8 ways to save money with…a kitchen timer?

I use the timer on my stove a lot – and not only to keep from burning the meatloaf. The timer tells me that the Diet Coke that I put in the freezer 15 minutes ago needs to come out. It releases me from 20 minutes of morning stretches. It reminds me to rescue my sheets and towels from the basement laundry room.

These are all money-savers. The timer keeps me from ruining food. It prevents soda cans from freezing solid and then exploding (a waste of Diet Coke and also a real pain to clean up). It makes sure I don’t skimp on my exercises. And I’ve never lost any linens or clothing to laundry-room thieves.

A timer can save you money, too, especially if it sounds as obnoxious as mine. There’s no way to ignore it, and it never shuts itself off. But that ghastly blare can do wonders for the bottom line, either directly or indirectly.

1. Reduce utility bills. (You’ll need a portable timer for this one.) Determine how long a shower should last. Set the timer. Obey it. Watch those water and electricity/gas bills drop.

2. Get out of the house. Commuters who lose track of time wind up driving alone instead of carpooling; if they miss the train and get in late, they’re in dutch with the boss. When I went back to college, I would set the timer to 10 minutes before I had to leave. I hated the noise, but it sure beat the sound of the bus trundling away as I ran toward the corner.

3. Disentangle from the ’Net. You get home at night and sit down to check just a couple of e-mails. Suddenly it’s 8:15 p.m. and you haven’t started cooking so you order in. And your wrist hurts, your neck is stiff, and this is the fourth night in a row you haven’t exercised. Time to set some limits. Determine how long you should spend online and when the timer goes off, so does the computer. Don’t put it to sleep, turn it off. You’ll spend less money on takeout and other shortcuts, you’ll be more active and thus healthier, and you might even learn to talk in real sentences again instead of IM shorthand.

4. Commando food prep: How much money do you spend on lunches or dinners out, or prefab items like “baby” carrots or canned chili? Try this: Make a menu plan, hit the grocery store and do 30 minutes’ worth of basic meal preparation. A few examples: Put chicken breasts on to bake or broil, put dried beans in the slow cooker, start a pot of rice, set eggs to boil, brown ground beef and freeze for later use, peel a few carrots, grate cheese, wash fruit and a week’s worth of salad greens. The result is the building blocks for snacks, bag lunches and fast suppers.

5. Make time for workouts. You know you should exercise, and you will – just not tonight. Tomorrow, definitely. Riiiight. Set the timer for 20 minutes and power up the exercise bike or the Wii Fit or whatever. A short workout is better than no workout.

6. Clip efficiently. Coupon sections piling up? Set the timer for 10 minutes and scissor furiously. Set it for another 5 minutes and file all the coupons you just clipped.

7. Speed-clean. Assemble your cleaning supplies, set the timer for 20 to 30 minutes, and clean like mad. Repeat two or three times a week. Fire your cleaning service, thereby saving at least $30 a week. What could you do with an extra $1,500 plus each year?

8. Time to relax: Want to reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, improve heart health and feel a sense of well-being? Find some short meditation exercises and do them every other evening. In this case, though, I’d set a clock-radio (tuned to a classical music station) to go off in 20 minutes. A session of peaceful rest should not be end with the blare of a kitchen timer.

Additional Resources

Smart Refinancing Tips to Help You Save Money
7 Unique Tips to Save Money on Gifts
Generate Less Waste, Save Money and the Planet
4 Creative Ways to Save Money on a Wedding
5 Ways to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

(Donna Freedman writes the Living With Less personal finance column for MSN Money, and blogs at Surviving and Thriving.)

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