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Extreme Frugality: What Are Your Most Insanely Frugal Habits?

I’ve never been a fan of “extreme” frugality. Of course, I have been working on (and succeeding at) eating out less, buying things used or on sale whenever possible, and practicing common sense conservation. But I doubt I would ever go through others’ trash, split one roll of 2-ply toilet paper into two rolls, or use old dish water to flush my toilet. That said, in today’s economy, I wouldn’t blame some people for trying these or other extreme ways to save money. So I want to know, what’s your most “extreme” frugal habit? Let me know in a comment!

Published or updated on February 26, 2009

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Laurie says:

    We let our chickens out in the afternoon to save on feed and give them a healthier diet. We barter a lot for things we want, make my laundry soap, buy clothes at the thrift store, use cloth diapers….we tend to eat better and healthier when we can’t afford the junk.

  2. Xena says:

    Some people here have talked about cloth menstrual pads. I have found that menstrual pads will leave me in a bad spot, for example, becoming full at work, oozing blood, stinking, etc. I use a diva cup instead. It costs $15 and you clean it with salt water. The only issue I’ve ever had with it is cramping – but I also have serious cramping normally, so that’s probably just me.

    I’ve found that it pays to keep myself healthy. While I have known many wonderful, competent and honest medical professionals, every GP I’ve ever gone to has wasted no time finding imaginary stuff to treat. (My best story involves a $150 zit.) So now, I skip checkups completely. (Note: I’m a fairly healthy, drug-free 25 with no cancer in the family.) I’ve quit risky activities and get more than seven hours of sleep every night. I drink a ton of water, eat my green veggies and focus on anaerobic exercise to avoid exercise-induced asthma attacks. I treat myself at home. I have friends with medical backgrounds who I can call in case I need a second opinion, but I try not to take advantage of them, the knowledge is all out there. I don’t trust Teh Googlez for medical advice – I’ve found it’s often inconsistent, old or oversimplified, if not just outright wrong. But the library has some really excellent First Aid books with gross illustrations and everything.

  3. My roommate is uber frugal, especially about electricity. He has everything plugged into power strips and turns them all off at night and when walking out the door (excepting the fridge, water heater, dehumidifier) including computers, TV, internet, lights, whatever and is very religious about turning off lights when he leaves the room. At first I thought it was just OCD, but then he showed me his power and water bills. They’re very low. He said his power bill went up 17% when I moved in and I thought that was a lot until I realized how low his bill was to start. At the beginning of the year he installed solar panels and is actually making money on his electric bill now!

  4. Ryan says:

    I have one guy in my area through college that is living in his car as an extreme way of saving money…he works a normal job and uses the on campus gym for showering and since the library is open 24/7 he never has to worry about access to toilets. He sometimes walks to work, leaving his car parked on campus but sometimes chooses to drive. For food, he either goes fast food or buys simple groceries. Based on comments he’s made to me I think he makes between $18k and $25k a year most of which he keeps. He’s got no school debt and seems super happy. He spends his free time either studying, getting involved on campus or working out. Extremely frugal if you ask me.

  5. Essence says:

    I used to be a shopaholic for clothes. But as I got older and healthier, I lost weight and my shape changed a bit. As a result, a lot of my clothes didn’t fit me quite right, and a lot were really out of style since I still have clothes from my teenage years as well (I’m in my mid 20s). So I bought a basic sewing machine and started customizing the clothes with patterns that I still liked. Shirts turned into dresses, pants turned into skirts, extra fabric made headbands and purses, etc….you get the idea. I still haven’e revamped my entire wardrobe yet but this has become a great money saver, new cheap hobby, as well as a money maker since I’ve sold a good bit of items that I made with leftover fabrics and a few extra fabrics from the thrift store!

  6. I have a family of 5 and refuse to spend more than $200 a month on groceries, that goes up to around $300 a month for special occasion months such as holidays and birthdays.

    I keep heat in cold weather set between 60 and 65 degrees, and 55 degrees at night, plastic off all the windows.

    If I hit a pheasant or deer it will come home to be dinner!

