Is Saving Money Worth My Time?

Is saving money worth my time? I have a formula I use to figure out whether a particular deal is worth pursuing or not.

I love a good bargain.

But there’s more to life than saving money. A lot more.

Some people think it’s a waste of time to clip coupons and shop for bargains. And you know what? I think they’re right. Well, sometimes.

Is Saving Money Worth My Time?

Time is a precious commodity. We all have a finite number of hours on this earth, and we’re constantly making decisions about how to spend our time. In theory, we all want to spend lots of time doing things that make us happy with our family and friends. But the practicalities of life require us to spend much of our time earning money, paying bills, opening mail, sorting through children’s schoolwork, and taking out the trash.

I’m a math person, so I actually enjoy analyzing the pros and cons of different money-saving scenarios. A few years ago I came up with a system to help me decide whether or not it’s worth it to make an extra stop at a store because something is on sale there.

When people go to work, they often earn an hourly wage. When I save money, I look at that as my hourly wage. I translate the amount of money I would save with a given deal to an hourly rate, and then I decide if it’s worth it.

What’s My Time Worth?

If I were to get a part-time job in addition to the writing work I already do, $20 an hour would be the minimum rate I would accept. So when I’m shopping, I set my time at a value of $20 an hour. If I need to go thirty minutes out of my way to use a $2 coupon, I look at that as an earning rate of $4 an hour. My time is worth more than that.

If, on the other hand, I can go thirty minutes out of my way and save $15, that’s equivalent to an earning rate of $30 an hour. That is worth my time, so that’s an extra stop I’d be willing to make.

Yesterday I went to two grocery stores to do my weekly shopping. I had a list based on the sales flyers at each store, and I knew there were enough items on sale at each store to make it worthwhile to go to both. It took me an extra 20 minutes to go to that second store, but I saved $10 there. That’s $30 an hour, and I was happy as I dropped off my empty cart in the parking lot after the shop.

What’s the Goal?

For me, saving money isn’t the goal when I shop. Saving money is a means to an end.

I save money on groceries so I have more of it to do the things I want to do. I can work part-time instead of full-time because we don’t have such big bills to pay. Saving money allows me to be on the PTA at my children’s school, and it allows me to volunteer in their school library and computer lab. We can pay our credit card bill in full every month and even save a little for a rainy day.

It’s all about having the freedom to live the life you want to live.


  1. says

    Thanks for this post. I agree with your perspective on what saving money can really do for you and your family, rather than saving money simply for money’s sake.

    • Annemarie says

      Marti, it’s so easy to get caught up in the game of trying to save money. I appreciate knowing that you’re thinking about this from the same perspective as I am.

  2. says

    I always see my shopping as get in, get out – but I also don’t chase deals all over town. With 2 small ones and a whiny teen, I’d go crazy spending an entire day shopping…lol! A shopping list and my smartphone are my saviors to eating well, and eating frugally :-)

    • Annemarie says

      Having a shopping list is key for me too, Sarah. I’d love to hear what apps you use on your smartphone. I just got a smartphone and I don’t know how to make it work for me in the grocery store yet.

  3. says

    100% agree!! I watch these Extreme Couponing shows and am floored with how many hours they spend a week just clipping coupons, perusing sales flyers, and researching and comparing items online. Having a doomsday supply of toothpaste hidden in my basement isn’t worth the hours with my family that I would lose each week.
    I do spend about 1-2 hours each week checking the sales flyers, my coupon stash, and then planning my meals for the week based on that. But I have a system down, and it can get it done pretty quickly now.

    • Annemarie says

      Thanks, Carrie. I agree, it’s hard to watch people taking couponing to such an extreme. What’s the point? Your weekly approach sounds similar to mine. I try to plan meals based on what’s on sale, although it gets tricky during the weeks when my farm share is thrown into the mix.

    • Annemarie says

      Thanks, Alysia. It’s good that you’re talking with your husband about this because it’s really helpful for spouses to be on the same page financially.

  4. says

    Excellent perspective! I agree–and have been hearing from my spouse about how much his time is worth for years 😉 . Harder to put a price on mine.

    My son plays sled hockey about an hour away from home. That’s just where the closest team is located, so we deal with it. Conveniently for me, he’s got an hour of ice time and can get himself into and out of his equipment on his own. And the closest Costco to my home happens to be 10 minutes down the road from the rink . . . so it is worth my time and membership fee to shop there from October to April when I am nearby, then plan a monthly trip to the region during the rest of the year. We love $6 giant tubs of hummus and go through good cheese like crazy.

