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Craziest ways to save a buck's new contest offers a $4,000 scholarship for the wildest money-saving tip. What's yours?

By Donna_Freedman Mar 4, 2013 12:45PM

What's the most bizarre thing you ever did to save a buck, or even a dime? If you're a student, wants to know: The site is offering a $4,000 scholarship in its "the craziest thing I ever did to save money" contest. 


It's part of a financial education campaign launched by the nonprofit, which focuses on young people and social change. Nearly seven out of 10 youths surveyed by say that they’ve never had "a meaningful conversation" with their parents about personal finance, and that their top fears are about paying for college and having enough money. will be adding real tips and tools on saving money. Good thing: While some of the student-contributed tips are creative and useful, others are actually false economies.

A recurring one is "I keep extra napkins/condiments from restaurants." Um . . . if you're broke, what are you doing in restaurants? How much did you spend on food so you could get a few cents' worth of "free" ketchup or taco sauce?

Some of the best are the tips I mentally grouped under two general categories: "Points for creativity" and "Desperate times call for desperate measures."

And among those two groupings, my favorites are:

Desperate: "I once sold all my clothes but two outfits so I could save the money to pay for a class."

Creativity: "I told my friends and family . . . if they see me pull out a dollar or even talk about money, hit me as hard as they could right in the face. Boy, did they enjoy that!"

I bet they did.

Spare change, spare clothing

Some of the tips are standard frugal hacks: carpooling, washing and reusing plastic bags, getting CDs from the library instead of from Redbox. However, these are probably new to some students who get to school -- or get out of school -- and realize how expensive life can be.

Along with the inevitable "I go dumpster-diving" and "I eat ramen every day" tips are some that make for entertaining reading:

Good to the last drop.
"I cut open toothpaste tubes -- there's always so much stuck inside!" one young person marveled. (Welcome to the world of the truly frugal.  We have much to teach you.)

Green and profitable.
One student cleans up after parties and then recycles the empty cans and bottles. Another one recycles plastic bottles from roommates and trades in the My Coke Rewards points for free sodas.

Keep the change. "I used to stop in the middle of the road to get pennies," one student wrote. (I still do!) Another searches parking lots for spare change, and a third walks to arcades to look for dropped quarters. (May I suggest the returned-change bin of the Coinstar machine?)

Designer duds:
Turning old jeans into shorts. Turning mom's boyfriend's old jeans into shorts (with permission, I hope). Turning old T-shirts into tank tops and headbands. Going to campus events just for the free T-shirt: "I don't have to buy T-shirts or do laundry any more."

Consigning duds: A lot of students sold some of their clothes; one clever kid buys "vintage" clothes at thrift stores and sells them to consignment shops. Niiiice.

Food, and the aftermath

Small plates:
A number of students say they fill up on free samples offered by warehouse stores. (Good idea, unless that means driving a lot -- gasoline isn't free!)

Faux food
. Ramen, ramen and more ramen. Nothing but mayonnaise sandwiches, or chili, or peanut butter for a week. One student eats just two meals a day: Bread and milk for breakfast and rice and broccoli for dinner. Another suggests getting 70%-off candy after major holidays (not good for you, maybe, but a nice distraction from all that broccoli).

Free food.
"Me and my roommates went door to door in our dorm and sang for groceries." One student found a restaurant where employees ate free: "I worked there two years and hardly ate anything else." Another volunteers at a food kitchen because they feed me, too."

Desperate times/measures.
Asking for toilet paper as a 21st birthday present. (Well, at least you know it's a gift that will be used.)

Ethically challenged?

A few of the tips, sadly, are questionable or downright illegal. A repeated motif is re-using cups from fast-food restaurants to get free refills for weeks or even months. There's a word for that -- and it isn't "frugal."

Another student displayed a photo of a large tub of movie popcorn: "I got it out of the trash to get the free refill." (Does it matter who paid if the refill is included in the purchase price? Discuss.)

"I walk to a public restroom whenever I have to go so I won't have to buy toilet paper for my own bathroom," one student wrote. (Define public: a store, a hotel, a state office building? Somebody somewhere is paying.)

"I slowly sell my son's Pokemon cards on eBay that his mother buys for him." (Seriously, Dad? Shame on you. Or maybe you're just a troll.)

"My boyfriend and I ran an extension cord secretly from the house next door and didn't get caught." (And again I say: Shame on you.)

What's the craziest thing you ever did/are currently doing to save money?

