Remember when you were in school and asked your parents and teachers why you had to take math classes? “When will I ever use this?” Well, you may not calculate derivatives on a daily basis, but math is still essential for frugal living.
Is bigger always better cheaper?
Big warehouse stores want shoppers to believe that buying in bulk saves money. Sometimes it does, but not always. For example, if you save ten cents per pound by buying ten pounds of apples, but four pounds rot before you have a chance to use them, did you really save? Also, there are times when the cost per ounce on certain items is actually more when you purchase the large container. Packaging may lead you to believe that you’re getting twice as much as the next size down for less than twice the cost, but a closer look at the fine print may reveal otherwise. Make sure you’re comparing costs ounce for ounce to ensure savings. Use the calculator app on your phone if necessary.
You have to find a common denominator to compare other things you spend money on, too. When it comes to transportation, per person is a good common denominator. For example, is it cheaper to fly or drive to your destination? Or would it be more cost efficient to rent a car or purchase a bus pass for your week-long business trip? In both cases, the per person cost will help you determine the least expensive option. It could easily be cheaper for one person to fly but less expensive for a family of four to drive. If you split the cost of a rental car five ways, it might be less expensive than purchasing five individual bus passes. Do the math to know for sure.
The same principle holds true for entertainment. It might be silly to pay six dollars for an on-demand movie or more for a pay-per-view fight if you watch it alone, but if you invite a group of people over to watch with you, the cost per person drops significantly.
DIY vs. ready-made
Hobby stores and Pinterest may like folks to believe that DIY is always the less expensive option. Do the math. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. Consider curtains, cookies, and car washes. Starting with curtains: by the time you purchase fabric, thread, trim, lining, a curtain rod, hardware, and a sewing machine (if you don’t already have one), you may not save any money at all.
As for cookies, the cost of ingredients adds up. If you don’t make them regularly you’re better off buying the ready-made cookie dough at the grocery store.
Then there are the car washes. Logic would lead you to believe that going to a DIY car wash would be less expensive than a full service wash. Do the math. If you have to pay 75 cents for each of the following cycles: rinse, suds, high pressure wash, spotless rinse, clear coat protectant, you’re already up to $3.75 and that’s if you only need one cycle of each. Then you have to dry it. Add another two bucks to vacuum and it may or may not be worth the effort.
Just a quick note about couponing. Compare prices even with a coupon. Often times the store brand is less expensive than a name brand with a coupon. Once again, it’s math for the win and the savings.