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When I broke my hand I naturally made a splint to save money. Days later, snapping a roulette ball (I was a casino croupier at the time) was still really painful, so I went to a clinic.
An x-ray showed the broken ends of the bone were a quarter-inch off-center. I got a proper splint. Yes, you can go too far trying to save a buck.
On the other hand, most of the more unusual ways to save money do no harm, and the savings can really add up over the years. For example, thanks to our frugality my wife and I have been able to pay cash for our last few homes.
You probably already shop sales, and maybe you clip coupons, but what about the less-common (and less-painful) things you can do to save money? Want some examples? Here are a few dozen of the frugal tricks I’ve actually used.
1. Try This Soda-Sharing Trick
My wife and I share a convenience store fountain soda regularly, but there is a problem; she likes Cherry Coke and I like Diet Coke. My solution? Start with ice, then fill the bottom of the cup with Cherry Coke and the rest with Diet Coke.
They don’t mix much, so by moving the straw up and down I can drink my Diet Coke from the top and Ana can drink her Cherry Coke from the bottom.
It helps that we buy the soda at a Circle K convenience store, where any size soda is 89 cents. We get the largest size, of course. And I swipe my Circle-K convenience store card when buying a soda, so I get the occasional free one as a reward.
You can do this with anyone with whom you’re comfortable sharing a soda. Another option is to have a second cup in the car and pour off the top half of the soda into that.
2. Split the Garbage Bill With a Neighbor
When we had a small house in Colorado we never filled our garbage bin by the time it was picked up each week, and I noticed that our next-door neighbor didn’t either.
So why pay $18 per month for the weekly pickup of a half-empty bin? Instead, I threw our garbage in the neighbor’s bin and gave him $9 per month, an arrangement that was actually his idea.
What if your neighbor’s garbage bin is already overflowing, or he just doesn’t want to share a bin? You could save even more money by bringing your garbage to work to throw in the dumpster (if your employer allows it).
3. Use Partial Paper Towels for Napkins
We buy the cheapest usable paper towels, of course. Then we use them as napkins to save money. But why waste a whole one? Tear them in half!
Even when we were making a lot of money we never stopped tearing or cutting up paper towels to make mini-napkins. Unless you’re a really sloppy eater, a quarter of a paper towel is sufficient as a napkin.
Cut them neatly and fold them into neat little triangles if you have company.
4. Forage for Wild Edibles
I always eat wild plants when hiking and backpacking. When we lived in Florida my wife and I gathered oranges from a few wild trees in the forest, and blueberries too. In Colorado we ate wild plums from a canyon where we hiked. Here in Tucson we eat cactus fruit.
Want to do some foraging to save money on groceries? Use websites like FallingFruit.org to locate wild foods near you.
5. Use a Two-Restaurant Strategy
I know a lot of tricks for saving money when eating out, and simply avoiding expensive restaurants is one of them. But sometimes we really want to go to a nice restaurant that’s out of the budget, just for the environment or view.
So first we fill up at an inexpensive place, and then we go to the expensive restaurant for a desert or a drink. If you know of an expensive restaurant that has something to offer beyond good food this is a great way to go without spending much.
6. Attend a Religious Ceremony for a Cheap Meal Out
We recently went to a weekly Hare Krishna ceremony that’s open to the public. After an hour of chanting and dancing and a short lecture we were fed a delicious (and filling) seven-course vegetarian meal.
We paid the $5 suggested donation, but some attendees did not. It was an interesting and cheap night out, and now we know the Maha Mantra by heart.
Look up “Govindas” if you’re in Tucson and you want to chant, dance, and eat inexpensively. There may be other religious groups near you that offer free or inexpensive meals.
7. Live in a Van
We can’t claim we were homeless for the five or six weeks we lived in our van. We did have a home, but it was rented out at the time.
In any case, we saved a lot of money on hotels by staying in our van at cheap and free campgrounds, and we collected an extra month of rent before moving back into our place.
If you’re not ready to move into your car there are other uncommon money-saving alternatives. For example, a friend found it was cheaper to live seasonally in a state park in a large wall tent than to pay rent for an apartment.
8.Eat Free Meals at a Casino
Most casinos put out free food only for special events, but when we lived in Montana there was a place down the street that offered free pizza, snacks, and drinks every Tuesday.
By slowly playing nickel slot machines we could make $2 last an hour while we ate our fill. If you’re in Vegas why not start every morning with a few glasses of free juice while you play penny slots?
