In Freeganism I Trust — A Guest Post by Lauren Weber, Plus a Book Giveaway!

by Katy on February 14, 2010 · 53 comments

The following is a guest post by Lauren Weber, author extraordinaire of the fabulous In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue. (You can find more info at her website

Thank you very much to Lauren Weber for writing this pice for The Non-Consumer Advocate, and to her publisher Little, Brown and Company for providing the book for this giveaway!

To win a copy of Weber’s book, just describe in the comments section what you do to live your life in a cheap manner. I will randomly pick a winner Wednesday, February 16th at midnight Pacific time zone. Sorry foreign non-consumers, this giveaway is just for U.S. residents. One entry per person please.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

In Freeganism I Trust

Visitors to my New York City apartment are usually subjected to a tour of my trash-picking treasures. There’s the goo-covered metal table that I lugged home from Chelsea (on a subway and then a bus) and scrubbed clean with a steel sponge; the vintage cotton kimonos my sister and I fished out of a garbage can in the East Village; and the 300-pound antique dental cabinet I dragged 6 blocks home, enlisting the help of several kind Samaritans and sacrificing a toenail along the way.

I’ve never been squeamish about taking furniture or clothes out of garbage piles. But for a long time I drew the line at dumpster-diving for food. That just freaked me out a little too much.

That is, until I started writing a book about frugal living in the United States. As part of my research, I began going on regular “trash tours” with freegans, a band of anarchists who try to live outside “the money economy” (they squat in buildings instead of paying rent, and scavenge basics like food, clothes and bikes).

I thought I was pretty hip to how much stuff Americans throw away every day. But I was totally unprepared for the amount of food waste – much of it in perfectly good shape – I saw on trash tours. In front of one supermarket, we found a bag filled entirely with muffins, donuts and pastries. All my reservations flew out the window as I stood on the street corner with a cinnamon roll in one hand and a croissant in the other, alternating bites. A few more went into the bag I’d brought along with me.

I was more nervous about the veggies, but then one night I found myself elbow-deep in a bag of lettuce. Sure, some of the bunches were turning brown. But there were plenty of fresh greens in there, and with a little judicious tearing, we were able to hand out a few salads’ worth of lettuce to over a dozen people.

At a gourmet food chain called Garden of Eden, employees regularly set out massive black trash bags stacked with the day’s prepared foods. On any given night, we might find dozens of containers of soups and sandwiches that had just hit their sell-by date (and I have a feeling markets are skittishly conservative about those dates anyway).

My trash scores eventually included baguettes, bagels, pastries, limes, veggies, containers of hummus, tubs of mascarpone cheese, a sack of vine-ripened tomatoes, an organic cauliflower, a challah bread that I turned into French toast for a few days, fresh sage, walnut bread and cheese-scallion muffins from my favorite organic bakery, a never-opened 10-oz. bar of Scharffenberger’s baking chocolate, and sealed bags of parmesan-garlic pita chips thrown out for no apparent reason (maybe a new shipment arrived and the store had run out of shelf space?).

I still occasionally go diving on my own, though I’ve never fully conquered my self-consciousness (I’ve even thought of nonchalantly saying to people who stare, “oh, I threw out my wedding ring by accident.”). And I’m happy to say I’ve never gotten sick from anything I found in the garbage, and neither have any of the freegans I interviewed.

So if you can handle feeling a little embarrassed (and, really, isn’t the waste the embarrassing part?), think of dumpster-diving as an amazing source of fresh, edible free food. Here are a few tips for novices, gleaned from experts and experience:

  • Going through trash is legal as long as it’s on public property, such as a sidewalk. Dumpsters in parking lots are a little trickier, so tread carefully.
  • Stay away from household and restaurant trash; stick to markets and bakeries.
  • Go out after 9 PM, when most supermarkets are closing or putting out their trash.
  • Bring a friend; there’s confidence in numbers, and it turns your outing into an adventure.
  • Feel the bags first to get a sense of what’s in them; often, you can tell if a bag holds loaves of bread, firm produce, prepared foods – or just garbage.
  • Wear latex gloves if you’re nervous about germs or food slime; however, it’s a lot easier to judge what you’re feeling if your hands are naked (and if you cared that much about germs, you probably wouldn’t be rooting through trash in the first place).
  • Always untie the bags; never rip them. And re-tie them when you’re done. Leaving a mess is rude and annoys store managers and sanitation workers.
  • Bagel shops and bakeries are gold mines. Those signs that say “Baked fresh every day?” That means they’re tossing out the leftovers every night.
  • Bruised fruit and vegetables can almost always be rescued. Think smoothies and stews.
  • To be on the safe side, do like freegans do and dive as a vegan – don’t take meat, fish or dairy (I break this rule occasionally when it comes to cheese).

