This amazing list of money saving tips came straight from readers’ comments here at Letters from Sunnybrook.
As I was perusing the 1900+ comments from last year (ok, so some of that number are my responses), I was impressed by the wealth of frugal living tips and personal stories of saving money that were shared. Some readers even shared entire lists of ideas that have worked for them!
I’ve tried to pare them down to a list of tips that will be applicable to the most people. I do read and appreciate every single one of the comments you share, so keep ‘em coming!
My Favorite Frugal Tips
We bought an electric pressure cooker a few months back. We noticed a drop in our electric bill shortly afterwards since I don’t use the oven nearly as much as I used too. And even the cheapest piece of meat turns out fall-off-the-fork tender.
We used the barter system this past summer. A co-worker my husband works with needed a part to an antique phonograph she has. It just so happened he had that part. We didn’t have a garden last summer, but she did, so she furnished us with fresh veggies once her garden started producing. She even gave us enough for me to can some. All because of a part she thought she would have a hard time finding. Never underestimate how happy bartering can make another person too.
- Attend every FREE community event out there. Sometimes all you have is fun, other times fun and food and freebies — once at a bank grand opening we won $50!
- Everyone should grow something to eat! Container, or windowsill or in an old fashioned unraised dirt bed. A pack of lettuce seeds are less than $1.50 and can grow hundreds of heads of lettuce (just don’t plant them all at once). Lettuce is easy to grow.
- Don’t wash small loads of laundry, it takes the same amount as electric no matter the load size. Oh and buy a dryer rack (I have 2) and dry indoors even in the winter. I set my racks up in the bathtub to save space. I hang items over 2 of the rungs of the rack so they get good airflow all around. Anything that can go on a hanger does and gets hung on the shower curtain rod to dry.
As my Landlady once told me, “Watch your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves.”
From Beth in Iowa:
It is just the two of us and many times we can squeeze out an additional week in groceries just by being creative with the leftovers. My husband is much better at doing without than myself, BUT I am better at putting on an extra layer of clothes to keep from using more propane to stay warm. We both try to encourage one another in our weak spots and try to make it fun.
We too have purchased a fixer-upper and have recently decided to take the money we were planning for repairs and such and sock away in savings. We will be down-sizing by about 50% when we build a newer, more efficient smaller home of approximately 600-700 square feet and using any and all of the materials we can salvage from the original structure. As we made repairs on the larger home, it became a “pandora box” of problems and the money spent on those repairs will go a long way to build a smaller, easier to maintain, heat and cool as we get older.
From Sara K.:
We play the “what’s this?” game (basically find a way to use EVERYTHING we have in house so there are no new purchases; lima beans in baked beans – sure, why not? DH actually likes it! Good, he can eat it all.) Even though on paper, we can’t “cut back” anywhere else, we are doing it. It’s pennies on the dollar, but every bit helps. And we are defining what we absolutely want to have to keep in house.
I don’t like baking in the summer due to the heat so during the end of the winter/spring, I will bake coffee cakes, fruit breads, etc. and freeze half of the loaf. Then I have fresh baked breads/treats during the summer!
From Lisa of Syncopated Mama:
Wedding dress for $10, rings off Ebay, doing something a bit different, small, and focusing on what was important to us were all things we did for our wedding. We’re also big fans of going to the grocery store for fancy ingredients and making a meal at home – the other night we had lamb, asparagus, brie, bread, salad, wine all for $8-something TOTAL. Way fancier food that we usually have from the grocery store, but way cheaper than a meal out!
From Alison at NOVA Frugal Family:
I do cook at home for my family every night (minus once a month pizza take out). I do coupon and use basic stockpiling ideas to get the items at the lowest cost so that it isn’t a lot out of budget. For instance, I bought flour when it went on sale for $0.99 for a 5 pound bag and around $2 for bread flour. I stocked the cupboards with enough to last me the year. The great news is that I paid little out of pocket and didn’t have buy flour for the year for $4 per bag which is the shelf price here. I do the same with chicken, ground beef, canned tomatoes, rice, pasta and more so that I don’t have to buy what we need when we need it. It saves lots of money. I make all of our bread, rolls, cookies, quick breads, muffins and anything else I can from scratch.
See how much you can cut back until it hurts and then add a little back and you have your budget. Everyone’s budget is different and there are many factors including area of the country and more so I hope that no one uses others budget to decide what to do for themselves. Best idea is that I shop where things are the cheapest so I don’t wait until I need something to go out and get it.