We found this would keep us from spending as much on breakfast. Also, watch for free slot tournaments where the casino puts out drinks and snacks.
9. Make a Bed Frame
Over the years I’ve made at least six bed frames from two-by-fours. Not only did we save money versus buying regular bed frames, but I also built them tall enough to create lot of storage space underneath.
That helps when you’re living in small spaces (which by itself is a great way to save money). If you try this for your bed, screw and glue the pieces together or you’ll have squeaks.
Depending on your base or box spring, you can leave the 2-by-4 frame open or top it with a piece of plywood (the latter works well if you have just a mattress).
10. Use Tubs for Tables
The ubiquitous plastic tub is wonderful as a cheap and safe storage option, but the tubs also work for end tables. We drape them with any attractive piece of fabric that we have so it’s hard to see that there’s a plastic tub underneath.
If you store heavy things in the bottom of the tubs they’ll be less tippy.
11. Make an Insulating Vest
When I climbed 20,564-foot Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, I didn’t want to spend big bucks for a high-tech vest, so I made my own.
I took a 2-by-4-foot piece of polyester batting, cut a hole for my head, and wore it like a tunic under my jacket. It kept me warm as I crossed the glaciers to the summit, and I used it for years on other cold-weather treks.
You can buy a roll of polyester batting (the kind used for making quilts) for about $6 at Walmart. A roll has enough material for several projects.
12. Make Hand Warmers
I used to always look for ways to backpack on a budget, so I used old socks as fingerless gloves. I just cut five holes in them and slid them on. They covered my wrists and lower arms too, keeping out any cold drafts.
To get the holes in the right place, first put each sock on a hand and mark the finger tips with marker. Then cut the holes small, because they stretch.
13. Negotiate in Small Shops
I wanted a book but didn’t want to pay the $10 price. I asked the bookstore owner if she would sell it for $6 and, when she said no, I returned the book to the shelf. She called me back before I could leave and accepted my $6 offer, asking me not to tell anyone (the store is closed now).
This only works if you are dealing with the owner of the store, and probably only if you offer enough to leave a small profit (books typically wholesale for 50% of the cover price, so in my example the store owner had probably paid $5).
14. Carpet a Room With Samples
The first time I covered a bedroom floor with carpet samples it cost me $9 for 36 of the rectangular pieces (25-cents each).
I spent another dollar or so for staples. I installed a random pattern of colors and carpet types, which made the room very cheerful. Other times it cost me about $30 to $40 to carpet a room in this way.
Carpet stores still periodically sell the samples of old styles for about $1 each. Bigger samples are two-to-three square feet each, making this a really cheap way to carpet a room, and you can replace the pieces one at a time if they get stained.
15. Build Your Own Cat Condo
A decent “cat condo” can run $50 to $150 at a pet store, so my first one was an old living room cabinet in which I cut holes and installed towers made of scrap lumber and carpet from the dollar store. It cost me about $4 in materials.
There are endless things you can use to make cat furniture and toys. Our cats’ favorite piece is a strangely-shaped driftwood log mounted on a board.
Carpet helps, and most dollar stores sell some kind of rugs or carpet pieces if you don’t have any scraps.
16. Make a Money Clip
My cell phone belt clip broke off, and I realized that it looked like a money clip. So I broke off a sharp piece of rivet with a pair of pliers, and it was a money clip. I used it for a long time.
You can buy a cell phone holder at the dollar store, and then break the clip away from the holder.
17. Combine a Bus and Plane Trip
When I first went to Ecuador it was too expensive to fly out of Traverse City, Michigan, where I lived at the time.
So I booked a cheap direct flight from Miami to Quito (which was discounted because I carried car parts as a courier), and then I took a two-day bus trip to Miami to catch the plane.
This bus-and-plane strategy works well if you live in a town with an expensive airport but one that also has bus service.
18. Go With Less Than Carry-On
When I took a Frontier flight from Florida (where I lived at the time) to Colorado to go camping, I didn’t want to pay $70 ($35 each way) for a carry-on bag.
So, I squeezed everything into a small backpack that qualified as a “personal item” (no more than 18 x 14 x 8 inches). Then I bought a sleeping bag at Walmart for $14 when I landed.
After a few night’s use I gave the almost-new bag away to a homeless man on my way to the airport. My savings: $56.
To reduce the cost of checking or carrying luggage put a lot of items in your pockets, and buy any large cheap things at the other end.
19. Hit Things to Fix Them
The mechanic told me the head unit on the heater/air conditioner control in the car was bad, and it would cost about $300 to fix it.