    I container garden for some fresh produce.

    I make our own laundry soap.

    I use to seperate 2 ply toilet paper but decided the savings was not worth the time.

    I plan on making cloth sanitary pads so as not to have to keep buying the store ones that are not environmentally kind and cloth is healthier and more comfortable to wear.

    I will wash clothes in a bath tub to save money and hang them on a line through summer months.

    I only go grocery shopping once a month to save on gas.

    If it is within 3 miles, I walk.

    I walk miles and miles on a weekend to collect returnable cans.

    Most dinner meals cost $3 or less for the whole meal.

    I have GASP dial up internet, much cheaper than high speed options.

    I have a bank account with a bank that offers rewards for using the debit card. I get free gas gift cards, walmart gift cards or amazon.com gift cards.

    We actually went without furntiture for 3 years, perfectly comfortable on a bed roll on the floor. Still would not have any but when we moved back to michigan our family flooded us with furniture!

    We have no cable tv

    My only cleaning products are Borax, Baking Soda and Vinegar!

    I forage for edibles and even make my own wine

    I do quite a bit more but this will do for now!

  7. Danielle says:

    Well we have our own chickens for meat and eggs. We just got our rabbits that we are raising for meat. I make laundry soup that costs me about 25 cents for every 2 gallons. Oh and growing my own veggies and herbs! And don’t forget hanging your clothes out on a clothes line is much cheaper then using a dryer.

  8. imuneekru says:

    I am so not down with the cloth TP. That sounds like a sanitation nightmare! I would rather buy cheap toilet paper.

    However, cloth napkins are awesome. Just sew a zigzag around a clean piece of fabric, and have a clothespin for each family member. If you don’t use yours, hang it back up; otherwise, throw them in the wash. A rehab where I worked used to do that–they taught the women how to use a sewing machine and ended up with loads of hemmed napkins, aprons, cleaning cloths, etc.. Used virtually no paper products whatsoever.

    Except TP, of course!!!

  9. mo says:

    Use baking powder instead of regular toothpaste. Pour a small quantity into a recycled yoghurt container, wet your toothbrush, dip the toothbrush into the baking powder, and brush away. Leaves a cleaner feel than tooth paste.

  10. Scott says:

    I recycle everything possible, Shop at a WINCO which is the cheapest grocery store in my area, Never buy new clothes, all from thrift stores, shoes need to have holes in them before they are replaced, OHHH how I envy all of you who can turn the AC and heat off, my family fights my frugality tooth and nail.
    I cant hang with the cloth TP, but more power to you if you can.

    • Scott says:

      Oh I forgot, I write letters, emails, phone calls for any discount or freebie possible, always asking phone carriers for better deals, and drive old cars into the gournd too…

  11. Michelle says:

    I can’t recycle my phone book where I live so I am going to use the pages for cleaning windows, mirrors. I haven’t bought paper towels for a very long time. Never buy facial tissues. I always use toliet paper unless I have a bad cold and need a soft tissue but that is not often. And there is nothing silly about reusing plastic bags. I hang mine to dry on a pretty wine bottle I have on the counter.

  12. sjunip says:

    Heres one:
    Ok, don’t get grossed out, but I read somewhere that people use cloth as a replacement for toilet paper. I thought about this and gave it a try. I found an old sweatshirt (medium weight jersey) and cut it into squares a little smaller than the size of your hand. The sweatshirt yielded about 50 squares. I stacked them next to the toilet and gave it a go. Well, it was fine for #1, but #2 got a little iffy. So I use some TP for #2. I put the used cloths in a diaper bag (these little squares are just like cloth diapers, aren’t they?) and then threw them in the next load of laundry. It works like a charm!! Seeing as I spent $15 per month for TP. I will save $180 for the year and a whole bunch of trees! Give it a try!

    • Frugal Que says:

      We only use cloth TP. There is only my husband and I at home and we each have a separate color cloth. We use those packs of cheap washcloths. Works great, feels soft on your bottom. We use them for #1 and #2 but still have regular TP for guests. Super easy!

