My husband was taught “the triangle” while going to college for film making. Basically, the theory goes that when you are making a movie there are only three things: good, cheap, and fast. You can only have two.
I have found this axiom to be true for all of life. You can have something that is mediocre, without breaking the bank, in a reasonable amount of time. But you can never have something that is the best quality, free, and instant (other than salvation of course, but that is because God works according to His own rules). So if you want good and cheap, you will have to be patient.
Speed is the enemy of frugality. Make a decision on the spur of the moment (or worse yet, in response to a sales pitch) and it is likely to be the wrong one. Don’t believe me? Think about it. Dry beans are so much cheaper than canned ones ounce per ounce. But you have to take the time to cook them. You can go online right now about buy a 55 gallon barrel for about $100, or you can patiently search ads for someone selling them for $10 each (like I did on Craig’s List). And I am sure we have all, at one time or another, made that impulse buy at the store then came home and found a coupon for the exact thing. Some planning and forethought and we could have saved 20% (or more)!
You may be aware of it, you may not, but using the axis of time can truly save you money in the long run without sacrificing quality. Here are some ways to put time to work for you.
1) Make a master list of everything you want or need. Post this in some place visible. If you can, prioritize the list or put a date by which you must have the item (for example seeds for planting in the spring. Remember, the more time you can give yourself, the higher the quality and the lower the price can be. Be on the lookout for ways to save on these items with coupons, Freecycle.org , or discounts.
2) Shop for big ticket items over a period of several months if possible. Pricing patterns will begin to emerge, or you may notice times of the year others are selling theirs. Looking at several similar items in several places at several times will also help you be able to spot a genuine deal when you see one.
3) Don’t be afraid of “sweat equity.” Sometimes you might have to make some small repairs, travel a distance to pick an item up, or trade services (you cut down the tree and keep the wood for free), but getting a really useful item for free or cheaply can be worth it.
4) Take your master list, and cross half the things off. We often waste time pursuing too many things. What do you really need, what will add value to your life, what will make you more efficient, or help you produce more resources? These are the things you really need and want. Everything else is just junk that will sap time and energy.
5) Use what you have. Do you throw away food rather than taking five minutes to store it? Do you buy food storage containers while tossing glass spaghetti jars? I even had a city-dwelling friend who convinced all her neighbors to let her tap their trees and she made maple syrup. If your garage, basement, or shed is full, do you know what is there? Even if you don’t have much, if you take inventory, you may be surprised at what you do have.
6) Search, search, search. Your local Craig’s List and Freecycle are your friends for finding great deals. On Craig’s List’s free section I have gotten a pack n play, building supplies, children’s items, zucchini, and a couch, just to name a few things. The really valuable items are often gone within an hour though, so set up a day that you can check frequently for new postings and jump on the good ones. Taking time for garage/estate sales can be great too, as long as you can resist the urge to buy clutter (see number four). Even think about stopping by a sale the day after it is over. They may be willing to give you things that are left just to get rid of them. (Craig’s List also allows you to post wanted items.)
7) Listen and talk. Notice “listen” comes first. People clam up if they feel like you just want something. But they also don’t know what you need unless you tell them. If you are a good listener, and take the extra time to help others find what they are looking for too, you will be amazed at what is available. When I was trying to help a friend find a garage door repairman, I found out about a local salvage yard that had several items on my list. Helping others can seem like a waste of time, but every good work bears good fruit.
These ideas just scratch the surface, but hopefully will start your own efforts to leverage time. Planning, preparing, and stocking do not happen overnight. You can spend a lot of money to get things right now. Or you can gather gradually, over time, and get a lot more for less. Plus, you will be teaching yourself a survival skill in the process.
Other articles in this issue: