I glean ketchup packets. So what?

Want to be considered weird, embarrassing or just plain cheap? Be frugal among people who aren’t. Even the folks who say they love you may criticize your 10-year-old car or your thrift store habit.

And if you want to send strangers over the edge, just flash a manufacturer’s coupon in the checkout line. It’s like waving a red cape in front of a rabid bull. Indeed, the noise that some shoppers make is positively bovine: Mooaawwwww…another one of those coupon queens! Groan, sigh, mumble, JEEEZZZZ….

(Wonder if any of them have ever held up a line an extra 30 seconds while searching pockets or purses for debit cards or exact change?)

Or try this: Next time you see a penny on the sidewalk, stop and pick it up. This has garnered me more than a few stares and snide comments. But I was able to give an extra $34.54 to a food bank this way last year.

I save the plastic liners of cracker boxes; they’re great as an extra layer of protection against freezer burn. I print out letters on the clean sides of old homework assignments. I wrap gifts in the Sunday funnies, and write to-do lists on the backs of junk mail envelopes.

Aluminum foil gets washed and re-used. Each roll lasts well over a year, especially since I tend to put lunches and leftovers in plastic containers. Incidentally, some of those containers came from the “free” box at yard sales and some are margarine or cream-cheese tubs.

And yeah, I save the extra ketchup packets from the bottoms of fast-food bags. Sue me. They come in handy when you pack a meatloaf sandwich in your brown bag lunch.

Exfoliate the frugal way!

At least I don’t milk the little Heinzes. A reader from the Smart Spending message board wrote about a guy who painstakingly squeezed ketchup packets into a bottle. This same dude dated an employee at his workplace’s cafeteria, she says, “because she saved him leftovers.”

(Boy, nothing says “romance” like 12-hour-old leavings from the steam table. If I were looking for love and nutrition in a single package I’d start a little higher up on the food chain. Couldn’t he find some steakhouse cutie?)

The reader also said that her former husband went through a lot of soap because once the bar got thin he set it aside to die. She would put the bits and pieces into a mesh onion bag and lather up.

Her husband hated that. I love it. A frugalist’s bath pouf! And I bet the mesh exfoliated nicely, too.

Note: She’s still frugal. He’s long gone.

Scary thoughts

I’m tempted to write off criticisms as simple rudeness. But I wonder if there isn’t some insecurity involved.

People don’t always deal well with ideas that are foreign to them. Like, say, the idea that I can be happy with a meatloaf sandwich from home instead of an $8 Thai-food special. Maybe they construe my reusable sandwich container as some kind of criticism of their non-recyclable carryout cartons. (Wastrels! Despoilers of the planet! Choke on the fumes of your huge carbon footprints!)

Or maybe it causes a little self-doubt:

“I am living paycheck to paycheck.”

“I am in debt to maintain this lifestyle that’s supposed to make me happy.”

Am I happy?”

“What if there are other ways to be happy?”

What that would mean, maybe, is that we’ve been sold a consumerist bill of goods – and on credit, too.

Hope you kept your receipts.


17 Comments

  1. Alane

    I don’t know why people are that way. I have worked alot of retail jobs in my life and never could understand people buying fastfood for lunch. I always thought to myself that meal just cost them an hour’s pay. So, that works out to be 5 hours they work a week goes just to lunch. How could they afford it? Oh, and I keep the packets too especially from Chinese take out and the containers the meals came in. Those containers are perfect for leftovers

    • Donna Freedman

      Alane: That hourly wage is a good way to keep us from buying lots of stuff. “I would have to work two hours to pay for this DVD. It would take three hours of my workday to get this sweater.” Put that way, you might want to reconsider — especially for something as ephemeral as a burger and fries!
      Thanks for leaving a comment.

  2. I keep those little packets, too. They are in my drawer at work for use with my lunch…that I bring from home every day.

    Excellent article.

    • Donna Freedman

      Frances: Exactly! It’s not that I don’t ever get fast food. I do. But if they throw six packets of ketchup in the bag and I use only two, why not bring them home? When I take the meatloaf sandwich, I’ll be all set.
      Thanks for stopping in.

