10 frugal things to try before you die (updated)

Dumpster dive

Well, I say frugal but some of these cross that line from frugality into something less honorable. But hey, live a little. We all have to try new things sometimes. And they’ll all save you a little money, a little time or a little frustration.

1 – Go grocery shopping in the wee small hours.
This happened by accident. I needed milk, it was late, and the grocery store near my home was open 24/7. I just could not believe what I saw when I got in there. Bargains, bargains, bargains. Mainly in the bakery and meat areas, but many other aisles felt the wrath of the discounting gun. A variety box of 12 donuts for 99 cents (and still very fresh) was first into the cart. Meats, cheeses, vegetables and breads were slashed by 70% or more. And there was no waiting in line, no hustle and bustle that makes the weekly shop such a pain. I had the run of the store, it was quiet, the bargains were everywhere…midnight shopping is truly a shopper’s paradise.

2 - Eat and drink for (almost) free in Vegas
Las Vegas is an extraordinary place. They like to keep the folks using the casinos happy, and that usually means lashings of free food and drink as long as you're playing the games. But you don't need to be a high-roller to get a free meal. Several of my friends did Vegas on almost no money. They would pop in, play a slot machine or two and when the waitress came around, order a drink and get a meal token. I have never done it myself yet, I have only heard the many stories. But just ask my wife, she'll tell you it's on the top of my list of places to try.

3 - Drink the drip-tray pint.
College students with strong stomachs may already know this one. In my former life as a poor, penniless undergrad, all of my money went on rent, cheap food and school supplies. But I was at college. I wanted to party, every night in a good week. So, how does one stretch the partying dollar? One answer for me was the drip-tray. Beneath each pump is a tray designed to catch “spillage.” Usually it will catch spills from three to four pumps. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a drip tray that catches beers and lagers of very similar persuasions. (If it’s a smaller bar, you may get a heady mix of stout, pale ale, lager and bitter). Now all you have to do is schmooze the server, and if your charms work, he or she may take pity on you and pour the drip tray into your empty pint glass. How does it taste? Well, it tastes like a crappy pint of lager. But it’s a free crappy pint of lager. If your aim is to get tipsy, it works just as well as lager that costs $4. And you just have to do it once to say you’ve done the drip-tray pint. Be brave. I was.

4 – Haggle someone down to a low, low price.
In some countries, haggling is a part of everyday life. You’ll haggle over the price of everything, from a pound of bananas to a new rug for the hallway. But for some reason the art has become almost lost in America (and even more so in my home country of Britain). Bottom line is this…it never hurts to ask if the person selling the item can go any lower, throw something in for free or give you a discount on another product. Start small and work your way up. Next thing you know, you’ll be haggling with a homebuilder for an extra $25k off the price of your new house. And you know what…you may just get it.

5 – Trade, swap or exchange something.
I guarantee you have several items in your home right now that are basically useless to you, but are very valuable to someone else. A classic example of this is baby gear. Once your little bundle of joy grows out of toys and clothes, they are no use to you. But they’re plenty useful to new parents. Chances are, there are people out there right now who have something you want, too. All you need to do is go to a place like craigslist and advertise your trade. Some people even trade cars and houses.

6 – Visit a charity store like Goodwill.
Shake off the stigma. It’s really not a sign that you’ve hit rock bottom and need to buy a pair of old jeans for 75 cents. Places like Goodwill are a treasure-trove of cool things. Remember, there are other words for old. Vintage, classic, antique and period come to mind. A few years ago I found a pair of “old” sunglasses in a local Goodwill for 99 cents. I just liked the look of them. Then I saw the maker, and the imprint. They were an original pair of Christian Dior sunglasses from the 70s. I already know I can get over $100 for them right now on eBay. So, go digging. You’ll find something cool for pennies if you keep your eyes peeled.

