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True Frugality Considers the ROI

Frugal in Virginia's husband, Ryan, has another smashing piece up here which you'll want to go read. I found myself nodding along in agreement until I came to the sentence which said they don't reuse their Ziploc bags.

I had to stop and catch my breath for a second.

They don't reuse Ziploc bags?? Doesn't that break rule number 10454 in The Frugal Zealot's Handbook? Doesn't everyone know that you must get at least 543 uses out of a Ziploc bag before throwing it out? That's just what we frugal folks do. Anything else would be… well, it would just be unthinkable.

Jesting aside, the point of the piece was excellent: true frugality considers the ROI (return on investment of time) as the bottom line. There are thousands of ways to save a buck. But each family needs to carefully weigh how much time it is going to take to save that buck. Time is money, too.

So figure out which money-saving efforts are worth your time and stick with those. Don't feel guilted over the fact that you might not be doing all the frugal things some other family is doing. You can't do it all, so pick and choose what works for your family in the season of life you're in.

For me, it's not a big deal at all to reuse Ziploc bags. I do a lot of baking so when a freezer bag of baked goods is empty, I just dump the crumbs into the trash and stick the empty bag back into the freezer door to be at-the-ready for my next Baking Day spree. It probably takes me all of ten seconds and it means that I only buy a box of freezer bags twice a year–at the most.

But there are a lot of things I don't do. For instance, I don't use a clothesline, don't cloth diaper, and we do go out to eat once a week. Just like it seems weird to me that someone who considers themselves frugal would not also reuse their Ziploc bags, it probably seems strange to some of you that I don't hang my clothes out, use cloth diapers, or make every meal from scratch.

I've done each of those things before and might do them again in the future, but I've found they just don't work well for our family right now. And I'm okay with that. What works for one family, won't necessarily work for another family.

I love how Ryan ends his post:

Check up on yourself. Evaluate your frugal techniques. Which ones are really
worth it? If you wouldn’t accept $2 per hour as payment for your labor
from another, don’t accept it from yourself under the guise of
frugality. Valuing your time is the subtle and important difference
between being cheap and being frugal.

The frugal experience is about living better on less. If you miss the living better part, you’ve missed it entirely.

Just for fun: do you reuse your Ziploc bags? What common frugal techniques do you find to not work or be worth it to your family? Tell us about it in the comments.

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188 Comments

  • Jody says:

    WE used to reuse them, but fear of germs got to me. Most of the time, it isn’t a big deal. Everyone knows not to reuse the really messy ones, but say you use them for cheese…news flash, mold will grow on your cheese. And there are several things you don’t want to pass on to your family. Freezing isn’t the answer. There are many germs that can be frozen and then come “back to life” when you defrost them. Talk about saving time, how much of your time will get eaten up by a sick kid or worse, a husband? For those of you with kids with breathing problems, be warned, this is an especially bid deal.

  • becca says:

    I reuse my bags but I don’t wash them. If they need washing, I toss. But if it had bread or tortillas or something like that in it, it isn’t a big deal to save it. I also save bags in the freezer for things like bacon (which I cut in half and leave in the original package so no meat actually touches the bag, and it stays in the freezer all the time) and onions and peppers (which I buy fresh and chop and freeze in season). I’ll reuse snack bags and such, but I do try to use more containers as well. As for line drying- I do it if it is hot enough. Sometimes though, it isn’t worth the time to hang it. We do cloth diapers during the day, and I actually prefer them to disposable. Baby seems happier in the cloth. And now that we have another on the way (will be 15 months apart) I can’t imagine not doing cloth because I really don’t want to shell out for two disposable bums.

  • Elsie says:

    I reuse ziplock bags like for baked goodies or fresh veggies only if there’s not any funky stuff like mold and mildew growing in it….LOL.

  • I reuse them if they only had crumbs in them or would be easy to rinse out. We put our pancake mix box in a ziploc to keep it fresh, and that just keeps getting reused for the same purpose. However, if it touched meat or is really slimy with something else, like veggie puree, then I throw it out.

