Ready For Extreme Saving? Money Saving Advice For An Extreme Economy

By Silicon Valley Blogger on 8 January 2009 (Updated 3 June 2014) 19 comments
Photo: wwarby

Living in the midst of an economic downtrend and seeing what only seems like a long, unsavory patch of recession ahead, many of us are destined to make adjustments to our way of living.  I, for one, have vowed to shave my budget down to its basic nubs, and for the most part, I've done away with what I believe to be 95% of my non-essential expenditures. These days, my spending is going to purely fixed expenses -- mostly to child care and home maintenance.

The question has arisen in our household whether we should be doing more. I then wondered: if push comes to shove, how far would I go to save some bucks?  How ever more frugal should I try to be?
 

Money Saving Activities I Already Do

Recently, my family has worked on slashing our budget by 25% by making a few frugal moves and money-saving commitments.  Some things I'd recommend doing:

1. Skip on travel for a while. There's lots to do at home! Otherwise, hunt down travel discounts and airfare deals before going anywhere. One can also save much on travel by applying these traveling tips.

2. Use rebates and coupons! I now frequent coupon sites and use deal sites and online shopping tools to save money consistently.

3. I avoid shopping altogether. In fact, my household hates shopping, so that's a plus for our pocketbooks! If we ever shop, I try to get a store to pay me for the effort, maybe through cash back rewards and incentives. Case in point: I wrote this Ebates review that discusses just how one popular shopping site can provide you discounts in the form of cash back rewards.

4. Delay routine services, such as haircuts.  Maybe stretch time between oil changes.

5. Find cheaper entertainment options and plan your nights out carefully.  For fun, you can watch movies on the internet instead of hitting the theater.  There are ways to eat out for less even if you plan on dining out.  We've been bringing out the old board games and visiting the library more often, and it's been delightful! 

6. Stay closer to home to save money on gas.

7. Consider shopping at wholesale shopping clubs=.  We've worked on altering our buying habits and switching from Whole Foods to Costco.

8. Buy stuff we need only if they're on sale, as much as possible.

9. Buy things used, as much as possible.

10. Take on more DIY projects and do more things ourselves. We're learning to perform more of our own home repairs, even if it's not second nature to us.
 

Frugal Activities I May Think Twice Before Doing

Now is there anything else I can do to cut our budget even deeper?  The thought of extreme saving has crossed my mind, as I hear about more and more people turning to serious money saving measures as the recession worsens. Some of the frugal ideas my extremely thrifty friends and relatives have been toying with:

1. Limiting and minimizing the use of most things to make them last longer. Imagine rationing toiletries!

2. Ignoring expired labels on perishable items such as food and medicine to stretch their use and value.

3. Making a meal out of virtually anything.  Some people I know have called this "creative cooking". I'll leave it to your imagination what this can entail!

4. Reusing and recycling everything. 

5. Shunning disposable products that need to be replaced.  Reusable alternatives are used instead (e.g. cloth diapers).

6. Accepting hand-me-downs from anyone.

7. Dumpster diving. Picking up free stuff left out on the sidewalk is not uncommon.

8. Going shopping exclusively at dollar stores and estate sales. Thrifting!

9. Hoarding the free stuff offered at restaurants and hotels (such as condiments, plastic utensils, soaps, etc).

10. Having others pick up your tab.

A lot of these extreme saving ideas are actually great ideas if done in moderation. There are certainly many reasonable ways to try to make things last longer or to stretch the use of the stuff we own.  But I believe it's important that we don't go overboard with the things we do in our quest to be frugal.  For instance, I'd make sure that my health and safety aren't compromised in the name of frugality. Before it gets to that point, I'd work on increasing my income first to avoid having to resort to truly extreme saving.

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Guest's picture

It will be interesting to see how the economy will change the way people think and act. People will have to adapt to survive ultimately leading to a better quality of life in my opinion. Thanks for the article it is very encompassing of many different helpful tips.

-Dan Malone-

Guest's picture
Josh

I hope Americans never resort to hoarding ketchup or hot sauce packets. When I visited Eastern Europe about 10 years ago, I was shocked to discover that I had to pay for every ketchup packet because if they were free, the restaurant's entire supply would be gone within 15 minutes of opening. Sad.

Guest's picture

I already do 8 out of the 10 things on your second list. Everything but the Dollar Store and freeloading. Of course, my lifestyle seems normal to me. But I guess it's a novelty for many if not most.

