Save Money: Take the Boring Challenge

by Carlos Portocarrero on 24 August 2009 51 comments
Photo: Samael Trip

How boring can you be? 

Most of you probably don't want to think of yourselves as boring, but what if being boring could save you some big bucks? I saved over $2,000 by eating a boring lunch every day for the past three years. Does that make me lame? Boring? Uninteresting? 

Maybe, but it also means I have $2,000 that I didn't have before. Ka-ching!

What's The Boring Challenge?

The Boring Challenge is all about changing a daily routine or habit for one week to see how much money you can save. 

Why make it boring? Because making it boring makes it nice and simple to stick to, and that's a good thing. If you can keep it up for a week and see how much money you can save, then odds are you'll graduate to non-boring and start saving some real money month after month.

I can't promise all your friends will stick around...but maybe if save enough to buy them a round they will.

Some Ways to Get You Started

  • Food: I saved $2,000 by eating the same lunch for three years. Think you can top that? Here's a quick tip: make lasagna and you'll have enough food for the whole week! Sound boring? That's the whole point!
     
  • MP3 Downloads: Some of you love buying new music, but those $1 downloads add up quick. Instead of paying for music, check out Pandora or any of the hundreds of free podcasts that are out there. Oh and remember your old friend, FM Radio? Zzzzzz... Sound boring? Sure, but it's still free. There are also a bunch of ways to listen to free music.
     
  • Books: I know a lot of you love to browse the shelves at Border's for hours -- I'm the same way. But here's a boring thought: pick one of the books sitting on your shelf that you still haven't read. And don't forget: your library card is your friend.
     
  • Coffee: Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest you quit coffee for a week. I don't want your head to explode. But instead of buying it from Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts every day, try dusting off your coffee machine at home and brewing it yourself. Or if your work has a machine, try using it for a week. It may not be what you're used to, but that's the whole point here.
     
  • Be Creative: Some of you may hate the thought of being boring. And that's OK -- you can come up with your own set of odd ways to save cash. I don't care how you do it, The Boring Challenge is all about jacking up those savings.

Then What?

Before you begin your boring week of savings, make sure you write it all down. Every penny you save has to be accounted for somewhere. When the week is over, tally up the results and see how much you could save if you kept it up for a whole month.

What about a year? Three years? Can you beat my $2,000 savings?

Leave a comment at the end of the article on how boring you can be or email me here so we can see who is the best boring saver out there!

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Guest's picture
Lauren

i also use my library to borrow cds and dvds...sometimes you've t to wait until the library gets them but its free and good to save money

Guest's picture

I'd recommend walking instead of taking public transit or driving whenever possible. I saved over $5 day for a period of three years (give or take a few days where the snow was crazy and walking was just plain dangerous!) skipping the subway and walking the 30 min. trek to work. Add in walking home, and I just put a 60 min. workout (for free!) into my day as well. The health benefits plus the sheer joy of arriving at work or home with a clear mind, the walk did more than save me money. Sure, I can't brag about my car or tell stories about the odd people I encountered on the subway but the benefits sure out-weigh interesting water cooler chat.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree 100%. I lived in L.A. for two years without a car (crazy right?) but I saved so much money by taking public transportation and walking. PLUS everyone wanted to know my secret to staying so thin and still eating like a pig (it was the walking which also saved me from a gym membership).

Guest's picture
Frugal Guest

Depends how far you live from work. I live in Chicago & take transit to work. (I choose to be carless.) If I worked to and from work, it would take me a total of 5 hours. Now I'd have great legs and a flat tummy if I did that, but I'd never get anything done!

Guest's picture
Guest

On a hot day, I would recommend taking off all clothes when going to bed instead of using the AC.

Guest's picture
LMC

OK this might work if you live anywhere else but Phoenix AZ.
Currently we here in the Phoenix area are breaking records with the heat. It is currently 110 degrees and trust me you need an air conditioner! Unfortunately we have to put our A/C on 80 to save money! This is great if you live back east and it's 95 but again it's 110 and 80 degrees inside doesn't cut it! Being naked in bed next to a sweaty body is not my idea of cool! The last thing in the world I want is some smelly sweaty dripping wet body next to me when it's 110 degrees outside and 80 inside!