    I agree it’s harder to make a shopping list during the CSA season–I generally don’t, but just see what’s in the freezer or on special when I am at the store for milk and bread. I plan a monthly commissary run when I am volunteering on base to stock up on basics.

    • Annemarie says

      Thanks, Kirsten. You’re a good mom to deal with that commute. I’ve heard great things about Costco and I wonder if it’s worth the 20-minute drive for me. We do have a BJs closer, but I don’t hear people raving about BJs like they rave about Costco.

  5. says

    Interesting way of looking at it using an hourly rate! I love a good bargain but also am not at a point to track them down all over town with 3 kids in tow. It’s gotta be worth it for ME (which might be different for other people!).

    • Annemarie says

      Exactly, Diane. Different deals have more value to some people than others. We all have to figure out what makes sense to us.

  6. Jill says

    found you on the Fugal Days party. Girl, you are speaking my language. I always tell people to convert the time spent “saving money” into their hourly wage and I get the “Huh???” look.

    I always think of something I read in the Tightwad Gazette books: Sure, you can get two toilet paper rolls for the price of one if you separate the two ply tissue into one-ply and re-roll them. But what do people do when they use toilet paper? They unroll some and scrunch it into a ball the size they need. So what good did it do you to spend time separating your toilet paper from two-ply into one-ply just to get two rolls out of one??

    BEST analogy ever to illustrate the time value of money!
    Great post!

    • Annemarie says

      Thanks, Jill. Great analogy! I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my hourly wage theory. We may get some funny looks, but I know we’re onto something.

  7. says

    I am a math person too so I love your analysis! You are so right. That is usually what I do, except recently was thrown into a situation where I spent hours trying to figure out the “best” deal, driving myself and everyone around me crazy! Totally not worth it. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Annemarie says

      We’ve all been there, Kristina. I spent countless hours over the summer looking for the cheapest, best canning rack. I ended up having an epiphany in the middle of the parking lot at Target. I realized it’s not worth it to fret over little things like that.

  8. says

    This is the main reason why I limit my shopping to one or two stores. I just can’t put in all the hours. My main stores are BJ’s (of course!) and Stop and Shop or Market Basket.

    Your system is much like mine when considering deals. I’ve also adopted the mantra, that if I miss a deal, there will always be another one.

    I too try to make the menu around the sales. I keep a list of meal ideas on hand and then use Pinterest for new recipe inspiration.

    If it will help with price comparison, I have a BJ’s price book for you to look at. Often, the everyday prices per unit are the same as a sale price at Stop and Shop.

    Then, there are great BJ’s coupons which can be stacked with manufacturer coupons. This is the main way our family has been saving money over the years.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. Time with our families is so precious.

    • Annemarie says

      I love your mantra, Melanie! It’s so true, and it’s a nice way to give yourself a break when you just don’t have time to run out for free toothpaste. I’m excited to look at your BJ’s price book. We have one in the next town, but I haven’t gotten a membership there. I know many people who do most of their shopping at BJ’s, so clearly I should check it out.

  9. says

    When I shop for groceries, it’s all about saving but my husband, it’s all about taste. He eats the most expensive foods, however, it’s his money when he shops and if he can swing it, more power to him. For me, I always have coupons and a list to help keep my bill low.

    • Annemarie says

      It’s tricky to negotiate when one spouse is frugal and the other one isn’t. I think many of us deal with this issue.

  10. says

    Interesting perspective. You can save alot of money cherrypicking as they call it. (going from store to store and picking up the best deals at each of the stores) Some of us have more time than others to devote to those kinds of things. I have found that I shop at one main store. They have low prices on most things. They get some real killer deals on produce and other items that I use on a regular basis. They have a good day old meat bin, and I know when they mark down other items. They are a small local place and the customer service is hard to beat. I am a fan for life.

    I will browse the other stores ads and with the help of the internet, will check for those extreme deals with the coupons. If I find several items that will make sense for me, I will stop at that store to buy those particiular items. For me the criteria is simple. If it is something that I would normally buy and the price is right. I have learned through sad experience that buying something simply because you have a coupon and it is on sale is not always the best idea. If your family will not eat it, you have wasted time and money.

    I do try to keep it simple and local. I hardley ever buy from the big box stores. They tend to get to much of my money and I get to little out of it besides a headache. Thanks for sharing I am visiting from fight back friday

    • Annemarie says

      I feel so much better buying from smaller local stores, too. I wish I had a local grocery store like yours where I could do most of my shopping for a good price.

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