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How To Use Kaizen To Save A Fortune One Step At A Time

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Want to take your frugality to the next level? Try kaizen.

What’s that? Here’s one definition: “Kaizen, also known as continuous improvement, is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.”

When applied to spending less money for all the goods and services you buy, this means taking one simple step at a time to radically reduce your cost of living. And that means you’ll have a lot of money left over from each paycheck — money you can put straight into your savings account..

The thing about “small, incremental changes” is that they’re relatively easy to make. And when you make those changes to ongoing expenses you keep saving that money automatically month after month.

In fact, if you commit to making at least one frugal change every week, you can save a fortune before too long. Let’s look at some examples in a few select categories, and see how a little bit of kaizen might reduce your annual cost of living and build a pile of savings…


A place to live is the biggest single expense for most people, so it’s a natural place to start looking for small (or large) incremental changes that will permanently cut your expenses. For example…

Adjust Your Toilet Floats

If you never have to flush a second time, you may be using too much water for each flush. Watch a video on how to adjust your toilet float valve and a few minutes later you can be using a gallon less for each flush. Depending on your family size and toilet habit, this will save you up to $25 per year.

Change Those Light Bulbs

Switch out the six most-used bulbs for lower-wattage bulbs and you’ll save up to $40 per year on electricity.

Find Cheaper Rent

It’s more than a “small” change, but moving can save you a ton of money over time. When your current lease is up, find an acceptable apartment that costs $150 less per month and you can save $1,800 annually for years to come.

See my article on how to save on rent for 14 more ways to reduce this expense.

Downsize Your Home

My wife and I owned a house with total expenses (taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance — everything) of about $700 per month (no mortgage, fortunately).

Now we own a smaller place with monthly expenses of only $400 per month. That’s a savings of $3,600 per year. You can save even more if you replace huge mortgage payments with smaller ones.

Install a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat can drop the temperature in your home while you’re at work and heat it back up just before you get home. In the summer it can cool things down just before you get home.

The savings, according to Thermostat Center, can be as much as $300 per year depending on where you live and the size of your home.

Reduce All Other Household Expenses

Make a list of everything it takes to keep your home functioning and, one item at a time, find a cheaper solution. An hour on the phone or online, for example, might save you $200 annually on insurance.

Other places to look for savings include landscaping (plants that need less water), security (replace a service plan with security screens and doors), and property taxes (appeal the valuation).


Use a $1 coupon and you can add a dollar to your savings account, but that’s just a one-time benefit. So first look for small incremental changes that keep the savings coming with little or no additional work. Here are a few examples…

Change Grocery Stores

Figure out which store costs less for your typical needs and you might save $300 or more per year.

Use the Right Credit Card

Use an American Express Blue Cash credit card for all your grocery store purchases and you’ll get 3% cashback. That could add as much as $150 per year to your savings account (based on grocery spending of about $400/month).

Use Other Strategies

See my article detailing 40 ways to save money on groceries. Adopt a few of the strategies that work best for you to save hundreds of dollars annually.


Leaving the house less often is the most obvious way to save on transportation costs, but fortunately it’s not the only way. Here are some other possibilities…

Walk and Bicycle More

If you have a regular weekly destination that’s not too far away, walk or bicycle instead of driving. It will help keep you in shape and might save you up to $150 on car expenses (based on auto expense of $0.30 per mile times 10 miles weekly).


I used to live 24 miles from my job. Carpooling with a coworker just once each week saved me $350 per year (based on an estimated car expense of $0.30 per mile).

Get Fewer Oil Changes

The 3,000 mile oil change myth is just that — a myth invented by the oil change industry. Most car manufacturers suggest changing the oil less frequently, with some saying it’s only necessary every 7,500 miles or even every 10,000 miles.

Following the advice of the car makers rather than the oil changers can save you up to $100 annually.

Spend Less on Gas

See my article on ways to save money on gasoline for 63 strategies. For example, the EPA says something as simple as taking 100 pounds of junk out of your trunk can save you 1% on gas.

Sure, that’s only a savings of $20 annually if you normally spend $2,000 on gas, but it also takes only five minutes to empty that trunk. And some of the other strategies can save you much more.