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

WilliamB February 14, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Do I get a bonus entry for being first? I’d really like to read this book but my sad local library system doesn’t have it. I wish I were surprised by that.

One thing I do is cook. I generally know what food I have on hand – and I don’t just mean what’s in the fridge, either; I have a good idea of what’s in my freezers (yes, plural) and cabinets as well. I know how to use ingredients I didn’t use the first time around, like the infamous half a can of tomato paste; how to repurpose leftover so they don’t seem leftover; how to rescue failed or uninspiring dishes. (Hint: varietal red wine vinegar works wonders). I can go into a strange house and make dinner from whatever I find there. I can even do it with the equipment I find on hand, which is usually an even greater challenge. If you have edibles, I can make an edible meal.

(Brag over.)


Mrs. B February 14, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Well Katy….I would love to win this book. I don’t have an area that I am living in a cheap manner. I am lowering the food budget and trying to stick with it, lowering the gallons of gas we use weekly, three drivers car sharing, buying as many used textbooks for my son in college, using the dryer much less ( four people living in a small apt. makes it hard to leave laundry out to dry) and using the heating system much less this year. I made a bag for my husband and myself and filled it with field corn…we heat these up in the microwave for about 3 minutes and put them in our bed. Once those feet are warm you can drift off to sleep so fast. We haven’t even had to turn on the heater in our room all winter.


jennifer February 15, 2010 at 6:05 am

I thought I was cheap before, then I got on the Dave Ramsey plan last year and now I’m Really cheap!! Been doing a lot of Goodwilling and Garage saleing (when the weather allows!) We are also very outdoorsy folks and gather alot of mushrooms, berries , ect, that we find in the large woods around our home. No barcode on those babies!!! Would love to become even more cheap! Thanks for the inspiration!


Kirsten F. February 15, 2010 at 6:09 am

I try to cut out the little expenses that add up – particularly because I am a person who needs to eat regularly (or I get cranky). I bring my lunch to work, but I also keep back up food at work (such as canned soup) for the days that I am running late and don’t have time to make my lunch. I have a french press coffee maker at work to keep myself from being tempted to go out and get coffee on those long sleepy afternoons. I bring snacks with me when I travel – whether it is on trains, planes, or automobiles – so I am not tempted to buy overpriced junk food. I am particularly fond of apples and zip lock bags of munchy cereal because they travel well. I bring instant oatmeal when I travel out of town so I have breakfast with me instead of going out (or paying for ridiculously overpriced room services).


Lisa February 15, 2010 at 6:24 am

I’ve been dreaming about this book since you first reviewed it – even before you’d finished it, Katy!
We spend a lot less in many areas, compared to others; right now, though, our focus is on our electricity consumption. We purchased a water heater blanket, covered all the windows on our leaky house, heat with wood and hang our laundry in the room next to our woodstove. In the summer, our energy use drops dramatically, but this is the first year we’ve made a concerted effort in the winter time in snowy, cold Illinois.


Bellen February 15, 2010 at 6:25 am

I have a degree in Home Economics from the 60’s – during Pres. Johnson’s War on Poverty – and was taught how to get 5 cents from every penny. So – I buy used clothes, except underwear, and those only on sale. We buy what husband calls ‘used’ meat and bread – priced to sell, usually 30-50% off, because they are at the sell by date. We shop yard sales, thrift stores, and pick from the garbage if possible – stores in our area use closed & locked dumpsters but sometimes we luck out. We cook from scratch and only eat out if someone’s treating or we have a gift card – maybe 6 times a year.

I sew, repair and repurpose anything made of material – an odd kitchen curtain became an apron, a sweatshirt with frayed cuffs became a vest.
My husband can fix almost anything mechanical. We garden in containers, have a rain barrel made from a free 55 gal container, drip irrigation made from free 5 gal buckets and some tubing, have some raised beds made from odd sized not needed hurricane shutters. We buy trees, fruit bearing citrus, from the clearance racks at Lowe’s or Home Depot because their return policy works for clearance items also. Our veggies are grown from seed, heirloom when possible, and we are saving seed also.

We rarely buy books and only if they are non-fiction – we use the library constantly, we read the newspapers on line, surf the web for garden sites, frugal sites, and even prepper sites altho not the ones emphasizing guns.

We take advantage of as many free entertainment opportunities as possible including musical acts at a local mall, the beach, local parks, state parks and museums on free admission days.

Our grocery shopping is based on the BOGO deals weekly, store brands and really good sales but ONLY on the items we would normally buy. I follow a rather strict menu that reduces our intake of meat/fish/fowl and increases the veggies and complex carbs. We grind our own WW flour, bake our own bread, rolls, muffins, and have even made our own pasta.

