Time Saving Tricks: Automate Your Errands
What would you say if I told you I could give you 8 hours a week to do whatever you want? Well, say it because that’s exactly what I’m telling you. You can spend those 8 hours any way you want… at the park with the kids, cuddling with your husband/boyfriend/significant other/cats, or reading in a lavender scented bubble bath. You’ll think of something awesome to do with that time, I have faith in you. There are a few simple things we need to do to get you in that bubble bath. The first is to realize that there are different levels of organization for these time saving tricks. You may not be organized enough right now to do this completely, I separated each errand into three levels of difficultly. If your life is in organizational shambles, just do the beginner tasks to save time and money. If you’re fairly organized, do the advanced tasks. If your somewhere in between, just aim for the intermediate tasks. There’s no shame in making small changes to become more organized and save money. The goal here is to do something. Small changes lead to bigger changes.
How Much Time Can You Really Save?
|Errand:||Average Time Spent 7 Years Ago||Average Time Spent Now||Time Saved Per Week|
|Grocery Shopping||6 hours (3 trips a week)||1.5 hours (1 trip a week w/targeted list)||4.5 hours/week|
|Clothing Shopping||6 hours/month (1.5 hours/week)||2 hours per 4 months (.12 hours a week)||1.38 hours/week|
|Household Items Shopping||1 hour a week||0 hours/week||1 hour/week|
|Dry Cleaner||1 hour a month (.25 hours/week)||0 hours/week||.25 hours/week|
|Pharmacy||1 hour/month (.25 hours/week)||0 hours/week||.25 hours/week|
|Bookstore/Library||6 hours a month (1.5 hours a week)||30 min/week||1 hour week|
|Total Time I Saved by Automating:||8.38 hours/week|
Hint: You can get extra savings on anything you buy online by signing up for a free Ebates account here and automatically getting a percentage of your purchase back in cash. Ebates is always my first stop when shopping online. You can find out more about Ebates here.
The typical family tries to plan ahead, but often forgets things. This leads to stopping off for cat food or other “emergency” items on the way home from work, going grocery shopping three times a week, and heading out for an errand when things come up unexpectedly. Just one trip out to target to pick up cat food can take 2 hours for me. The smart way to handle this is to automate everything that you can and then making a routine of anything that can’t be automated, always grouping errands together. Here’s how I handle these errands:
I meal plan carefully and go out grocery shopping once a week. Every Saturday morning as soon as we have breakfast we head out. When I use “Once a Month Freezer Cooking”, I grocery shop every two weeks since I have all of my meals in the freezer. I just need to pick up milk, yogurt and any amazing stock up deals. When I shop for groceries for the week, I plan meals that are heavy with fresh fruits and veggies for the first few days after grocery day and rely more on canned and frozen veggies toward the end of the week so that I use them before they go bad. If you have a crazy time period coming up (having a baby, house full of sick kids, a broken leg etc.), consider home grocery delivery if it’s available in your area. Walmart, Peapod by Giant, and Harris Teeter all have home delivery for a small fee (usually around $7) as well as many other grocery stores across the nation. While each item might cost slightly more than it would in the store, I can usually order my weeks’ worth of groceries and stay under budget since there are no impulse purchases and I can easily make substitutions for a cheaper product if I come up over budget.
Plan of Action:
Beginner: Meal Plan carefully and get all groceries for the week in one trip.
Intermediate: Meal Plan for the month, and use either ‘Once a Month Freezer Cooking’, or freeze ingredients like veggies and protein to reduce shopping trips to once every two weeks.
Advanced: Create a Grocery stockpile of staples, purchased at the best prices, using a price list.
If you love strolling around a mall and trying on clothes then keep doing that. The idea here isn’t to take away something you enjoy. If you like shopping for clothes for yourself, but buying for your husband or your kids is a pain, then automate their clothing and continue browsing for yours. A capsule wardrobe (simply put, where all of your tops and bottoms match. i.e if all you own if 5 shirts and 5 pants, then you have 25 outfits that you can create with those pieces) is a great way to save both time and money. Keep a list of everyone’s sizes, as well as their body tape measurements (see here for a guide on taking those measurements) in a convenient location like your smart phone. Plan out a wardrobe for a year. What will they need? Swimsuits? Snow pants? Jeans? Work clothes? List everything that they will need. Consider taking a trip to the local thrift store to pick up jeans, children’s clothes and maternity clothes (these are found abundantly and in good condition). Make a list of the remaining items and check this list of when to buy what. Shop online for the remaining pieces, buying only what is on the list, to fill in the gaps of your wardrobe. Once you have your yearly wardrobe, take great care of what you have. When something gets stained, take the time to remove the stain. Google it if you need help on how to remove a certain stain. If something rips, give it a quick stitch if it will save it. (I’m not talking about walking around with Frankenstein sewn pants, but if something has a small seam rip, you can easily sew that using hand stitches or a machine).
Plan of Action:
Beginner: Shop for clothing online using your measurement list for the family.
Intermediate: Assess what you have, then make a list of what you need for the rest of the year. Purchase online, at good prices from the list only.
