These 5 Money-Saving Hacks Are a Huge Waste of Time

By Paul Michael on 28 December 2016 6 comments

One of the many reasons you read Wise Bread articles is to live large on a small budget. That means deals, strategies, and money-saving hacks. However, although most money-saving hacks are well worth your time, some are red herrings. They appear to be great ways to save, but in reality, they can end up costing you a lot of time and trouble for very little reward. Here are five you should avoid. (See also: 8 Reasons Time Is Worth More Than Money)

1. Changing Your Own Oil

No doubt many people are shouting, "Hey, that is totally worth it!" at the screen right now, but let's look at the time, effort, and costs involved and see what kind of saving you're looking at. First of all, you have to purchase the initial equipment. This is a one-off expense, but you're looking at a good jack with jack stands, a drain pan, a filter wrench, a good flashlight, and maybe a creeper, a set of gloves, and coveralls.

Depending on the quality of those items, you're looking at a minimum of $300. Then, you have the parts you need for every oil change: the oil, and the filter. Again, quality here can dictate cost. You can pay anywhere from $4-$60 for a filter, depending on the make and model of your car. But let's just say $5 for a filter. Oil is also a variable, depending on your climate, your car, and your budget. You can go for regular, blend, or full synthetic. You'll need at least four quarts, and even if you get the cheapest regular oil, you're in the hole for about $20. So there you have it — $25 for materials.

Then there's your time. Mechanics with access to pneumatic tools and lifts can easily get under the car and do this in 15 minutes. You probably don't have those though. You'll spend around 30 minutes changing the oil, or longer if it's your first time. You also need to purchase a container for the old oil, and dispose of it safely. Consider all of that, and then look around for deals in your area. Many garages will offer oil changes at a loss, so that they can inspect your car, and find problems that they can work on for a profit. You can get an oil change for $20 or less, most of the time with a synthetic blend oil, plus a top off your fluids. Just don't take it to the dealership, where an oil change can set you back $50 or more.

2. Making Your Own Detergents, Soaps, and Cleaning Supplies

You will often hear people (frugal experts especially), talking about the great value of making cleaning supplies. But before you dive into this process, take a look at the basic costs involved, and the time it takes to make them. Most of the time, you will have to buy ingredients that cost as much as, or even more than, the actual cleaning products themselves.

These days, stores like Target and Walmart carry store-brand products that are so cheap it boggles the mind. And empty squeeze bottles can actually cost more than cleaning products that come in squeeze bottles! So while it may be fun to turn your kitchen or garage into a chemistry lab, purchasing bora, baking soda, lemons, bleaches, lye, essential oils, aloe vera gel, clay, oatmeal, and all the tools needed to make your own products, just remember you're not saving much money. When you can pick up laundry detergent for a few bucks, and window cleaner for 99 cents, you are literally spending a lot of time for a few cents.

3. Cutting Coupons

When you see these shows about people who clip coupons and get two carts full of groceries for under $10, you might think cutting coupons is an excellent use of your time. This, in most cases, is not actually true. Professional "couponers" go to great lengths to get these deals, and usually fill their garages and basements with hundreds of bottles and cans that they may never use. It's a lengthy investment. For the average shopper, cutting coupons involves sitting at the kitchen table with a pair of scissors and a pile of circulars, spending a good 30-60 minutes looking for deals that apply. It's 25 cents off here, and 30 cents off there.

Then, when it comes time to shop, many of us simply forget to use them, or they sit at home in a drawer waiting to expire. When you do see deals that are great, they're for products you usually don't buy, so you're actually spending money to save money. If you spend an hour cutting coupons and save $7, congratulations… you're earning less than minimum wage.

4. Searching Endlessly for a Slightly Better Deal

The Internet, deal apps, and a plethora of other price comparison tools have turned us all into deal hounds. However, we can often get sucked into the trap of refusing to buy something until we get the absolute best deal we possibly can. We go to Amazon, then eBay, then do a bunch of searches looking for promo codes and special offers. In fact, many websites experience something called "cart abandonment" because they have a box for a promo code or discount. When we see that, we start the long, drawn out search for coupons and codes that are often only sent out to former customers in an email blast. Sites like RetailMeNot have certainly helped, but even then, we can waste hours trying code after code, eventually hitting pay dirt with that $2 off coupon.