From Maggi G.:
I cook large pots of beans and freeze half of them in freezer bags. When they are solid, they stand up nicely in a small bin. I have just started taking a portion of the other half and dehydrating them then vacuum sealing them. This works well since I’m cooking for just me now.
Most people in this country and in “our” generation have no idea what it is to do “without”. Breaking that mentality is key to reclaiming your life. Think of the things that got you into debt in the first place: college (horrible debt), car purchase, home purchase, spending more than you have on things you would normally buy with cash (shopping habits), luxurious living (very subjective), misunderstanding the difference between “need” and “want”…. these things need to be addressed and personal inventory needs to be done regarding them (myself included).
What are the essentials? Shelter, food, clothing, means to generate income. Everything else is optional, seriously. Shelter doesn’t have to be buy a “McMansion” or rent “in the city.” Food is not “eating out” it is coupon clipping and grocery shopping and fixing your own meals cheaper. Clothing (often abused category) is the modest assessment of what you can personally accept (be tough on yourself here) and what is acceptable to perform your means of generating income. Either employment or investment, you work for your money or your money works for you (or both). Cell phones, TV, internet, vacations… those are all extras and “wants”. Often we (me too) just “feel” we “need” these things. We need to get more uncomfortable to start feeling what real life is like, so that we can deal with it better.
From Tess Goebel:
I do a “rubber chicken” type meal deal ALL the time. You can do this with any bird, by the way. Day 1) baked chicken (usually rotisserie because I’m lazy, but I do cook raw ones too) and mashed potatoes. Clean meat off of bones in the following order: Breast meat sliced in sandwich slices as much as possible, then the rest of meat torn off and chopped. Store in a container in the fridge to use later. Take the bones and stick them in a pot and make my own stock (water + bone = stock when water turns dark yellow on medium heat). Day 2) Chicken shepherd’s pie which is made with leftover chicken and mashed potatoes and a couple of cans of veggies + brown gravy mix and spices. Day 3) Chicken Soup from a portion of the stock and leftover chicken and veggies. Day 4) Chicken stew and dumplings (uses rest of stock) potato dumplings (aka gnocci) are dead easy to make. Day 5) Chicken quesadillas. Day 6) If there’s still meat left, makes a neat meat loaf. Day 7) Leftover shepherd’s pie, soup, or stew….which of course have been frozen in easy reusable microwavable containers. Of course, you can also have sandwiches from the slices you sliced for them on Day 1.
From Jo Rellime of Homestead Chronicles:
I buy dry goods in bulk, bring them home and vacuum seal them in jars. A bowl of cereal or bag of marshmallows in my house could be two years old and you would never know it. I will wear the same clothes for up to three days, sometimes sleeping in day clothes if comfy enough. If it looks okay and doesn’t smell bad, and I am just going out the garden anyway … why dirty another set of clothes? I dry, powder, and make seasonings out of veggie scraps. Celery leaves make a great celery salt, for example.
From Julie of Sum of their Stories:
- I don’t think giving an unwanted or duplicate gift to someone else is rude or cheap, it is practical and sensible. If you gave it to a second hand shop and then spent money on pretty much the same thing as a gift for someone else that would be just wasteful.Personally I don’t have a problem with second hand stuff as gifts either, if something is in good condition, why not? Just call it vintage or retro. It’s only one step away from an antique or rare first edition book and that’s considered ok. It really is the thought that counts.
- I would add check your bank statement as they often make mistakes and don’t let those money off vouches go out of date in your purse/on the fridge (but at the same time don’t let the fact you have a coupon force you into buying something you don’t actually need.
My husband and I are trying to get out of 11k credit card debt by March 1, 2015. We have completely changed our lifestyle, renting a 2 bed instead of a 3 bed. Our apartment charges $3.75 per load of laundry to wash and dry so we purchased a mini washer and spinner, and line dry our clothes. We cloth diaper our baby and we also use cloth wipes. We are fortunate to have two girls close in age, so the younger one gets hand me downs of her sister’s clothes that we purchase cheap on Craigslist.
We live in Sacramento, CA, which isn’t a cheap place to live. I was a stay at home mom, but for this year I am working as a server at a local steakhouse part time, 10 hours a week. My husband watches the kids while I work. ALL my income goes straight to paying off our debt. With all these changes, we made a deal that if we can stick to a $100 grocery bill weekly we will go to lunch as a family to a sit-down restaurant on Saturday. We drink water and order off the smaller portions lunch menu, and order my toddler an add-on salad, which she loves and is usually cheaper than a kid’s meal.
