This article first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.
Are you tired on clicking articles that promise you the “ten best frugal tips!” but are disappointingly just the same tired suggestions to “skip that morning latte” or “pack your work lunch?” Yeah, me too. I crave outside the box frugal ideas when I read an article. I want to know what the cheapest of the cheap are doing to save money! I may not employ very single one of their ideas, but I can certainly find inspiration within their creative and dedicated frugality.
Linda: We’ve had a drought here in California for the last 5 years. I always catch the clean shower water while I wait for the water to heat up, and then I use it for my vegetable garden. And if I take a bath, I scoop that water out bucket by bucket to water my non-edible plants and flowers.
Lesley: I ate the same two meals for lunch and dinner pretty much every day for three years while in college: lentil-vegetable chili with rice, or rice with pintos and salsa. I still eat both of those things, but not quite so much.
Phyllis: I painted a nasty old toilet seat. I already had paint and the toilet seat, so no cost!
Daena: I use white vinegar and/or baking soda to clean everything – except windows, I have some special cloth that does that with only water – but I never spend money on cleaning supplies.
Tammi: I get souvenirs ahead of time before we go to a theme park like Disney, by asking friends and family if they have items they no longer get want or need. This way my son can get “stuff” at the park and we don’t spend extra money.
Adela: About ten years ago, after my divorce, I lived without living room furniture for about a year and was quite alright with it; then my friend decided to put a dent in my spartan ways by gifting me the desk and bookshelves from his first time in college. They’re now going on 30 years, and have survived a few moves. I still have them with no plans to replace.
Kim: I know they say not to grocery shop when you’re hungry, but sometimes I luck into stores that are sampling and I end up with a small meal.
Kristi: I cut into my hygiene items such as toothpaste, lotion, and shampoo and conditioner and use every last drop.
Lisa: I dumpster dived for my couch, chair, and table. I’ve also used Freecycle.org to get a toilet, shower and sink. I get a lot of hand me downs from friends and family for myself and for my kids. We also have a small group where we trade for things we need for things we no longer need.
Mary: I picked up a plastic travel mug off the road, because Shipley’s Donuts will refill them for 50 cents a cup.
CJ: We collected rainwater for using in the greenhouse, (which was made out of scrounged materials) for the garden, to fill the waterfowl pools, water all the farm animals, truck washing and flushing. In a pinch I’ve also used it in the washing machine.
MJ: I reuse baking paper, (parchment) wash out ziplock bags and use powdered milk for all my baking. We grow all our own herbs and some of our own veggies and fruit.
David: I picked up a free desk left on the side of the road while between jobs on a night shift.
Kristy: I once found a dumpster full of bread and bagels behind a bakery. It was winter, so all of it was frozen in clean bags. I took those bags home and ate bread forever. Lol.
Sandy: All of our furniture and kitchen supplies are from deceased grandparents and garage sales. Most of my clothing and jewelry come from garage sales. My produce comes from gardening and foraging, which I then freeze for winter.
Lynn: When we were kids our town had an annual “large stuff/household items” trash pick-up. People would put their stuff out at the curb, and we kids would ride our bikes around the neighborhood and freely and unabashedly scavenge. And – adults did it too, just not in their own neighborhoods!
Korina: We live in a historic art deco house (115 years old now) and when my dad sees another such house being renovated/demolished in our town, he goes dumpster diving. Saved amazing wooden doors, metal locks, furniture . . . repaired a lot of it and used it here.
Kris: I’d have to thank a college roommate for this story. My roommates and I were having a tough time at a school without a cafeteria and we couldn’t find jobs. The neighbors below were kicked out of the dorm and the stuff they left was bagged and thrown out. We went in while the cleaning crew wasn’t there and took all their nasty, dirty dishes from the sink, refrigerator, and counter tops (the cupboards were bare.) We soaked, scrubbed, bleached, washed the dishes, pots and pans, silverware, etc. We finally had something to cook and eat with!
Julie: We don’t have a heating system in our home other than a wood burning stove. We’re in Pennsylvania and spent $0 on wood this year. This is because we had some leftover from last year, as well as a few dead trees in our property that my husband cut up.
Alexa: At one point we cancelled the phone/internet/tv subscription and just used our pay as you go track phones ($200/year for 2 phones), and paid $15/month for a small data plan for internet (just so my husband could check his Etsy sales.) We ended up saving about $100/month and we felt so free from that constant internet pull.
Joy: In Alaska you can get on a roadkill list. The state troopers call you when a moose gets hit and you can claim it if it’s your turn.
Marcie: I’ve moved several times and I think paying for new boxes is absurd. I drive behind strip malls and dumpster dive for boxes. They even have dumpsters for cardboard only, so no ick factor!
Randall: I worked on the crew that built a huge log cabin for a client. He only used it in the Winter. He couldn’t, and didn’t want to shovel the snow off the wraparound deck we built around his house. None of the neighbors that lived nearby would do it either, so I took on the task. Turned out it was quite relaxing. Put on headphones and shovel. We had an arrangement based on how many inches of snow. From November to March I would bring in between $200 to $400 a month.
Patricia: I work two jobs, and after the office parties I always volunteer to stay and clean up. People think I’m so nice, but in reality, I’m packaging up the leftover food to take home. My weekend job is security at a banquet hall, and after the weddings and such, the chef always says to “take whatever you want, we’re only going to toss it.” Many times I get a week’s worth of high end food already cooked. I take what I can carry, and freeze what I can’t.
Korina: When I was about 16, my dad saw a mobile phone in the middle of a busy crossroad, so he stopped and picked it up. We had no way of identifying who it belonged to (busy tourist spot, no info in the phone.) It looked like someone probably left it on the top of their car and it fell off when they turned. We got a prepaid sim card . . . and lil’ teenager me had my first mobile phone!
Nicole: The garbage in my apartment complex had a large snapware container in it with some moldy muffins. It was on top of some stuff toward the bottom of a fairly clean bin. So, before dumping my stuff, I reached my whole self in so I could grab the container (like the size of a casserole, so I know it was expensive new.) I opened it and dumped out the moldy muffins in the food/yard waste bin, and then cleaned the container at home.
Catherine: My bathroom walls (floor to ceiling) have unique tile designs composed of the cheapest plain square white tiles interspersed with compositions of broken china, some accidentally smashed at home, some bought at thrift stores or auctions, or from a high end antique store that scorns to sell chipped china. (But you can scavenge their discard box in the basement if you ask nicely.)
Najia: I fed my family and numerous other families (all military) from the thrown away food at the commissary for months. I actually started an unofficial food bank from their incredible wastefulness.
Cat: I am a traveling RN and plan my grocery, gasoline, and other stops around where I’m seeing patients. Once home, I rarely leave unless absolutely necessary.
Cindy: Didn’t have a washing machine when we were first married. Did all laundry, including diapers, by hand in the bathtub.
Whether you find inspiration from frugal folk who save their bath water or those who dumpster dive for still usable items, these ideas are still a thousand times more useful than yet another barista-themed frugality article. You may not be ready to seek out your state’s “roadkill list,” but you can certainly set aside your “ick factor” and scavenge a perfectly good snapware dish or a freezer full of delicious wedding leftovers. I know I’m freshly inspired to find new ways to work frugality into my daily routine.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
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