    • Renee says:

      I do the same thing, using a mesh laundry bag to wash and dry the used cloths. I even took it one step further and purchased a set of cloth menstual pads that have lasted me the past 7 years, and work 10 times better than the disposable type. Of note, a cheap and effective additive to assure your laundry has been sanitized is to add hydrogen peroxide to your waher’s
      bleach dispenser

      • Renee says:

        One more note on cloth TP- if you use a washcloth for #1 only and throw it in the laundry you will save a tree and no one will ever know. Since there is no paper in the toilet you can then pee in it at least 4 times before you have to flush as well!

  13. Kelly says:


    * TAKE 20 free produce bags from the supermarket to use as covers on leftovers in fridge, sandwich bags for work, rubber gloves to do the dishes.

    * rent movies from the library

    * barter my skills online for free travel accomodations and a bus ticket to Florida for my every year free trip to florida .


  14. Jas says:

    Extreme : moved to a home just out of the city , life is now quieter and more peaceful lol also the stores sell at cheaper price than at the city so saved money

    Stopped cable tv.
    Use my neighbour’s internet access [he offered].
    No A/C.
    Stopped all credit cards. saved me healps.

  15. becky Robison says:

    raised a cow on pasture and put in our freezer, instead of grocery store prices and tainted meat. raised our own goats for milk and cheese and butter. grow our own veggies and apples, red berries, grapes, black berries, strawberries, and blueberries. We have 40 chickens for eggs. Ya for sustainble living! No Tv here. We don’t pay for entertainment. We hike, go to the beach, picnics, camping for free too, play family games, can our fruits and veggies.

    • Uneva says:

      You may also want to raise rabbits to put on the dinner table, like we did. Just don’t give them names or play with them. They’re not pets. They’re food.

  16. Joanne says:

    My Aunt takes greeting cards that she receives, cuts off the page with the original signature, and mails the remaining part as a post card. My Dad says that is tacky, but one of the reasons she is very rich.

    • Rose says:

      You can do something similar with Christmas cards – trim them into pretty shapes and use them as gift tags (comes in handy when you run out too).

  17. John says:

    No a/c at all when at home. Buy everything at the same warehouse store, close to where I work anyway. When at home, Pee outside to save flushes. Skip lunch altogether, I gradually lost the potbelly and needed to. No TV, using public computer. Read instead of watching TV. Never use cell phone but three times a week. Never pay ATM fees. Eat foods that can be microwaved in less then three minutes. Drink the free soda my employer provides. Go one calendar year without buying new clothes. Get rid of the credit cards….dont miss them. Live in a place with no grass to mow. Do laundry at sister’s house as payment for babysitting services.

    • Uneva says:

      You also may want to make your next home (or be thankful if you already have) one that uses electricity instead of gas. It’s slower in the kitchen, but cheaper.

  18. milia says:

    stop paying interest

  19. Barb says:

    Sounds like the story of my life. But as always, I live month to month.

  20. JkR says:

    Read my neighbours newspaper — walk their dog in exchange; use old newspapers -not paper towels–to clean greasy pots before washing them; plastic shopping bags in waste baskets; after-bath water to flush toilets; no poisons, fertilizers of any kind on my lawn (I love the small lizzards or bees too much to murder them day after day); driving an old car “into the ground”; no sweets (do not like them anyway); doggie bag meals next day after going to a restaurant. Most is driven by environmental concerns or health habits–rather than money –but saving money motivates me too–no doubt..

    • Uneva says:

      Those newspapers are good, too, crumpled up especially, for using to clean your windows. My Mom had us do that for years. Never bought “Handi-Wipes”, etc.

  21. wilma says:

    my heated a large brick thwn wrapped it in newspaper fr her foot warmer in winter. she raised lushy tomatoes in an empty lot next to her apartment and built up the cinder from a coal stove with grass clippings and weeds from that patch all composted and then share many curious neighbors and lots left to can for winter, no jars ever spoiled. she found beautiful dresses at a church bazzar for the needy and remodeled them for dress-up for church, all vegie trimmings went to a compost pile that was soon ready for the garden. for shut-ins she grew cosmos for flowers to take to shut-ins on her street, my grandmother made homemade soap that was mild enough for bathsoap.