Was it worth it? We may feel like it, but in reality, so many stores price-match and offer competitive values. In the end, we could have just bought the deal we found in the first five minutes. Don't accept the first price you see, but after five minutes, when you notice the lowest prices aren't changing, it's time to throw in the towel.

5. Driving Miles to Save a Few Bucks

We're all guilty of this. Some people swear by apps that promise to find them the cheapest gas in the state, and then drive miles to save 10 cents a gallon. Other people will drive halfway across town to save 50% on the price of a toy or game, which saves them $5–$10, but costs them gas, mileage, and their time. What's even more bizarre is that often, people look at the percentages involved in deals, not the money. The same person who drives across town to save $10 on a game costing $20 will not bother doing the same on a TV that costs $1000 versus $990. Keep in mind that $10 is $10, regardless of the original purchase price. But all that aside, really consider how far you're driving, and the money you're spending, to see if it's really worth it.

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Guest's picture
Chris

If you have allergies or super-sensitive skin, it can be worth it to make your own laundry and/or cleaning supplies. Not sure if it's worth it for anyone else.

Guest's picture
Emily

I think at least half of the motivation for anyone making their own cleaning supplies is environmental. Sure, the items are cheap at Target or Walmart, but at what expense to the planet?

Guest's picture
Mary

I make several of my own cleaning products and it's not that expensive. In fact, most of the different types of cleaners that I make contain the same basic, inexpensive ingredients. My all-purpose cleaner contains borax, liquid castile soap, and a few drops of citrus essential oil. My scrubbing powder is baking soda, kosher salt, borax, and essential oils. I make my own to avoid harsh chemicals and I'm happy with the results that I get. My recipes came from a book called "The Hands On Home" by Erica Strauss. It's a win-win: I save a few bucks, avoid harsh chemicals, AND I get in touch with my inner pioneer woman. I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Guest's picture
Happy Love

I print high value coupons from MyPoints.com for just the items that I buy. Most of the coupons that I print are $1 off or more, and I regularly save $5-10 per shopping trip to the grocery store or Target. Since I print the coupons from MyPoints, instead of going directly to Coupons.com, I also earn rebate points that I cash in for gift cards 2-3 times per year.

Guest's picture
Missy

I like to make my own reverse cycle air conditioner cleaner as the commercial one can knock you out with its artificial synthetic smell. I make mine with natural eucalyptus oil - smells great and works just as well at a fraction (<25% of the price of the commercial cleaner) of the price.
I also like to use 'natural' homemade concoctions for the garden as they are less toxic to both people, beneficial pests and the local fauna.
To save on fuel, I check online for the lowest prices in the areas I will be travelling during the day and fill up at the cheapest place in these areas - no extra driving to save money.
As my partner already has the necessary tools to do the oil changes himself it works out a lot cheaper to do the oil at home because as the writer says:'Many garages will offer oil changes at a loss, so that they can inspect your car, and find problems that they can work on for a profit.' They will often find ridiculous things to 'fix' and it can be difficult to get your car back from some unscrupulous mechanics.

Guest's picture
Lee

Anyone who routinely gets a $20 oil change has a horror story to tell. Whether it is having to wait for an hour, or them upcharging out the wazoo, or them not having your filter in stock after they've already started the job. Those places have high turnover, and no quality control. I can do it myself and put in full synthetic for the price that they charge for conventional or blend. And your time comparison isn't honest b/c I'm at home when changing my own oil. The commute to/from and fuel to/from needs to be added into the comparison. I jack up my car and start the oil draining (10 minutes) go into my own home and enjoy my time doing whatever I want, then 20 or 30 minutes later I return and put in the new oil and drop the jack (15 minutes). But my favorite part of the story is when it says "$300 at a minimum." I'm not even sure I could find jack and creeper that adds up to that. Autozone sells jack, jack stands, creeper, chocks, and lug wrench combined for $75. "I wouldn't trust my life to that garbage." Well, then you're an idiot. There is nothing that can go wrong with a jack stand. They are all the same. And once you have all that, you can also do your own tire rotations without having to drive to the tire store. And there are ZERO items to buy for tire rotations, and you are just tossing $30 away every time. 2 cars X 2 oil changes/year + 2 cars X 2 tire rotations/year = big savings and less frustration by doing it at home and not dealing with the oil and tire stores.