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How to spend less: Minimum effective dose

I’ve always loved efficiency. There’s something about a particular thing doing its job really, really well that makes me very excited. I spend a lot of my time at work trying to make things more efficient, and I am often found puttering around my house trying to determine if I can get more usage out of everyday objects or optimize my energy to make sure I’m getting the most out of the day.

This can, of course, get a little crazy. Trying to make the most of my morning routine is all well and good if I want to save time, but if I spend half my morning trying to figure out the fewest number of steps I need to take in the morning in order to get showered, dressed, fed, and out the door, then it pretty much negates any minor benefit I might have been able to find.

How to Spend Less: Minimum Effective DoseLuckily, there are some things in life that can save you a lot of time, energy, and money, by following a minimum effective dose (MED). If you want to find out how to spend less, finding the MED can be an incredibly important thing for you. This is a principle that comes from pharmacology that notes the minimum dosage of a particular drug that is necessary to affect change in the patient. Any less and it won’t work, or will not work very well, but if you add too much more, you can risk overdosing the patient. So this principle can be life-changing – for better or worse.

This principle is something that can be applied to your home life as well. What’s the minimum effective dosage needed to influence positive financial change in your life? Here are a couple of examples.


Is it worth spending your money on tanning? Isn’t that just a way of accelerating cancer? Your skin tanning is a natural process that actually helps your body protect itself from the sun. For those of us that live in Canada and may not get a lot of sun throughout the majority of the year, spending some time tanning can be very beneficial for health and happiness and can reduce the risk of sunburn and other vacation-ruining ailments.

That being said, you don’t need to spend a lot of time in the sun or in a tanning bed in order to build up a base tan or even a good summer tan if that’s something that you’re interested in. Changing the pigment in your skin is something that does not take much time if you’re like the majority of Canadians and have a fairly pale complexion.

I decided to test this out myself this year. At first, I started with a few minutes in the sun (5-8 minutes) and then stayed in the shade for the rest of the day. I did this 3 times a week for two weeks before I felt comfortable upping the time I spent in the sun. Because I’ve never tanned before, I started noticing a difference after those first two weeks.

Lately, I’ve been doing ~ 15 minutes a day 3 times a week. That’s not a lot of time, and if you’re paying by the minute at a tanning salon, that’s not too much money either. You don’t need to spend 4-8 hours/day in the sun for an entire summer just to get a tan – there’s a much lower minimum effective dose than that.


Vitamins are an important part of living a healthy life. While they do cost money, they can prevent you from getting sick, which saves you more money in the long run as well as improves life in general, and vitamins can help ensure you live a longer life.

However, a lot of people needlessly spend money on vitamins that they don’t need. Vitamin C would be a good example. It is good to get Vitamin C every day. One pill is usually 100% of the recommended daily dose, but when people start to get sick, they start to take multiple pills.

Even worse, there is usually plenty of vitamin C in foods that you’re already eating every day, so you may not even need to take a pill in the first place! All that happens when you overdose on vitamins is that your body doesn’t need those vitamins, so it’ll move it along as waste product.

A second example would be those multivitamins. They may help you get the nutrients that you need, but if you’re already eating a healthy balanced diet, you may not be spending your money appropriately. So the first thing to do would be to figure out if you do have any deficiencies and then take the appropriate dosage.

If you can, go to the doctor and ask for a blood test looking for mineral and vitamin deficiencies, especially if you’ve had health problems or are tired all the time. Once that comes back, work with your doctor to figure out the best dosage of vitamins. It may be a multi-vitamin and vitamin C every day, or it may be something else altogether. It is better to be informed and take the appropriate dosage than it is to just pay for pills that may be useless.

Lawn watering

This one can be a lot more difficult to figure out, but it can save you quite a bit of money if you’re able to figure it out. The good news is that grass is very predictable. It’s very resilient, so even if you fail to water it enough for a period of time, it will still hibernate and regrow itself with a new wet cycle. The other good news is that it can be fairly easy to water.

You should be able to get away with watering your lawn only twice a week (and sometimes less). Doing deep water twice a week will encourage the grass to grow deeper roots as they search for water further into the earth. This will create a lawn that is more resilient against drought.

The only tough part comes when you have to figure out how long to water it each time you set up the sprinkler (or turn on the irrigation). First things first – it is best to water in the early morning. Ideally, you want to give the water at least an hour (or two or three) to soak into the ground before the sun hits, so figure out when the sun hits your lawn and plan accordingly. Obviously, if you don’t have an automatic sprinkler system you’ll have to work within reason, as nobody should be getting up in the middle of the night to turn on the sprinkler.

General convention says that you should water the lawn enough to fill up a tuna can with water. How do you figure out how much that is? Well, get out a tuna can, put it on the lawn, turn on the sprinkler, and then time it. However long it takes to fill up that can of water, try watering twice a week at that length during the early morning and see what happens after a month.

Take note of other water (rain, etc) that may get on the lawn. If the lawn becomes dry and brown after a few weeks, increase the amount of time you’re watering by 3-5 minutes and test again the next month. If the lawn stays perfectly dry, reduce the amount of watering by 3-5 minutes, and see if your grass remains green. Now, depending on your climate there may be a lot of other water, or not very much at all, that gets onto your lawn during different points of the season, so remember that the MED will be constantly changing and you’ll have to adapt your watering schedule to match.

What do you use the principles of the MED to spend less money?


  1. Jenny

    I love this idea. I do it for many things, but never really thought of it in this way, just in terms of reducing how much I use. I find there are many things that we use a certain amount of simply out of habit. If we can reduce these, we can save ourselves money and help our health.

    You can do this with salt, or other unhealthy additions to your food. How many sprinkles of salt does it really take to flavor your food? Try one less and see if you taste the difference. If not, try one less again, and repeat until your food tastes bland. Do you need quite as much butter on your toast, sugar in your coffee, or dressing on your salad? These are easy to try reducing, and if you don’t like the result, just add the extra back, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

    Another one is laundry detergent. I find that I can use a little less than half of what it calls for on the bottle, and my clothes come out just as clean (small washer though). This saves me half the cost of laundry detergent over just habitually dumping in the cap full it calls for.

    Also other personal care items: I find I only need a small dab of toothpaste, not a full line on the brush, and much less than the handful of shampoo I used to use, still need that much conditioner though; it doesn’t seem to spread through my long hair with less.

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