The Frugal Notebook

Every owner-pilot should have a Frugal Notebook. It’s a blank book you can keep in the glove box or your flight bag to record things about your airplane. If you are a renter, it’s a handy place to record your experiences with specific aircraft and flying conditions.

Let’s take a look at a few of the things your Frugal Notebook can help with:

Maintenance: Your Frugal Notebook is a good location to make notes on possible maintenance issues as your “squawk list.” Record equipment issues as (or soon after) they occur. Review your latest notes as part of your preflight inspection and post-flight review to determine if there is anything that should ground you. In between flights, do a little more research to see if the squawk is something you can fix or it needs a mechanic, making notes in your Frugal Notebook. Use the notebook to record part numbers, vendors, costs and anything else that will help you maintain your aircraft as airworthy and safe.

Oil Changes: Oil is your aircraft engine’s blood supply. It not only keeps moving parts lubricated, it also helps keep the engine cooler by transferring some of the heat from the cylinders to the oil cooler or oil pan. Changing oil and the filter — whether you do it or a mechanic does it — is a cost-effective way to keep the engine’s blood healthy.

It also offers an opportunity for a blood test: An engine oil analysis. By getting an analysis at every oil change (typically about $25) you can make historical comparisons to determine whether the engine is producing metals that indicate specific wear problems.

If you are trying out a recommended oil additive, you can record when it was added and what the results were. All this gets recorded in your Frugal Notebook.

Leaning: Adjusting the fuel-air mixture, leaning, is important to fuel economy and engine life. For engines built to run on 87-octane that must now use 100LL, leaning is especially important to reduce the chances of excess lead fowling the spark plugs.

But just how much should you lean your engine and when? During climb? At higher altitude airports or flights? How much during cruise and descent? Are there exceptions?

The answers to these vital questions come from experience — your experience — and the recommendations of the manufacturer.

Some POHs offer specific guidance on when and how much to lean the fuel-air mixture. Others are very general. If your POH is specific, record best practices in your Frugal Notebook, along with your own observations. If guidance is general, use your next few flights to experiment with leaning to determine what settings give you the greatest power and efficiency.

Some aircraft suggest “adjust the mixture control for best power by pulling the knob out until the rpm decreases slightly, then push the control knob forward to maximum rpm. Readjust for each change in power, altitude or with carburetor heat.” Record your observations in your Frugal Notebook.

Frugal Tip: I keep a sticky note in my cockpit that reminds me of the tach time or date for specific events such as next oil and filter, transponder check, annual inspection, ELT battery replacement, registration, medical certificate and flight review. It saves me time wondering whether I am up-to-date.

Spending: Most pilots keep two sets of books: Double-entry bookkeeping. One set is for the spouse who asks what you’ve spent on flying. The other set is the actual amount you spent.

Your Frugal Notebook is an excellent place to keep track of your actual flying expenses. Besides recording purchases, it can be used for analysis and observation, such as how much fuel you purchased last year, how much you spent on maintenances versus repairs, etc.

A periodic review of your aviation spending can help you get more value for your dollars — the goal of any frugal pilot. It also can help you document any tax-deductible expenses for your aircraft and flying.

Flying: Your Frugal Notebook is also a handy location to make notes on your flying experiences. It could be a travelogue, if you wish. Or it can simply be a place to record favorite airports, as well as places you won’t return.

Such records can help you choose places to fly to in the future. “Where was the airstrip next to that historic old town in Oregon?” “Next flight into this area, let’s see what’s at that little airport to the north.”

Reviewing your flying notes during the winter can help you plan your upcoming flying season better.

Keeping a Frugal Notebook shouldn’t be a chore. It’s an opportunity to document and review what you like about flying, as well as what it takes to be safe and proficient.

It can help you make common-sense decisions toward getting good value from every flying activity and dollar — and that’s what being a frugal pilot is all about.


  1. Glenn Darr says

    I keep a spreadsheet on my computer of all purchases, updates and anything that airplane money is spent on. I keep a book in the glove box that records when fuel is added, and when a quart of oil is added. Oil changes are also recorded in this book. That is all that is in this book. It is kind of a quick reference guide.

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