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Busy Schedules: Money Saver or Money Waster

Written by Nickel - 30 Comments

We’ve recently been totally slammed schedule-wise… We’re coaching three soccer teams (fortunately only three of our four boys are playing age), my workload has ratcheted up about ten notches, we’ve had sick kids, which means doctor’s appointments, a backlog of homework, etc. Oh, and we’re in the midst of a relatively major home renovation.

All of this, combined with a recent comment from a reader named Floyd, got me to thinking about the relationship between free time and spending vs. saving money. In response to a post on debt reduction strategies, Floyd stated that:

When you’re busy, you save money.

Really? Let’s think about that for a minute… If you’re wildly overscheduled, you might not have time to incur entertainment expenses, engage in frivolous shopping, etc. But… Perhaps you’re more likely to rely on costly convenience items to get you through the day, wind up paying late fees for things you forgot to return (or pay) on time, etc.

So, dear readers, which is it? Does a hyper-busy life save money? Or do you actually end up spending more when you’re busy than when you have time on your hands? While the answer will probably depend on why you are busy (maybe you’re out there making more money?) and how truly busy you are, I’d still love to hear your thoughts.

Published on October 25th, 2007 - 30 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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30 Responses to “Busy Schedules: Money Saver or Money Waster”

  1. 1
    Fred's Leash Holder Says:

    I think to a certain degree, it depends on whether you’re a retail-therapy, shop because you’re bored kind of person or not. For me my biggest downfall is shopping for entertainment. So being busy keeps me from buying things that are far bigger ticket than a cheap meal out.

  2. 2
    GeekMan Says:

    Just theorizing off the top of my head here, but perhaps when some people are busy they delay purchases for the times when they’re not so busy, thus increasing the amount of money they spend during leisure time relative to their busy time. In effect, spending more when they’re not busy becomes a self fulfilling prophecy due to their own tendency to delay gratification until such time as they can more enjoy the money being spent.

    Hence, people’s propensity to rationalize spending money going to the movies or going out to eat on the weekend when they refuse to all week because they’re too busy with work.

    Does this make sense?

  3. 3
    Anitra Says:

    We definitely spend more when we’re busy.

    We don’t spend that much on entertainment, and most of it is for times we’ve committed to hang out with friends – we don’t cancel those just because we’re busy.

    However, full schedules will usurp times usually used for cooking, grocery shopping, and cleaning. We’re more likely to eat out (either due to time constraints or because there’s nothing left in the fridge), and I’m more likely to treat myself to Starbucks or something else that will de-stress me for a few minutes.

  4. 4
    Michael Says:

    For us, we definitely spend more when we’re busy – mostly because we’re so cheap to start with. When we’re busy, we’re more likely to eat out, or not use coupons for stuff, or buy stuff that we might need without checking if we already have the same stuff at home because we might not have time to get back to the store and…I’m sure you get the picture.

  5. 5
    Brandon Pierce Says:

    We spend more money when we’re busy without a doubt. Some of it is because of what Anitra mentioned–little time to cook, etc. It’s also because I don’t have time to sit down and keep finances under control. Instead, I try to keep a running enstimate in my head, which is always wrong.

    Sometimes I’ve even found myself doing this: “Gee, I just got reimbursed $40 from work. We can use that to treat ourselves to a meal out this weekend.” Then, later, “Sure, honey, you can go get a new shirt for the baby shower you’re attending. After all, I just got reimbursed $40 from work this week.” Even later, “Hey, let’s go get some movies and pizza with that $40 I was reimbursed from work this week!” Before I know it, I’ve spent the money several times over.

    Sure, this demonstrates a pattern of poor spending habits, but it’s more just an awareness thing. If I had been more mindful of how I had decided to use the moeny, and had time to stay on top of the day-to-day spending during busy times, this wouldn’t happen. I know this, because it’s not the norm–it only happens when our schedule is stuffed.

  6. 6
    Blaine Moore Says:

    Consider how much you are spending by driving to three soccer practices and the doctor’s office etc etc.

    Personally, it’s a moot point. You are either consciously making an effort to budget and save or you aren’t. You are either working towards your goals or you aren’t.

    If I had the choice, I’d rather have more free time. It’s worth more than the money I might be saving or spending.

  7. 7
    rocketc Says:

    Blaine, depends on how much money I’m making in the first place.

    Is more free time worth not making budget for that month?

  8. 8
    Joel Says:

    My experience lately is that being busy costs less money. Over a long stretch this summer, my wife and I didn’t have a lot going on, and so it became really difficult to resist the urge day in and day out to eat at a nice restaurant, go out to an expensive movie, buy books and all kinds of other things online, needlessly travel far distances just for something to do, and so on.