For instance:

1. Limiting and minimizing the use of most things to make them last longer. Imagine rationing toiletries! - No cavities since adolescence and gingivitis free for 3+ years on 1/4" of toothpaste per day.

2. Ignoring expired labels on perishable items such as food and medicine to stretch their use and value. - Keep in mind that very few foods have actual *expiration* dates. By law only baby formula is required to have an expiration date. More common are "best before" or "sell by" dates, neither of which are synonymous with spoilage.

3. Making a meal out of virtually anything. - Yorkshire pudding with bacon grease, along with a salad, recently. Fried rice with frozen veggies. Leftovers soup is excellent when your leftovers are first class.

4. Reusing and recycling everything. - Check

5. Shunning disposable products that need to be replaced. Reusable alternatives are used instead (e.g. cloth diapers). - We use pages torn from old phone books in place of paper towels, handkerchiefs and cloth napkins instead of tissue paper stuff.

6. Accepting hand-me-downs from anyone. - Sure, why wouldn't we? We've gotten great stuff this way.

7. Dumpster diving. - Yup. We collect from construction sites, and always have plenty of 2x4's for our DIY projects. I even made a very sturdy pair of sawhorses as a gift out of reclaimed materials.

9. Hoarding the free stuff offered at restaurants and hotels (such as condiments, plastic utensils, soaps, etc). - We mostly use toiletries my husband gets from hotels on business travel. On the rare occasions we at out, I clean out the bread basket and take home every scrap of uneaten food. Some we eat, and the rest goes to our laying hens. But taking extra condiment packets is just tacky.

Guest's picture
Kristin

I'm no car expert, but I would think regular oil changes would SAVE you money in the long run. Rather then using and abusing what you have, you should take the time to clean, care for, and follow the maintenance schedule (of anything, not just cars) to ensure longevity.

Guest's picture

I think that the best way to save is to change our way of saving. We are used in the equation of: Income less Expenses = Savings. So when we receive our paychecks or any other source of income for that matter, we tend to spend it first before we save. I think that we need to use the equation INCOME - SAVINGS = EXPENSES. That is, we need to set aside first for ourself everytime we receive our income. Thus, it suffices to say that we need to "pay ourself first". Then later on, we need to become financially literate as to the concepts of finance and investing.

Guest's picture

I am doing some of these things already, but there are a lot more that I can strive toward. I avoid dollar stores, because the products are cheap/poor quality, and sometimes it is cheaper from a regular store! I especially avoid the "dollar plus" stores, where you think it's going to be under a dollar for everything, but instead the cost is increments of dollars. I once saw a family buying an entire shopping cart of V05 shampoo from Walmart and I couldn't help but ask about it. They confided quietly that they owned a dollar store and this was one way they could turn a profit!

Guest's picture
Hannah

I'll admit to 8 out of 10 on your second list. I was hoping to find some "new" ideas but apparently I'm already kind of extreme! Honestly, my project for tonight is to sew some more cloth diapers for the upcoming baby out of fabric/clothing the local thrift store was going to throw away (small rips and stains) and gave me free for the asking.
Other examples of my habits: Once-a-month contacts actually last at least 2 months! My sister cuts my hair (for free) every time I see her (twice a year). I trim it myself in between. I empty the kitchen garbage into the outside bin but keep the garbage bag to re-use until yucky. I rode with my school's (where I teach) basketball team on the bus to get to a nearby larger town to do some Christmas shopping. I take plastic silverware home from picnics to wash and reuse.

I think I learned it from my mom. Although they now have a very comfortable income and beautiful house and she does not pinch pennies in every area anymore, she still does things like re-using Saran wrap and going to the grocery store multiple times to buy the "limit" of a good sale.

Guest's picture

My wife and I just purchased some reusable diapers with disposable liners. By our calculations it cost us almost $40 a box for disposable diapers and a 5 usable diapers, 10 reusable liners and two rolls of disposable liners cost just about $60. We're already seeing the benefits and these new reusable diapers are much easier and cleaner to use than the standard cloth style reusable diapers.

I would definitely consider stretching yourself to save and pay down debt. After all if you're in debt you probably got it by stretching the opposite way when you spent more than you could afford. So put in a little extra work and take some steps to get that money back!

Guest's picture
poor boomer

I got you people all beat for extreme living.

After rent (for a room in a house with nine people), health ins, and a student loan payment, I live on $120 per month.