We recently bought a bank owned house needing only a stove and refrig for 1/3 of the purchase price 3 years ago. It has increased in value by $35,000 over what we paid just 9 months ago. We bought our refrig & stove from someone who was losing their home, unfortunate but a fact of life.

Because we are frugal we are able to live quite well on our SS and not touch our other retirement accounts.


Susan February 15, 2010 at 6:35 am

Hello Katy.
My family and I decided to save money by moving from the burbs to the city. We went from 2400 sq ft to 1350 sq ft. My husband works within a mile of the house a walks most days. The children walk to school. I work the farthest so I drive a Honda Civic Hybrid. I make sure to shop on my way home from work (and always bring my own bags) to conserve gas. We eat vegetarian only. We’ve lowered all of our bills moving into a smaller home. I would love to find more ways to be a better steward of our planet. I hope to win this book. :o)


Shannon February 15, 2010 at 6:47 am

I’m a huge fan of Freecycle — both for giving things away and getting things, like a gorgeous purple Rothschild coat for my daughter. In fact, I found out about Freecycle from this blog! Thanks!!!


Elizabeth Kountouris February 15, 2010 at 7:06 am

I too, would love to win this book. Listed below are the things I do in my everyday life to live cheaply, more sustainably and more in harmony with the earth.
1. I live a 15 minute walk away from work, so I gave up my car.
2. I live in a co op where all of us work together and have wonderful apartments. This way we take up less space but have control over our environment.
3. I and other co opers compost our kitchen scraps so that we can use the resulting fertilizer on our grounds.
4. I cook 90% of my food from scratch. I don’t grind my own flour but have considered it.
5. I have a community garden plot and grow many of my own organic veggies, and buy others at our city farmer’s market to support our local growers.
6. I freeze food for the winter, make jams, pickles, etc so that I know what is in my food, as well as saving mega dollars by doing this.
7. I go to thrift stores first, when I need something, before even considering purchasing new.

Thanks for your blog and for the chance to win this book.



Kristin @ klingtocash February 15, 2010 at 7:18 am

I know it doesn’t sound frugal, but we eat fresh food. I check our local market to see what is on sale and construct a menu around the meat, dairy and veggie sales. The store I frequent has amazing quality control and some of the best tasting food I’ve ever had. Since I started shopping there, our overall food costs have gone down because the food is so good. We aren’t tempted to skip a planned meal and eat out instead. We are eating better, losing weight and saving money. Love it!

I hope I win the book. I sounds very interesting.


Rebecca February 15, 2010 at 7:29 am

Craigs list, we buy and sell there with great sucess. I make everything from scratch and eat vegan 5 days a week so I feed a family of 5 for $65 a week. Goodwill for just about everything else. I cut our hair myself, even mine, to keep costs low.


Kitty Welton February 15, 2010 at 8:49 am

Well, Katy, I am pretty cheap. My ex told people that after the eagle pooped, I made soup from the bones. But the bones are the best part. My son just bought a part of a cow for his freezer and I asked for bones. I don’t get this new tendancy to debone everything. What are they doing with the bones? I am a BIG soup person, anything and everything can go into soup (or stew) and does at my house but really, one needs the bones. For flavor. I wonder if you get some calcium that way, too? When I boil potatoes or pasta for salad, I cook the eggs in the same water. I live alone but it is hard to cook for one. So I have lots of 1 cup freezer containers. It goes into the freezer the same day so I don’t forget. I don’t need to buy convenience foods, I just go to the freezer.


TraciFree February 15, 2010 at 8:54 am

All my girlfriends know not to clean out their closets without calling me first! I’ve received bags and bags of free, name brand clothes. I have not needed to buy new clothes for myself (excluding my “unmentionables”) since the Grunge era.


Jean February 15, 2010 at 9:02 am

One of the best ways to living cheap that I have found is to reduce waste. I try not to throw away food. To me that is like throwing away money.

I also tend to be a bit of a packrat, someday some of what I am saving can come in handy for something. Quite often I will have an idea for something and go off seeking the very thing I know will make my idea work. The only problem is remembering what I have and where I stored it.

Just this morning I made a candlering around a large candle I have been given by a women who no longer burned candles and wanted to get rid of it. The ring is made of beachstones my daughter and I collected on camping trips 25 years ago.

My new, and I think very pretty, candle and ring did not cost me anything and contain memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Can’t beat that!


Laura February 15, 2010 at 10:30 am

Although it is a battle sometimes, I do my best to cook meals at home, and to have plenty of cooked meat in the freezer ready to go.

I do have some full meals ready to go in our small freezer (homemade meat sauce for pasta, soups and stews), but I have found that buying roasts or whole pieces of meat on sale, and then cooking them ahead of time is the difference between getting dinner on the table or going out when I’m exhausted.


Linda February 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

Like you, I am a Goodwill shopper. I got a huge compliment today for a purse I bought there.


