How To Spend: Use Only Just Enough

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Both laundry scoops are filled with 2 ounces. For the larger one, this is its second fill line.

We’ve worked with many clients who have accumulated significant assets. And mostly they have accumulated their money by learning how not to spend it. Living within your means and learning how not to spend money is a millionaire mindset. You can either live rich or you can be rich. And wealth comes from saving and investing, not from spending.

The book “The Millionaire Next Door” found that millionaire couples have very little in common with one another except that they all answer “yes” to these three questions: “Are you frugal? Were your parents frugal? Is your spouse even more frugal than you are?”

One method of being frugal is to learn to use “just enough” rather than being extravagant in your use of consumables. Most of our regular use of items is habitual. Developing a mindset that uses less requires changing our habits.

Frugality used to be a sales technique. In the 1950s, Brylcreem based an entire advertising campaign on the slogan, “A little dab’ll do ya.” In fact, they warned through public service announcements that two dabs could get you into serious trouble. When you are tempted to be extravagant in your use of something, just remember, “A little dab’ll do ya.”

Now, none of the containers provided with products dispense the correct amount. They are all designed to make it easy to use too much of their product.

With every bottle of contact solution I purchase, the manufacturer includes a contact case with screw on lids. This contact case, however, is slightly larger than a cheaper looking flip lid case. In fact the radius of the circle is about 50% larger. For those of you who remember the formula for the area of a circle, that means that the larger case has an area about 2.25 times larger than smaller case. The larger case is also about 50% deeper meaning that it holds about 3.38 times more contact solution. Using the provided larger contact case will result in overusing contact solution. By reusing the smaller flip lid case, you can save money. If I would have used a $6 bottle of solution every month, not using the larger case saves me about $50.70 per year.

In the same way, there is a massive scoop provided with every box of laundry detergent. The scoop has a faint line about one quarter of the way up on the scoop that represents what they think is the correct amount. Why didn’t they simply provide a much smaller scoop? Because many if not most consumers look at the size of the scoop and use way too much laundry detergent. Even half their normally recommended amount is sufficient. Trying to measure an eighth of this massive scoop is impossible. By saving another scoop from a more sane packaging era or using a different correctly portioned scoop of your choosing, you can save money. If a $14.50 box of laundry detergent would last two months under heavy use, using less might save $76.13 per year.

Mouthwash comes with a cap by which it can be measured and dispensed. The opening of the mouthwash bottle and the cap are unusually large. This encourages dispensing too much product. The instructions on the bottle suggest using 10ml (two teaspoons). Using the cap might dispense four tablespoons or six times that amount. Assuming a 33.8oz bottle costs $5, using the cap daily might make it last just 17 days. Using only just enough might save you $91.29 per year.

You may remember the toothpaste ads that showed a massive amount of toothpaste curled in an S-shape sitting higher than the toothbrush itself. Such excess is not only wasteful, it can also be harmful. Adults and especially children have trouble spitting out the excess foam. Swallowing excess toothpaste isn’t healthy given the ingredients of traditional toothpaste. Swallowing too much fluoride in children can even cause dental fluorosis. The recommended use for toothpaste is a tiny pea sized amount. The opening on the toothpaste tube makes it difficult to dispense this little. You could simply wipe the smallest amount possible and it would likely be sufficient. Additionally, if you don’t use a toothpaste key or other dispensing strategy, you will likely leave a significant amount of paste in the tube when you finally throw it away. A full size tube of toothpaste lasts anywhere between a month for those who use an excessive amount to two years for those who use just enough. At $7 per tube this is a potential savings of up to $80 per year.

You may also be using too much dishwasher soap. The prepackaged pods may even pre-measure too much for you. A New York Times article quotes experts who say, “Nobody thinks they use too much soap. Most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need, and they’re pouring money down the drain.” Using less may reduce clogs, film, and deposits. Using less may actually clean your dishes better. If a pod costs $0.21 and you run your dishwasher every other day, using 10 times less detergent and measuring it yourself might save $34.50 a year.

