If you’re a fan of Clark Howard and Clark.com, you may already be using some of our favorite money-saving tips such as comparison shopping, cooking from scratch and scouring the shelves of your local Dollar Tree store.
But what if you’ve already incorporated these easy changes and are still struggling financially?
Then you may need to go one step further, a step into the land of extreme frugality!
Ideas To Practice Extreme Frugality
What’s extreme frugality? It’s taking the steps that others might find odd but have the potential to put some breathing room into your finances and monthly budget.
Mix Up Your Food Shopping Habits
It may seem easier to buy all your same, favorite brands, but there’s money to be saved by shaking up your routine. Go ahead and try store brands. If you don’t like it, you can always switch back.
Expiration dates? Take them with a grain of salt. Confused by the “sell-by,” “best-by,” and “expiration dates” on your food? You’re not the only one. The U.S. government estimates that 73 billion pounds of our food supply are wasted every year. This guide can help you navigate food dates and determine when you really need to toss something in your fridge or pantry.
Also, try eating in season. And no, this doesn’t mean you should shop only at elite farmers’ markets. It means to enjoy your corn mid-summer when it’s 10 ears for a dollar, fill up on apples in the fall and enjoy your asparagus in the spring. Not only will you be buying when produce is at its lowest price, but you’ll also enjoy the natural seasonality of food as your grandparents did.
Here are several more tips to save on your grocery bills.
Institute a Restaurant Ban
I’m not one to argue that eating out isn’t one of life’s great pleasures, but if you’re unable to pay the bills, it might be time to take a break.
However, you do need to be a realist about those inevitable busy nights, or you’ll find yourself falling back into old habits.
Whether you’re stockpiling a few lasagnas in the freezer, stashing a couple of pre-made meals or accepting that it won’t kill you to serve a simple meal of scrambled eggs, it’s important to have a backup plan in place.
Don’t worry, those restaurants will still be there when your credit union balance is back up again.
Tinker With Your Utilities
You may cringe when you get your monthly utility bills in the mail, but with a few simple changes, you can save money on your utilities.
Switch your lights over to LED bulbs. Gone are the days when these energy-efficient bulbs cost $6 apiece, and if you look around you might be able to score them for free. I filled out a home energy use survey through the Energy Trust of Oregon and got a big box of free bulbs in the mail. A quick look at other locations’ electric company websites shows similar programs, many of which offer free in-home energy audits that show you where you are wasting power.
It may make sense for you to switch to an equal-pay utility program. These programs even out your monthly bills, so you’ll make the same payment every month. Years ago, my husband and I switched to an equal-pay program and have really appreciated that we’re no longer blindsided by $350 power bills after a January cold snap or a swelteringly hot August. The best part for us is that one bill per year either charges extra or debits any overpayments, and we’ve always received the debit.
Give, Receive and Swap
The Buy Nothing Project is working to connect people through the gifting of free wanted and needed items, and there’s likely a chapter in your area. Organized through Facebook, you can look for a group in your area by typing “buy nothing” plus your city, town or neighborhood in the Facebook search box. I’ve both given and received items ranging from a computer charger to a gallon of milk. It’s free, and you can ask for exactly what you need, want or wish to borrow.
Don’t have a buy-nothing group in your area? That’s OK, as you can ask your Facebook friends if anyone has whatever extra doohickey that you’re looking for. Most people are happy to share their excess stuff, so don’t be shy. Many communities have swap gatherings where people bring a certain category such as clothing or baby items. Participants take what they want and then donate the leftovers to charity. People get to freshen up their wardrobes (or homes) without spending a penny. Want to know how to host a swap? Oprah’s got you covered!
Check Out What Your Library Has To Offer
You already know that your local library has free books, but did you know that it’s also likely to offer free e-books, audiobooks, e-magazines, DVDs, Blu-rays, tutoring, foreign language instruction and more? Libraries are a great resource for people who’ve had to cancel paid TV subscriptions or Amazon Prime streaming TV.
Hoopla.com can replace paid subscriptions to Audible.com for audiobooks, Pandora.com for streaming music, Netflix.com for streaming videos and even Amazon.com for e-books.
Overdrive.com can also replace Audible.com for audiobooks and Amazon.com for e-books.
Here are more things you never knew you could get from your library.
Stop Buying Disposables
Although I’ll never suggest that you switch to reusable cloth toilet paper, there is money to be saved by letting go of many other disposable products. You might be tempted by the pictures of pretty reusable paper towels on Pinterest, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Launderable rags made from stained old T-shirts or ratty old towels make perfect paper towel replacements and can be stored out of sight. Then bust out those cloth napkins and dish towels, and you’ll be set!
Stop buying facial tissue. Grab a stack of handkerchiefs from grandpa’s estate for the occasional sniffle, and upgrade to a roll of toilet paper when you’ve got a genuine cold.
Fix Instead of Replace
If you’re broke, it’s time to start repairing instead of replacing your stuff. Let go of broken things being an excuse to treat yourself to something new. Instead, get out that super-glue, dust off that sewing kit and familiarize yourself with the endless number of YouTube videos that can walk you through even the most complicated of repair processes.
Cut Out Booze and Soda
If you’re struggling to make ends meet it’s time to take a cold
carbonated hard look at the money you’re spending on beverages. This might be a painful step, but extreme frugality takes sacrifice, and it’s hard to justify soda and alcohol when having enough money for living expenses is unsure. So brew up a batch of iced tea and raise a toast to frugality.
Free Up Your Entertainment
Having a limited budget can make it a challenge to get out of the house for fun. However, with a bit of research and creativity, there are plenty of fun things to do when your wallet has developed an echo. First off, make it a habit to grab any free publications that advertise local events. Concerts in the park and outdoor activities such as hiking require no money, and your library can also be a great resource for free activities.
One of my favorite things to do is to attend author readings in bookstores, which are interesting yet don’t cost a penny. Have a hankering for a museum visit? Check in with your library to see if it offers cultural event passes. Invite friends over for a potluck game night. Have everyone bring a dish and then enjoy a board game. Either way, it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money when enjoying the company of family and friends.
Hang Dry Your Laundry
Whether you hang a clothesline in your backyard or set up a clothing rack for indoor/outdoor use, you can save big money by air drying your laundry. And as an added bonus, your clothing will last longer, and you won’t accidentally set stains with the high heat of a dryer.
Foster Frugal Friendships
It can be hard to stay within your budget when your social circle seems to thrive on recreational shopping and elaborate weekend brunches. Instead, seek out like-minded people whose idea of socializing is to meet up for a coffee or go for a walk together. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is more prevalent than ever in today’s social media culture, but it doesn’t have to be.
Use Up Every Drop
You’ve paid good money for your toiletries and household supplies, so make sure that you know how to access every last dribble. Just using a sharp pair of scissors, you can get days or even weeks more of a product from the otherwise frustrating packaging. (You can even double your investment by simply cutting certain items in half!)
Make More Money
Cutting spending to a bare minimum is all well and good when times are tight, but sometimes the answer lies in scraping up some extra cash. Whether you’re selling unused belongings, participating in a focus group or picking up a side-gig, there’s never a time when a few extra bucks don’t come in handy. Here are ways to make $100 in a day, and here are almost two dozen easy ways to make a little extra cash.
Life can be hard when money is tight, but that doesn’t mean that you’re without options. There are ways to adhere to a tight budget without sacrificing fun. And maybe you can even find satisfaction in the creative challenges that come with a limited budget. After all, necessity is the mother of invention.