Dana February 15, 2010 at 11:36 am

We don’t have a lot of food waste. We use up leftovers religiously.

I also make a lot of my girls’ clothes out of other things like sheets from garage sales or other pieces of clothing.

Lots of other ways too, but those are just off the top of my head.



Bad Hippie February 15, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I think the first thing I ever did to live “cheaply” was to wash, reuse, wash, and reuse (again and again) my ziploc baggies. I’m not sure what my record is, but I can’t remember the last time I bought a box of ’em.

I think I got the idea to do that from the Tightwad Gazette. And it’s been all downhill ever since! I now line dry our clothes (okay, summer only), garden, cook from scratch, recycle, use CFLs, and try to knit the majority of my holiday gifts for friends and family.

I still have a long way to go, though, and love to read what everyone here has to say! This year I’m working on getting rid of paper towels and being more creative with leftovers so I can eradicate food waste.


Karen February 15, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I was going to say reusing plastic ziploc bags but Bad Hippie beat me to it! I also do many other things already mentioned – I almost never buy clothes brand new (if I must I wait for a sale), I clip coupons and shop wisely at the grocery store, try to reduce food waste, love the library etc. Like the author we even have a few items of furniture from NYC curbs when we used to live there. The blanket on our bed was my husband’s from childhood if you can believe that. I think a lot of these comments apply to small things that once you try them out and work them into the way you live, they become just that – the way you live. I don’t feel cheap, I feel smart.


Valerie Heck February 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I buy old furniture at the goodwill and restore, clean it up, repaint and add some new drawer pulls if needed. That way the furniture is made of real wood, lasts longer, and it’s recycling! I also do all the repairs around the house (I’m the woman in the relationship). I figure I’ll give it a try to fix things and if it really can’t be done by me I can call someone. So far I’ve patched drywall, taken down wall paper, put up a rod in the closet, and much more. I love fixing things up myself.


Julie February 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm

We give away most of our kids’ outgrown clothing. The good karma results in fabulous hand-me-downs for them. Especially great for my fashionista 12-year-old daughter!


Sue February 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I accept handouts & hand-me-downs, I try to do without or borrow stuff and find cheap ways to have fun.


Wendy February 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

The key is staying out of stores as much as possible. We raise our own chickens for eggs & meat and grow our own vegetables. Gifts and cleaning supplies are homemade. Also, we use our local library for entertainment instead of paying for expensive cable.


Shannon February 15, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I absolutely loved “In Cheap We Trust!” It really helped me get myself back on track with my own priorities, and was just a heck of a good read. Plus there are parts that made me laugh out loud. Bravo Lauren!
My cheap habits are basically buying most clothing second hand, gardening, and finding ways to re-use stuff. Oh, this is funny, every year my pet-challenge is to see how much cheaper I can get all the stuff on my sons’ school lists than the PTO will sell you the kit for, without scrimping to off-brand crayons and stuff. Usually the PTO wants $18, and last year I got everything my son needed for about $7.50.
NOTE: I’ve already read this book, so I don’t want to be in the drawing; just wanted to shout out to Ms. Weber and join the coversation! 🙂


Lauren Weber February 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Thanks, Shannon. I appreciate the shout-out, and am happy to report that I just got home from a *free* haircut worth about $200. It was a “trainee” cut at a fancy Madison Avenue salon here in NYC. OK, it took 3 hours but it may be the style I’ve been looking for all my life (the salon owner/teacher, who charges $650 for a cut with him, told me the original style I wanted would make my face look too “pointy”).


Fox February 15, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I’m trying to pay off my student loan by the end of next year. That means I have to live off of next to nothing. I’ve bought four books and a new monitor for my computer in the past couple months. Everything else has either been food or necessary supplies (deodorant, cat litter). I consider myself on “the Compact Lite.” I’m not buying everything used, but the majority of what I buy is. Why buy a brand new spatula when you can get one used for a nickel at the thrift shop? 😀 “That’ll be five cents, please.”


magdalena February 15, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Although I’m not eligible for the contest (Canada) I will add one more ultra frugal tip. When our income is way too low for rent, I exchange housekeeping and cooking or babysitting for a room and possibly board, depnding on the situation. Sometimes the situation is great, like right now, and a couple of times it’s been kind of miserable, but then I just go look for another place and move on. It works out frugally for everyone – we don’t pay rent and sometimes don’t buy groceries, the homeowner gets a clean house without paying a cleaning service weekly, and if there is the cooking option often saves money on the homecooked meals rather than take-out or restaurant fare.


Joy Choquette February 15, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I love this book idea–thanks for letting us know about it. Though I haven’t tried dumpster diving yet (I need a friend to go with!) I have picked up lots of free stuff at the dump and curbside.