Debt Expenses

Ideally you have no debt to worry about, but if you do, here are few ways to reduce that monthly expense…


Refinancing a mortgage loan at a lower interest rate can save you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars annually. Refinancing other debt can save money too, as long as you don’t extend the payments over a longer period, which might negate any savings from the lower interest rate.

Pay Off Your Debt

The best way to save on your debt expenses is to get rid of them entirely. To get started see my article detailing 15 ways to pay off credit card debt quickly. If interest is costing you $200 monthly, you’ll save $2,400 annually by remaining debt-free.


Frugality should provide a better life, not just an outlet for your OCD tendencies, so don’t eliminate the entertainment budget. But do find ways to have all that fun for less. Here are a few ideas to get you started…

Cut the Cable

Cable television is overrated and overpriced. My wife and I get all the movies and shows we need for about $15 per month from streaming Netflix and Hulu, saving us at least $600 annually.

Start a New Movie Habit

We only go to movies on Tuesday afternoons, when it costs  $5.50 per ticket instead of $9.00, and we eat beforehand or sneak in a snack instead of spending $9 on popcorn. If you go to the movies even once per month, adopting this routine will save you almost $200 per year.

Everything Else

First go for the easiest changes that save the most money. But once you’ve accomplished some of those, make a list of everything you regularly spend money on, and find ways to cut those expenses one by one.

Here are a few more places you might look for savings, with at least one suggestion for each:

  • Magazine Subscriptions  (read articles online)
  • Checking Accounts (move money to no-fee accounts)
  • Pet Expenses (trade pet-sitting duties instead of paying a sitter)
  • Satellite Radio (carry your favorite CDs in the car instead)
  • Cell Phones (low-use users like me find pay-by-the-minute plans cheaper)
  • Childcare (trade childcare duties with a friend instead of paying)
  • Gym Membership (take a daily walk instead)
  • Work Lunches (bring a lunch instead of eating out)

Work on these one at a time, and keep looking for more money-saving changes. Continual improvement is the kaizen way. Here are some more small, incremental changes you might consider…

Develop More Frugal Habits

Many money-saving tricks are one-time deals, so they don’t save you much in the long-run — unless you make using them a habit. For example, Getting a discount on a washing machine because it has a dent in the back (where it won’t even be seen), is a one-time savings.

But if you make it a habit to look for damaged goods and ask for a discount when you find them — that can save you a lot. Estimated savings (based on getting an average $30 discount three times annually): $90.

Own Less

I know a guy with a four bedroom home who rents several storage units to hold all of his stuff. That’s extreme, and maybe you don’t pay to store things you never use, but everything in your home can add to your cleaning and maintenance costs (especially if you consider your time as an expense).

So get rid of things you don’t really need.

Hang Out With More Frugal People

I know some great people who tend to spend freely, but I’ve noticed that I spend more when I am with them. Hang out less often with spendthrifts and more often with frugal friends to save hundreds of dollars per year.

Your Potential Results

As a reader of this blog, it’s a good bet that you’re already pretty frugal. But let’s assume you can find at least one small change to make each week in the coming months. Here’s a quick look at how that might boost your savings account.

  • Make it a habit to wear a sweater and permanently drop the thermostat setting to save $150 annually on heating costs.
  • Refinance your mortgage to save $900 annually (after fees).
  • Find cheaper homeowners insurance to save $200 per year.
  • Sell your car to get rid of the $300 monthly payments, and buy a good used car cheap (for cash) from your mom, to save $3,600 per year.
  • Drop cable television and get streaming Netflix t save $600 per year.
  • Quit your gym and start walking instead to save $250 annually.
  • Make a few other minor changes to save $300 per year.

Total Annual Savings: $6,000

Set that money aside and in a few years you’ll have a decent down payment for a home, or enough to fund that Mount Everest expedition, or a darn good start on retirement.

And, as the kaizen way suggests, you don’t have to stop there. You can keep making small incremental money-saving changes. Then you can start working on small changes that will increase your income.

Just think of where you might be if you spend a couple years making continual improvements in both areas

If you have your own examples of money-saving changes you’ve made, please share them below … and keep on frugaling!

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