Silicon Valley Blogger's picture

These are all great responses!  After reading through them, all I can say is --- wow, I'm pretty inspired by how everyone is managing to cut costs so deeply.  I was happy to have shaved off the 25% from our original budget, but it looks like I can do so much more.  The question, I guess, is how much sacrifice are we willing to do.  

I've always focused more on trying to increase income rather than cutting the budget to its barest bones because I found that the largest expenses I have are "fixed": the mortgage at 5% rate, taxes, medical stuff.   Given that we'd like to commit our efforts to improve our financial situation, I've opted to focus mainly on the income generation aspect while attempting to keep the budget under control.

Hopefully my measures work!

SVB @ The Digerati Life

Guest's picture
Guest

All my original cloth diapers came from thrift shops. After that, I used old hand/dish towels. They worked just as well. I could buy them for $.99 at thrift stores, vs. several $$ for a store-bought diaper. The baby didn't care; I didn't care, but I did save a lot of $$$.

Guest's picture
cheap yankee

Except for cloth diapers and my dislike of the Dollar Store, I do everything on -both- lists (and then some!). However, to me it's not about saving money. I'm sick of the corporate takeover/outsourcing of jobs in this country and I'm sick of watching our environment get destroyed. After reading the "anti-consumer" website www.verdant.net our family decided to vote with our dollars and take a stand against the status quo.

We -cautiously- use past-date-of-sale food and medicine because I hate to waste it. Most items don't go "bad" on the expiration date ... they simply begin to lose color and flavor (or potency) and must be used as quickly as possible. The only past-due item I'll actually buy is day-old bread, but every once in a while you find a past-date whatever sauce stashed in the back of the cupboard and we'll use it. I once found a stashed bottle of 5-year-expired aspirin ... a bit too far past the due date to use for people ... but a crushed aspirin makes a great floral preservative mixed in with your bouquet water.

We don't buy new unless it can't be purchased used someplace else after quite a bit of hunting. Hand-me-downs from friends are great ... if they're too worn to use for clothing they get turned into craft supplies or braided into rag rugs. We save a ton of money ... but money isn't the point. I haven't bought Saran wrap, baggies, or napkins for years ... plastic bags get rinsed out and reused until they develop holes. Your dollar is a vote, the only vote big business and corrupt politicians understand, so use it wisely.

Guest's picture
Laura

@Kristin:
For many cars, changing oil at 3000 miles is too soon--my Saturn manual tells me to wait untill 5000, and the oil meter doesn't come on until at least 7500. The 3000 stressed by your local oil-change place is a racket. Consult your manual, and you might be surprised.

Guest's picture
Guest

Follow your owners manual for oil changes.

If you really want to save, do your own. It's exceedingly simple for most vehicles, and you need only to find where there's a used oil recycling location in your locale.

That said, since hand-me-downs and recycling/reusing things you "may think twice about", I can see that things aren't really that difficult, it's just that you now have to be somewhat accountable instead of giving money away like a drunk. Oh noes!

I guess the DIY is probably out of the question for the author, based on that, but for anyone else...

Guest's picture
pamela

Being a frugality veteran, I already do much of what you mention. Don't think there is any crime in taking home the little soaps/shampoos, etc. at a hotel - they are there for your use - My grandmother used to take home extra sugar cubes when we took her out to dinner, and as I child I thought she was mad - but now I get it.

I also save extra condiments from take out - soy sauce, ketchup - for when we run out.

I have always loved hand me down and vintage clothes from when I was a kid and got lovely party dresses from my cousins! Nowadays I do most of my shopping at thrift stores and get my brand name and designer merchandise there.

Lately, I have been getting into being a serious freebie queen and sending in for freebies on the net - and I get something in the mail almost daily. That ranges from detergent to magazines to vitamins to makeup to skin care. I also enter contests. I just won some expensive designer dandruff shampoo for my hubby and a $25 Macy's gift card for me. Also have gotten fancy mousse I couldn't afford otherwise.

I make a point of frequenting the health food store that always has samples - as I might as well give them my business - Every little bit helps.

And I am always on the lookout for oddities - like samples at my local Walgrens!

I have always done survery research of one kind or another - and have been doing online surveys for petty cash.

These gambits in no way harm my life style - oddly, they end up enhancing it! (Ditto getting good deals at dollar stores - and they ARE out there.)