  3. I keep my packets in an old Parmesan container. How’s that for recycling?
    “and write to-do lists on the backs of junk mail envelopes.”-I save them and write out a list on them and put coupons inside. That way when Den stops at the ethnic stores, he knows what he is supposed to get at each one(with the prices next to the item) and what coupons to use. And believe it or not, he actually thanks me!

    • Donna Freedman

      SonyaAnn: Good idea! I’m going to give that a try.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. Dianne

    We save all the packets, and extra napkins, and plastic silverware to use camping. And old egg cartons (great kindling), extra paper coffee cups and so on.
    And we’ve finally found a Chinese take-out that puts all the packets on the counter, so you can take what you need instead of ending up with 12 soy sauces that you’ll never use.

  5. I’ve never gone so far as to save fortune cookies from Grand China (my favorite Las Vegas Chinese take-out spot) and serve them as desert, but I do admit to saving the soy sauce packets. How much soy sauce does a person need in a year? The packets in the take-out bag will keep you covered for sure!

    • Donna Freedman

      SimplyMe: If they give it, I’ll keep it. I have also been known to bring home the opened hotel soap and shampoo — they have to throw them out anyway.

  6. Matt Healy

    My car is 10 years old and nobody I know has criticized it.

    When I was in graduate school for a while I worked food service. One very nice little fringe benefit was at closing time we usually had some baked potatoes sitting in the warmer oven wrapped in foil, and we could take them home since otherwise they’d just have to throw them out. The next day my wife would recycle those potatoes in various ways, such as making potato soup.

    • Donna Freedman

      Matt: When I went back to college four years ago, I had a work-study job for the student activities department. Once I scored a 10-pound bag of apples left over after an event and for another event the other work-study grunt and I were encouraged to take home leftover candy and fruit. We did.
      While working at the Chicago Tribune, I noticed a ham bone with meat left on it sitting on an empty platter at a potluck. I asked if anyone wanted it. No, take it, I was told. Someone asked, “Do you have a dog?” I said, “No, I have a pound of pinto beans and an onion.”
      Thanks for reading.

  7. Ro in San Diego

    I try to shop during off-off-peak days and hours to keep the snickers to a minimum during my shopping trips if I have coupons.
    To be fair, it’s not fair to others if I don’t have all my coupons ready before checkout. If there’s snickering and I have all my coupons ready, I ignore them. I paid off my 2011 Amsterdam River cruise today. I’ll bet they didn’t…….

    I have noticed that the clerks tend to make mistakes and don’t seem to care if they missed one of your coupons – it’s only money, they seem to be saying. Yeah, my money!

    I may not save ketchup packets but I don’t allow store clerks to ignore my valid coupons!

    • Donna Freedman

      Ro: I agree that it’s best to have all the coupons ready ahead of time, and I always do. I also have my wallet handy. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to wait while someone suddenly realizes “Oh, I have to pay, don’t I?” and only then begins to search for money or a credit card.
      And I’m pretty vigilant about making sure all the coupons get scanned, too.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  8. Debbie C.

    I am totally enjoying reading everything on your Blog! I am enjoying your articles and the comments of your viewers!
    I do want to comment as a few others did, that once in awhile it is great to go out to eat or get Fast Food etc. Yes, these things can be pricey but in reality we are worth it! Besides, if you are like me, you save in other areas to occasionally splurge on things. I am a Frugal Queen with a capital FQ and I love this new blog! We are Green , and Recyclers and Frugal, and Clever at all the same time. I call myself a Freegan.

  9. Cora-Sue

    Nothing wrong with saving..I save ketchup,mayonnaise,salad dressings,salt and pepper,taco sauce,and BBQ sauce.Its there if I run out of BBQ sauce in the middle of fixing spareribs.Also keep extra napkins and plastic silverware.And sweet and Low from the restaurants,and will also ask for doggie bags to take home what I can’t finish.

  10. Donna Freedman

    @Debbie C.: I *do* agree that sometimes it’s utterly worth it, so I *do* go out to eat sometimes.
    My favorite splurge, though, is a professional massage. (See http://www.donnafreedman.com/2010/05/03/rubbed-the-right-way/ for more on that.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. “Choke on the fumes of your huge carbon footprint!” Hilarious!

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