Advanced: Create a capsule wardrobe for each member of the family (plus an additional one for work if needed), and use this guide to shop ahead one year for classic wardrobe pieces. This means that you’re buying next year’s winter pieces at the end of this year’s winter.
Household Items Shopping:
A house takes a certain number of things to run. It’s overwhelming when you think about it. Lightbulbs, trash bags, laundry detergent, vacuum cleaner bags, and the list goes on and on. The problem with sticking these items in your grocery list is that you’ll likely then buy them at the grocery store at much higher prices than you would pay elsewhere. And ultimately, if you don’t have a system for these things, you’ll overlook something and be running out to grab shampoo after work one day. This is why you need a supply closet. Everything you need to run a household will be stocked and ready to roll. Small house? Not a problem, I’m not talking about the rooms dedicated to 100 jugs of laundry detergent that you see in extreme couponers. I’m talking about either one shelf in a closet somewhere, or if your blessed with a little extra space, a whole closet. You can make a list of everything that you need to run the house from toothpaste to laundry detergent, and figure out approximately how long it takes for you to use up a container. If you’re interested in knowing exactly how long it takes to use something up, try my method. Write the date you open it on the product with a black sharpie. When it’s used up, Log it in your cell phone notes with how long it took to be used.
Plan of Action:
Beginner: Make a list of things you absolutely need to have in the house (something that you would run out for tonight if you ran out.) Purchase one of each item to keep in your closet. When you use the item from the closet, add it to the shopping list for the next trip to restock.
Intermediate: Make a comprehensive list of everything you need to run your house and build your stockroom. Keep an inventory list to track what you have and how long it will last. Make quarterly tips to simplify budgeting for this (if you can make the space in your home to house the stuff).
Advanced: Set up subscription services with either Target.com using the red card (a free debit card you can get from the customer service desk) for 5% back, then the subscription service for an additional 5% off with free delivery for all of your household goods. When they introduced the red card, I switched from shopping at Walmart to Target. The extra 5% off make Target prices almost always lower than Walmart. You can also use amazon subscribe and save to see if they have lower prices. Walmart also has a ship free to home program but not everything is included in the free shipping. Note the subscription dates and add in that amount to your monthly budget notes so you don’t forget. You’ve successfully automated your house! J
The Dry Cleaner:
Unless one of you has a super fancy job that requires immaculate clothing, Give Woolite or Dryel a try. With the exception of oil based stains, these products have been shown to clean at home as a great alternative to dry cleaning for an average of $.33/garment! You can buy larger packs on amazon (see below- this is an affiliate link which means I’ll receive a percentage of the cost of your purchase. This doesn’t change your price and is just a nice way to “pay me” for the work I do on the blog. I’ll always let you know if I haven’t used the product and only recommend products I would buy myself). If there’s any way you can get around it though, I would suggest that you try to build your wardrobe around washer/dryer safe clothing. It eliminates the cost of even Woolite and it’s one less thing you have to worry about.
Plan of Action:
Beginner: Invest in a pack of Woolite or Dryel for the occasional garment that needs to be dry cleaned.
Intermediate: Set up a regular routine of Dryel/Woolite for dry clean only clothes.
Advanced: Sell your dry clean only clothes on Ebay and replace them with washer/dryer friendly clothes.
Most people just use the pharmacy at the grocery store so they think it’s not really an extra errand. But you can save yourself the 15 min. waiting in line plus get a great discount if you automate this. Call the customer service on the back of your insurance card. Ask if they have an Rx by mail program and for information to sign up (this is also likely available on their website but can be difficult to find so it’s usually easier to call). By ordering my prescription via mail, I save 66% and they mailed it directly to the door for me. If your insurance doesn’t have that option, then look into Walmart’s free prescription mail program by clicking here. They mail the prescription to your door for free. These services are only used for reoccurring prescriptions, since they are usually delivered in bulk amounts good for 90 days.
Plan of Action:
Beginner: Ask your doctor if they can call prescriptions into the pharmacy for you, to save you the time it takes to wait in the drop off line.
Intermediate: Call your insurance to inquire if they have an RX by mail program. If they don’t, then call the Walmart Home Delivery Pharmacy to see if they accept your insurance.
Advanced: Set up home delivery for all reoccurring prescriptions and set reminders in your phone to let you know when you need a new prescription sent in from the doctor.
If you read, you know how much time you spend browsing a bookstore or library. I’m an avid reader and those comfy couches in Barnes and Noble used to be my home base. Books are pretty expensive and it’s a silly expense considering most books are available for free at the library. Even if you don’t read, I bet you need books at some point in time. Either cookbooks, manuals, or self-help books. Never need books? How about chunky puzzles for your toddler, CD’s that easily convert to free MP3’s, Free Magazines straight to your Tablet or E-Reader, DVD’s, workout DVD’s, educational games for your Pre-Schooler, a gigantic free coupon box organized by type of coupon, or American Girl Dolls (okay, those last three are likely only available at my library in Prince William County, Virginia but you never know what your library is up to until you check them out). I’ve got the library trips down to a science. Almost all libraries have a program to reserve books. Meaning you let them know what books you want (usually through an online database, or even a smart phone app if you’re lucky) and they pull them and hold them for you. You just walk into your library, grab your stack and check out.
