Take More Notes, Save Money

Yesterday I grabbed a notebook app for my smartphone and spent a couple of hours organizing the various content folders—ideas for Consumerist, gift lists for Christmas, things to look up later on a computer—so that I could capture information more efficiently. Wait, why s ths n Cnsmrst? Because The Simple Dollar argues that by keeping a notebook and using it all the time (Lifehacker calls it “ubiquitous capture”), you can end up saving money.

Their reasoning is simple: if you have an easy way to constantly jot down notes on things like prices or items you want to buy, you’ll have higher quality information to make purchasing decisions. Some uses from The Simple Dollar:

  • Write down sale prices so you can research their true value.
  • Do warehouse price club comparisons.
  • Write down recipes or other food ideas.
  • Make a simple price book that focuses on the staples. (Real price books require a near-obsessive level of dedication, so I like this idea best of all.)
  • Record great gift ideas.
  • Keep a master list of “preferred brands” and their average prices.

Lifehacker’s Jason Fitzpatrick noted that recording gift ideas lets him come up with great gifts cheaply:

A perfect example of this in action: I was having dinner with a friend some months ago. When the wine was decanted, the particular funnel that the sommelier used caught my friend’s eye-it was quite an interesting one. When we were leaving the restaurant I quickly scribbled a few notes about the style of the funnel. A little Google-fu later and I found that it wasn’t a particularly pricey item, but it would be much appreciated by my friend and show that I notice things that matter to him.

The problem, of course, is determining which “easy way to constantly jot down notes” works for you. The Simple Dollar recommends a pocket-sized reporter’s notebook, which you can buy at any drugstore for around $1. One of the readers over there suggests you avoid clutter in your notebook by keeping temporary items on a removable page:

I keep a loose page in my journal for the “To Do” and “Shopping” lists. I can move that page along the current page so it’s easily found, and cleanly remove it when completed.

Lifehacker takes the hardcore (and expensive) Getting Things Done route by suggesting a “notetaker wallet” that carries cards.

Using your phone may be more convenient for some people, and it also gives you the flexibility of snapping photos. It can also be a lot slower to use if you don’t have a good note-taking solution. Evernote is a good free option, and it’s available for everything but the Android platform (although they’re working on that, and in the meantime you can use their mobile site).

“14 Ways a Notebook in Your Pocket Can Save You Money” [The Simple Dollar via Lifehacker]
(Photo: theilr)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    This would have been handy for me yesterday when I was comparing prices between Best Buy and Frys.. and then later at home on Amazon.

    It also would have been handy if I had written down the kind of graphics card that I own.. but that’s another matter all together.

    I will be checking out Evernote, and I find it hillarious that you mentioned, “why s ths n Cnsmrst”.

  2. acasto says:

    I agree with this completely. Not only does it make available practical data for decision making purposes, but I believe it also helps to counter the emotional aspect of (potential) purchases so that a more logical decision can be made.

  3. DirectMailFan says:

    My AMPAD Reporter’s Notebook is so much easier to use that I got rid of my Palm. I jot down notes on teh train, when I wake up in the a.m., etc., and it fits into most pockets. And, I never have to worry about recharging any battery for it.

  4. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I have a link to Google tasks on the main page of my iPhone. And then there’s the iPhone’s Notes function. It’s embarassingly simple, and there’s no way to move things around for priority, but it keeps things uncluttered.

    I used to keep a notebook specifically for organization and taking notes, but I’m more apt to take a photo and input a note into my phone now. When I’m at the grocery store, it’s a lot easier to write things down rather than type them out, but when I’m riding the metro, if I’m not sitting, I need one hand free to keep myself from invading someone’s personal space, so I rely on being able to make my notes with one hand.

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: I have the baby version of the iPhone, the iPod touch, and I really don’t like the basic notepad that it has. I may use it more if it were my phone though, just as a place to jot things down.

      My current cellphone has a “sticky notes” widget, but it doesn’t work as well as I think it should.. it’s slow and confusing to use.

      Google has been wonderful for keeping me organized now that I don’t have a windows mobile phone. I’m going to have to dig deeper to see if Google tasks would help me or not. The calendar is great though, and it syncs to my iPod calendar as well. (You probably already knew that though, I’m just rambling. lol)

  5. WraithSama says:

    First time I’ve seen “Why s ths n Cnsmrst?” in the post itself. Unfortunately, since it wasn’t in the comments, I don’t think it counts for my bingo card. Ah well.

    I’ve tried using planners and even carrying one of those tiny notebooks on me all the time, but it’s just useless for me. I seldom remember to use them, and even when I do, I never remember to look at them. I’m so forgetful that I forget to look at reminders. *sigh*

  6. Trai_Dep says:

    The buying a Reporter’s Notebook is kind of intimidating, since I wouldn’t feel complete unless I also bought the Fedora with the PRESS card tucked in the hatband, the loose-fitting Brooks Brothers suit and a carton of Chesterfields.
    Luckily, I’ve already the fifth of Scotch in my desk (only for medicinal purposes, of course).

    The other one in my hip pocket, on the other hand? Just for fun.

    Trivia question: what with all the drinking, smoking, skirt-chasing and racing deadlines that reporters had to engage in, how did “Curse Like A Sailor” overtake “Curse Like A Reporter”?