    I do like reusing the Zip n Steam bags, which we use to steam broccoli on a regular basis. I’ve found you can reuse those MANY times before having to throw it out–just rinse right after you dump out the broccoli.

  • Naomi says:

    I reuse some of my ziploc bags. The ones that have had a meat product or something liquid in them I do not re-use but others I do.

    By the way, you are way ahead in the voting. Will be rooting for you to win the money

  • Shelly says:

    I go back and forth on this issue. Yes, we do reuse them if, like other posters, it was something dry. Meat bags get tossed as soon as the meat comes out of them. I will also toss them if I flat freeze soup or sauce in them. That being said, I try to use re-usable containers whenever possible. Kids lunches are plastic bag free at our house, we use tupperware lunch thingies and happy sacks that are machine washable for our goldfish or cookies. I also have a small stock of plastic lidded bowls for things like apple sauce and pudding, as with 4 kiddos in my house, the individual serving items are usually not frugal to purchase. Not only that, but I try to think of how much less waste there is when I dont use them. Even if I paid next to nothing for the bag, it will fester in some landfill for many many years to come, so we try to think long and hard before we use them to begin with. I dont line dry either, so I am not as frugal or “green” as I could or should be, but I do what works for me. And I never in my life used a cloth diaper (well, my mom used them, but I didnt on my kids) TOOO MUCH WORK!!! 🙂

  • I do re-use ziploc bags; there’s often a small sink load of pots to wash at the end of the day, so we wash the bags then. I do not use shampoo on my hair, but not to save money, but because my hair is very dry and shampoo isn’t good for it. Currently I make my own laundry detergent, but I’m not sure that will continue as it doesn’t seem to be doing as good a job.

    I do not line dry my clothes. I do not (usually) make meat marinades from scratch – I buy the bottle on sale w/ a coupon. And (gasp!) I use paper towels and paper napkins. I don’t use the towels for hand drying or cleaning counters – they get used mostly for patting dry chicken or soaking up bacon grease and such.

  • Wendy says:

    I don’t reuse ziploc bags – I think it’s probably a holdover from all the bags I washed & dried growing up. Thankfully, I don’t use all that many & I stocked up a month or two ago when they Hefty One-Zip were $1.00 at Kroger & I had $1.00/1 coupons.

    I do cut my own hair; I used to get it cut at the local vocational school, but a few years ago I found a student that was wonderful and after she graduated I kept having really bad luck with haircuts so I invested about $15 in cutting shears & thinning shears & do it myself. I’ve always colored my hair at home because it’s so easy.

    I love using a clothesline but I haven’t had one in about a year & a half. This has resulted in hanging clothes on hangers all around my back porch…LOL However, this does not work for towels & sheets 🙁 We’re facing a move very soon & I have stressed to my hubby that I really want a clothesline put up ASAP after the move. I’m somewhat picky about laundry supplies, so many people would not consider me “frugal” in that area, but that’s okay. I do what works for us; the satisfaction I get when I pull my laundry out of the dryer (or off the line when I have the chance) and love the way it looks & smells & feels makes doing the laundry much less of a chore for me.

    When I bake in the winter, I leave the oven door open while it’s cooling down after I’m finished; I see no reason to waste that heat. My parents heat with a wood stove, so shorts & tank tops are common in their living room in the winter, but my mother can stay warm without breaking the bank.

    I absolutely agree it’s all about figuring out what works for your family & not letting anyone make you feel bad about it.

  • Karen Rucker says:

    I used to HATE hanging my clothes out on a clothes line. Lugging a heavy basket of wet clothes through the grass and kicking up things I’m allergic to with every step was just torture, not to mention that my clothes would come in wrinkled, stiff, and sometimes covered in pollen, birdy poop, or bugs. And if I got busy and forgot them out there, they’d get wet in the rain or fade in the sun.