So I hit it hard and surprise, surprise, it started working again. A year later it’s still running fine. It isn’t the first time I’ve fixed things by hitting them.
This is a strategy to try when your other options are expensive and when you aren’t likely to damage anything else in the process.
20. Make a Blinker Switch
When I was young I had a blinker switch break in the old car I owned. After learning it would cost more to repair it than the car was worth I decided to find a cheaper alternative.
So I dug into the steering column and figured a way to use a pen and twine as a switch. Pushing it in turned on the right blinker, and pulling it out turned on the left blinker.
If your car gets to the point where its value is less than the cost of a repair, it’s time to get creative.
21. Move Using Just Your Car
When we moved from Florida to Colorado I was quoted $3,800 for one of those moving pods, and that didn’t include any storage time. So we moved with our cats and all our remaining stuff (we sold most things) in our minivan.
The only way to make everything fit was to throw out the perfectly good back bench seat. By the time we sell the car the missing seat will only lower the value by $100, so it made sense.
If you generally have inexpensive furniture like we do, you may find it’s cheaper to sell almost everything, move with only what fits in your truck or van, and then buy new furniture after you reach your new home.
22. Live in a Shed
I saved a lot of money on housing expenses by renting out rooms in my first home. I quickly paid off the mortgage. Then I moved into a shed I had built in the back yard, in order to rent out one more room inside.
I had a widow and an extension cord for power, but I still had to walk to the house to use the bathroom.
Too extreme? An alternative, if you do rent out rooms to offset home expenses, is to move into a smaller bedroom in order to get more income from the largest one.
Or make yourself a big suite in the basement so you can rent out all of the existing bedrooms.
23. Try Junk Picking
When we lived in a condo in Florida I regularly found “treasures” in or by the dumpster, including a couple nice wooden chairs and a kitchen table.
We used the table for a while and, when we were getting ready to move, we sold it on Craigslist for $50. If they can be cleaned and/or fixed, why not save money by picking things from the garbage?
24. Take Advantage of Unlimited-Miles Rentals
Years ago, the first time we lived in Tucson, we rented a car to drive to Michigan. We returned the car a week and 4,500 miles later. Total cost: $240 (plus gas). The clerk at the desk frowned, but “unlimited mileage” means just that.
On long trips it can be cheaper to avoid the wear-and-tear on your own car and get a deal on a rental. If you rent something that gets better mileage than your vehicle you save even more.
25. Use Boxes for a Bed Frame
Did you know that cardboard boxes are strong enough to support a queen bed with two people on it? Nether did I until I tried it with four large cup boxes from a local fast-food restaurant.
They had cardboard separators inside that gave them extra rigidity, and they worked for a couple years. If you try this it helps to put a piece of plywood over the tops of the boxes to spread out the forces.
Otherwise be gentle when sitting on the edge of the bed. If you also use the boxes for storage, be sure you won’t need the things in them for a long time; it’s a pain to get in there with a bed on top.
26. Make a Coffee Table
I’ve made a number of coffee tables from 2-by-4 lumber to save money for myself and friends. I like the raw wood look, but they can be spray-painted too.
To make painting easier, hang the table from a tree branch where it can be spun around freely (I made a nice purple one that way). The key to making 2-by-4 furniture really solid is to glue and screw the pieces together.
27. Save Plastic Cups
A high-end community where I worked as a security guard had the highest-quality “disposable” plastic cups, and we were allowed to use them for water and soda.
I brought one (or more) home every day and we soon had dozens of them (enough for a party). They could be washed and reused almost endlessly.
Some small disposable plastic cups are too flimsy to reuse. They break when you wash them, but the thicker, larger ones hold up well.
28. Make a Camp Stove
A good camp stove can be expensive… or cost nothing. I’ve made alcohol stoves from tuna cans and soda cans. They worked well enough, and they were lighter than any commercial camp stoves available (that was important to me as an ultralight backpacker).
You can learn how to make your own soda can stove at TheSodaCanStove.com.
29. Buy a House in a Depressed Town
In 2002 my wife and I drove around the country looking for a place to live, and discovered that towns in economic trouble had really cheap homes.
We bought a cute two-bedroom house (full basement, hardwood floors, garage) in Anaconda, Montana for $17,500. Two low-paying jobs and a few months later we sold the home for $28,000.
The problem with depressed towns is the lack of good jobs, so this strategy works best if you freelance from home or have some kind of online business (we didn’t at the time).