    • MostlyHarmless says:


      Dear Trai_Dep,

      It has come to our notice that you have been bucking the corporate line on such major issues like joining and participating in team building exercises on Twitter. Please take time to resolve these issues at the earliest.

      MostlyHarmless, Katstermonster, Subtlefrog, Catastrophegirl, GitemSteveDave, Kimaroo, and others.


  7. dohtem says:

    I have done this for a while. When I see something on sale at a store, I write type UPC number (or ISBN if it’s a book) in the Blackberry notes app. Later at home, I can compare prices, check reviews and decide if it worth going back to purchase.

    If it’s something that might sell out, I can purchase it and look it up when I get home before opening it. Of course, you should know the return policy before hand.

    Android smartphones can scan barcodes and give you prices comparisons right there.

    “Ooh Zoidberg at last you are becoming a crafty consumer!”

  8. wvFrugan says:

    “…it would be much appreciated by my friend and show that I notice things that matter to him.”

    That could well be the gay comment of the year! I’d have to really have a crush on another guy and be really undersexed to do that! My foster son would precede such a comment with “no homo”!

  9. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg says:

    Anyone looking for that “perfect” pocket notebook should take a look here:


    It hasn’t been updated in months, but it’s still very interesting

  10. Colonel Jack O'Neill says:

    What I do is make my own, I got like, I don’t know how many notebooks, I just cut the pages down to 3×5 and put a couple staples down the middle.

    I hate all those computer to-do list and calendars, I rather have them written down, this way if I have computer problems, I still have information I need.

    By time I take out my phone, unlock it, open up notes, I would’ve already forgotten what I was gonna write. Take out the pen and paper, I have it written down in two seconds.

    But it’s 2009, I think some people forgot how to use pen/pencil and paper.

  11. Scoobatz says:

    Saving money is great, but making a note to remember the perfect [whatever occassion] present avoids so much anxiety over gift shopping. Plus, it’s a nice bonus receiving the “I can’t believe you remembered” comment, when I give them something my family member actually wants.

    • the_deliverator says:

      @Scoobatz: I love the amazon gift organizer for this. They mention it, i search for it on amazon, add it to my saved gift list for them. Makes xmas SO much easier.

  12. Dethzilla says:

    it also helps the FBI create a more accurate criminal profile when they search your home. There should be a list of Don’ts to include on this list:

    …Don’t list the names of the women you’re stalking
    …Don’t include sale prices of Cat food’s if you don’t have a cat
    …Don’t list the dismissal times of the schools in your neighborhood

    Alright… I’m starting to creep myself out now.

    I think this is a humor orientend comment FAIL.

    Goodnight folks.

  13. kaceetheconsumer says:

    Just be careful about it…I’ve heard unpleasant stories from more than one frugal friend who got hassled in stores while writing things into their price books. Apparently some retail staff are overly sensitive about mystery/secret shoppers and will harass you or even kick you out of the store if they see too much conspicuous note-taking.

    And yeah they shouldn’t do it and it’s bogus and stupid etc etc etc, but all of that logic doesn’t help when you need groceries and want to avoid the stress of it all.

    I’m betting that looking like you’re texting with your phone would get less hassle.

  14. cash_da_pibble says:

    I carry a nottebook everywhere with me- I’ve taken to caaling it my Brain Book. It actually helps me keep focused because I don’t have to REMEMBER things. I write lists of chores to do, shopping lists, gift and craft ideas, to dates of birthdays and when Motorhead is coming to town.

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      @cash_da_pibble: I find I forget more things if I take to writing everything down. The act of writing something down tells my brain, “Don’t worry about remembering this, it’s written down so I don’t have to.”

      Tricky how it works that way.

  15. SatisfriedCrustomer says:

    What about a small digital camera or phone camera to photograph SALE signs?

  16. jamesdenver says:

    I do this all the time when shopping. If I see something I like, especially clothes – I take a photo of the brand, style, design – and simply search for it online later.

  17. John says:

    This is what I occasionally carry around with me to do just such note taking:


    Fits right in a pants pocket, and you can remove or add cards. I have the punch and make my own from cardstock.

  18. sprocket79 says:

    I hardly ever carry a notebook with me, but I had one this weekend because I was tv shopping. I wanted to make sure I had my questions ready, model numbers, prices from various retailers, etc. It came in so handy for the tasks – and unexpectedly came in handy during other tasks, such as at lunch when I got a call and needed to write stuff down. I might end up keeping a small notebook in my purse after this.

  19. Ragman says:

    I jot things down, or type them into my phone, but once I get home, they get put into my Palm software. I use the Palm software as my central information dump, for everything from notepaper to online data. That way I have it in a portable device and it’s backed up. I put data for the cars/bike specs so I don’t have to go run to the garage to check a tire size or chain length when I’m online. I keep a list of books that I’d like to read on there that I update whenever I find something interesting. The calender allows for repeating alarms to be set for annual reminders (b-days, car tags due, etc) that also print on the days they’re set for when you print the calender out.

    I also find that Amazon’s Private Wish Lists are great for tracking items and comparisons.

  20. UUMickey says:

    As I was reading this I was thinking “This is a perfect use for Evernote!” and lo! I reach the end of the article and there is Evernote!

    So, I second the use of Evernote for this. I use it with my iPhone, which I always have on me. I see something, I take a screenshot note and then categorize it when I get home. I use this method to maintain a running set of gift lists for people, recipes I want to look up, prices of items, and books I want to buy. Works like a champ.