Guest's picture
Nicki

A coworker and myself and partners in boring. He brings in freshly brewed coffee in a thermos & I bring in PB&J sandwiches and veggies for lunch. By sharing the coffee and food, both of us are less likely to go out for these items since it would essentially cost us double as to not let the other person down. It has worked out well for us to share the cost & savings but definitely not what I would call exciting.

Guest's picture
Guest

You didn't mention Over-the-Air TV instead of Cable. And now, a lot of networks put episodes online that can be watched for free.

Guest's picture

I already do all of these things! Plus living at home/not paying any rent which ups the boringness factor in my life considerably. Which is good I suppose for my budget, but I will definitely have to think of some more creative ways to cut down even further...

Guest's picture
Yogram

I love going to thrift shops.
2-4 times a month I venture out.
It's like a tresure hunt.
So far this year I have not bought anything new.
All my clothes have been purchased this way.
I don't really miss paying full price.
This way I think twice about my finds.
Sometimes you find new books & other treasures.

Guest's picture
Frugal Guest

I would buy underwear, sox, shoes, and swimsuits new.

Guest's picture
BT

Libraries aren't just for books. CDs, DVD's....many public libraries have online access to eBooks and audio books that can even be uploaded to mp3 players.

Cancel your internet service and just use the library or another public hotspot (or find a neighbor willing to split the cost of cable internet and share the wi-fi).

In many ways, the boring lunch thing really appeals to me just because it would be so easy....but I need more variety and end up bringing leftovers from the night before. When I lived alone, I'd make a pot of spaghetti and eat for a week!

Guest's picture
Guest

don't go to see movies in the theater - wait till they're out on dvd and/or cable. This usually works for me...except for Star Trek. I *really* wish I'd seen that one in the theater!

Guest's picture
Guest

It's not too late to see it on the big screen. I waited until it showed up in our dollar theater (still there), which is pretty nice for a late run theater.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

These are all great ideas, and I'm curious to hear from people that don't practice any of these if they'd be willing to try any one of them for a week.

If I didn't pay for cable I'd save around $800/year. Then again, my wife would not be very happy....

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Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Talk about boring...these great tips from Freeshipping.org include some fantastic boring-but-effective ways to lost money. My favorite? Use the stovetop instead of the oven. Why? It consumes less energy. Zzzzz.......

Can you find an even more boring tip?

The Writer's Coin  |  Follow me on Twitter

Guest's picture

I find the whole concept of budgeting boring, so I decided to challenge myself by writing about all this week. That's my boring challenge.

Guest's picture

A 19 year-old Chevy work van, and man is it boring! No AC, no radio (speakers fried long ago), and absolutely zero sex appeal. It's so boring, I didn't even waste money on a paint job when the roof started rusting - I sanded and sprayed it down with Rustoleum auto paint. My grandfather sold it to me for a handshake ten years ago and it's still going strong. I've probably saved $40,000 in car payments in that same time.

It also comes with a bare minimum tag fee (registration only) and the insurance is negigible. What can I say, I love boring vehicles!

Guest's picture
Guest

If your grandpa didn't give you this van, you would've paid $40,000 for a different car? I kind of doubt that.

Guest's picture
Guest

Talk about boring!!!! And check out the info at Vanguard about how much you save...study asset allocation and use dollar cost averaging and strategic rebalancing and start saving, seriously.

Guest's picture

I eat the same boring (yet yummy) sandwich every day, I don't have time to read books, I don't drink coffee and I don't currently own a car... Where are my millions??? lol

Guest's picture
Shay

Usually on Monday nights I go out for a local pub's Pint Nite special ($2.75 pints - many craft beers!), but last night, I reorganized my bookshelf instead. Yes, I got some satisfaction out of that, but I think this might be a classic example of some things not being worth the frugality!

