10 Ways to Practice Extreme Frugality

by Katy on October 7, 2016 · 28 comments


This post first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

If you’re a Clark Howard follower, you’re probably already employing his advice to comparison shop, cook from scratch and scour the shelves of your local Dollar Tree store. But what if you’ve already incorporated these easy changes, but are still struggling financially? Then you need to go one step forward, a step into the land of  . . . extreme frugality!

What’s extreme frugality? It’s taking the steps that others might find odd, but have the potential to put some breathing room into your finances.

Mix up your food shopping habits

It may seem easier to buy all your food from a single traditional grocery store, but there’s money to be saved by shaking up your routine. Go ahead and poke your head into ethnic stores, and you’ll be unlikely to leave empty handed, as certain foods such as meat and produce can be less than half the price of your regular store.

Expiration dates? Take them with a grain of salt. Confused by the “sell-by,” “best-by” and “expiration dates” on your food? You’re not the only one. Americans waste an estimated “8 million pounds of food annually” due to these vague and unregulated terms, so don’t assume that the date on your food products are set in stone. Use your common sense when it comes to tossing food, and make sure to check out this article by food waste author Jonathan Bloom for more details.

Eat in season. And no, this doesn’t mean you should only shop at elite farmer’s markets. It means to enjoy your corn mid-summer when it’s 10/$1, fill up on apples in the fall and enjoy your asparagus in the spring. Not only will you be buying when produce is at its lowest price, you’ll also enjoy the natural seasonality of food like your grandparents did.

Institute a restaurant ban

I’m not one to argue that eating out isn’t one of life’s greatest pleasures, but if you’re unable to pay the bills, it might be time to take a break. However, you do need to be a realist about those inevitable busy nights, or you’ll find yourself falling back into old habits. Whether you’re stockpiling a few lasagnas in the freezer, stashing a couple of pre-made meals or accepting that it won’t kill you to serve a simple meal of scrambled eggs, it’s important to have a backup plan in place. Don’t worry, those restaurants will still be there when your credit union balance is back up again.

Tinker with your utilities

You may cringe when you get your monthly utility bills in the mail, but with a few simple changes you can take charge of your utility accounts.

Switch your lights over to LED bulbs. Gone are the days when these energy efficient bulbs cost $6 apiece, and if you look around you might be able to score them for free. I filled out a home energy use survey through the Energy Trust of Oregon a few months ago, and was mailed a big box of free bulbs. A quick look at other states’ electric company websites show similar programs, many of which offer free in-home energy audits. These are great, as they can be utilized by both home owners and renters!

Few of us earn different amounts based on the seasons, which is why it makes sense to switch to an equal-pay utility program. These programs even out your monthly bills, so you’ll make the same payment every month. Years ago my husband and I switched to an equal-pay program and have really appreciated that we’re no longer blindsided by $350 gas bills after a January cold snap or a swelteringly hot August. And the best part is that one bill per year either charges extra or debits any overpayments, and we’ve always received the debit!

Give, receive and swap

The Buy Nothing Project is working to connect people through the gifting of free wanted and needed items, and there’s likely a chapter in your area. Organized through Facebook, you can look for a group in your area by typing “buy nothing” plus your city, town or neighborhood in the Facebook search box. I’ve both given and received items ranging from a computer charger to a gallon of milk. It’s free, and you can specifically ask for what you need, want or even simply wish to borrow.

Don’t have a buy nothing group in your area? That’s okay, as you can ask your Facebook friends if anyone has whatever extra doohickey that you’re looking for. Most people are happy to share their excess stuff, so don’t be shy.

Many communities have swap gatherings where people bring a certain category ranging from clothing to baby items or even simple household belongings. Participants take what they want and then donate the leftovers to charity. People get to freshen up their wardrobe (or home) without spending a penny, and it’s a great option for setting a few gifts aside as pieces are often brand new! Want to know how to host a swap? Oprah’s got you covered!

Check out what your library has to offer

You already know that your local library has free books, but you did you know that they likely also offer free e-books, audiobooks, e-magazines, DVD’s, Blu-rays, tutoring, foreign language instruction and much much more? Libraries are a great resource for people who’ve had to cancel paid TV subscriptions or Amazon Prime streaming TV. Click HERE to explore the amazing resources that your tax dollars have already paid for.

Stop buying disposables

Although I’ll never suggest that you switch to reusable cloth toilet paper, there is money to be saved by letting go of most other disposable products.

