Weird ways of saving money.

thWhat’s the weirdest thing you ever did to save money? That’s a question that the GO Banking Rates blogger Christine Lavignia asked of me and 29 other personal finance writers. Here’s my answer:

“As a 21-year-old single mom, I was a clerk at a big-city newspaper, where an editor would ask me to run to the cafeteria for coffee for reporters, ‘and get something for myself, too.’

I would pocket the 35 cents it cost to buy an orange drink and purposely get more sugar packets than necessary; that way, I’d get an extra buck or so a week (these were 1979 dollars) plus sugar to take home for my oatmeal.

“I don’t know about ‘weird,’ but it’s certainly sad. … Just one more reminder that since I had very few resources, I’d better be creative about meeting needs for myself and my baby. My various hand-to-mouth coping strategies were pretty useful much later, when I was a mid-life college student and broke divorcee.”

Edited for clarity: I would get two or three sugars per cup of coffee. Some reporters used that much, others didn’t. At times certain writers would cut back to zero sugars for a while (maybe because they wanted to lose weight). No matter what, most weeks I brought at least a few sugar packets home.

The other answers can be seen at “The weirdest thing I did to save money.” In my opinion only a few of them are truly weird.

My favorite? “I scrounged in the Lost and Found for a free swimsuit.”

That was from Jeff Yeager, aka “the Ultimate Cheapskate,” and no, he didn’t actually go out shopping in this way. The incident took place on the road and he’d forgotten to pack swim trunks. Yeager thought he was asking for a one-time use, but the clerk told him he could keep the suit because it had gone unclaimed for more than a month.

“It’s still my favorite suit,” Yeager says.


Late holidays, toted trash

Some (or lots) of you are thinking “eeewww!” right about now, and I have to say I agree. Fortunately the suit’s previous wearer didn’t have any kind of fungal infection. (Still: Eeewww!)

Some other offbeat money-saving tips:

I bought secondhand ski lift passes. Maria Nedeva of The Money Principle stood at the foot of a ski slope to ask folks who were done for the day if they’d like to unload their passes. Hey, it worked – and the folks who were ready for an après-ski drink (or some Advil) got a little money back.

I celebrated Christmas late. William Charles of the Doctor Of Credit blog said his family has sometimes had the big blowout after Dec. 25. Gifts and travel are cheaper that way. Besides, Dec. 25 probably isn’t really the day Jesus was born.

I took my trash to work. Andrew Schrage of Moneycrashers recycled and composted as much as he could, then put the rest – with permission – in the company dumpster.

Some of the other tips sounded uncomfortable, which the authors readily admit: going without air conditioning during a Texas summer, a five-person family living in an unfinished (but rent-free!) basement, sleeping in the car instead of paying for a hotel room.

Some of the others seemed fairly ordinary to me: grabbing extra mustard packets, canceling cable, earning cash taking surveys. Or maybe I’m just jaded.


Retirement or college?

A couple of other places to read me:

9 ways to turn garbage into supper,” on Money Talks News – Regular readers know that DF and I are all about extracting maximum nutrition.

Essential money moves to make in your 40s,” also from Money Talks News – If you’re in near or in your fifth decade, give yourself a financial checkup. Hint: Your retirement should be prioritized over your child’s college plan.

Speaking of higher ed: Get creative about payment with help from “13 tips for a free college education,” on H&R Block’s “Block Talk” blog. You’ll learn about everything from CLEP tests to schools that let you attend for free. (Well, you might have to clean out a barn or something, but still: Free tuition!)

Related reading:

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  1. ro in san diego

    My husband started a new job this week so no paycheck for a while. To help save on groceries I went to pick up some expiring milk and produce donated by some of the fancier grocery stores at a local church. Win Win since it is food that would otherwise be trashed.

  2. Betsey

    When I taught at a ritzy school, lots of the kids left perfectly good coats, sweatshirts, etc. in their lockers. Lots of the teachers would go through the stuff and outfit their own kids. The rest was donated to charity. I will admit I took a sweatshirt once, and then I felt so guilty I donated money to the Salvation Army. I did wear that thing for years!