7 – Go dumpster diving.
Ewww, how nasty! Well, dumpster diving is a broad term that covers more than just the nasty, grease-filled metal boxes around the back of restaurants. For instance, when a neighbor rents a roll-off dumpster to have a huge clear out, they will often fill it with more than just rubble and old sheet rock. There are gems to be found. Furniture. Bikes. Lighting. There are folks out there that make an incredible living going dumpster-diving. In fact, there was a show in Britain dedicated to these folks who made lemonade from lemons, metaphorically speaking. I once remarked on a beautiful table in the living room of a friend’s home. It was right out of the 60s, very kitsch, looked brand new. Someone had thrown it away because it was stained and missing a leg. My friend salvaged it, sanded it, replaced the leg and repainted it. She was offered over $2000 for it by an architect who wanted it for a loft conversion he was doing (my friend didn’t sell it…good girl). And you can also find fresh food in grocery dumpsters , if you're feeling really brave.

8 – Grow your own vegetables.
Seriously, why have we become so dependent on supermarkets anyway? I mean, is it so hard to grow cabbages, lettuce or zucchini? My neighbor doesn’t think so. She grows many great vegetables in her back garden and always gives us free samples. They taste delicious, they are completely pesticide-free and they cost almost nothing to grow. Many of them come back each year with no effort required. My grandpa’s garden was full of potatoes, leeks, herbs, gooseberries, rhubarb, cauliflower, beetroot and tomatoes. A highlight of any visit to my nana and grandpa’s home was the terrific food. Freshly pickled beetroot, rhubarb crumble, cauliflower cheese and gooseberry jam. I am getting hungry just writing this. You can all do it, even if you only have a window box. And the satisfaction you’ll feel…it’s a natural high.

9 – Slum it with your food choices.
Not McDonalds or Burger King (which really is slumming it). I have been inspired recently by a great show on the Travel Channel called Bizarre Foods, hosted by Andrew Zimmern. He travels the world looking for unusual foods and most of the time, those foods are made up from ingredients most of us would throw away. They’re the cheapest cuts of meat, old (sometimes rotting) vegetables, odd fruits and even worms and slugs. I recently watched a show about Haggis, which is basically a bunch of ground up animal innards stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach (sorry vegetarians). When you choose unsavory foods, you pay less for them because there’s little to no demand. Andrea’s article on Edible Weeds is a perfect example of this. Nutritious food growing in your own yard. Why throw it away, when you can eat it? Whatever you try, be it weed soup or eyeball stew, you are at least guaranteed some cheap and memorable life experiences. Dig in.

10 – Learn to sew and knit (yes, that includes us guys).
My mum taught me how to knit. I’m not great but I can do you a nice scarf or a woolly hat. Using a sewing machine, well, I’m not so good. But I hope to get better. Aside from saving yourself a bunch of money on alterations and repairs, you could also get to that point where you can make your own groovy clothes and pay for just the raw materials. At college, I would marvel at some of the creations my friends in fashion design were wearing. “How much did that set you back” I would ask, at which the reply was something like “Oh, I made it. The fabric was $5, and I got the pattern off a friend for nothing. Nice huh?” Of course, when I asked for one to be made, well then I was paying for that person’s time and it was a lot more expensive. Learn these skills and save some dough. Or, if you just can’t do it, learn another craft. Woodworking. Painting. Rug making. Any one of these hobbies will help you contribute to your household and it’s a much better way to use your spare time than watching TV.

That’s my list. If you have any additional suggestions for frugal things people should try, I’d love to hear them. Now, go out and be frugal my friends. Oh, and big thanks to the wonderful Festival Of Frugality #77 for giving this story top honors in the editor's choice. Many great articles here, check them out.

Note: Thank you to funkright and E.T.Cook for pointing out that my earlier post offered one piece of irresponsible advice. I appreciate the feedback and have replaced it with something more helpful.

Great photo by Incandenzafied . Thanks.