You might be tempted by the pictures of pretty reusable paper towels on Pinterest, but it doesn’t have  to be so complicated. Launderable rags made from stained old T-shirts or ratty old towels make perfect paper towel replacements, and can be stored out of sight. Then bust out those cloth napkins and dish towels and you’ll be set!

Stop buying facial tissue. Grab a stack of handkerchiefs from grandpa’s estate for the occasional sniffle and upgrade to a roll of toilet paper when you’ve got a genuine cold.

Make the switch to a menstrual cup. Let’s face it, it’s expensive to buy menstrual products every month, and when you consider that a menstrual cup costs just $30 and is a one time purchase, it’s a little easier to get past any squeamishness.

Fix instead of replace

If you’re broke, it’s time to start repairing instead of replacing your stuff. Let go of broken things being an excuse to treat yourself to something new. So get out that super-glue, dust off that sewing kit and familiarize yourself with the endless number of youtube videos that can walk you through even the most complicated of repair processes.

Cut out booze and soda

If you’re struggling to make ends meet it’s time to take a cold carbonated hard look at the money you’re spending on beverages. This might be a painful step, but extreme frugality takes sacrifice and it’s hard to justify soda and alcohol when having enough money for living expenses is unsure. So brew up a batch of iced tea and raise a toast to frugality.

Free up your entertainment

Having a limited budget can make it a challenge to get out of the house for fun. However, with a bit of  research and creativity, there are plenty of fun things to do when your wallet has developed an echo. First off, make it a habit to grab any free publications that might advertise local events. Concerts in the park, outdoor activities like hiking and picnics require no money, plus your library is always a great resource for free activities. One of my favorite things to do is to attend author readings in bookstores, which are interesting yet don’t cost a penny. Have a hankering for a museum visit? Check in with your library to see if they have cultural passes, as many of them do.

Invite friends over for a potluck game night. Have everyone bring a dish and then choose a game like Cards Against Humanity or maybe something a little more PG. Either way, it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money when enjoying the company of family and friends.

Make more money

Cutting spending to a bare minimum is all well and good when times are tight, but sometimes the answer lies in scraping up some extra cash. Whether you’re selling unused belongings, participating in a focus group or picking up a side-gig, there’s never a time when a few extra bucks doesn’t come in handy.


Life can be hard when money is tight, but that doesn’t mean that you’re without options. There are ways to adhere to an impossibly tight budget without sacrificing fun. And maybe you can even find satisfaction in the creative challenge that comes with a limited budget. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Mason Jar Revolution October 7, 2016 at 9:45 am

You mention using a menstrual cup, but reusable pads are also a great option from women who cannot or dislike using an internal solution. There are many resources to make them yourself if you’re crafty and tons of sellers on Etsy and beyond to buy them ready-made. The options for size and absorbency trump what’s on the store shelf for disposables. Plus they’re washable so you aren’t buying new every month.


Mrs. Picky Pincher October 7, 2016 at 10:45 am

Agreed! My sister uses solely reusable pads, since storebought plastic ones are too irritating. Hers snap in place with a button and she’s never had any issues. I’m a Diva Cup person myself, but I’ve been wanting to give reusable pads a try, too!


chris October 9, 2016 at 7:14 am

I use the reusable pads because I had, um…challenges with my Diva Cup. A doctor had to intervene! Ha! The pads are good, though. I don’t use them exclusively because there are times that a tampon is necessary, but that is rare. I got mine off of Etsy and they are unbelievably durable. I’ve had them for 6 years or so and spent $100 on them.


Sherri October 9, 2016 at 10:04 pm

I have not made the switch yet away from disposable pads.. but I did learn, in a bad month where I had NO MONEY for pads, that I could deal with using cotton washcloths as “pads” without much of an issue. I simply folded them three times, making a long rectangle, and placed them in my undies. Only downside is that since they are not snapped on or otherwise held in place, you have to be careful when you take your undies off or else the “pad” will fall.

I did this mostly when I was home or not going to be out of the house long and it got me through the month. I had a stash of excess washcloths so no added expense.


Allison Mary October 10, 2016 at 3:55 pm

I’m glad someone else commented on this – I was just stopping by to say I’m so excited that this post included mention of reusable menstrual cups!

I’ve recently started sewing at home, and my current project is a bunch of reusable cloth pads for my sisters and my mom (I already had a bunch of my own). All of us are already on the menstrual cup bandwagon. One of my sisters and my mom both use different sizes of the LENA cup, the other sister uses a Super Jennie, and I alternate between the small and large Si-Bell cups. Love, love, love them! They’ve made periods so much more manageable!