Guest's picture

Playing an MMO such as World of Warcraft can also save you a ton of money. If that's the activity that you do in your free time then you're basically paying $15 a month for all your entertainment. Now whether spending all your free time playing video games is good for your mental and social health is another question, but it will definitely save you lots of money.

Guest's picture
Guest

Use your crockpot to cook meals instead of oven or stove top. Reheat food in your microwave. Make knock off restaurant meals at home instead of going out to dinner. Try to drink more water than soda or coffee or juices. Unplug anything not in use and air dry your clothes. Use regular dishes instead of paper plates or plastic utensils. Use dishtowels and dishcloths instead of paper towel or napkins. Save plastic bags to use in small garbage cans. Use store brand items wherever possible. Shop rummage sales, thrift shops or free online listing services. Carpool if you have to drive. Its pretty boring to constantly remind yourself to do these things.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

These are all awesome, everyone! Keep it up!

Want to hear about boring? Coming home and throwing some pasta in pot, boiling it, and sprinkling some parmesan cheese on it. 

Dinner. Can anyone top that for a quick/cheap dinner?

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Guest's picture
Guest

A lot of colleges have students working on their last big projects, such as plays they have directed or a senior music recital they have prepared. When they present them, they are free and usually have a reception following with yummy desserts. The shows/concerts are usually very good, and you don't have to pay for a ticket.

Guest's picture

fill ARCO gasoline - my uncle owns a shell station and he says they're all the same. Don't pay extra for gas!

Guest's picture
Guest

I already boring and do these things and more? Heck, I even reuse Saran Warp!

Guest's picture

This is an interesting topic. I agree that lunches should be simple, especially work lunches. However, they don't need to be boring. Instead of tuna in water, spend a little more for tuna in olive oil. Instead of typical sliced white bread, buy fresh bread from a local baker and cut into thin slices and toast (This will last all week).

So many Americans are turned off by food because it is boring and tasteless. Spending, just a little more, on food will increase happiness and quality of life (and if you're frugal with other things in your life, car, clothes, etc., you'll be fine financially).

So, practice "selective frugality!"

Vince from Scordo.com - Be Practical, Live Better

Guest's picture
Robyn

Just sold my fridge and not replacing it.
No car.
Line dry.
Rarely eat out.
No cable - borrow DVDs from library.

Easier to not spend money than to go somewhere and spend. Ever the paradox.

Guest's picture

I brew my own. Made great progress with JaneTaxpayer, she used to buy a $4 cup ever day, now she found a not so cheap coffee she loves at $10/lb. That's about 25 cups, so down to 40 cents, not bad. Mine are under a dime....

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

@JoeTaxpayer I used to buy my own as a part of my writing routine...I was pretty proud of myself because it was $1.75 and I would drink it at the coffee shop while I'd write. Then I'd get a free refill and take it back to M, who also loved this coffee.

Now we brew and pay closer to a quarter per cup. Kudos to you for getting it so low!

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Guest's picture
Blue Swan

You can save up to $100 by buying a netbook with Linux instead of Windows. Check out the Dell site for minis...the Ubuntu version costs less, and doesn't require as much hardware. Most of the time all you need is a browser. Why not go with the low cost Linux option, and save the frills for the billionaires!

Guest's picture
hungrrrry

I have found that it is fairly simple to make $50-100/week selling used items on ebay...adding that to your savings each year can mean up to (and not limited to) $2500-5000/year. You'd be surprised what sells on ebay and how easy it is to find items to sell...keep your eyes and mind wide open!
I plan to experiment with going without cable for a week (football season is coming and will prove difficult) as well as my cable based internet (I also have verizon v-cast), eliminating coffee that was not made at home, trimming the extras in my weekly grocery bill and absolutely avoid any late charges on any bills I have.
If my experiment goes well and can be upheld for one year, coupled with my ebay sales, I could be looking at almost $10,000 in the cookie jar (and with banks being the way they are, that is likely where it will go, figuratively). Man I love watching football though!!!