  22. Kim says:

    I’m museumaholic. I purchased a family membership at a museum in New Mexico that gives me access to over 250 museums world wide including several in my home state of CO. It cost me $60. A few years later I found that exact same membership at a museum in WY for $50. I went halfers with a friend of mine. We now each have a card. We take all of our kids and friends kids with us when ever we can. I am planning a trip to Chicago next month. All my museums for this trip are included under this membership. Also to consider CityPass. It gets you to the front of the line in most places. Time is money especially when on vacation.

  23. RennyQ says:

    Shop at Aldi!!! You will save atleast 20 percent on your groceries.

    The pillow case idea is brilliant.

    • Aneesah says:

      Aldi is awesome and they have a Double garuntee. Money back plus you can get another item it you weren’t satisfied.

  24. Frugal McScott says:

    I live in the San Antonio area. Upon purchasing my 1,732 sq ft house in May of 2007, I instantly replaced all of the lightbulbs, except in the bathrooms, with CFL (compact fluorescent lights) and set the water heater to *120 degrees, maintain the thermostat at *80 during the summer and turn it off during the day, set the thermostat to *70 in the winter.
    My average electric bill in the summer is about $90 and in the winter about $110. I have electric heat, not gas. All my appliances are new and energy-star rated.

    As far as other really frugal habits that may border on the extreme, for my driving habits I shift at 2,000 rpm to maximize my mileage (4-cylinder subcompact) and use the A/C sparingly. I never drive over 60 mph, even on the highway if I can safely avoid it. Thankfully I work where I can park in a garage, shielded from sunlight. In the summer, I can often make it home without having to turn on the A/C, but on those really hot 90+ degree days, I turn it on briefly. I go to work before the sun rises, so I save by not having to use the A/C in the car. I use synthetic oil in my car and change it once a year (I only travel about 7,000 miles a year).

    I’d gladly give up the expensive cable tv but my wife watches different programs, and I would rather have a happy spouse than a few extra dollars saved. I cannot give up the broadband because I often work from home (when I’m not at work 12 hours a day!).

    Back when I was in High School, I worked in a tire store with this guy named Bruce who was Uber-frugal. He saved the bottles of oil we’d dispose of when doing oil changes on customer cars. He would place the bottles upside-down into a funnel that fed into a larger bottle. After a few weeks of collecting the drippings, he’d have a free oil change.

  25. Ha ha! I love the pillow case idea. I wish I’d thought of that so many summers I’ve gone without AC!

  26. My favorite crazy frugality habits:
    -Rinse and re-use ziploc bags
    -Use toilet paper as kleenex (cheaper, equally effective)
    -Put your pillowcase in the freezer for half an hour before bed in hot summers (you won’t need the air conditioning up as high. trust me.)

    • VicinSea says:

      >Use toilet paper as kleenex (cheaper, equally effective)

      Then, put used faux-kleenex in a bag and hang the bag on the TP roller in the bathroom….

      • Renee says:

        I take it one step further and use recycled fabric handkerchiefs as kleenex, paper towels, baby wipes etc.

    • lola says:

      ^5 love it!! aren’t you the clever one =)

    • Tina says:

      The pillowcase in the freezer before bed is a good one. I never knew of such thing, but I will definitely give it a try.

      An old frugality that I’ve learned was using jelly jars for drinking cups and storage for left over foods.

  27. A.G. says:

    I sold the car and got a car co-op memership. I also bought a bike. (and now I don’t need the Gym membership)

    I grow my own herbs and other veggies.

    Build my own furniture.

    I also got rid of the TV.

    I turn the heat off when no one’s home.

  28. Kevin says:

    Drink tap water.

    • milia says:

      definitely tap
      AFTER you boil it for at least 10 min. and strain it through cheesecloth like the native islanders in jamaica and other such places where they know more about living naturally and socalled frugality is a way of life known as NOT WASTING AND RESPECTING THE PLANET

      • Uneva says:

        I’ve consumed tap water for over 50 years, without boiling it or using cheesecloth, and it hasn’t hurt my health any. …Just a tip for those who may think boiling and cheesecloth are too much of a bother.