Mrs. Picky Pincher October 7, 2016 at 10:44 am

It’s funny, because these are the steps we took to start getting out of debt! You guys, this stuff actually works. I’m living proof. Over a year ago we were stuck in a paycheck to paycheck cycle. Now we’re able to get out of debt and save 53% of our take-home pay.

I would also add that making our own foods has cut down on costs dramatically. For example, I make my own yogurt, marinara sauce, and bread instead of buying it at the store. Plus, I think it’s super fun. 🙂


penny October 7, 2016 at 11:19 am

I did most of these too a few years ago when my financial situation was becoming unbearable. I am now debt-free (except for the mortgage, but I’m working on that), but I have kept my good habits.
Believe me, it really works 🙂


A. Marie October 7, 2016 at 11:45 am

Thank goodness, I’m past the age where I need a Diva Cup or anything else (although I would have appreciated knowing about these options when I was a younger lass). Age does have its privileges.

However, the key phrase in this post of Katy’s, IMO, is “find satisfaction in the creative challenge.” If you don’t love doing this, or you don’t find positive reinforcement in it, you won’t stick with it. Embrace the frugal!!


K D October 7, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Another great post Katy. We still do most of these things even though we could now afford to spend more. It just feels comfortable to us and allows us to give to others.


rebecca October 7, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Do you and your husband abstain from alcohol?


Katy October 7, 2016 at 10:19 pm

I rarely drink and my husband enjoys a nice craft beer every now and then.


Carole October 8, 2016 at 6:08 am

When I was a child, my mother, a depression survivor, used an old diaper to wipe the cold cream off her face. She would start at the top and work her way down to the bottom and when it was all used up, she would wash it. I’ve never done it, but some might be willing in order to avoid using tissues.


cathy October 8, 2016 at 10:43 am

I assume you mean “old diaper” as in no longer in use as a diaper? We still have a couple of cloth diapers in our rag box (the last time they were needed as diapers was well over a decade ago). Diapers make great cloths for any number of things and if they’re soft enough for a baby, no reason they wouldn’t be soft enough for someone’s face.


Denise October 8, 2016 at 9:51 am


I don’t know if you’re aware, but the number and types of ads on your site as viewed here in England are getting ridiculous, perhaps more striking when lined up against a post on extreme frugality.

I have one ad for luxury Italian lingerie (their description, not mine!) with a glamorous and scantily-clad model, others for microwaves, dishwashers, accounting and personal investment sites.

What’s going on??


cathy October 8, 2016 at 10:50 am

I recently installed an ad blocker. It works great and is helping my computer run faster, but I think it’s somehow messing with Katy’s blog comments. I can see however many there are for a blog post when I first look, but then it gets stuck at that number and won’t open up the rest of the comments unless I post one. No idea how to fix it since I’m not willing to give up the ad blocker. You get more “special” ads, though. I’m in the US and mostly get ads for convenience foods and beauty products–both that I’m sure marketers think women are looking for.


Denise October 8, 2016 at 9:52 am

“Xero – Beautiful Accounting Software”.

I kid you not.


Denise October 8, 2016 at 9:54 am


Argos – home and electricals – shop now.

I’ll stop now.


Jessica Hollinghurst October 8, 2016 at 10:19 am

Denise You may have a problem on your end I am in Scotland and have no adds on the NCA site hope this helps…….Jessica


cathy October 8, 2016 at 10:40 am

We’ve used a majority of these approaches for years (my husband was on equal pay plans with the utilities before we even met almost 30 years ago). Sometimes extreme frugality was essential and, but often it was just habit. It allowed us to survive (and not freak out too much) a year of living on only earning ~$15,000 as well as being at the opposite end and saving nearly 50% what was (for us) a huge income rather than frittering it away. Thanks for all the suggestions. There’s always something new to look into!


Ruby October 8, 2016 at 1:06 pm

I see ads for shoes and cheese, which is an odd but fun combo. 🙂

Great post, Katy. We have done all that and more at times. I’ve actually felt rather unfrugal lately because a lingering virus has had me too sick to face shopping in more than one store for groceries.


JD October 10, 2016 at 6:50 am

Ha, maybe they are combined because both some shoes and some cheese stink!


chris October 9, 2016 at 7:25 am

I know I am a full-on frugal weirdo when I look at this list and it doesn’t seem at all extreme. It is normal behavior. Yay! That is encouraging.