One of the most important things I do to save money is to thrift. I find so much great clothes and jewelry second-hand. In fact, I often t0tal up my outfit when I go out and if someone comments on it being cute, I can say, “Thanks! It only cost me $12!” Then I tell them about thrift shopping and the great finds you can get. It’s the ultimate recycling, I think.


Martha February 15, 2010 at 8:46 pm

The ways in which I live cheaply are mostly for environmental reasons–we hang all our laundry year round (inside in the winter), reuse plastic bags, buy used clothing and any other used needed items if we can find them, can freeze and dry food from our garden and CSA share etc…
I’d like to win the book, but I think Bellen deserves it!!


Lisa P February 16, 2010 at 1:00 am

I pick/choose my “cheap” living skills. While I try to cook from scratch, use towels rather than paper towels and spend time matching coupons with sales I also acknowledge that sometimes it’s cheaper to call/pay a professional to repair something (a car, anything electrical etc) than to try it myself and really goof it up LOL.


Elizabeth B February 16, 2010 at 1:15 am

I try to buy used as much as humanly possible. Aside from socks (which to me are investment pieces because I wear them until they just won’t stay up any more) and underwear (which I buy at Macy’s with coupons), I haven’t bought a new piece of clothing for myself in a long time. A lot of my housewares purchases are from Goodwill, too. Books are definitely a guilty pleasure, although I try to use the library as much as I can. Don’t get me started on craft supplies; although I try to get a lot of them from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, Joann and Beverly’s are my Waterloo.

Bellen and Elizabeth K expose me for the lightweight I am. 😉


oldboyscout2 February 16, 2010 at 7:21 am

Bellen: Great Job! Fine idea as to the smoothies .


Robyn J. February 16, 2010 at 8:33 am

I am a huge fan of simple living and though it can be labor intensive there’s something deeply satisfying aobut finding “the cheaper way”. Its a fun challenge and one that I am constantly tweaking. My favorite and most rewarding way is to raise a huge garden and preserve the produce. I can about every tomato product there is, soup, salsa and sauces like pasta, pizza, chili. We also grow beans, corn, potaotes and squash. We can and freeze produce in season and this supplies us with veggies in the fall, winter and spring. We raise our own beef so we never buy meat. We’ll add chickens this spring so we’ll have eggs, and possibly a goat or two for milk, cheese and soap (that’s my project, hubby is NOT interested in that plan! ha)

Other favorite “cheap tricks” include, no cable tv~ We read a lot of books, play games, write stories, play with our animals, go for hikes, no gym membership~we walk/run with our dogs and try to keep up with our kids, no take out food~we live 30 miles from any food joints, we do most of our home improvement work~electrical/wiring, floor installation, tile/grouting. If a job is bigger than what we can manage, we trade with family, friends or neighbors.

I enjoyed all the great submissions! So cool to know we’re all in this together!


Mamie February 16, 2010 at 8:37 am

Ways we live cheaply:
Cook almost everything from scratch – we have reduced our use of processed foods drastically; make our own bread; buy in bulk; recycle; participate in a produce co-op, sharing the bi-weekly basket (and the cost) with my sister-in-law; use only one of our cars (the other is basically in storage, with suspended insurance); use Netflix and Redbox for movies rather than going out or renting from more expensive places; cut out magazine subscriptions except for necessary professional journals; make gifts sometimes instead of purchase; buy fewer, better-quality items (especially clothing/shows) instead of quantities of cheap stuff; use coupons for the few “middle of the store” items we do still buy; cut back on hair appointments; stop having nail appointments; garden in the summer….

We don’t live as frugally as some people, be we DO live more frugally (and greener) than many! It’s an evolving process. 🙂


Bonnie February 16, 2010 at 9:30 am

Our family does many things in the quest to live frugally, but most just come naturally since we live on a hobby farm and it’s just the nature of the beast. But one particular thing we do is buy very large garbage bags full of bakery items from the local bakery for $1. They are usually just squashed or nearing the expiration date. We go through all of it and keep what we would like to use and feed the rest to our chickens which in turn produce lovely eggs for us. The chickens love the bread and we are able to cut back on our feed bill dramatically. I love the challenge of getting by nicely without hurting the planet and my pocket book.


Ellen February 16, 2010 at 10:19 am

I think I w

In addition to the many things that other folks have posted here, one of the things we do to cut down on household expenses is to drastically limit the use of disposable products. We use cloth for paper towels and cleaning rags. I have a stash of soft flannel that we use solely for tissues and yes, we even use cloth toilet paper. It’s not as gross as it sounds and it’s no worse than cloth diapering a baby. I also make all my own cleaners and that saves a bundle. We wash our hair and faces using baking soda and use vinegar as a conditioner. We spend $120 total per month on food and household items and I cook everything from scratch. It takes some creative planning but it can be done. We are trying to pay off our mortgage and have $85K to go.