Guest's picture
Guest

When I use coupons at the grocery store I transfer the amount I saved to my savings account. I usually have at least $4 and sometimes as much as $15 in coupons each time I go and I go about twice a week. It's surprising how fast it adds up.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

@hungrrrry Kudos for trying to go without TV during the football season. I've tried to do weeks without TV but then a Cubs game comes on and I rethink the whole thing. Although I do know that one of the happiest/most productive times I ever had in my life have happened because I didn't have a television.

So that should tell us all something....

 

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Guest's picture
LMC

OK I admit I can be boring!I didn't grow up the way people do now having to fill their 24/7 with every exciting event they can stuff into a day! We didn't have happy hour everyday! We played outside in our yard using our imaginations. We sold lemonade in the summer, we went bowling or rollerskating once a week but mainly we entertained ourselves.

I entertain myself by getting DVD's from the library! I have gotten some excellent movies (old ones too) and documentary's that have been very entertaining and very interesting historically.
I read...
I raise backyard chickens....
I garden....
I shop the sales....
I go camping....
I go fishing....
I go bowling....
I take my son rollerskating......
I go day tripping once in awhile...
I clean my house
Ditto for my yard....
And my car....
I have dogs...
And a cat...

I don't know I think life is in what you make of it even the mundane things can be made fun! I just don't think you have to always be filling your time up doing stuff!

Guest's picture
Guest

"The more your have, the more you're occupied;

The less you have, the more free you are." Mother Teresa

I have been called "cheap" for years, but I have everything I

need (except a cool mountain stream to soak my feet in at the

moment :) ) Parks (national, state and local belong to us

all...I have taught my children to love and freely use

their "backyards" for educataion, relaxation, recreation....

Guest's picture
Mojoinco

All my friends and family (especially my kids) now me as being cheap -- not necessarily frugal, but going to get good bang for the buck.

Ok, a few other ideas:

Movies: discount tickets are usually available at the convenience counter of your local grocery store (not just movies either). Netflicks can also be a great way to have an evening out (but at home). 2 movies a month for ~$6. Buy a microwave corn popper (Presto, ~$12 at Wallyworld) and you don;t even have to eat that weird orange colored microwave popcorn (that is relatively expensive).

Skiing? Look in advance at resorts you might be interested in. In Colorado most resorts offer some sort of "4 pass" plan (4 lift tickets for cheap rate). Most are assigned via a picture id to one person, but the smaller places just sell you 4 tickets.

Equipment//stuff: craigslist and freecycle. Hard to beat.

Used American cars, especially larger GM cars. They almost always are out of favor on the resale market, but can get surprisingly good mileage and if you buy some 'blue hairs' car have few miles and are in good condition.

Watch the sales at Kohl's for clothes. Look at the back of the clothing racks for the clearance items --- as an adult, you probalby aren;t growing anything but out and can buy a bit ahead. Besides, core clothing (pants, most shirts) are fairly routine styles and can be put together for most occasions from the same set. I arrange my clothes by placing the newest washed ones on one end of the area they are in (pants, shirts, then my play/work clothes). This way I can try to not wear the same shirt/pant combo each week.

I always take them out of the dryer after 10~20 minutes and hang them on a rod in the laundry room for a day or so. Dry, and they are ready to be put away in the closet. Plus, they are usually acceptably unwrinkled.

As a former girlfriend said once (she appreciated the good deals I would find -- pre-craigslist): it takes more time/work to find the deals than you realize. Just surmising here. make it fun and a challenge. I like the idea to put the saved money in an actual savings account, but that might take the fun out of it. I have been known to put the money saved into my fund for a hobby I have, or a specific purchase I want to make. Same Idea I guess.

Guest's picture
Janet Bass

For Memorial Day, I had the children play chase and tug-of-war with the dogs and practice the piano instead of taking an expensive trip to the zoo, so I could save the rest of my allowance for an emergency.

