10 Crazy Frugality Schemes That Just Might Work


I’ve been called many things in my life. Some good; some not so good. But I can’t say I’ve ever been called crazy when it comes to being frugal. So, as I’m not getting any younger, I thought it was time to bring out a list of 10 crazy frugal schemes and earn the sobriquet. Some of these plans are certainly more "out there" than others, but all are worth a try, I think. Put some of them to the test and let us know how you get on. (See also: The Enemies of Frugality)

And, if you have some even crazier ideas, chime in. While writing this article a friend of mine told me they sometimes skip buying lunch and eat free samples from the grocery stores. It may save a few bucks, but that’s not my style. Anyway, on with the list.

1. Stop Buying Groceries

Well, not forever, and this is not a suggestion that you steal your groceries, either.

The basic idea behind this one is to stop buying until you’ve used every item in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. We all overstock our cupboards and throw away food that has gone off because we just couldn’t get to it in time. Orwe’ve put it at the back of the fridge and forgotten all about it. So, commit to using everything you have. It will take some serious creativity at times, but, dependning on the depth of your larder, you might go two or three weeks without having to do a big shop. Eggs, milk, and bread may need to be purchased, but everything else you forage out of your pantry.

2. Dumpster Dive for Dinner

I hesitate to call this one crazy; I personally think it’s both logical and smart. But the idea of digging around in dumpsters for the groceries seems plain nuts to some people. However, freegans would seriously disagree. They regularly find completely edible food in the dumpsters of local supermarkets, which has all been thrown away due to sell by dates or imperfections. Fresh fruit that isn’t perfect gets dumped, as well as baked goods that aren't 100% fresh. It’s a shame that so many people are starving in this world, and yet so much perfectly edible food is thrown away daily.

3. Use a Bathroom That Isn't Your Own

If you have a gym membership, you should take full advantage of it. And that includes using their showers and bathrooms.

Go to the gym in the morning, and after your workout, take the long, hot shower you were going to take at home. Use their bathrooms, and thus, their water. At work, use the bathroom just before you leave. Out and about, pop into public restrooms before you come home. It may seem absolutely bonkers, but it can save you hundreds of dollars every year in water and heating costs.

4. Buy Smaller Plates

The size of the average dinner plate has grown considerably over the years. This is partly due to restaurants upping the ante and dishing out larger and larger portions of food. Now, we do the same at home. And the bigger the plates, the more food we get through in a sitting. It’s not just bad for our wallets; it's bad for our waistlines. So, put the big plates in the basement and eat meals from smaller plates. The ones you usually serve appetizers on. You’ll be amazed at the leftovers you’ll have.

5. Reuse Disposable Items

Disposable items don’t disintegrate. You can reuse an awful lot of them.

Aluminum foil, ziploc bags, tissue paper, gift bags, takeout containers, swim diapers, tissue boxes, egg cartons, and even laundry detergent caps can be used multiple times. There are even ways to reuse disposable cameras and camcorders, if you have the time and patience. Reuse these items you would normally throw away, and over time you’ll see significant savings.

6. Stretch Laundry Days

My mother was laundry crazy when I was growing up. If I took off a pair of jeans or shorts, they were instantly put in the wash. Sweaters were washed as soon as they were removed. Shirts, jackets, you name it — one wear was all anything ever got. But there is no reason to wash every single item after every use. For instance, jeans can easily go three or four uses, if they’re in a good rotation with other jeans (I have way too many pairs). Sweaters? Well, you have a T-shirt between it and your skin. Jackets should really only be washed when they get dirty or smelly. And even T-shirts can be saved with a good spritz of fabric refresher. Underwear? Now that’s a different story.

7. Avoid Your Spendthrift Friends

While it may seem a little heartless, we all know people who are very carefree when it comes to money. I’ve heard things like "credit cards are free money" and "why save when you could be dead tomorrow?"

Well, that may work for them (doubtful), but when you’re with them, you will be tempted to spend more than you usually would. So, unless your willpower is concrete, try to avoid your less frugal friends when you know it could lead to wasteful spending of your own.

8. Negotiate for Almost Everything

So, you obviously can’t haggle the price of a can of beans at your local supermarket or the price of gas when you fill up. But use your common sense. From big box retailers and car dealerships to farmers markets and craigslist sellers, there is usually some wiggle room in the "for sale" price. But like the old adage goes, you don’t get it if you don’t ask. And the more you do it, the better you’ll get at getting it.

9. Stop Making Left Hand Turns

Don’t take my word for it. This comes straight from the people who know a thing or two about making trips on America’s roads: UPS.

United Parcel realized that having 95,000 of its trucks idling in the left lane was wasting a ton of time and gas. So, they employed a system called "package flow," which drastically reduces the number of left hand turns a driver has to make. It saved UPS over three million gallons of gas. Now, analyze your trip to work or the route you take to go grocery shopping. Can you avoid many of those left hand turns? It may save you a few bucks.

10. Convert Costs to Your Hourly Wage

This is one my lovely wife told me about recently, and since I discovered it, I have completely changed my spending paradigm. It works like this. Let’s say you want to buy a new jacket. That jacket costs $100. You earn $15 per hour, but that’s gross pay. So net pay, after taxes, you earn maybe $10 per hour that actually goes in your pocket.