From Kathryn of Farming My Backyard:
We have no credit cards, but we do have school loans and a mortgage. The funny thing about not having credit cards for “emergencies” is that you figure out how to make do until you save up enough to deal with the emergency. We lived without a car for about a year total a few months at a time while we saved up for repairs, I hand-washed the cloth diapers in the bathtub until we could get a new washing machine. We sold our big, pretty, new fridge to pay the house payment one month (just have a dorm fridge right now for our family of 6). Sometimes being responsible is harder than taking the easy way out, but not being in debt is a beautiful thing!
- I use cloth menstrual pads — cheaper, better for the environment and better for me. I keep a ton of small rags around to use instead of paper towel. We still keep it around, but it takes almost 2 years to use 6 rolls.
- I shop sales, stock up, and cook and bake from scratch. I pre-mix pumpkin pie filling, bag it and freeze it, along with pastry in pie plates. It’s saved me so much time, and my pies sell for $10 each (small town). An order for 6 pies doesn’t take much time and that money covers the Internet we use for entertainment, research, schooling, and business.And homemade baking or other items make great and usable gifts. We made all the flowers for our wedding out of tissue paper and wire. 350 beautiful, non-wilty flowers for $15! And they make nice gifts. I give some to my grandparents every once in a while: a bit of color in a long winter, hidden in a box of jars, laid somewhere in their big Bed & Breakfast house. Making someone smile when they feel like crap, or laugh when they haven’t laughed in a long while, is a bigger gift than most people realize.
Being a single mom with two kids, I find that you have to become very creative in your thinking to reduce debt. I decided one year to start growing my own vegetables. The cheap vegetable seeds were 20 cents. So every time I found a penny lying on the ground I picked it up and used that to buy my seeds. Then I learned to save seeds. This reduced the grocery bill so I could put money toward something else.
From Marie of Normal Everyday Life:
We recently had a birthday party for my twins. I had just had a graduation party for my daughter and was feeling very unmotivated to plan another party. I sent my husband to the dollar store and told them to pick out any party plates, napkins, cups, tablecloth that they wanted. They picked out some prizes to give during the games, too. Anyway, all that to say very little was spent on the party, but they had a great time and never knew the difference!
From Janet Pesaturo of Our One Acre Farm:
I LOVE foraging. This spring I am working with two invasive edibles, garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed. When I started to forage some years back, I had very, very low expectations, thinking that if any of these plants were good, people would be eating them. But I was wrong. I’ve met some fabulous wild edibles, and the garlic mustard in particular, is up high on my list.
Being frugal to me means being able to save money or spend less and use that savings towards something more important. Instead of buying the next best thing, I am willing sacrifice that need or item in order to go on trips with my family, making memories instead. It just depends on what is important in your life. What’s a priority for you? I think if I was cheap, I wouldn’t use the money at all. That is the difference between being frugal and being cheap in my opinion.
I try to find balance. I try to make things we can use from reclaimed lumber, so we’ve spent very little on furniture or decor for our house. At the same time, we have a home theater living room with my husband’s collection of electronics that are worth more than everything else in our house. When I splurge, I remind myself that I am satisfying a need to have something special, but also supporting a business, a family. If I make something, I remind myself that I am satisfying a need to create, save, and be less wasteful, and at the same time, I am helping my family feel happy at home, but live within our means. More often than not, we try to save money and resources, but every once in a while, we find something that we know we can’t make as well, and we splurge on it.
From Chrystal of YUM eating:
I’m frugal for sure. I hate to pay retail and will find a way to use everything. I am fortunate that our local thrift store has a working relationship with Target and Wal-Mart so they donate a lot of new stuff on a weekly basis. I am able to buy kiddo stuff in a larger size so that she can get full use out of it since she’s only with us on weekends right now (step-daughter.) I can’t remember the last time I have paid full price for anything other than household necessities and food. Oh, and undergarments because that’s one thing I don’t want to purchase from thrifting. I almost always try my best to make sure I have coupons and sales when I am shopping.