    However, I remembered having a clothes line as a kid and I didn’t remember it being such a chore for my mom. Then I remembered that she had one with a pulley. I bought a set of heavy duty pulleys and tried it again. Much, much, MUCH better this time around. No more lugging that basket. I stand on the end of my porch and hang them. Plus since I”m not kicking around in the grass my clothes don’t get pollen on them. I also learned to reel them in while they’re just a touch damp. No longer are they stiff and wrinkled, and since I’m keeping an eye out to make sure they come in early, they don’t fade, pooped on, or rained on.

    Long story short, once I learned how to do it the right way, it was worth the effort.

    However, I don’t reuse Ziplocs. We tend to store sauces and other gooey items in them so they would require actual washing. Not worth it in my book.

  • Kimiko says:

    I don’t reuse my ziploc bags, because they usually have something like raw meat in them. I’m a big germophobe when it comes to raw meat, so those bags go straight into the trash when I’m done with them!

    I DID, however, make all of my own baby food when my daughter was at that stage, and I plan on making baby food for all of our kids, if the Lord chooses to bless us with more. It’s so easy and so cheap! Don’t do cloth diapers, though. I figure that when the amount of time, water, energy, detergent, bleach, etc. are factored in, it’s not much of a savings (especially since I buy the cheap diapers!). I also save money by using vinegar to clean a lot of things (works well if you can stand the smell). Dawn dish detergent mixed with water also works well as an all-purpose cleaner.

  • Sarah says:

    I Do:
    Re-use freezer bags for the same item. Re-use snack bags for dry items.
    Do hubby’s and son’s hair at home. (Buzzz….)
    Only use dryer sheets on certain loads, and never on towels (they actually make towels less absorbent and ruin their quality).
    Use coupons, visit the MSM site multiple times a day!
    Save gift bags, tissue paper, and bows to re-use.
    Re-use foil, if it isn’t dirty.

    I Don’t:
    Go after every sale and great deal at Walgreens and CVS. Sometimes the deal is awesome, but we are almost out of budget for the month, don’t really need the items right away, and can’t spare the up-front cost to get the catalinas back. Sometimes it’s heart-breaking, but it just doesn’t make sense to me to overspend now for items I don’t HAVE to have.

  • barbjenn says:

    I refuse to reuse! But, I do have other ways of saving. One of my faves is using my solar oven. I live in Phoenix, and I use my solar oven to do my baking in the summer, from casseroles, to quick breads, to cookies and cobblers. I do not have to pay to heat up my oven, then cool my house. I let Mother Nature do my cooking. If I did not have that oven, I would not bake during the summer. As it is, I try not to use my oven at all from June through September, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

  • Christine says:

    What has not worked for me is buying new, low quality clothing. It isn’t a bargin if I don’t find myself reaching for it every time I get dressed or if the buttons fall off or snags develop. Instead, I take the money I would spend on buying new cheap clothes and go to resale shops or thrift stores and buy previously owned, good quality clothes. This strategy has served me well for many years and it is also a great incentive to keep my weight down since there is always more selection in the smaller sizes!

  • Barb Simeon says:

    What a great conversation. I’m honestly struggling still with the time involved in searching out these deals — which would be much much more time if you weren’t doing this for us and posting links to others who do (I’m so grateful for all your hard work — and the repeat trips to the store. I find that some trips are a total waste, especially on Monday evening, when all the other shoppers have cleaned out the stock! Being in the big city, the deals are sometimes just not the same as what is posted in various places. (I have yet to find a 99 cent bottle of Sally Hansen nail polish!) And I seem to be spending so much time on my computer, scouring the web sites and printing coupons. I feel like I’m neglecting my kids. Still, I can’t help but get excited when I “corner the market” on a deal. I’m still struggling, I guess, to find that balance.

  • Erika says:

    I reuse Ziplocs on dry items like baked goods and I have one that never comes out of my freezer that I keep home made popsicles in for the kids.