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Andrea Karim's picture

Our Goodwill picks out all the good stuff and sells it all once a year at their big 'glitter sale'. It's still a great deal, but nothing like $1 for a pair of vintage designer sunglasses. They've gotten very wise to that kind of thing. If they see something that's worth anything, they squirrel it away, and when they do sell it, they make a hefty profit.

Growing your own veggies is such a great experience. And it's so easy!

(Thanks for linking to my weeds article. I'm blushing)

Guest's picture

removing the follow up comments from the original article posting w/o some type of explanation has pretty much marginalized your site, at least IMO. Good luck (I expect this to be removed as well)

Guest's picture

Good list! I highly recommend the sewing and knitting thing, too. Especially sewing. It's amazing what you can do with even limited skill in that realm.

I saw the original post and comments, but I don't think you're marginalized. I also think the original post was good, and people are too sensitive and prissy about stuff. But maybe that's just me.

Paul Michael's picture

We removed the follow-up comments because they made no sense without the original article. Myself and a WB editor added extra verbiage at the end of the post giving credit to both yourself and ET Cook for pointing out an irresponsible part of the story (did you not read this?). If I had left that part of the story up, wouldn't that have been more irresponsible? Please tell us exactly what else we could have done, and we'll try and accomodate your request.

Will Chen's picture

Dear Funkright.  Paul rewrote his story and republished it under a new title thanks to the good advice from you and E.T. Cook.  The new post was published with this explanation at the end:

"Note: Thank you to funkright and E.T.Cook for pointing out that my earlier post offered one piece of irresponsible advice. I appreciate the feedback and have replaced it with something more helpful."

I hope you take that note as a compliment and a "thank you" for your continuing efforts to help us improve Wise Bread.

If you have further questions feel free to contact me at admin (a_t) wisebread dot com.

Yours truly,

Will (admin)

Guest's picture

I heartily agree that Vegas is one of the cheapest vacations you can go on! We go every year! Free drinks everywhere, and free or cheap food up and down the strip...you just have to look for it. When we went, our motto was "eat on the 12's"...we would fill up at the hotel lunch buffet at noon ($5.99 all u can eat)...then, from midnight until 5am, the restaurant in our hotel had a 99 cent menu! COMPLETE breakfast of 2 eggs, hash browns, bacon or sausage, toast, juice...for 99 cents! So, we ate our 2nd meal of the day between those hours! Who sleeps in Vegas anyway?? And, just walking through the various hotels is like visiting free museums all day!

Paul Michael's picture

You may have to send me your complete guide to doing Vegas for pennies. I know it's a frugal vacationer's dream, I just don't know where to start.

Guest's picture

From #4 on down, you pretty much outlined the whole of frugal living!

Guest's picture

I dunno about number 10. As a long time knitter and sewer, I think they've cost me more money than I've saved. :)

Guest's picture

This is an expansion of the dumpster dive. Students throw out vats full of good stuff because it's not worth shipping home. You can read about a group that organizes these free-for-alls:

Julie Rains's picture

When I was in college and was working as an Resident Advisor on campus, I organized a can donation drive at the end of the semester (well I recommended it, some other folks did the work for their RA project). I had seen the housekeepers dig through trashcans to find castoffs in prior years (lots of canned food!) and thought that it would be more dignified if we collected the cans and then gave the food to them. My middle class sensibilities in a liberal atmosphere (UNC-Chapel Hill) backfired though. Administrators thought we should give the food to the DSS (Department of Social Services) in the county and certainly not university employees. Since the housekeepers couldn't afford Chapel Hill housing prices, they lived in another county and didn't benefit from this food drive.

Andrea Karim's picture

I still have this gorgeous flannel comforter that someone got rid of at the end of the year when I was in college.

Guest's picture


Best kitchen gadget we have (actually we have two -- one large and one small).

You can buy cheap cuts of meat and still end up with delicious food if you cook it for 8 hours. You only need the expensive cuts if you are short on time!

