Five ways to save $5 in five minutes

The pillar of responsible personal finance is to spend less than you earn.  If you’ve heard that once, you’ve heard it thousands of times.

There are three ways to work towards spending less than you earn:

  1. Earn more.
  2. Spend less.
  3. Both 1. and 2.

One area that discourages people with finding ways to spend less is that “spending less” often translates to “doing it yourself,” and that takes time.  Indeed it can.

There are ways to spend less that don’t involve spending a ton of time.  I’ll describe five ways that you’ll be able to easily save $5 (or more!) in five minutes (or less!)  Five bucks in five minutes is $60/hour.  This is mid-level executive wage!

  1. Check Amazon.  If you have an internet connection, it’s quick to look for just about anything you’d care to purchase on Amazon.  The technique is called showrooming and it’s here for a long time.  Head to your favorite store, find the item you want, and look up the price on Amazon to see if it’s better there.
  2. Use a rebate site.  It’s shopping online but … cheaper.  Instead of going directly to, say,, you go through a rebate site, click the link there, and you accumulate rebates that you can cash out.  There’s really not much more to it than that.  Even better:  Hit a rebate site comparison engine that racks and stacks the rebates that they offer.  Here are the results for the Bloomingdale’s rebate comparison on mine.
  3. Brew your own coffee.  A friend of mine said that coffee always tastes better if someone who likes coffee makes it.  If you make it yourself, you’ll do it right, and you’ll easily save a buck per minute of your time.
  4. Get an Entertainment Book or a local coupon book.  For the times you eat out, having this in the car is an easy way to save at least $5.  This book pays for itself quickly (even more quickly if you get a rebate!)  If it’s not an Entertainment Book per se, then there are local ones (like the Attractions Book in our area) that are often sold by fundraising groups.  These sell really well because they pay for themselves so quickly.  Normally these books don’t have junk in them.
  5. Comparison shop in the supermarket.  Almost every grocery store worth its existence will have unit prices on the shelf price tags.  The tag that has the smaller unit price is (almost always) the better deal.  How long does it take (under normal circumstances) to determine that one number is less than another?

What other tricks do you have that are worth $60 in savings per hour of your time?

Rebate site comparison engine update

Rebate sites are a great way to save money easily when shopping online. Just click through these sites instead of going directly to the store, and they’ll keep track of your visit and rebate you a portion of your purchase.

There are quite a few of these sites out there, and they compete against one another. These rebate sites get paid when you shop there, too. That’s how they earn the money that they share with you.

I’ve been working on an improved version of my cash back comparison engine. It now has a browse feature for the stores.  You can do a rebate site comparison over a dozen sites in the engine now:

Try it out and see which site is giving the biggest rebate for your favorite stores!

Large families and activity discounts

I was chatting briefly with a colleague yesterday about married life.  (He was going to be best man in a friend’s wedding in a couple of weeks.)  In the course of the conversation, I admitted that saving money was a heck of a lot easier before I was married, but that I wouldn’t go back to being single by choice for anything.  Everything has pros and cons.

He saw the picture of my daughter that I have in my cube, and pointed to that as one of the pros.  I certainly agreed.

Our daughter is our one and only.  Being an only child has pros and cons, too, of course.  One of the pros is that whatever part of our income that would go to her enrichment is hers alone.  No one else is competing for that slice of our income in that way.

Most bigger families have more restrictions on what they can do for their kids

Likewise, being part of a larger family has its pros and cons.  The opposite side of the pro above is that larger families are more likely to need to make tough choices about what their kids participate in.  If the money needs to enrich the lives of three or four children, the pot of money either needs to be bigger, or the children cannot do as much as would otherwise fit into their schedules.

The restrictions might be matters of practicality, as in running the children to different practices just isn’t possible because of schedule and time.  Or, rather than participating in, say, three activities, they may only be able to participate in one or two each — on the reasonable assumption that favoritism is inappropriate, of course.

The sliding fee scale

Activity clubs don’t ignore the fact that participation gets expensive when you have several kids, and many charge a smaller fee for additional children.  Large families, in effect, get an activity discount.

Though I could perhaps get bitter about this, and observe that the people in charge of setting the fees stand to be subsidized by smaller families like mine — due to the fact that they themselves have large families — that’s not really a productive way of thinking.  It does more harm than good to start judging a large family for being large.  (Who’s to say that the large size of a family is due to abundant blessing from God, or due to reproductive irresponsibility?  Certainly not I!)

Besides, there’s more to it than that.  Economically, it makes sense to encourage families to sign up more, or all, of their kids.

Let’s say that there was no discount, so a family with one child would pay $800/year, and a family of five children would pay $4,000/year.

Is it a fair charge?  Yes.  It is an onerous charge?  Yes, it is.  Might the parents stare down the barrel of that $4,000 expense and opt out?  Possibly.

Now, let’s say that the club charges $800 for the first child, $700 for the second, $600 for the third, and $500 for the fourth and beyond.  This is still expensive for the five-child family — $3,100 — but the family can see the nearly 25% discount they’ve been given, and are more willing to pay it.

The silver lining

Yes, they’re paying $620/child, and we’re paying $800/child.  At the same time, though, a larger club activity can take advantage of their scale, and the experience will likely be better with more participants.

Regardless, though, our total payout is $800, while theirs is $3,100.  We’ll still pay less, total.  That will always be the case.  I guess we’ll take that!