but that's not a bad thing- planning to have leftovers saves you on meal prep next time. I've been making large batches of rice and serving them at different meals and it's saved me a lot of energy. Same with chicken cooked in advance. Just a time saver. You can store them in the fridge or in the freezer- I find a combination of both works best, because I don't necessarily want to be eating the same thing a few days in a row, so freezing between serving helps.

Time and Energy Saving Devices. If you want to be frugal, having on hand certain devices will make it easier to cook from scratch.
  • A microwave, for example, was something we haven't had for years, but just bought one, and I'm already seeing how it is saving me money in addition to time and energy. Lots of leftovers in our house end up in the trash because people don't want to eat the food cold, it takes a long time to heat up in the oven, and often when reheating in the oven, each time it gets less good. (All that rice in the oven kept getting crispy on the top and my kids won't eat crispy rice.) Since getting our microwave, our leftovers have been getting eaten, which means less time and energy cooking, and less food waste. Additionally, if you forgot to defrost the meat or fish that you needed to make dinner (not that I've ever forgotten something like that, haha) you can put it in the microwave on the defrost setting to defrost quickly before cooking.
  • A pressure cooker. (Or a few. I have 4 at the moment!) I've written before about how much I love my pressure cooker, and I'm not kidding when I say that it makes perfect frugal and healthy fast food. In short, you can make frugal meals very quickly in a pressure cooker, because things cook much faster under pressure. That means if you didn't think about supper until the last minute, you can throw things in there and cook them quickly. In a pinch I've thrown in a whole pack of frozen chicken into a pressure cooker with vegetables, seasoning, and water, and in a short time had a delicious stew ready to eat.
  • Crock Pots or Slow Cookers aren't things I use anymore, because unfortunately slow cooked food hurts my stomach, but many people find them very advantageous in cooking meals while saving time and money. There are so many slow cooker recipes out there, many can be made using cheap ingredients, set up in the morning before you go about your errands for the day, and then have everyone come home to a nice hot meal.

Buy What You Can Use Easily. This might seem like a silly statement, but I think we all know the feeling of buying something that you have great ambitions to use, but then reality sets in, and you don't have the time or energy to use it and it ends up going in the trash before you can...
This happens especially when I buy things from the reduced rack. Depending on what I am getting from the reduced rack, sometimes its things that are there that are in perfect condition and don't need to be used up quickly- they just are on the reduced rack because of their odd shape. And sometimes they are there because there are parts of them that need to be cut off. Or they are getting older and need to be used up in a few days, and if not, frozen or cooked.
When such is the case, it is problematic, because not only does it mean that I have to go all the way to the city to get these, and get tired out and use up time that I could be working, but also once I get home there is a lot of pressure to go through what I got and start cooking and cleaning and chopping and preserving them right away. And if I don't get around to doing that, it ends up in the trash. Last time I bought reduced rack avocados, I didn't get around to taking care of them fast enough, and the entire load ended in the trash. That is also a time waster and a money waster. So in short, if you're going to buy from a reduced rack, only get things that don't need to be taken care of right away, or you're risking throwing out your food/money.

Forage in Your Own Backyard. I'll be honest that since my husband started working crazy hours I have not done one bit of "official" foraging. But that doesn't mean I don't get my wild edibles. I purposely seeded my front and back yards with as many wild edible seeds as I could find, so I can just go outside for a few minutes tops and pick my own greens to use for my family. The things I regularly pick from my yard are wild swiss chard/sea beet/beta vulgaris, lambsquarters, amaranth, mint, lemon verbena, lemon grass, aloe vera and onion greens. Not all of them are wild plants, but a good chunk are, and I am able to have my herbs and plants without expending energy to travel, but without needing to spend money either.

Online Shopping. One of my favorite things to save money, energy, and time is online shopping. I use a price comparison website to be able to see which things locally have the best prices, making it much easier for me to shop around vs if I had to go from store to store comparing prices, and then I don't even have to leave my home to do this. Online shopping has some drawbacks, such as needing to pay for shipping, but since I don't have a car, often I'd have to pay for delivery even when shopping in person. I bought our couches online for a very good price- both of them together were cheaper than one would be locally, and they are perfect for us. Yes, it's a gamble because you can't feel or test out something before buying it, but I find it worthwhile.
I've never done online grocery shopping, as they don't have any services that deliver to where I live, but I know many that swear by it, that not only does it save them time and energy, the fact that its online stops them from impulse buying- they buy only what they need and thereby don't overspend.

Cheaper Services. Things like telephone, internet, television, cell phone, health insurance and other insurance companies with regular fees can often be reduced by switching to better plans or different companies. Try to call up your service providers and see what you're paying for- I learned I was paying for things on my phone plan that I never used and had no interest in using, and by calling up one time, I was able to cancel that service and switch to one that served my purposes better and saved me money every month.
I know that locally, even threatening to cancel service with a certain company will get them to respond with a new, lower offer. By finding out what other companies charge for the same thing, you're often able to get them to beat even that. This takes a little bit of time and energy to call up the various places and do your research, but once you do so and lower your bills, every month you'll see the results with lower bills.

Sundays. My husband works on Sundays too, so this isn't something applicable for me, as its a "regular day" for us, but if you do have Sundays free, take advantage of them to do the frugal things you wanted to do but generally have no time for them. This can be anything from DIY projects to bulk cooking to frugal food shopping and beyond.

Yes, it is true- when you're short on time and energy, it does make it more challenging to be frugal, but that doesn't mean you have to go the opposite direction either. Finding frugal methods that fit your energy level and time available is possible, it's just more challenging. I believe you can do it though!

Would you say you're a more busy person, or someone with a lot of time on your hands? If you're a busy person, what do you do to save money, even so? What would you add to my list? If you're not a busy person in general, what frugal things that you currently do would you have to give up should your life become more hectic and busy?

Penniless Parenting

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


Thank you for leaving a comment on your blog. Comments are moderated- please be patient to allow time for them to go through. Opposing opinions are permitted, discussion and disagreements are encouraged, but nasty comments for the sole purpose of being nasty without constructive criticisms will be deleted.
Just a note- I take my privacy seriously, and comments giving away my location or religion are automatically deleted too.

  1. I love this post. But I have to ask, do you know why slow cooked meals hurt your stomach? I had no idea that was a thing, I've never heard of it before. It's really interesting.

    1. I have yet to figure out what it is about slow cookers, but I've figured out that i can cook one item in a pot on the stove and the same exact recipe in the slow cooker, and the latter hurts my stomach but the former doesn't. Apparently my dad is the same way.

    2. This post is insightful:

      The most relevant part basically says that different methods of cooking can cause starches and insoluble fiber to change, making them less digestible for some people. (it's section 2a that details this)

      maybe it applies, maybe not, but there's some food for though (haha!)

  2. Thanks for being so honest! I am one of those busy working moms, so I really appreciate this post!

  3. What a well thought out and helpful post!

  4. Yes, I really enjoyed reading this!

  5. Great post. It's so true that it's easy to just throw in the towel on frugality if you can't do it perfectly, However, the things you can do are still worth it.

  6. I'm a solo working parent and the best, most frugal thing I do is cook the same things week to week on days of the week. Monday is pasta and greens day, Tuesdays is...tacos of course, etc. Going to the grocery store is simple and it's harder to justify overbuying. This is by no means adventurous or food that I love (my daughter is picky) but it's really worked for us.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Previous Post Next Post