Guest's picture
andrea

I joined a gym when I turned 50 and I will be 55 this fall. I didn't have any exercise pants, so went to Goodwill and found a pair... gray with nay and white stripes up the side of the leg. With the exception of breaking out shorts a few times on the hottest summer days, I have work those same pants to the gym every time I have gone since... a couple times a week for four and a half years. For a woman, I think this must win some award for being boring.

Guest's picture

One thing that this article hints at, but does not explicitly state is that we need to use the things we already have access to, but let go to waste. This article mentions using the old coffee machine and the library. What about people with a gym membership they never use? You bought that thing with the intention to go, but day after day you put it off. You have it, so why not use it. Go to the gym instead of going to see a movie. This will save you money, get you in shape, and keep you occupied.

What about all the materials you bought so you could start a hobby several years ago? Do it now. You already have the materials. This will keep you occupied, and you don't have to get more materials.

One commenter wrote about national parks and soaking your feet in a stream. This is a great point. Don't limit yourself to things in your house. Look outside of your house for other free activities--national parks might not always be free, but they're a much cheaper activity/vacation than Six Flags/Busch Gardens/Elitch Gardens/Disney/Universal.

I sum, I take a different view from this article. I say, "save money be having free fun." Being boring might save money, but what fun is that?

Guest's picture

Eating lasagne for 3 years is the most stupid thing I can imagine. I would rather be broke forever than eat your way. What's the money for at all? Food in the first place! That's the basic life quality element.

Guest's picture
Moira

Remove razors from the shower in between uses. It extends the life of the razor because it's not repeatedly exposed to water. Also, checkout freecycle.org. They have tons of free stuff. Don't have cable? Watch tv shows for free at hulu.com

Guest's picture
Ajay

Most of these tips are frugal, not boring : )

Here's boring: devise your own uniform. Cuts down on clothing and accessory expenses; speeds you out the door in the morning. For summer, mine is hawaiian or other wildly patterned shirts, basic chinos and earth shoes. For spring and fall, add a cardigan. For winter, switch to flannel shirts and jeans, w/same sweater if chilly.

This works especially well if you grew up being taught that clean, neat and covered were more important than fashion. And if your parents had given up on affording anything other than "appropriate enough" attire for the whole family!

And it's only slightly less boring than buying only beige clothes, which one of my college friends did. Any combination of items worked!

Guest's picture
Frugal Guest

Save all that money, put it towards a vacation, and suddenly you aren't so boring!

Guest's picture
Frugal Guest

Mend your underwear and nightclothes instead of buying new.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm a really boring person because I'm 23 and have no friends due in part to my frugality. People my age like to go out, and I refuse to spend a penny on outings. I'll especially never pay so much as $1 at a restaurant or fast food joint - complete waste of money!

Guest's picture
Blackomen

My parents pay for my car insurance (family plan) and the car was a gift.. getting 30+ mpg. Makes little sense to take public transportation here in LA where it takes 10x the time and 3x the gas expense to get to the destination compared to driving.

My "boring" way of saving money is spending much of my free time playing World of Warcraft.. a yearly subscription costs less than $0.50/day prorated.

I also don't use blackberries, smart phones, gym memberships, cable tv, etc. Actually, I work so much I don't have time to enjoy those.. Internet is included in the rent of my bare-bones room.

Guest's picture
Alexandra

The library also has PS3, PS2, X-Box 360, etc., games. I put them on hold so my fiance can play them before buying them. Sometimes he discovers how horrible a game is before wasting $60 on it. And often, because newer games can take awhile to reach his place in the holding cue, if he discovers he loves a game the price has usually dropped by $20 or $30 from when it was first released. Awesome!

Guest's picture
Guest

I am looking for work after raising my kids, so I need to learn Excel. Instead of going to a community college, I enrolled in a community park district excel class. What could have been over $200, is only $9.

Cheap can be boring, but boring shouldn't be mind sucking. Living her in AZ, hiking is a good, fun and cheap thing, so is tubing on the salt river! :)