    I do cloth diaper combined with disposables. I do the cloth diapers when I get a chance to fold the laundry and stuff the diapers (I use pocket diapers…think disposable convience combined with cloth 🙂 and then just use the cloth diapers for a few days and just try to do that as often as I can. I do NOT use cloth diapers when I’m out and about…I tried it when my daughter was born and honestly? The idea of carrying around an icky diaper in a ziploc bag just didn’t work for me. So, to disposable convience I go.

    I have cut my own hair, lived off a camper washer to wash my clothes when I didn’t have a washer or dryer (because I got tired of shelling out more money and time than I ever wanted to at a laundry mat) and have even washed my clothes in the sink in my bathroom if I had to.

    I make all my kid’s popsicles now unless I absolutely have NO room in my freezer (I make sugar free ones) to freeze the molds. I clip coupons obsessively. I try to bake and cook and freeze as much as I can. I found my bread maker was the best investment I’ve made in my lifetime because between that and getting a 17.00, 50 lb bag of bread flour at Costco…I’m set on bread for a while :-).

    And I try to cut myself some slack most of all. I try to do everything and no matter how hard I try my house is always a mess, I have masses of clean clothes to fold and other stuff to do. But, my kids are happy and well adjusted. So, it’s a give and take.

    Thanks for the guest post. He brought up a lot of good points.

  • Rebecca says:

    I reuse them but only to wrap a poopy diaper in before throwing it away.

  • Clara Auty says:

    Yes, but for raw meat only because I know I will cook whatever germs might be left in the bag.
    I agree the ROI of time has to be considered, but when both of us are in between jobs, really my attitude is unless it is truly unsanitary or otherwise a threat to our long term well being (like unhealthy food), we need to try to do everything we can. My main issue is figuring out if monetarily some of the frugal things we try to do really save money in the long run.

  • Amber says:

    I personally do not reuse ziploc bags.

    My grandma however who barely survived the depression throws nothing out. She reuses plastic forks and spoons, at holidays if she catches anyone trying to throw them out she retrieves them. She reuses plastic disposable cups and baggies. If goes to a restaurant and they give her condiments in her bag it all goes home and is put away for later use. I admit I used to roll my eyes at her but I totally understand now that I am older. She was taught not to waste anything, ever.

  • M Evans says:

    Yes we reuse them because we believe in frugality of ALL resources not just money. The 1 minute it takes to keep one perfectly reusable ziploc from the landfill is time well spent.

  • carrie says:

    We always re use the zip locks bags, in fact, I was feeling so passionate about it one day that I actually did a whole blog post on it! 🙂 see it http://www.primeonadime.com/2009/09/reuse-zippered-plastic-bags.html

    The other one that we ‘always’ do that I’ve been surprised that some folks don’t, is reusing their towels! One day I’ll do a live comedy show on this one: ( if I ever become a comedian!) we spend countless dollars on soaps, body washes, shampoo, scrubs, thick washclothes and water. Then, when it’s all done and over, we wipe the CLEAN water off ourselves and suddenly that clean towel is D I R T Y! Have never figured out the magic here… but… must be in some houses! 🙂 Ok.. it’s all in fun.. but it is one of my little frugal quirks!

  • Jackie M says:

    I don’t reuse Ziploc bags–I find it kind of gross! But I wouldn’t call myself a “frugal” person either. I enjoy couponing and snagging good deals. We both work and have no kids so we can eat out multiple times a week, etc. It’s amazing to read through the comments though and see what other people do. I can’t imagine the how much work and sacrifice it takes to be truly “frugal!”

  • Michelle says:

    The only thing I use ziploc bags for is my wool yarn (to keep the moths out), so they get reused.

    If I used them in the kitchen, I probably would not reuse them.