Deb February 16, 2010 at 10:35 am

Well, I’m a single mom and have been for about 11 years, and when I was married there wasn’t much money either. I started out a little frugal and become more so every year. My housemate says cheap – meaning it in a bad way. I’m not cheap, just selective. I have fun, am social, donate, and will help anyone I can. But then I have almost no debt and he has no money and lives paycheck to paycheck and “robs Peter to pay Paul” most weeks!
I’m getting to this post a bit late, and a lot of what I do has been listed by someone else (re-using baggies, line or rack drying, library, home cooked meals, repairing things myself, etc). There are some things I do, or don’t do as it may apply, that I didn’t see mentioned:
1. No longer use paper towels — rags do the job — and usually better;
2. Gave up a gym membership about 2 years ago, get my exercise walking the dog, riding my bike for errands, yard work in the good weather and shoveling snow during the winter, and now walking to work (changed jobs and now work 1 mile from the house);
3. Actually changed jobs to save money — closer to home, better benefits for less out of pocket, etc.;
4. Bought a 105 year old house 5 years ago, and have had a housemate for 4.5 of those years to help with the costs of repair, and while I paid off what consumer debt I had;
5. Judicious re-gifting;
6. I also let everyone know when I’m looking for an item, and very often end up obtaining it for free (most recently a sewing machine, and a desk)
7. Drink tap water;
8. Make most of my cleaning products, and I also make my own fabric softener;
9. Groom my dog, including clipping her nails, and the cat by myself;
10. I’m my own manicure and pedicurist;
11. Try to eat right, exercise, and take care of myself so that I don’t have to go to the doctor often, and avoid having to take medications;
12. Have my best friend trim my hair — I’m dangerous with scissors around my own hair!
13. I don’t have cable or satellite television. If I really want to watch, the local channels are just fine. I also don’t have satellite radio, but listen to regular radio stations.
14. I don’t have a cell phone. My house phone is much less expensive than any plan out there, even when coupled with calling cards (bought on sale) so I can call my sister, mom, and gram. Plus, I’m not much of a phone talker anyway.


Donna Korzun February 16, 2010 at 10:59 am

Cheap. . .well. I try to live my life as frugally as possible. I reuse paper towels, wash ziploc bags, cook, shop at Aldi’s, use a pricebook, budget, question purchases, go to thrift stores, auctions, garage sales, reuse junk mail for scratch paper, wait for sales on items that are truly needed, use any discounts if relevant, always use lists, reuse anything possible, make own cleaners, find free fun, turn off lights, monitor elec use, turn down heat, don’t use the dryer, pick up change on the street but with all this said, I will NOT skimp on important items, one being No VOC paint for my house. To afford it I do all the above as well as always re-evaluating my methods and learning from sites like this.


Elisa Wells February 16, 2010 at 12:15 pm

I do a lot of things to live cheaply, but my favorite is visiting the public library. There are four avid readers in the house and this saves us a ton of money (not to mention not having all the books cluttering up our house!).


Tracy Balazy February 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I like the Freegan tips! I’d rather Dumpster dive for dinner any day over eating something like McDonald’s or most of the other ilk that passes for the Standard American Diet!


Barbara February 16, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I shop at GW for clothes and other household things that I may need. I try to acquire things used either from GW, Freecycle or Craigslist. Through the year I make a list of things I could use or need (but not right this minute, like a better snow shovel for example)…when yard sale season starts I make it my goal to find those things on my list. I make my laundry soap. I clean with baking soda and white vinegar. I wash my hair with baking soda and use Apple Cider vinegar for the rinse. I use things until they break. I don’t need to have the newest or the latest of anything. I borrow books from the library. Those are just a few things!


A. Marie February 16, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Hi, everyone–
I’m joining the conversation a bit late, and most of the specific suggestions I would have offered have already been put forth by other folks, so what I’m submitting is a matter of attitude adjustment I first learned 35 years ago. I was attending an Orthodox Jewish wedding (as a Gentile friend of the bride) and happened to overhear a conversation between the mothers of the bride and the groom. Groom’s mom kept kosher and other religious practices more strictly than Bride’s mom, and evidently there had been a mildly heated debate about this. (Bride’s family and I came from a part of the country where there wasn’t a lot of external support for keeping strict kosher.) I strolled up just in time to hear Bride’s mom say, “Well, we all keep kosher just as much as we can do. I do it as much as I can, and you do it as much as you can.” I’ve always thought this was a very sane and balanced approach to many things. In the context of thrift, we all do as much as we can–and while we should always be trying to do more, we shouldn’t beat up on ourselves because we’re not doing as much as we think other people are doing, either. I think Amy Dacyczyn made a similar point in one of her books.