I wish we could grow a few veggies of our own! The local deer population is under pressure from development and has become "assertive" -- as in you can throw a rock at them and get glared at in return. I gave up on the garden when they started eating my jalepenos -- not the plants, mind you, but the peppers themselves!

Now I stick to a few herbs and a tomato near the house.

Guest's picture

I've done most of these (except the drip tray - I know how infrequently those bits are cleaned).

In addition to late-night shopping, it can also help to get to know your local grocer. Most stores have a specific day of the week when they mark things down - meat on Tuesdays, baked goods on Wednesdays, etc. When you're doing your midnight shopping, chat with the overnight stocking staff - they should be able to help with that info.

Guest's picture
Lisa K

1 - Do it lots, although I don't have to go in the wee smalls to get the deals, I must live in an area where the discount stickers say "bad" to people
2 - Give it a try if I ever go
3 - EWWWW, I don't like beer THAT much!!!
4 & 5 done it
6 - Do it, also yard sales are great!
7 - I rescue furniture, found a great chair roadside once! I also snagged a glass display that I later sold for $75. I can't drive around on big trash day because I will stop at least once, dh picks on me!
8 - Do it
9 - Made pancakes & tossed in a handful of dandelion flowers, does that count. It's supposed to be cleansing!
10 - I sew a lot, I recycle clothing especially for my kids. I am learning to knit & feel that by winter time I should be ready to knit up some socks!

Guest's picture

I sew a lot and it can definitely save money if you are into the designer look. If you are happy with mega-mart clothes, chances are they will be cheaper than quality fabric.

Guest's picture

I,m a bargain shopper from way back.I loved the late night shopping tip,and shopping at the goodwill stores.For years I had to watch every cent i spent,our income was low and I had a young son to raise.When you go shopping make sure kids have something to eat with them,a lolly, bread roll etc.as they,ll less likely ask for treats.If they do ,don,t give in.Look for magazines and books at the goodwill.They are usually read once,in near perfect condition and not always that old.I think the cookbooks are the best.Cheers!

Guest's picture
N'Awlins Kat

I knit and sew, too--and it can be either frugal or ungodly expensive, depending on what you make. I love knitting socks; they're wool and they'll last forever, but sock wool is very pricey. On the other hand, when my daughter was into the "Mommy and Me" look a few years ago, I caught a huge sale at the fabric store and made us a summer's worth of matching outfits--about 6 or 7 dresses for me, and dresses and shorts/halter sets for her. Because of the way they were made, she was able to wear them from age 3 to age 6 or so with minimal changes. The whole thing, soup to nuts, for both of us, patterns included, set me back about $100. Not bad for two complete wardrobes! In my professional days, I loved wearing silk blouses and wool skirts; the silk I could catch on sale, and the skirts (back then) I could make with one yard of fabric. Wool business skirts for under $10 each....I had a HUGE wardrobe, even on a journalist's pittance.

The true value of sewing came home when I designed my wedding gown, though. I couldn't find anything I liked that wasn't $2K (to wear for 5 hours, HUH??!!) and I had a strict budget. And they were cheesy...pearls hot-glued on, etc. But I wanted the whole thing. Sewing the dress took 5 months and set me back about $600 for everything (lots of Czech crystal, Alencon lace, etc). Now, if I'd sold it, I probably would've made 25 cents an hour, if I was lucky. But when I had it cleaned after my wedding, it had to be insured first, and the cleaner, a friend, called in a professional appraiser. It appraised at $3600 13 years ago. :) Needless to say, it's stored very, very carefully.

Guest's picture

cheap ain't goodwill. Not anymore.

Guest's picture

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Guest's picture

The only ones I haven't tried are #3 (ick! Brewed my own beer though, which is cheaper and great quality)and #9, although I have bought marked-down bruised fruit and veggies and cut the bad bits out. I agree that Goodwill is not very cheap, but have found other cheaper and better thrift stores. Love yard sales, too!