  • tina b says:

    We don’t use a whole lot of plastic baggies to begin with (we try not to use plastic in contact with our food). But, when we do use them, they are mostly for freezing items, and man are freezer quality bags expensive!! So, I do try to re-use those when I can. Like you said, if it just had some muffin crumbs in it from the freezer, just dump it out and use it again! I do not, however, re-use baggies that have been in contact with other things that require washing. Personally, I am concerned about the properties of the plastic changing when I use hot water on the baggies. So, dishwasher-ing is out for me 😛

    I did have a question about your baking pans, though. I’m referring to the aluminum ones I see in your pictures of lasagnas and such that you freeze. Do you re-use those? Are you able to find them on a good deal anywhere specific? Just curious…I’m a novice meal-freezer 🙂

  • Jennifer H. says:

    Yes, this is a good post. I started getting overwhelmed and spent too much time deal-chasing and I’ve relaxed in the past 2 months. My hubby had a heart-to-heart with my about it and I really appreciated it!

    I rarely re-use the bags, but I don’t use many anyway, so it doesn’t make much difference. When I take homemade bread to work in a baggy, I re-use it, but that’s no big deal to me. Anything that needs washing gets tossed.

    We are frugal in many ways, but don’t line-dry all clothes. I bought a 23-pound bucket of laundry detergent from Sam’s Club for $13 and we’re about half-way finished with it. I started using it in February and use it for my husband and I. I qualify my purchase as a bargain. 🙂

  • Cathe says:

    It probably depends on why you are frugal and your attitude about work and income. Paying myself $2 an hour is better than no income at all.

  • Michelle says:

    I LOVE this post! It is amazing how many people don’t take that into consideration when they start trying to live more frugally. Coupons are especially a downfall for most people. I hear friends talking about how much money they saved, but they don’t consider if they will even use it or they end up spending more money because they don’t calculate the price per ounce or piece. I love to see how you are very methodical about how you spend your money. It isn’t as easy as it appears from the surface!

  • Mrs. Shannon H. says:

    I agree with “Posted by: Ashley | October 15, 2009 at 12:32 PM” above: ” We opt for glass storage most of the time (inert- no zeno-estrogens leeching from it, like with plastic)”….”if you have to wash them there is too much possiblity for leeching, etching and contaminating the food you store. I think staying healthy is a big part of being frugal- sick costs money and time! ”

    Re-using plastic food containers worries me for the same reasons.

    The older I have gotten, the more I have become concerned about overall health as well as frugality.

    I have health issues that stemmed, in part, from unhealthy habits learned as a child. (My mom did her absolute best, but she did not have a very good home life as a child.) I have attempted to teach my children, now 19 and 13, healthier living so they may not face the struggles I do in this area.

    We have gradually made the switch to glass. You can still freeze in glass, leaving plenty of head room for expansion, no accelerated temperature changes like freezer to microwave, etc. My glassware has plastic lids, but with the headroom, there is no contact with the food. Microwaving plastic, whether it says it’s okay or not, worries me as well. My family has damaged tupperware storageware in the microwave, so we quit it also.

  • Elisa Smith says:

    I refuse to reuse zip lock bags!!! My father in law washes and reuses every single one he ever buys unless I throw them out first. I can’t tell you how many of them he’s washed and put back that have mold growing in them. I will never put my families health at risk just to save a buck. Think about all the plastic the breaks down use after use and gets in your food, washing with a maybe not so clean cloth or mold….sorry there is no way!

  • Holly says:

    “If my average savings is $80 per month and I invest this money on an account which yields 12% annual interest rate compounded monthly for a period of 50 years my heirs will receive $3,516,250.57 in savings by the time I turn 80.”

    Please tell me where you are getting a 12% interest rate!!