While the bottom line may look more or less the same - the everyday quality of my life isn't pinched at all. And that easing of monetary pressure does had to my quality of life.

Guest's picture
zowoco

I probably live more frugally than most, with a grocery budget of £10 per week (I eat very healthily) and my attitude to haircuts is to cut my hair with scissors once a year then let it grow: I enjoy a variety of styles as it lengthens and am always complimented on my hair: I use a tiny thumb nail's worth of shampoo/conditioner every 2 days. Eating frugally but wisely brings out the natural shine effects of your hair anyway.

I try to always wear a smile. Cheapest item of clothing there is! Keep eye contact and no one will notice how old your clothes are! Walk instead of driving: you'll soon feel the health benefits. Spend a little time (not money) daily planning ahead and being thankful for the good things in your life. Sunsets are free and so is fresh air, so get out and about more and forget about the TV (I save money by not owning or watching TV).

Just by being definite about what you want and where you intend to be at any time ensures you quit the spending habit: great ways to save thousands every year are: send your credit cards back and only spend cash, visit friends and relatives or enjoy cheap nights away with £20 motel discount rooms instead of holidaying, sell your car and buy a bike, get rid of all insurance, investments and pensions, limit your weekly shopping budget (to £10 like me), discover free entertainment such as walking and nature study, quit buying papers and magazines, quit buying takeaway food and coffees, enjoy life! :)

Guest's picture
Guest

My opinion for these tips on savings = fair, but no where near extreme.

I know that most Americans are crazy about automobiles, and that many people cannot do without. I visited the USA many years ago at the end of the 70's, so I do know something about Americans at home. I have a small 50cc scooter that is already 10 years old, but NO CAR!)Petrol & oil costs me €12.00 pm. Insurance €80.00 per annum .

I live in Holland (Netherlands), and every year it becomes cold and lasts for at least 6 months. I took over a rented flat with only single glass in the windows. My apartment is 65sq.meters. I bought a 50 X 2 meter roll of transparent plastic (€11.00) and covered all my windows leaving a space of about 7cm to trap a layer of heat. During the Winter, I kept all the curtains closed except the room I used at the time. I never opened the curtains fully, except when the sun shone, to allow for free heat to enter! Together with LED halogen and tube lighting I got an energy rebate last year of exactly €399.00.)In the cold months, I wear extra clothing at home to avoid unnecessary heating costs. I have double glazing

I find that the more healthy you eat, the cheaper. I always steam veg & fish including potatoes, this way you profit more from the minerals & vitamins that are always destroyed in boiling!) Frozen fish is fine, not expensive fresh unless on special offer. Lots of lentils, they are cheap. I buy often damaged veg & fruit that's hard for the shop to sell. Instead of eating a bar of chocolate, I melt it with crushed nuts, dried chopped fruit, bran flakes, corn flakes & honey. This will satisfy your sweet tooth and give you something nutritious at the same time as well as inexpensive.)I don't have a garden, but a balcony. It is now full of tomato plants instead of flowers, you can't eat flowers and tomatoes are expensive in Holland.

I have been cutting my own hair for the last 16 years with clippers, no hair dressing costs! I use only BARS of soap, regular shampoo and toothpaste, NO gels, aftershave, or fashion rubbish!)I save money with showering: I cook a kettle of water, add this to a large bucket of cold water and scoop it up and throw it over myself. Here again I save on water, gas & electricity!)

I do not buy books, dictionaries, music, CD's, games, applications for the PC or movies, or rent movies. I have the internet. I use the internet to make long distance calls & texts, as well as for the above mentioned.

I always buy 2nd hand articles when possible.

I have a minimum income, am partly disabled, and my girlfriend lives far away in poverty. I help her and her 2 kids. So these are my reasons for saving. Also very expensive for me to see her at the moment. Through my ways of saving, I was able to be with her last Christmas for 6½ weeks. I'm still looking for other ways to save, so far nothing... Hope this is of some use to someone somewhere...?)

Guest's picture
Guest

According to me saving money is very important factor, so we have to see all small things from which we can save single penny. This recession applies to household expenses. Check out some ways for saving like always look for sale, don't use bottled water, always buy from same shop. Evey person should inculcate the habit of savings for brighter and secured future. For more details on saving money refer http://www.prime-targeting.com/tips-on-saving-money-on-household-expenses/

Guest's picture

Really,recession affects the whole world but there are option to overcome from them.Most of the people has follow them.