Savings so far have been gained by simply using less. Making your own cleaners saves even more. For that level of frugality, check out our article “The Complete Guide to DIY Household Cleaners.”

When you think about this principle you will find hundreds of ways it can be applied.

Driving slower speeds uses less gasoline. Also, accelerating and stopping uses more energy than accelerating less urgently. During World War II, propaganda campaigns suggested that the national Victory Speed was 35 miles per hour.

Carpooling or riding a bike also saves energy. Even just grouping all of your errands together saves gasoline usage.

In 1970s during the oil embargo, President Carter lowered the federal speed limit to 55 miles per hour in order to conserve energy. He also required public buildings to set their thermostat no higher than 65 degrees in the winter and no lower than 78 degrees in the summer. These were suggestions for patriotic households to follow. He suggested that if we were cold, we should put on a sweater. So if you remember your father saying, “Shut the door! Are you trying to cool off the whole neighborhood?” smile knowing that he understood how to save money by using less energy.

One of my prospective clients was extremely proud of the fact that he had purchased a bulk supply of misprinted quality pens at a cost of just $0.09 per pen. Sure enough, you can find these for sale on the Internet. If you use a pen every month and the average pen retails for $1.09 this might save $12 per year.

When I first moved to California, drought and water conservation measures were being put in place. The idea of saving water by less frequent flushing comes with its own slogan; “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” This advice often disgusts people. Conservationists on the other hand find using 1.6 gallons of good drinking water to flush 10 ounces of urine down the bowl to be disgusting. Per household member that participates, the savings is about 6 flushes per day or 3,504 gallons a year. For a family of four it saves 14,016 gallons. At $38.07 per 5,000 gallons here in Virginia where water is plentiful that would save about $106.72 per year. In drought stricken areas like California, it would save more.

For those who want to save even more on their water bill, showers can be taken without running the water constantly. Just a little water is required to get wet and then the water can be turned off while you shampoo and soap up. Then, water can be used at the end to rinse. This is sometimes called a Navy Shower. If a ten minute low-flow shower uses 25 gallons, saving half that amount every day might save $69.48 per year.

One of my clients has a rain barrel which collects water from his roof which he uses to water his plants. Providing your plants with one inch of water requires 62 gallons of water for every 10′ x 10′ area. Saving that much water twice a week might save $49.09. My client also told me that if you consistently water plants with tap water it contains too much chlorine and can kill the plants. Using a rain barrel to water can save you money. It can also save your plants.

If your landscaping is 100′ x 100′ it would require 6,230 gallons of water every time you turn on the sprinklers and give it a good soaking. If you water your landscaping, you can choose not to water during the heat of the day when it is least efficient. Watering is best done in the early morning when the temperature is the coolest and the greatest amount of water will go into the soil rather than evaporating.

Composting rather than putting food down the garbage disposal can save the water and energy required to run the garbage disposal. It can also save you the cost of buying compost for your garden. You can also use leftover water glasses from your dinner table to water your indoor plants.

The list of savings ideas is as endless as your consumables.

The default mindset of most millionaires is to live a frugal lifestyle, well below their means. Yes, there are areas where they spend a great deal of money, but that spending is done intentionally on account of what they value. The default setting is frugal.

These cost saving measures are just a few ways the “use only just enough” principle could be applied. Once the principle becomes a habit, applying it becomes second nature.

None of these cost savings are necessary. You can grow to be a millionaire and still flush your toilet after every use. But if you are still struggling to live well below your means, get out of credit card debt, or have enough excess to save and invest, learning this principle of using just enough could be one component of developing a millionaire mindset.

Photo by author Megan Russell.

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.

Follow Megan Russell:

Chief Operating Officer, CFP®, APMA®

Megan Russell has worked with Marotta Wealth Management most of her life. She loves to find ways to make the complexities of financial planning accessible to everyone. She is the author of over 800 financial articles and is known for her expertise on tax planning.