My mother was this way, as was hers, and hers. I just don’t see the point in wasting money, whether you have it to spend or not. When I have a little extra money I give it to the local animal shelter and food banks. As a teen and my first go round in college I worked at a discount retail outlet, starting in the warehouse and working up to assistant manager. Those 10 years were very well spent because I think that’s where I began to see that paying $50 for a pair of brand name jeans was absolutely ridiculous and even then, there were ways to get those same jeans for less if you just stepped outside the box.
I am frugal in a lot of areas so I can indulge in others. I keep my children’s clothing in good shape, and store them for the correct seasons. I then sell them on Craigslist, and donate the stained clothing, or save them for their daycare “extras.” That way I can buy them new clothes. I buy their clothing a year in advance at rock bottom clearance prices. By the time they have gotten to wear them, and they are still in great shape, I practically make all of my money back. That saves extra money for things like our season passes I bought for our local theme park. I love to up-cycle and re-purpose also.
I come from the opposite end of the spectrum where I remember when we got running water as a child. So most financial advice sounds like they’re living on a different planet than I.
What we’ve done:
- Twin-wall polycarbonate is cheap storm windows and you can put it inside your windows – be sure to tape the edge with aluminum tape (you can find this in the vent section of your big box store, it is expensive but goes a long way). They are worth every penny the first winter we put them in the windows. You can cut to size with a good pair of scissors, so no extra tools. This works for people in apartments too. If you pay for your heat, this is worth it.
- I make a list of what is “left over” in the fridge or “fresh” and update it daily. This makes it easy for everyone to remember what to “snack” on or heat up when I’m not serving the meal. It gets used up before it goes bad, which is more efficient for our food dollars.
- Convert to LED lights, worth every penny if you calculate cost of bulb against lifespan of bulb, you get about the same price as an incandescent or CFL depending upon the sale, and the cost of electricity saved is money in your pocket. Also use motion sensor switches for front entryway, back door, kitchen, etc.— high use areas where people don’t turn off the lights are best off with motion sensor switches.
- Host a clothing swap. This takes care of most of our needs for the next year except undies etc.
- Laptops or tablets instead of desktops for computers in the house. The biggest energy use in any electronic is the screen. Same for your cell phone: larger screen = more battery drain. A desktop may be cheap at the store but you’ll pay for the difference in price between that and a laptop within the 3 years of the average laptop’s lifespan just in electricity alone. So if you’re just going to be browsing the internet use your tablet or your phone on Wii so you don’t use your data plan.
From Patricia Byron:
I laugh when people need to cut back and yet still buy coffee. I buy a box of 100 Lipton tea bags and they last over 3 months – and the cost is only about $3.50. I bought two cans of coffee when my brother was visiting me – it was on sale and cost me over $8 – and wasn’t used. I was shocked at the cost for it – since it made way less coffee than my box of tea and cost over twice what I paid for a box – it lasted only 10 days before it ran out – I’m back to drinking my tea and laughing when I read about people who buy coffee and look for other ways to cut back. It’s like those people who smoke and are worried if there is enough money for food for the month. There are priorities – and switching from coffee to tea isn’t hard – you save about $10 a month – $120 a year – and that’s a low estimate. Just like smoking one pack of cigarettes a day costs way over $1,000 a year.
From Jenny at Baby Fingers:
In addition to hitting the dollar store for little surprises for small kids, thrift stores are awesome. My kids usually break dollar store stuff pretty fast, but for just a couple of bucks at the thrift shop you can usually find a quality item that can be fixed up and will last for years! I once gave one of those big jointed ballerina Barbies a makeover, and my daughter loved it. Right after Christmas would be a good time to put away a few things for the next year, since everyone will have just offloaded their excess toys to make room for new.
From Tammy of Taylor-Made Ranch:
My grandmother was raised during the depression and I always admired her way of life after living through such hardship. Even when times finally got better for her, she cooked from scratch and preserved her garden produce by canning and freezing. She sewed and made many cherished and beautiful patchwork quilts (one on my bed as we speak). She embellished by hand her doilies and scarves to cozy up her home. Her laundry was hung on a line to dry. She never wasted anything but put everything to good use. I find myself modeled closely after her in many ways.
From Angi of SchneiderPeeps:
I’ve learned to be more frugal as I’ve gotten older. I think of the keys of saving things is that it’s not always about “the thing.” I have our yogurt and sour cream containers and when someone is over for dinner and I want to send some home with them, I don’t have to worry about what to put it in. I do the same thing with glass jars. It keeps me from having to purchase items.
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