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What will -- or won't -- you do to save a buck?

Are some frugal tactics just too embarrassing? And at what point are they no longer worth your time?

By Donna_Freedman Dec 10, 2012 3:25PM
Woman with jar of cash (SelectStock, the Agency Collection, Getty Images)Recently blogger Yazmin Cruz revealed "12 crazy things I do to save money" on the Bargain Babe website. Some of them sounded sensible.

However, one tip (reusing stamps) is illegal and another (flashing a student ID a year after graduating to get discounts) is ethically questionable.

Cruz later amended the post to explain that:
  • A postal worker told her it was OK to reuse noncanceled stamps, and that she's lately seen "many" people do this.
  • She's taking an online class so doesn't that mean she's technically still a student?
Just because you can get away with things like these doesn't mean you should do them. At what point does frugality become theft?

On the other hand, the blogger's suggestions to save butter wrappers for greasing baking dishes, harvest garden seeds from year to year and use teabags more than once make sense. That is, if you don't mind being what Wise Bread staffer Kentin Waits calls "quirky."

In a piece called "30 signs that you were raised by frugal parents," Waits cites dead giveaways like "You can calculate any product's price-per-ounce in mere seconds" and "At least three pieces of your household furniture were acquired through dumpster-diving, a yard sale, an estate sale, or thrift store."

Quirky? Nah, just frugal. "Quirky" is stuff like my two-part Head Cold Frugal Hack:
  1. When I'm all rhinovirus-y I use toilet paper to blow my nose instead of running out to buy tissues.
  2. The paper goes into the bathroom trashcan -- within reach of the toilet. You know why.
Yep, that's incredibly cheap, not to mention a little embarrassing. But a friend recently copped to doing the same thing.

So why out myself if it's so embarrassing? To pose the question: What will you do, or not do, to save money?

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Here are a few more of my personal frugal quirks:

When I use paper towels I cut off the amount I need and fold the rest up for future use. (Yes, I know you can buy towels perforated in small and large sizes. But I'm still working my way through rolls I bought a few years ago.)

I eat "old" bread. Sometimes that's a long-in-the-tooth loaf from the bakery bakery outlet, and sometimes it's bread that just got overlooked in my own kitchen or freezer. You can't tell that it's stale if you toast it.
I use the plastic liners from cracker or cereal boxes as protection against freezer burn when putting meat in the freezer. On my drive up to Alaska, some of these bags held the sandwiches I made to eat along the way.

I print travel itineraries, social media vouchers and personal letters on the unused sides of press releases and old printouts.

When the pretzels are all gone, there's salt in the bottom of the bag. It's fine for seasoning homemade soup.

What's your offbeat
Some money-saving tips are sort of silly, i.e., you wouldn't want anyone to see you doing them but you still believe they're worth your time.

Time is the issue here. Certain frugal tactics may not be worth the money you save. As a broke single mother, I did all our laundry by hand -- including diapers -- because every quarter counted. (It also beat having to carry soiled didies, soap, bleach and a baby to the laundromat after working all day.)

I had more time than money then. Now that I have a job, I no longer do things that take too much time away from my ability to earn a living. I can make considerably more per hour by writing than by doing my laundry in the sink.

Yet I still use the money-saving tips noted above (and a whole lot of others), even though I could technically afford to let them go. I consider them eco-thrifty moves, i.e., they save me money and reduce waste.

How about you: What odd economies do you use? Do you do them stealthily or proudly? Do you get teased by friends or family?

More on MSN Money:

Dec 10, 2012 7:13PM
Not sure how quirky these are but:
I water plants with half full glasses of water instead of pouring it down the sink.
I keep my bedroom and closet lights off during my morning bathroom routine.
I use bacon grease to fry eggs in and only half a dryer sheet at a time.

Dec 10, 2012 4:14PM
Before a move a few years ago, I went through my filing cabinet and cleared out several stacks of old papers, which I then shredded.  I used the shreddings to pack the moving boxes.
Dec 11, 2012 10:59AM
we use a bucket in the shower to collect water until the hot water shows up, and use it later to flush the toilet
Dec 10, 2012 4:17PM
I agree the on the cereal-cracker box liners. That stuff is the best! I don't think you can buy anything that effective. Wish it could be made available because I would buy it. Great for the freezer! I also put dog scoopings in empty dog food bags. The are very sturdy and can hold a lot.
Dec 10, 2012 8:32PM

I do something similar to your reusing old print outs, as a college student, I take paper out of the recycling bin and use it to take notes on. Don't worry at the end of the semester I put it back ;)

Dec 14, 2012 3:13PM

There are a few things I do:

* Yes, I actually wash ziploc-type bags and use them again, but not if they contained raw meat, etc.  My daughter has actually brought people home to see the bags flapping in the breeze while they dry.  My future son-in-law didn't believe it until he saw it.

* I use produce and other "re-cycled" bags to clean up after my dog

* 1/3 of a dryer sheet works great when I'm forced to use the dryer...usually I hang everything up to dry and have a rack indoors for bad-weather days or during the winter when it's below freezing outside.

* I make my own household cleaning products using vinegar, baking soda, and lemon.  Nobody coming to my house has been able to tell the difference between this and the commercial products, and I don't have to purchase bottles full of chemicals

* I use microfiber cloths and rags for cleaning instead of paper towels

* I walk to work instead of driving (1.5 miles one way) and also try to walk or ride my bike when I run errands

* I darn not only my socks, but if a tear appears in a bed sheet I darn that too

* I'm known for re-purposing items - when I need something I try to figure out if anything I have around the house would work instead of buying the item.

* instead of hiring someone to fix things, I look up how to do it myself.  I've replaced an element in a water heater, fixed my washing machine agitator, learned how to drywall and fixed a damaged wall in my house - not bad for a 45 year old divorced lady.  I do draw the line on some projects, such as roofing my house or major car repairs.

When I read 30 signs you were raised by frugal parents, I had to laugh at how many of the things applied.


Dec 10, 2012 6:10PM

We don't do anything offbeat to save money at home, but use some of the frugal ideas you have suggested in prior articles like

--before you go grocery shopping, use up anything in your frig and/or pantry first like making soup with fresh vegies that are beyond peak

-use a grocery shopping list and stick to it

-use newspaper plastic bags for doggy poop scooping


Dec 11, 2012 10:29AM
That butter wrapper trick would be awesome even if it weren't frugal-- it's much easier than using a stick and it gets exactly the right amount of grease on without getting any on your hands.
Dec 13, 2012 2:55PM

What I do to save money:


Dont have kids- Self explanatory.

Live alone (less people to shop groceries for, pay electricity for and gas bill)

Wait until I absolutely have to go shopping for clothes

Eat cereal for dinner sometimes

Dont get married- divorce can suck the life out of you with lawyers and disgruntled spouses. Let thier bills remain theirs.


LOL just my short list.


Mar 5, 2013 11:07AM

I knit our socks.  When needed they get darned first.  After darning I cut off the foot part and just re-knit it, using the cuff  ? times over.  I make rugs and totes out of "plarn" (recycled plastic grocery bags) and, of course, do all the already mentioned saving measures. 

I also use my credit cards to fully utilize their point system;  i.e. I know I need a dish washer, so I buy gift cards through MyPoints for  Lowe's when one of my credit card offers 5% cash back.  And I then buy  the item when it's on sale.......just one more hoop to jump through, but it's a fun game.

Dec 11, 2012 8:59AM
I will and have cut all donations to charity, including church. Let them see the ****ing government for my donation. On top of that I will cut spending. Can't support the economy and the government slackers at the same time.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.