  • Carollynn says:

    My Non-Frugal vice? Paper towels. I haven’t learned to live without them! When I run out it drives me crazy til I can buy more. Everyone has their own “issues” don’t they? ; )

  • tonya says:

    My Mom is a hoard monster. I washed out plain fold sandwich bags growing up. Every drawer, box, closet, bowl whatever had several zip lock bags in them with everything from change, and barbies to crackers. I think everyone needs to be frugal or an enviromentalist or whatever you chose to be. Do it with a delicate balence of comoon sence and reality. Its very easy to “overdue” it. Dont risk your familys health by re-using meat bags. Dont buy expensive zip lock bags every week to put 3 in your kids lunch. Its all common sence. Find a balance. Do what works for you and yours. What my Mom did only worked for her. Not for us. It was humiliating to even have a friend over. Our family should never suffer from our attempts to “improve” thier lives. Every thing we do effects our family from finacial to emotional in someway. Just keep it balanced and do what works for your family.

  • On the cloth diapers -we ended up going about 50-50 (cloth @ home, disposable on the run/daycare). It works for us.

    On the ziplock baggies, we use them a lot as I freeze seasonal produce. For that I’ll rinse and reuse. For broths/meat/etc., no dice.

  • Challice says:

    I am also curious. How is he calculating this? I dont do a special wash for my ziplocks. they usually are the first things washed for me (I’m the dishwasher of the family) and hubby dries them along with a couple of our big items so it isnt like I’m doing a special load or something.

  • Beth Moss says:

    I quit reusing plastic bags (along with other things I have changed) due to the dangerous cancer causing chemicals that are released out of the plastic in which certain items are made. I have cancer, and as important it is to me to be frugal, the health of my family in more. I have become a bit OCD with it. It’s a great way to save, just be careful…

  • Kris says:

    what a great topic!

    for me, it is a balance between three things – cost, time (ROI), and not wanting to be wasteful. so, even though we can get zip bags cheap or free with coupons, i still won’t just toss them because i feel that it is wasteful. i even reuse plastic straws -weird, i know!

    but, i use a ton of paper towels which i’m sure many would consider wasteful. i do use dish rags and have tried to use them exclusively, but i just can’t stand wet rags mildewing in the sink. the smell drives me crazy. so, i guess i need to add a fourth thing to my list -my own level of sanity! sometimes, that one trumps all the others.

    i recently did a unit with my girl scouts on reduce, reuse, recycle. we talked about how recycling gets all the pr, but that the best place to start is with reducing what we use in the first place. yeah! because for me, that’s the easiest one to do.

    again, great post! and, thanks for all your hard work on this site. you have helped me save so much money at drugstores that i have been able to donate tons of stuff to shelters. (i couldn’t stick with the grocery store part – it was too much for me). i started in january and have gotten over $600 of products for $0 OOP – you read that right! zero! i started with a couple of gift cards by transferring prescriptions and have let it grow from there!

    thank you!! thank you!

  • Charlotte says:

    I reuse a ziploc only if I am refilling it with what was in it, I buy meat in bulk from a meat market and precook that and I toss those when I make a meal, my family’s safety is much more valuable than a few sents, When hubby was working I invested in a fit and fresh lunch box system, it gave him a full ice packed meal and was reusable, we used cloth diapers when my little one was tiny and most of our curriculum was hands on and frugal, now as our family dynamic has changed, we had to spend more and adjust, but it works for us and what we need now.

  • kriswithmany says:

    I cut the kids’ hair, make most meals from scratch, shop at the thrift store or make clothes or buy clearance. But I don’t wash ziplock bags, cloth diaper, compost, or line dry my clothes. I have limited time, and I have to choose what I want to do most.

  • Jennifer says:

    I don’t reuse ziplocks. I occasionally feel guilty about throwing them away, but I am really bothered by clutter, so it is just all around easier for me to throw them away. I try to use reusable storage containers more than ziplocks, and I almost never pay full price for them. I usually get my ziplock bags at grocery outlets. Thanks for this post. I think it is a great reminder that we all have priorities and some people reuse ziplocks so they can eat out, while other people don’t eat out so they don’t have to reuse ziplocks.

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