Plan of Action:
Beginner: Get a library card and find out how to reserve books and where to pick up books that are held for you.
Intermediate: Search Amazon.com or use Goodreads.com to make a list of books you’d like to reserve. I highly recommend Goodreads if you like reading! They use your ratings on books you read to recommend books that you’ll love, and they have virtual bookshelves to hold your books in. I have a “To Read” bookshelf that I use to figure out which books to reserve from the library. I’m on a 20 book streak of books I loved thanks to Goodreads’ recommendations.
Advanced: Set a predetermined day to reserve books and return books. I read about 3 books a week, plus DVD’s, puzzles, CD’s and Cookbooks so I go weekly. I reserve books online on Wednesday and drop off old books and pick up new ones on Fridays. If for some reason you get busy and can’t return books on Friday, log on and “re-reserve them” to avoid fines and fees. (Usually a nominal amount, about 10 cents a book). Books normally are loaned for two weeks, so it would be rare to have fines with this system, but if it happens, don’t sweat it! A paperback book costs $6.00 now a days and I read over 100 books a year. I’m not worried about the occasional fee. If you read less than that, make a set date, perhaps the 1st and 15th of the month? Hang a tote bag on the back of your bedroom door to collect books that you’ve finished. Have a set place for books you have yet to read (I use my headboard which has a bookshelf on it). Once you’re done, Transfer them to the tote bag so you don’t have to run all over the house finding library books on Saturday.
Time isn’t the only thing you’ll save. Follow those steps and you’ll also save a huge chunk of change this year. Don’t put it off though. Just pick one task to handle today and do it. One step in the right direction is all that you need. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve done any of these or if you have another great way to save time.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click & make a purchase, I receive a small commission that helps keep the Busy Budgeter up and running. Read my full disclosure policy here.
I LOVE your website! This article is so packed with information, and so well thought out, I am in awe of you! All I can say is a big THANK YOU for how wonderful you are to share this with us. there is definitely such great advice on your site, that i refer to you daily and am always surprised at the indepth tips that you pass on to us
The Busy Budgeter says
Well that pretty much made my whole week awesome. I printed that out and hung it in my office for the next time I’m struggling with a blog tech issue and want to throw the computer off a super tall bridge. Thank you! 🙂 You’re awesome for being the kind of person that writes things like that.
Jayleen @ How Do The Jones Do It says
Ooooh! I need to look into that prescription one. I hate going to the pharmacy so I would love that! We also do a huge shopping trip at the beginning of the month and maintenance shop when needed (which is usually no more than once a week). Recently, I went through and unsubscribed to a bunch of emails. That saves me at least 10 minutes every morning!
The Busy Budgeter says
Emails slowly kill me. There’s about 100 emails to sort through to get the 2 you care about. I finally just created a separate email for promotions, so I could scan it before I planned to purchase something. Of course right after I did that Gmail rolled out it’s “promotions” and “social” tab so technically that was time wasted… but points for effort!
Brittany @ Fun on a Budget Blog says
When I get home from work the last thing I want to do is head back out to run errands. It’s actually a running joke in our house how much I hate doing them. I totally believe that spending 10 minutes doing a quick inventory on groceries and household items will save you HOURS later.
The Busy Budgeter says
Exactly Brittany! And there are so many things we would rather spend our time on than an extra trip to Target!
The Busy Budgeter says
Thanks Reelika, My husband just made a pretty awesome downloadable to help with stockroom tracking. Look for that on the blog in April!
Most libraries now offer an online service to check out e-books. You need a library card # to get started. Now when I see a book I would like to read, I check my library app first!
SHELLI WADE says
My husband laughs at me because I order all our household items online through Jet.com. Finally, I showed him the difference i was saving in ordering versus the times I would go to the big box store, you know who I am talking about. Every time I went to that store, I would wander around for an hour, even though I was there to get laundry soap and trash bags. At the end of my wandering, I would have over $300 of stuff in my basket that I didn’t even go there to get. Another tip, I could add is for those with pets, check out Chewy.com. I save on average about $200 a month. We have 3 English Bulldogs, a Chihuahua, three cats, and 7 fish tanks. Just a thought for all of you.
I am loving all these tips you have. I have a new goal to get all of our credit cards paid off and need to get my budget in order.
This sounds like “batching”, something that is used in computer science a lot to create more efficient algorithms and processes.
What is amazing to me is that the principles of batching apply whether you are moving/storing bits or common everyday items! These principles seem to apply at a mathematical level.
I’ll make sure to bookmark and share this article. I have friends that are always complaining about how “crazy busy” they are, a little practice batching and they will have more time to spend on the things they truly love! I also like how you provide easier options that makes it feel like a less intimidating change.
P.S. The fact that you read 3 books a week is very impressive! I usually only manage one every week or two, but I have a bad habit of forcing myself to read books I’m not really that interested in.