Michelle H. February 16, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Love your blog!
Here’s what I do to live frugally:
–If I am going to buy something new (including groceries and services), I try to combine a sale and a coupon to get the best price.
–I try to let my toddler have real (and cheap or free) experiences like splashing in puddles instead of buying him more toys. I also potty-trained my son earlier than is average nowadays, in part to decrease the laundry load (we used cloth diapers) and diapering expenses.
–I read online reviews for products, but then try to buy them used–or at least at the best price. If you decide you are going to buy something online, at least look for a Facebook fan page first: they often have coupon codes.
–I use the library and inter-library loan instead of buying books (for both myself and my son).
–We use cloth napkins and real plates and cups all the time.
–My husband and I plan ahead for major purchases and keep an emergency fund for home repairs, etc., so as not to charge anything we can’t pay for at the end of the month.


Amy H. February 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Just wanted to say “Thank you!” to Ms. Weber for writing such a fantastic book. I was lucky enough to reserve this at my local library (San Francisc0) and finished it this past weekend. It’s so well-written, and a very enjoyable and informative read. (I’m not asking to be eligible for the contest, since I’ve already read the book.)

The most recent thing that I’m proud of for “living cheaply” was taking our 9- or 10-year-old blender to a local small appliance repair shop. It had started making horrible grinding noises and didn’t blend. The shop owner took it apart, determined it needed a new clutch, put a new one in and now it works great! It cost us only $35 for the part and labor. Since this was commercial-grade blender, it would have been many times that to replace it. I’m mostly so happy about this b/c my husband is not yet anywhere like the cheapskate/frugal person I grew up as, and in earlier days he would have just thrown out the blender and bought a new one. So this is huge progress! 🙂

I also rent textbooks for my grad school classes; compost; don’t use A/C or heat (our apt. has radiators); unplug appliances; walk everywhere (or take MUNI); don’t get haircuts very often and never color my hair; stopped buying music and listen to instead; get books from the library. Where we could be more frugal — moving to a smaller apt. in a different part of town. Haven’t managed to bring ourselves to make that decision yet, so we’re trying to appreciate our space and our neighborhood as the wonderful things that they are every day.


Sherry February 16, 2010 at 5:58 pm

We make cheap livivng a family affair. My family memebers provide child care for each other and split the cost of outtings and notify each other of free community activities. We share coupons and also go in on bulk items from Costco. Looking out for each other makes it fun!


Jennifer H. February 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I know this has been mentioned, but I find the biggest way to live cheaply is to eat at home.

My husband cooks most of our dinners and has made some wonderful dishes including Greek moussaka and green curry using whitefish. We very rarely have a meal where meat has the starring role. Most of the time we do have meat, but it’s in a combination dish with lots of veggies or rice or legumes or all three! There are many weeks that between the two of us, we consume only 1-2 lbs of meat during the seven days.

We always pack our lunches. As a Christmas gift, I bought my husband a food slicer. He loves to cook up hams and turkey breasts and slice them up for lunches. It’s so much cheaper than any lunch meat you can buy in the store. I tend to eat meatless lunches, but love the fresh ground peanut butter from our local store. I also tend to bake a lot of cookies and other treats for the lunches, so that we don’t have to rely on store-bought snacks.

Both of us love to preserve food. We take full advantage of our neighbor’s apple tree by making lots of apple sauce for the winter. (They encourage us to strip the tree. They don’t use the apples and just end up having to clean them up). This past fall we made our own spaghetti sauce, salsa, stewed tomatoes and chili base from tomato “seconds” that were being sold at the local farmer’s market. It’s so satisfying to see the rows of glass jars filled with goodies in your kitchen cabinets. We also make our own jam and tend to freeze in bulk anything that we can buy in season for later use.

We tend to save going out for special occasions. Most of the time what we can make right at home tastes so much better anyways!


lorene February 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm

For Christmas, I bought a stack of cool shirts for my sister — ON SALE (50%0 off day) from the thrift store! I felt a little sheepish about giving them to her, but after they were washed and ironed, they looked even better. She loved them all.
For our anniversary, we stayed at a friend’s condo. On they way out of town we stopped at the thrift store and each picked something. We “splurged” on a nice dinner, though we split an entree. Ah the fun of cheapness!


Kim Caron-Lohman February 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm

I would soooo LOVE to win this book !!! I am a newbie at living cheaply, but these are the things I’ve been doing so far:

1. Stopped buying new books and started using the library! I used to buy all new books from Amazon. Now I use Amazon to search for books and then head on over to the online library catalogue to order for free. Wow, how cool is that? Sorry Amazon!!!

2. Moved in with relatives to weather the current economic crisis. We’re living in an area with almost 20% unemployment and my husband is currently unemployed. We’re able to share utilities and some food and it’s working out great!