More on MSN Money:
Mar 4, 2013 8:15PM
I was living on ramen noodles and needed protein.  I had a friend who worked at a grocery store walking distance from where I lived, a studio above a tattoo parlor.  (It had no oven, no internet, and no phone.) My friend was in charge of putting expired food in the trash as it could no longer be sold.  He would give me expired dairy products and eggs.  
Mar 4, 2013 4:39PM
Shop at Aldi, not Safeway or Food Lion. Duh.
Mar 5, 2013 10:41PM
Donna, I think the best approach to frugality is embedded in your commentary: Keep a sense of humor!  Even though necessity may be the Mother of Invention, an upbeat attitude fuels creativity, even the frugal type.
Mar 4, 2013 3:57PM

Since I started following frugal nation - I have started to cut some corners - fresh vegetables are cheaper than frozen, if I want salad, I will buy a head of lettuce rather than buying pre-mix.


You can get a head of lettuce for $1, compared to speding $3 on ready mix.


I buy canned goods from Big Lots or Save-a-Lot grocery stores.


Men's clothing is quite a challenge for a professional male - especially if you don't have a mate that spends 24 hours a day shopping to find all the bargain basement deals - I'm too busy working to spend time shopping, so when I do find time - all the bargains are gone. So that is the next endeavor to try and conquer in the penny pinching wars.

Mar 5, 2013 10:51PM
Ah the art student days....The craziest measures involved salvaging clothes by artistically sewing fabric over holes and eating cheap foods (Beef heart, canned mackerel, rice, homemade bread made with water, and lots of carrots). Baking soda for toothpaste. Checking dorm trash areas at semester's end for supplies. Now that I'm older and more established, my best consistent deals involve finding basics at less conventional places. So my husband makes a work related trip every couple weeks near a farm woman who sells unsorted chicken eggs, $1 a flat. We stock up. Our local large grocer gives our church day old bread. It's good for breakfasts, sandwiches and suppers. About once a week we have a bread themed supper, like french bread pizza, french toast sticks, strata, etc. I'm not much of a gardener but we have a small raised bed for tomatoes, basil and whatever else looks interesting. I can sauce for the year and freeze extras of the other vegs. Dumpster diving for furniture. Looking for aluminum cans during walks and cashing them in. Scrap quilting. Decorating with found objects.
Mar 5, 2013 2:32AM
I buy appliances that Im not sure I will use very often or not sure if i really want it at the thrift store,,I bought a toaster oven for $3.00 and a bread maker for $5.00..The toaster oven ended up in the camper and Im still using the bread maker.
Mar 6, 2013 3:14AM
Small plates: A number of students say they fill up on free samples offered by warehouse stores. (Good idea, unless that means driving a lot -- gasoline isn't free!).  Not just students.  I'm retired and if I'm going to shop at several stores to do grocery shopping and Costco is one, I make sure I hit Costco right around when I want lunch.  There are typically small bowls of soup or chili in addition to the small samples and by the time I'm done, I have no need for a separate lunch.
Mar 5, 2013 9:04PM
I started being intelligent (not frugal) about my money about ten years ago because I wanted to retire early.  I eat out 1-3 times a year, and I usually do no not like the food.  I am careful with my utility cost, I do not have cable, I have a simple telephone without the bells and I only drive a total of about 100 miles a month.  The 100 mile driving is accomplished because I am now retired and only go out for necessities.  If I do not have the cash to pay for something then I do not buy it.  I save all my change and deposit in the bank once a year.  I am always on the look out for change in the ground which I put in cup and when it is full I donate it to charity.  The only luxury I allow myself is internet and of course a trip home once a year.  These actions have allowed me to retire early but I will continue being intelligent with my money and hope that the cost of living will not deteriorate even more as there is nothing more I can cut down on, but guess I can start my own garden...    :-)
Mar 11, 2013 5:04PM
When I was in college, I lived on those frozen burritos.  I was always hungry, but I skipped breakfast, had one burrito for lunch, and one for dinner.

I don't recommend it, but once I lived on only tap water for 2 1/2 months.  I saved lots of money by not buying food, but my eyesight suffered.  Any money I saved by starving myself was later spent on new glasses and (eventually) LASIK surgery after I graduated.  Now, THAT was absolutely crazy.
Mar 4, 2013 6:12PM

Back in college, I had the cheapest roomates. I'd buy myself nice stuff when I could afford it only to have them use it and replace it with its generic counterpart. My roomate Dave was the best. Whenever it was his turn to restock toilet paper he'd always bring home gargantuan rolls of toilet paper. When I asked him where they came from he said he would open the commercial holders in the college bathrooms with his swiss army knife and slip the huge roll into his backback. Genius, stealing but genius.  

Mar 6, 2013 12:02PM

Do you like to drink coffee, but creamer is expensive? Go to 7-Eleven, and fill up the largest coffee cup with creamer. Bring it home and store it in a washed out bottle from a previous creamer purchase. You basically get half priced creamer (like 20oz for $1.25)!

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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.