    Recently, she started working at a winery on the side, and I picked up some paid for a local political campaign, and we’re busy all the time. We set aside two specific nights per week just for us. It’s MUCH easier to resist those spending urges two nights a week versus seven. And not only are we spending less, we’re bringing in more and having fun in the process.

  9. 9
    Karen Says:

    I’ve never calculated out the real costs, but I guess it depends.

    On the one hand, being busy means you are less likely to have time to go to the movies, shop, etc.

    But being busy means more convenience foods, less time to clip and use coupons, and more purchases made hastily (if you’re busy and your fridge goes out, you’re less likely to take the time to research where you can get the best deal) And for me, being busy means I usually have kids in play practices 3 or 4 days a week, so that means driving 30 miles one way….so more gas.

    So I think (at least for me) it could go either way.

  10. 10
    Anonymous Says:

    There is good busy and bad busy. Good busy makes me money and includes things like investing, researching, exploring etc. Bad busy cost me time and money and includes things like mismanaged routines, focusing on the small stuff (and missing the big picture) etc.

  11. 11
    nickel Says:

    Anonymous: I have to say that you have a very narrow very of things. There’s a whole lot of busy that falls between your definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In fact, much of “real life” falls into that gap. It doesn’t make you any money, but it’s certainly not due to mismanaged routines, focusing on the small stuff, etc.

    (Unless you consider having a family and personal life to be small stuff.)

  12. 12
    Merry Maid Says:

    I’ve noticed that when i have a full day, I’m less likely to spend money needlessly. (I define a full day as doing things that make me happy, like sleeping my full 8 hours, exercising, spending time with friends, getting chores done.)

    However, once I cross the line into being overscheduled, I’ve noticed that I, too, spend money to de-stress (meals out, using paper plates so that i don’t have to do dishes, etc.). (I define this as having a filled, not a full, day.)

  13. 13
    MoneyNing Says:

    This is so true. The busier I am, the more money I have left at the end of the month :)

  14. 14
    Conrad Says:

    I would say that being busy definitely cost less money for me. I am a pretty social person so I tend to do a lot of things that cost money when I am not busy. Lately, I have been extremely busy with work and more work (emergency part time job to help out a friend) so I don’t do much social activities which result in all those money I used to spend on social stuff not being spend at all. It is definitely cost less money to be busy in my case.

    Of course, since my idle time is actually spend on things that cost me money, it is natural that I would save more money by having less idle time. In the same token, it is the reverse for a frugal person of course. Since there is less time for them to do a lot of the things themselves, they ended up using services provided by others and hence spending more money.

  15. 15
    Dylan Says:

    Being busy often leads to food delivery for us, that costs money. When I’m not busy I comment on Nickel’s posts, that’s free.

  16. 16
    Noah King Says:

    My experience is that I tend to spend less when I am extremely busy, with the exception of food. I tend to eat a lot of fast food, when I’m busy.

  17. 17
    BAS Says:

    This definitely depends on the person…

    When I’m extremely busy, I eat out a lot because I feel like I don’t even have enough time to whip up a sandwich. And then I get burned out and NEED a vacation. So I probably end up spending more money when I’m busy.

    When I’m not busy… I have time to plan and think about what I’m doing more. I’ll still spend on entertainment… but I always will.

  18. 18
    H Lee D Says:

    Busy is cheaper. And for weeks when there will be not much time for cooking, we either plan meals that are fast and easy to make (chili, spaghetti, grilled cheese, all with a big salad are fast, fairly healthy dinners – you can’t order food and go pick it up in less time), do the crockpot thing, or make stuff over the weekend and toss it in the fridge to be reheated as needed.

    Often, when we’re *that* busy, the time out includes gigging, which is income, so for us, really really busy often means increased income, not just less outgoing.

  19. 19
    Mrs. Micah Says:

    I think it depends on when we’re busy. If we’re busy throughout the times where I’m supposed to be making our big dinners which we’ll reheat, that’s bad. If we’re busy during dinner and aren’t at home or can’t pack dinner are aren’t getting it for free, that’s more expensive. If we’re traveling, that’s more expensive for convenience foods and the like.

    I much prefer to have free time, I think it works better for my budget and my brain!

  20. 20
    Creative Investor Says:

    At first though it would seem that being busy would wind up being cheaper, but if you really think about it, I don’t think it is. First of all, like someone already mentioned, you’d pay more for conveniences: Starbucks, going out to eat, etc. And, second of all, when you’re busy you feel like you’re not really doing anything for yourself so when you do shop, you feel like it’s a treat and don’t really pay attention to prices as much as would have otherwise on one side and on the other side you simply don’t have the time to shop around or research what would be better for you (this pertains to more expensive electronic items, for example).

    Overall, though, I think it’s more important to live a balanced life where you enjoy yourself, whether its hectic, or more on the slow side, and not worry about which type of a lifestyle benefits your budget the most.