30. Make a Meal of Samples
If you time it right (and the best days vary by store), you can really pig out on samples at places like Whole Foods or Sam’s Club.
My wife and I have made a meal of free samples more than once, although, to be honest, we do get tempted to buy the better-tasting items once in awhile, which limits the money-saving aspect.
If you do a free-sample route start at Trader Joe’s; they always have free coffee samples so you’ll be wide awake and ready for the rest of the sample-foraging.
31. Help Install Your Own Power Pole
I once had to replace a power pole next to my home for about $1,000. I asked the contractor how I could get a discount and he told me exactly how to dig the new hole to knock $50 off the price.
It took me an hour (and he offered me a job after seeing it). Ask how you can help when you hire any contractor, and ask for a discount.
32. Borrow to Save on Medical Bills
I was in the hospital once when I was young, and the bill was $3,600, which I didn’t have. They would take payments, but instead I negotiated a cash payoff of $2,700, and borrowed against my car from a local credit union.
By the time I paid off the loan the fees and interest came to less than $200, so I saved at least $700.
Many doctors and hospitals will offer a big discount for cash; just be sure that the discount is more than what you’ll pay in interest if you borrow to pay the bill.
33. Eat and Drink at Art Gallery Receptions
We like art, and we like free food and wine. So we’ve been to a lot of art gallery receptions. In some towns you’ll find regular events. It’s common to have “first Friday” art walks, for example.
Don’t abuse the hospitality of the artists, of course. If there are multiple galleries participating in an event, eat and drink just a little at each and you’ll be full and happy.
34. Stop Heating
I once lived in an unheated cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan… in winter. Not only did I save on heating costs, but I also turned off the refrigerator; it was cold enough to just leave the food out on the table.
Too extreme? Sure (I was younger then), but you might try turning the heat way down at night and sleeping under more blankets.
35. Eat and Drink at the Bank
Many banks here in Tucson have bottled water available for their customers, so my wife and I ask for a bottle each and skip the stop at the convenience store for soda.
We also routinely take advantage of the free cookies, donuts, and coffee offered at some banks. If your bank puts out the snacks and coffee on certain days and/or at certain times, plan your banking accordingly.
36. Find Free Landscaping Materials
I once found a 20-foot tall peach tree that had gone wild on vacant land owned by friends. Then I dug it up and put it in my small car with the thin trunk out the window, wrapped around and tied to the back bumper.
I ate hundreds of peaches off the tree for years. You can save money on landscaping by taking various plants from vacant or public land (check on the rules for the latter).
It’s usually more acceptable to take rocks home for landscaping, whether from a friends land or from national forests.
37. Make a Walking Stick
I have never paid for trekking poles or a walking stick. But after making many walking sticks for myself to save money, I found I could sell them too. I made and sold over 200 one year.
Any straight small trees can be used to make a walking stick, but recently-died ones will be lighter and not require any seasoning time.
38. Buy Floor Models
We liked a bookcase at Big Lots, but didn’t want to pay the $80 price. Fortunately the floor model was the last one. The manager accepted our offer of $40, and as a bonus it was assembled already, saving me an hour of work.
Floor models will have some wear and tear, but you can save a lot of money buying them.
39. Buy Damaged Products
We needed a screen door recently so, in Home Depot, I looked for one that had damage. I found what I wanted; a door with a minor bend in the bottom — something I could fix.
The floor manager quickly agreed to a 20% discount when I asked. I’ve often received a discount on damaged goods at Lowes, Home Depot and other stores.
Look for damage that won’t affect the function or appearance of the item, and ask for at least 10% off the retail price.
40. Keep Changing Dentists
Between my wife and I we’ve been to 6 dentists in 5 years. Partly that was due to a few moves, but it’s also because I like to take advantage of new patient specials. The only way to do that, of course, is to keep changing dentists.
Be warned; many dentists offer new patient specials at really low prices because they hope to sell you on expensive plans of treatment.
Fortunately you can use a new patient special elsewhere to get a second opinion if you think you’re being sold more than you need.
41. Volunteer for Free Trips
As a volunteer for an at-risk youth group I was able to go dog sledding in Canada. On another trip I went cave exploring in Tennessee. Both of these trips cost me nothing. I just had to help keep track of the kids and/or help drive the van.
If you like the idea of helping people and getting a free trip out of the deal, look for opportunities on websites like VolunteerMatch.org.
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll most likely enjoy 52 tricks for saving money when eating out. What’s the most unusual way you’ve saved money? Tell us in the comments below, and happy frugaling!