Everywhere you look, there are finance apps, electronic calendars, and other digital tools meant to help you save time and keep track of money. And while technology is great, sometimes I crave old-school techniques to plan my day and finances. I still love my paper calendar and enjoy the process of bullet journaling. Going old-school means I have a chance to put away my computer and phone and sink into the present.
There are several ways to channel techniques from the past to work more efficiently and budget wisely — after all, if it worked for your grandma, it might still work for you! Here are seven old-fashioned tips that can save you time and money.
1. Air-dry clothes instead of using the dryer.
When I was a little girl in Texas, my parents had a drying line that hung on our fence. At the time, I didn’t quite understand the “why” of this exercise, but as an adult, I now realize how much electricity a dryer uses. Reports indicate that a clothes dryer uses 12 percent of a given household’s electricity, even if it’s a “greener” model — but a simple folding rack can help you get into the habit of air-drying clothes.
She admits this habit doesn’t come without a risk. “When you’re doing laundry in the middle of the night (like I always do), laying out each piece of clothing on the drying rack can feel soul-crushing,” she says. But the time-consuming nature pays off — she’s also less likely to damage her clothes this way, which keeps them in better shape for longer.
2. Get back into the habit of meal-planning.
I plan my meals week-by-week on a paper calendar, and designate what to make for dinner on most days. An asterisk on my calendar marks days for takeout or eating dinner at a restaurant, and I keep a monthly budget for spending at restaurants to the right of my calendar to keep myself in check.
There are ways to make eating at home feel special too. Having meals on a patio or copying a restaurant’s menu might add a little something extra to the evening, though Gupta acknowledges that sometimes it’s less-than-tempting to cook when both people are working full-time jobs. “Making a home-cooked healthy meal can be another full-time job,” she says. “Often, it can be difficult to strike a balance between chopping, cooking, cleaning, and feeling good about the meal. But if you’re anything like us, ordering take-out or going out is far more time-consuming and not worth the extra dollars.”
3. Review your bank and credit card statements on paper.
There are plenty of pros to online banking — including cutting down on paper waste and making payments digitally — but every month I print out our statements and review charges, fees, or potential discrepancies by hand. I pull out a highlighter and make note of what doesn’t add up, or any budget categories I might have overspent on the previous month.
This approach also helps with cultivating mindful spending. “Actually look at your bank and credit card statements each month to see how much you really spent on items. While this doesn’t save you time, it can be an eye-opener to see how much you spent on a particular category,” says Lauren Bringle, an accredited financial counselor at Self Financial. The risk, of course, is “you have to follow up and make changes to your spending for next month.” Using a color-coded planner can be an effective way to keep track of expenses and budget accordingly, as well as help you envision your spending trends over the course of several months.
4. Borrow books from the library.
When I go to a bookstore, it’s hard for me to resist adding several books to my reading pile. But buying hardcover books can be a costly habit, and I’ve learned that I don’t necessarily revisit these works again. In the last few years, I’ve made an effort to go to the library instead. And it appears other Americans are doing the same: According to one poll by Gallup, more people are visiting the library than going to movie theaters in the last few years.
When I check out books at the library, I don’t feel guilty when I only read a few pages of a book and want to move onto the next — I can return the book to the library. The risk is that I still love supporting local bookstores and still want to give them my business. So a few times during the year, I have more money to splurge and give my support to independent bookstores instead of the bigger-name franchises.
5. Embrace the envelope system.
If you tend to charge all your purchases on a credit card, it might be difficult to keep track of what you’re spending. It may be time to bring back the envelope system, in which you create spending categories (including those that bust your budget the most) and allocate a certain amount of money for each one. Place that money in an appropriately-labeled envelope, and try your best to only use the cash in each envelope for its category.
“The envelope system is probably one of the oldest money saving hacks. It requires you to take cash and separate it into various envelopes for different categories such as groceries, emergency, entertainment, etc.,” says Adam Garcia, the founder of Stock Dork. It is a difficult practice, but Garcia stresses that it’s worth it. “There is something to be said for the psychological effect it has when one physically takes money out of an envelope,” he says. “Somehow it seems more real than a notification on your phone.”
The risk is that it isn’t for everyone. “This system requires patience,” says Garcia. It also requires being mindful enough to keep track of your monthly allotment — the last thing you want to do is physically misplace the envelope you marked for groceries.
6. Check out garage sales before buying brand-new.
When I lived in Texas, I loved to drive around various neighborhoods and go to garage sales. I was always surprised by what I could find and also enjoyed landing relatively new items, like a chair or a neat piece of jewelry.
Of course there are risks with this approach. “Some disadvantages to buying used products can include not having a warranty and a shorter life span of the item,” Dr. Casteneda notes. “It can also be more time consuming to find a sustainable second-hand product.” But if you have the time and energy, hunting around for the perfect piece can be worthwhile. There is no greater feeling than getting what you want and paying well below market value for the product.
When I was a kid, Sunday mornings were for running down the driveway, grabbing the newspaper, and pulling out the comic pages. I’d help my mom cut coupons and file them in a min-plastic portable carrier. Coupons are digital now, but making it a priority might help save money on items that you and your household use consistently.
“Utilize food coupons for groceries, smart thermostats for your home and shop for deals on auto and home maintenance repairs,” Dr. Casteneda says. “Shopping around should not be a one-time event, but a continuous process.”
In order to make couponing a habit, make a list of all the stores you frequent the most, including grocery stores, clothing shops, and restaurants. Visit the individual website and sign up for newsletters or subscribe to the site and many establishments will automatically give you discounts on products. If the store or restaurant has an app, downloading it can help you capture savings on site. You can also go old-school and purchase the Sunday paper and cut out coupons to use during the month — the trick is to find a system that you can stick to.