We have been increasingly frugal all the years of our marriage (17) due to my husband’s modest income and the choice to have me stay home with the babies. When one of the babies ended up having some special needs we knew I needed to devote my energy to figuring out the options and path for him so my husband left his job and we started our own business in that industry to increase our income with something I could assist with from home. At times this has meant many nights of rice and veggie stir fry or potato soup (I DO make an amazing potato soup, thankfully) but we are debt free, including our house, on a single income that has averaged less than 50k for our entire marriage. One year was a freaky 67k but that was consumed by our son’s medical bills. Our income is sufficient for our needs and a few of our wants. The business is thriving and the income is going up but now we are wise enough to see the increase as more to save, rather than more to spend. I consider us extremely blessed.


Beth October 11, 2016 at 6:13 am

You’re first sentence caught my eye…

“You know you’re a frugal weirdo when…” would be an extremely interesting blog post, most likely with an equally interesting comments section!


JD October 10, 2016 at 7:07 am

I really enjoyed this article, and of course, as a loyal reader, I follow the trend here for extreme frugality. The average billing set-up on my electric bill is a life saver in the summer in Florida. I’m stretching my food shopping boundaries more, out of conventional stores, and I’ve suggested the Diva cup and reusable pads to both of my grown girls; I wish I had known about them before my hysterectomy, but I didn’t, so that’s one thing I didn’t save money on. I did, however, cloth diaper my babies at a time when disposables had just about taken over completely. I’ve ditched paper towels and although I still get facial tissues for guests, I go through less than one box per year, since we use hankies and toilet paper for our own noses. They seems like small things, but they all add up. If a dryer load costs around 50 cents per load in energy — and it can be more than that in many areas — and I hang out only five loads in a week, I still save $2.50 a week. That sounds small, but that’s $130 a year. I still haven’t tried one frugal tip, though — peeing while I take a shower in order to save a flush.


Michele October 10, 2016 at 11:37 am

Another thing that helped me was writing down every cent I spent. Shocker how much I’d been spending on snacks/soda/junk.


Ash October 10, 2016 at 12:48 pm

I dye my own hair at home. My birthday and wedding anniversary are both coming up in the next 2 weeks. I considered buying an ombre hair kit but didn’t want to spend $20 (I have thick hair and would need 2 boxes) to do so. My sweet husband offered to have it done as a present. Salons want nearly $60. I just can’t justify it. For that price, we were able to purchase train tickets for myself, my husband and my in-laws. My bucket list wish has always been to ride on a train and my husband is making that happen for me. Those are the things worth money to me. We shop secondhand, we have no shame in bringing home things people want to throw out (I’ve upcycled several pieces of furniture this way), we rarely eat out, we don’t have cable, etc. We are only a one income family but have enough to pay our bills and we made our dream come true: we purchased a RV this summer and were able to lease a camp site. Family time is so precious to us, especially with my husband’s work schedule, so these are the things worth investing in.


Bonnie October 20, 2016 at 8:59 am

I just found your site and am enjoying it, but I take umbrage that you call farmers markets ‘elite’. I’m a farmer, I work by bum off 12-14 hours, 7 days a week, to grow food. I sell at farmers market and I don’t make a living at all. I work 45+ hours a week off the farm during the winter (and still have farm work to do when I get home) and 10-15 a week during the growing season, when I’m already exhausted for very long days of physical labor. This is true of almost every farmer that isn’t work hundreds to thousands of acres, which is most farmers. It’s incredibly difficult to make a living (by which I mean to bring home just barely enough to scrape by, not to have savings/retirement/health insurance/a good car/own a house/etc.) as a farmer. The prices set at a farmers market are closer to the true cost of producing food in this USA, not the highly government subsidized and poverty wages of what you buy for anything made from meat, dairy, eggs and/or grains in the grocery store, or imported from non-Euro countries. You can get great deals at farmers markets or directly from farmers when you eat in season, which I’m very glad you mentioned!. (Just keep in mind, depending on where in the country you are, there are farmers markets that allow vendors to re-sell produce from other places. Some are dishonest enough to purchase from wholesalers or discount groceries and resell it. It’s very problematic. Ask the farmer very direct questions and ask the market if they allow those practices.) Also, frankly, what you buy at a farmers market or directly is going to be much better quality than a grocery store and you will notice the difference. If you want to be frugal about your grocery bill, know where your food comes from and how it’s produced, eat in-season, and buy directly as much as possible!


Katy October 20, 2016 at 11:06 am

Thank you so much for the feedback, as I wrote this without really thinking about it from the farmer’s perspective. Lesson learned.


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