  21. 21
    Shadox Says:

    I guess, like most things in life, the answer depends on the individual and the exact situation…

  22. 22
    Lou Says:

    You could look at it either way. I tend to believe that if you’re super busy you’re going to spend more because you are going to pay more for convenience & speed.

  23. 23
    Jasmine Says:

    I spend more on eating out when I’m busy because there is less time to cook and I’m on the road/outside of home more.

    Spend less on buying things like clothes, etc.

    Not sure which one is worse!

  24. 24
    Lisa Says:

    What a great thought provoking question. I’d have to say that I spend more when I’m busy. When I’m busy I don’t clean, which means dirty dishes. When I’m busy I don’t buy groceries, which means empty cupboards. When I’m busy, I’m tired. All that added together equals TAKE-OUT, which is the quickest way we waste our money each month.

  25. 25
    John Fiala Says:

    I think it depends on *how* busy you are.

    If you’re busy enough that you’re not sitting around, feeling board, and getting that urge to go by Best Buy, then it’s a good level of busyiness. On the other hand, if you’re so busy you can’t take time to cook or shop for food, then you’re going to spend a lot of money at drive-thru’s and applebee’s To Go (and the similar other stores that have that)! That’s too busy, IMHO.

  26. 26
    pam munro Says:

    I think I save money is I am moderately busy. That entails a schedule where I stay home during the day and do my computer-based work while my husband is working. That means that we don’t compete for computer time and only have one computer.
    I also can dress much more casually – in jeans/tshirts. Dressing more formally for business is much more expensive. (I also save wear and tear on the professional clothes I do have.) I don’t have to wear makeup – another savings. I don’t have to put gas in the car – another savings. Don’t have to pay for lunch or drinks = savings. No office presents, etc. = savings.

    When we are moderately busy we eat at home and fix our meals more or less from scratch = savings. I can use spare time to look for samples/deals on the net = savings.

    However, these savings can disappear when you are working very hard and have no time to comparison shop, or make your own meals or clean your own space and you hire someone to do it FOR you. DIY always saves money.

  27. 27
    Craig Says:

    I try to be pretty careful about the whole risk of being really reliant on convenience expenses just because I’m busy.

    Because I knew that I would be hungry but on the move ALL THE TIME this semester, I looked on Amazon.com for Clif bars. They’re about 250 calories of GOOD nutrition and vitamins, and they’re filling enough to get me through classes and a low point at work. I bought 2 whole boxes of them, so they average me .70 cents for half a meals worth of calories, or 1.40 for 500 good calories. I’m feeling pretty smart about it, as it gives me enough lasting energy at a low price that riding my bike is not a problem.

    This way I avoid spending needlessly on quick restaurant food (like my favorite: Potbellies Sandwiches) and I still dont starve.

  28. 28
    Aimee Says:

    There is a balance. As many have mentioned, you end up “treating” yourself more when you are extremely busy and relying on more conveniances which can add up. Being overly busy can also lead to illness if you aren’t taking enough time to eat well, sleep, and excercise. There is a balance though. I like having more free time so I can cook meals from scratch and read, which are relatively cheap ways to fill time.

  29. 29
    kingsbase Says:

    its so true,stay to think of it,any time you live your door,you either spendin or gainin,so if you throw yours on entertainment alone,it means you are spendin not gainin.

  30. 30
    Steve in W MA Says:

    Busy equates to stress and stress leads to temptations to “treat” yourself to those $3 coffees and that tasty sandwich at the cool shop down the street.

    I find that I can pull off being busy and still save money if I ASSERTIVELY take an hour in the evening to only take care of things like prepacking lunches for the next day and taking care of household nitty gritty stuff and making sure all the laundry is done and clothes are ready for the week–making sure the nest is organized is critical to my sense of sanity, which helps control the stress.

    Also, making sure I have a good breakfast and have the right kind of prepacked snacks and lunch at work…if I lay a good nutritional base down in the morning and throughout the day, the temptation to spend while at work is basically GONE–I will stay in my work and just drink herbal tea or whatever from the microwave instead of doing the outside coffee/cafe runs…so yeah. If I allow my business to eat into that planning and nesting time at night then I will start spending cash like a banshee, mainly on takeout and sit-down food items.

    I am absolutely NOT a shopper so free time doesn’t cause me to buy stuff like electronics or books or anything like that –I am the kind of person that doesn’t own an MP3 player because “I can always just play my CDs on the DVD player like I’ve been doing the last 10years, I don’t NEED an MP3 player!”

    If anything I sometimes have to struggle to force myself to buy stuff that I should buy. Like right now I know I SHOULD buy myself a laptop computer so I can be more productive and consistent in several of my projects, I have the money in hand, and I’ve picked it out but I’ve been putting off clicking through on the cart for a few days now…kind of ridiculous.

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