      • Aaron says:

        You don’t even have to boil “dirty” water 10 mins. All pathogens that are harmful to humans die after 30 seconds exposure to 185 degrees. I hike a lot, and spend weeks in the woods. Whenever you boil water, once you see larger bubbles rapidly rising to the surface, it is safe to drink. You don’t need to boil water for 10 minutes, that is a common myth.

  29. Genesis says:

    My roommates and I make home made laundry detergent, it lasts forever and is super cheap. We also line dry our clothes as much as possible. We made it through the Oregon winter with space heaters heating only the rooms we were using.

    • iris says:

      How do you make laundry detergent, that sounds so great… how long does the clothes take to dry since the temp is so low?… I have kids and can’t wait forever to get clean clothes. What other fab ideas can you share…

  30. Matt says:

    I don’t think this is extreme, but it is not mainstream: I don’t have cable TV and I got rid of my home internet. The savings really adds up

  31. Jessc098 says:

    We’ve started shopping at a hallal market that caters to immigrants from Africa. since we adopted a daughter from Africa this year and I spent some time there, I’ve learned to cook some of the food. Highly nutritious, yummy and low-fat. Oh, and really, really cheap. Tonight’s big dinner is about $6 for our family of 4 and will net leftovers. All of the staples are in the store, and not much of the junk food we can live without (pretzels, fruit snacks, beer…)

    • Uneva says:

      Speaking of leftovers, if they’re not enough to make another dinner or snack, mix them with tomorrow’s leftovers. Don’t throw them out.

  32. Sandy says:

    I don’t think I’ve gotten extreme yet…well, there is my current “experiment” of growing potatoes in a bucket in my living room. Before you laugh it was really cheap to do! I just let 2 potatoes sprout and planted them in a clean bucket with dirt. I see them peaking though and in anothe 45 days or so we’ll see what I end up with.

    Other than that I water down juices without telling the family. I figure they won’t miss the sugar and wouldn’t you know it, they haven’t realized.

  33. Lol, I’ve reused tea leaves when I’m making cups of hot tea — but I thought that was just common sense! I don’t use bags, though. Loose is cheaper and tastes better. My husband also makes us big batches of tea to keep in the fridge, but we don’t really reuse those leaves since he makes plenty at once. We do compost the leaves, though, along with most of our other food scraps.

    During the day, I try to avoid turning on lights. At night, my husband and I use a single bulb lamp instead of the 4-bulb overhead whenever possible. It makes it rather cozy and helps me start feeling sleepy, so it’s been good. We also save electricity by unplugging stuff and not using the heat and AC too much.

    I have been known to eat weeds and even transplant them to our back yard, lol, but I think that’s more from curiosity than saving money.

    We have two hens for eggs which probably is pretty weird around here (though our neighbor inspired us by having hens, too). Not sure that we’re going to recoup the cost of the coop (no pun intended) any time soon, but DANG those are some good eggs.

    We have a box for reusable printer paper, like if one side is blank and the other side doesn’t have sensitive information on it. We try to use that instead of new paper whenever possible, though we don’t print much stuff in general.

    Anyhow, I’m sure there are more tips that seem natural to me. So, please check out FruWiki.com if you’re looking for more!

  34. ben says:

    To make my kitchen sponges last longer, I put them in ziploc bags after using them and keep them in the fridge. This may also reduce germs.

    • Mel says:

      Get rid of the kitchen sponge. It is the germ center of the house. They can not be cleaned properly, never dry out, and thus are the perfect place for germs to multiply. Then you use it to wipe down all your food prep surfaces.
      State health food codes do not allow thee use of sponges in restaurant or commercial food prep areas.

  35. A good one from Qvisory I received on Twitter: using coffee grounds for more than one pot of coffee. Something I could never do, I’m too much of a coffee snob. It also reminded me that my grandmother used to use her tea bags to make multiple cups of tea throughout the day. Definite extreme frugality there.

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