In real terms it would take 10 hours to earn the $100 you need to buy that jacket. Is the jacket worth 10 hours of labor? 10 hours of construction work? 10 hours of taking orders, answering phones, client meetings, or whatever else you do for a living? If you think so, then go ahead. But you may find that you just don’t think it’s worth the time. It works on anything, from a car to a cup of coffee. Do you want to work 30 minutes to pay for that Starbucks buzz? Or a few minutes for the coffee you brew at home. It really is a shift in thinking.

What’s your so crazy it just might work frugal living strategy?

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Guest's picture

Nice tips. I use the hourly wage calculator quite often. It really puts things into perspective and makes running a quick cost-benefit analysis well worth the thinking effort.

I'll also add in addition to smaller plates, eating slowly and chewing food longer than normal also results in being full and satisfied sooner, leaving more leftovers out of most meals and takeaway.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the article. I haven't gone the freegan route, but everything else makes perfect sense. To those of us without gym memberships, a low flow shower head helps, as does a water heater timer.

Guest's picture

We keep our fridge and pantry pretty well rotated. Freeganism? Uh, no thinks!

When people are faced with an impulse to buy something, I recommend putting it on a list and keeping it there for a month. If you still want or need it after a month, then consider buying it. But most of the time, that adorable dress won't be nearly as irresistible after a month of consideration!

Guest's picture

These are all awesome ideas. Dumpster diving is a little crazy for me!! But I know people who do it and tell me all about it! One of my friends went dumpster diving in a Giant nearby and found whole bottles of shampoo, Listerine, and toothpaste that came in a messed up package. He didn't have to buy the bathroom things for almost 3 months!

Guest's picture

I have started using the idea of cost per use. I bought a pair of high heels for $20 and figure I have to wear them at least 20 times. My car needs to last 14 years to work out to be $2000 a year. It's similar to figuring out the hourly wage cost.

Guest's picture

Great tips! Diving for groceries seems a bit extreme, but I work for a Feeding America branch and the amount of good food we get is unreal! Grocery stores constantly throw away food that isn't bad. Also, don't throw away food that isn't past its expiration. I have learned from working with food, everything has an extension to the expiration date to where it is still good to be eaten. Cereal can be kept up to a year after its listed date, and canned goods can be kept for up to two years after their listed dates!

Guest's picture

Number 10 is a great way to think about your spending. It really puts things into perspective when you take that approach.

Guest's picture

cheapness is not a virtue

Guest's picture

Correction, being a spendthrift is NOT a virtue.

Guest's picture

As opposed to?

Guest's picture

I like the idea of putting the big plates in the basement and using smaller plates. We don't have a huge grocery budget but we also watch how much we eat which can easily affect the budget. When there is a bigger plate we tend to heap on the food but with smaller plates not so much. Smart idea if you ask me.

Guest's picture
Mrs. 1500

While shopping at Costco, they were sampling clam chowder. My older daughter loved it, so I went back to get the younger one a sample, and they had finished serving. In the garbage, next to the sample table was an unopened bag of chowder, sitting on the top of the garbage. I grabbed it, wiped it off, and stuck it into my purse. The girls enjoyed it for two days.

I don't think I could eat unwrapped things out of the garbage, but I would happily take packaged items home with me if they were still good. I love the comment about the toiletry items found in the trash.

Guest's picture

A couple of years ago I started the hourly wage thing myself...I started thinking about how much things were really costing me! How long would it take me to buy something in terms of the time I was spending at work to earn it. It's a great exercise to determine how bad I really need/want something!

Guest's picture

We've been doing something like number 1 every three months or so for a year or more now. We cut our monthly grocery budget to $100 for a family of four. We only let ourselves buy milk, yogurt, fruit and fresh veggies. We have unfortunately never actually gotten to the bottom of our deep freeze or all those cans in the pantry, but it does help. And I think we actually date better when we're not pulling convenience food out of boxes (crackers, granola bars, etc.).

It is hard when excellent sales come up, but we tell ourselves its not a deal unless we actually eat it, and we have a lot of eating to do. We're on one of these budgets this month, and we're actually thinking of going on into next month.

I did a few dumpster dives about 20 years ago (before freegans were around to give it an air of coolness). I don't think I'll do that with my two little guys. But if it was just me, and I was in desperate situations I'd consider going for it again.

Guest's picture
Beverly Williams

I've always hated making left hand turns . . . I have zero patience for dealing with traffic so right hand turns are always easier! Way to go UPS! I'll try to never make left hand turns again!

Guest's picture

I think I would have a problem eating things that were in a dumpster. But I do like the idea of not buying groceries. We currently are in that position as we are trying to eat perishable items before going on vacation so they do not go to waste.

Guest's picture

Think of how much money you'd have to have in the bank to earn enough $'s of interest to buy such and such a thing that is non-essential.

Guest's picture

I'm not sure about full-fledged dumpster diving, but its true that different bakeries and restaurants throw away SO much food. Rather than going through their trash maybe you could go in at night when they're about to close or call ahead and ask if they wouldn't mind holding the food they're about to throw out, for you.

Guest's picture

I'll like this article. I'm a fan of not trying so hard to make a little more money, instead trying to spend less. Sort of like it's easier to lose weight by changing your diet a little bit rather than exercising a whole lot more. For me, I've never had a gym membership nor a car. I ride my bicycle everywhere. I know it's geeky and sometimes you show up sweaty or rain-drenched, but man do I save the bucks. Keeps me healthy too, saving me money on doctor bills, assuming I never get in a major accident - there's risk in everything right!