    • Donna Freedman

      The nurse at a local elementary school told me that when she saw kids at recess without gloves or hats, she’d outfit them from the Lost and Found.
      What amazed me was that the box also contained sweaters, jackets and even coats. Can’t imagine my mom not noticing that I was short a sweater or, heaven forbid, a jacket. Then again, we had one of those things each. If your white cardigan was missing, you’d better be able to account for it.

  3. Catfight

    One time I had sinus surgery that resulted in me looking like a had a black eye and might have been roughed up. People hear in Texas said things like, “Hon, you don’t have to live that way,” “bless your heart,” and everything was free ever I went where! Seriously. lunch at cafes, gas for my car, coffee/soft drinks, steaks at the meat counter, you name it. They would say “put your money away.” My boyfriend purposely sent me in to pick up an extra-large pizza. And I did it!! That was 20 years ago and I’m so ashamed…

  4. Mirabella

    I actually did (or still do) a few of the things mentioned in order to save money such as take surveys, unplug appliances, attended timeshare presentations, and saved on hotel fees by couch-surfing or sleeping in my car. Another variation on not paying for travel accommodations was to do all my driving at night, arrive early at my destination, and catch up on sleep throughout the day. This cut my hotel budget by roughly half.

    I also used to graze lots of samples at farmers’ markets so I wouldn’t have to pay for too much food. I still snag free furniture/furnishings left on the sidewalk for curb pickup as long they are clean, functional, and go with the decor.

  5. Vicki

    I laughed when I first read the weird ways to save money article because I have done or still do almost all of them. I have asked to go into the lost and found at a hostel for some old rags to mend something and found that they were more than accommodating in letting me have what I found. In fact many travelers actually leave things behind so as to not carry them and the hostel has to lug them to the thrift shop so if others want them then they are OK with it. Hostels are great for free books too.
    I also took a peek at your garbage into dinner article and I wanted to comment on putting food on Freecycle. When I lived in Vancouver, Canada I routinely put extra stuff on Freecycle and was inundated with requests as there are many freegans who like to take advantage of this kind of thing. I like the putting the scraps into the freezer for stock, I am going to do this!

    • Donna Freedman

      Interesting about the hostel…Will keep that in mind next time I’m at one. And I have, in fact, left paperbacks in the reading rooms at hostels.
      Definitely try the boiling bag! I just made soup last week with some boiled-then-frozen stock plus a little bit of leftover turkey from one of our home-canned quarts, the broth from that jar, some yogurt whey (I strain it to make a thicker, Greek-style product), two sliced links of Italian sausage (from a package found in the “manager’s special” bin), a couple of diced potatoes and carrots, a handful of frozen peas and various spices. Served it with quinoa that I got free with Amazon gift cards earned through Swagbucks.
      What I like about boiling-bag soup is that it tastes different every time. But it’s always good, and it’s nice to have stock in the freezer for a quick meal.

  6. With the exception of taking things like condiments meant for paying customers (which I did when I was younger, before I understood that they really weren’t “free”), there’s not much on that list that I don’t–or wouldn’t do!

    One thing we do routinely is check the “avoid tolls” option when mapping routes in our new home state. We thought nothing of it until friends were riding with us and asked us why we bother to do that, since the tolls are rarely more than a dollar. As Dave Ramsey says “Normal is broke,” so we don’t mind going the extra mile– literally– to be weird.

    • Regarding “avoiding tolls”, we learned this year, when I had to make a cross-country trip in my car, that you can ask AAA to send you free maps, with the route to your destination being toll free. (And yes, I suppose some folks think having a AAA membership is expensive, but getting your car towed in our community is expensive, so for us the membership pays for itself every year.) Their routing service saved us at least $70 in tolls for the round trip.