3. I started cooking all our meals from scratch and being super careful to buy only what we can use before it goes bad. We buy only what’s on a really good sale and plan our meals around those sale items.

4. We stopped paying for services, and now do everything we can ourselves. My son fixes our truck for us, I cut my husband’s hair for him, etc.

5. We’ve become minimalist and have sold many things we didn’t need on Amazon, Ebay and Craig’s List.

6. Started shopping at thrift stores and garage sales and only buy what is absolutely necessary.

7. I’m learning to Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do or Do Without!!!

Like I said, I’m a newbie! Very glad to have found your site – it’s a great resource!

Kim Caron-Lohman


Jeanne Grunert February 17, 2010 at 4:57 am

My husband was an economist and has taught me how to live frugally. Here’s what we do:

1. We buy groceries on sale, use coupons, buy manager’s specials, and compare prices among the stores. As long as the stores are in close physical proximity, we shop several each weekend.
2. I cook from scratch daily and make meals based on what we have, rather than rush out and buy fancy ingredients.
3. We never eat fast food. Maybe once a year, when we’re traveling, we may get it, but that’s it.
4. We eat out at a restaurant only 3x per year, on our birthdays (there are three people in our household) or we bring home Chinese food or whatever the birthday person wants.
5. We buy only non fiction books; I use Paperback Book Swap for non fiction that’s timely or for fiction; we use the library constantly
6. I shop Goodwill or Bargain Catalog Outlet online for values. This month I purchased a skirt ($6.99/full price over $40), a summer blouse ($3.99/full price was $24.99) and two pairs of summer shorts from BC Outlet (shorts were on sale $4.99/regular full price $24.99). I only buy underwear, socks and shoes new and jeans, because I’m a tough to fit size for pants so I’ve got to try on in the store & buy when they have them.
7. We recycle everything. I darn socks and sew repairs to clothes.
8. My husband does all the routine maintenance on the cars.
9. We have an extensive organic garden. I grow from seeds. Last year I estimate I grew over $500 worth of organic food from about $40 worth of seeds.
10. I swap services & extra produce with the neighbors. This year I scored homemade wine (heavenly!), free range eggs, 20 pounds of pears (which I canned) and lots more goodies.
11. We work from home, so no need for expensive gas/commuting costs anymore, fancy clothes, or extra perks like meals out.
12. We enjoy free entertainment locally when we want to go out. There’s a major university in our town and they have wonderful lectures, art exhibits, and music concerts – all free. Sometimes it’s student performances but other times they have guest artists.
13. Local churches also have free concerts – bluegrass & gospel music, which we enjoy.
14. For exercise, I walk or bike – both free activities. I needed a new bicycle so I bought a supercheap one on sale ($79)
15. Goodwill, thrift stores and garage sales are my friends.

That’s it. Hope I win the book! All are welcome to drop by my blog, by the way – Seven Oaks – – where I post stories about our farm life. I was a full throttle, MBA toting marketing executive in New York City. In 2007, I quit my day job, my husband packed up his elderly dad, and we moved onto a 17 acre farm in Virginia and began freelancing. It’s been quite the ride.


Nancy February 17, 2010 at 5:14 am

I do a lot of the same things that others do, but since I’m a voracious reader, I’ve found a way to obtain free books. These are new books, ofter advanced reader copies, and I get to be one of the first to read them. How do I do this? I review books, both fiction and non-fiction for my blog, and love every minute of it.


Marj McClendon February 17, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Drat, I don’t have a new idea to add. Although I dumpster dive for food, I go one step further…..If something is already frozen, like Ice cream, yes, I said Ice Cream……I do take the cartons with lids right on home. We have never been sick yet. There are wonderful frozen foods we would never otherwise try in our winters here in the North. Everything gets a good clorox wash on the outside. We have found full cases of spaghetti sauce with one broken jar, granted you need to be careful……but wow it sure tastes wonderful. I get squeamish with items like lettuce. (Just Me) Frugal is the new IN thing to be doing. To think, we’ve done it all along.


tammy February 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm

I recently made a wonderful and pleasant discovery. I noticed to my initial horror, that my fleece snuggly seemed to magnetically attract masses of dog hair. I carefully considered this and the bag of give away clothing I had in my closet, which included a fleece jog outfit.
Using the last swiffer sheet I had as a pattern, I cut the jog outfit into rectangles that fit my swiffer. It works PERFECTLY and better than those expensive swiffer sheets! Mindful living the the mother of invention!


wendy phillips February 17, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I live in a state where the Utility is deregulated. By choosing my own gas company, I save at least 20% on my heating bill. It’s a fixed cost
in running my home but I’m a much smarter shopper for the same exact product while remaining a customer of the Utility. I get a big discount on my energy bill. The savings really add up!


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