  7. I became a vegetarian to lower my cholesterol so that I wouldn’t have to keep paying for an expensive drug to lower it. Saves me $85 a month. (Yes, we do have insurance, but the only drug that didn’t make me feel simply awful was not on the insurance’s plan.)

    I do occasionally eat an egg, but it’s the good free-range ones our veterinarian sells from his own little flock.

  8. Cakester

    My part-time job is at a pool. We rent towels, so we have a laundry operation. To avoid spawning intelligent mold we wash the things people leave behind before putting them in the lost and found. Lost and found is emptied once a month and I’ve taken home towels, jackets, yoga pants, lunch boxes and several swimsuits. I love the chance to get things I can use for free! Last month I got a bag of crochet hooks for my Mom. The rest of the stuff is taken to a thift store that funds non-profits.

  9. Going to timeshare presentations – reminds me of the year we did that for my husband’s vacation. Didn’t have the money to go anywhere, so we went to a bunch of timeshare presentations. We got loads of nice gifts which we slowly gave out for Christmas, etc.

    I consider myself super rich in that I will never have to go to another timeshare presentation for the rest of my life. 😀

  10. Nancy

    I’m waiting for more comments; these are great.

    The only things I can think of that has not been covered, is when I was in college in my twenties. Commuters could also use most of the dining areas on campus. One of them, located in the student center had a large salad bar. They gave you plastic plates that had a clear plastic dome like covering, and you served yourself. I used to fill the dome and then close the container by placing the plate on top and using it as the lid. The item closest thing to it now, would be the rotisserie chicken containers. I could eat that for two days.

    I also used the shower in the student center for about a year and a half. There was no fee, but you needed to bring your own towels, soap, shampoo, etc. I was living with my grandmother for part of the time, and her shower facilities had some problems. I had already rented a locker in the same building, for a change of clothes, some canned foods and an opener, and some books and supplies.

    • Nancy

      I still have the Cannon brand towel from back then.

    • Donna Freedman

      Very resourceful!
      I’ve heard of people who live in their vans and belong to health clubs or the YMCA mostly for the shower.

      • There’s a guy who blogs as The Office Hobo who paid off his debts by sleeping at night in at the office for about a year and half before outfitting his truck camper shell to sleep in. Between him and the young guy who wrote the book “Walden on Wheels,” about living in his van while going to graduate school, they pretty much win the Internet on what can be done to save money.

        • Donna Freedman

          I read an article about that guy and almost mentioned it in one of my responses. It sounded like a somewhat unnerving way to live, but it got him through.
          I could live in a van if I had to, but I’d much prefer an indoor gig. Even a studio apartment or a room rented in someone’s house would be preferable to shivering in a van in the middle of winter, or sleeping under my desk and hoping I didn’t sleep through the alarm and have to explain myself to the early birds at work.

  11. Amber

    The strangest thing I’ve done to save money is to keep two large plastic pitchers in my second sink, and when I need to run water until it’s hot, I let it run in those, then later use them to rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, or I’ll pour them onto plants. My cat has gotten wise to my habit, and he likes to drink from them. This habit uses water twice, and saves water as well as money.

    • Donna Freedman

      That sounds smart to me. I’ve read about people putting buckets into their showers, both to capture the not-yet-warm water and also that which bounces off their bodies. Even if there’s a little soap in it you can use it to water trees or, during water shortages, to flush the toilet.
      Given that it can cost as much or more to dispose of the water (sewage) as to consume it, that makes sense to me. If I recall correctly, the sewage rate in Seattle was twice the water rate when I lived there.

  12. My husband dumpster dove regularly for Wendy’s cups that had a coupon for points toward free airline tickets. I think he collected a total of 140 cups to get a ticket for each of us. (He actually did this right before we got married & told me what he was up to later.)

  13. Hey, Donna; glad you like the vision of me standing at the bottom of a ski slope. Have to say that this saved us a bit of money, enabled people who bought a full day pass to recoup half of what they spent (no choice, really) and was a great character building exercise.

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