Not spending any money, being frugal, and DIY
November 14, 2010 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Blogs for this EXTREMELY BROKE moment of my life? The best blogs about being frugal, DIY, crafty, freegan, coupon-clipping, urban homesteaders, or just plain broke?

I am looking for blogs about how to live the good life without spending money, and about how to deal with financial difficulties.

I'm trying to figure out how to do most everything without spending money these days. I need to:
- eat (by couponing, dumpster-diving, growing my own vegetables),
- travel (by repairing my bike, while selling my car),
- blend in at the office (by bathing with homemade or free toiletries, mastering the DIY haircut, reviving my worn-out wardrobe at Goodwill or otherwise),
- celebrate the holidays (by making cards and presents, by somehow aggregating or trading credit card points for one rental car trip I must make),
- do minor house repairs (using the tool lending library and recycled building materials),
- and keep my health and spirits up during this hard time (by making healthier food and exercising despite the dark).

Just as one example, I recently realized that the cheapest way to eat would be to plant these seeds I had sitting in my cupboard. So now, I have all these tiny vegetable seedlings. They'll need bigger pots soon, so I'm looking for free/cheap containers, soil, and compost. Some blogger must be all over this, right?

And I'm aware that people can make their own soap and cleaning supplies, but how? Everything is a new research project. I'd love to find good blogs to help, be they about one category (frugal eating, frugal crafting), or be they about others' adventures in dramatically cutting expenditures.

The other category of blog I'd like is personal finance by or for people who have experienced financial emergencies. I know and love several of the most popular personal finance blogs, but their audience seems less broke than I am at the moment. Much of the information still applies, but I'd also like to find one with stories like "Protecting your credit during this difficult time."

I found a few great Ask Metafilter questions on frugal living or frugality blogs, but if you remember one, I'm sure I haven't found them all yet. Most of all, I am looking for blogs and bulletin boards so that I can get ongoing advice and a sense of camaraderie.
posted by slidell to Work & Money (37 answers total) 179 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely check out Lifehacker. It sounds like exactly the blog you are looking for.
posted by mungaman at 10:04 PM on November 14, 2010

The signal to noise ratio on the frugal subreddit is usually pretty good, though it does have its share of crackpots.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:07 PM on November 14, 2010

Get Rich Slowly has been a great resource for me when I had specific questions about, say, canning or repairs. It also offers great general advice.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 10:13 PM on November 14, 2010

It's still being written, but perhaps put in an order for Poorcraft (or find someone to sponsor a copy for you)?
posted by smirkette at 10:13 PM on November 14, 2010

Grow bags are cheap to buy (lots of places have them, that's just the first link I found) or make yourself. I sewed a bunch of them today to grow potatoes in - I used landscape fabric/weed barrier that I had leftover from another project.

Your county should have low cost compost. Here's a list of resources in the Bay Area. Also check your local waste management; up here I can go to the dump and buy a truckload of compost for cheap that they make from the green waste picked up by the county.

What seeds did you plant? It's winter, even though we don't have much more than the occasional frost in NorCal, some vegetables need warm weather or a certain amount of light (or an increase or decrease of light) to grow.

Here's your county's Master Garden extension website.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any gardening questions!
posted by elsietheeel at 10:19 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Simple Dollar has a good laundry detergent recipe.
posted by ainsley at 10:20 PM on November 14, 2010

Budget Bites
posted by special-k at 10:22 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: I can see already that I'm going to have a hard time picking "best answers!" Thank you.
posted by slidell at 10:44 PM on November 14, 2010

Simple dollar is an awesome website for that kind of thing although its more based on managing your finances well and spending only on things that are important to you than not spending anything

Wise Bread is another site with some interesting articles on frugality
posted by parryb at 11:45 PM on November 14, 2010

The moneysavingexpert forums are an excellent resource although they're based in the UK so many of the deals and tips won't apply. However, take a look at the old style moneysaving sub-forum for a lot of the things you're looking for (cleaning, cheap and healthy eating, etc).
posted by hazyjane at 12:35 AM on November 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

How to dumpster dive from a fellow MeFite. Also known as 'binning', and 'shopping at D-Mart". I tried to find a website about this back when I was a rookie too, and I could never find anything that would lay it out. I Am Not Your Dumpster-Diving Advisor, that being said:

Possibly the best way to save money I have ever found. You will learn how to cook like a mad scientist, and you will eat better than you ever did when you shopped at the store. This I promise you. Pick a night of the week, get some friends, get a little route together, and get ready to EAT!

Early morning or late at night. During the day works too, but don't be around when staff come out. If they lock it then you and others have no where left to eat. Be respectful, clean up after yourself etc. Be polite if busted, be honest, offer to leave before they tell you to. As long as you're one of the 'good guys' then it's usually not a problem.

Check the legalities. I've never had a cop give a shit, as long as you're not making a mess or causing a headache for them. That being said, trespassing is trespassing. Where I'm from, if it's not signed or behind a fence, then it isn't legally trespassing, so all they can do is tell you to leave. Google is your friend.

Organic, high end specialty stores. The higher the markup, the better the quality control, which means food ends up in the trash in far better shape than it does at, say, SUPER CHEAPO FAMILY VALUE MART or whatever local variation thereof that you have. Big box stores, like Costco, usually have good quality control as well, and when you get something you get A LOT of it. Like seriously, two hundred pounds of tomatoes. Five hundred boxes of Lunchables. Enough Pom juice to take a bath in. A mountain of grapes. SAUSAGES TO INFINITY!

Food safety: be choosy. Repeat after me: when in doubt, throw it out! There's always more where that came from. Good examples of things not to take are anything with puffed out packaging, ground meats, salad greens, and SUSHI! SERIOUSLY DON'T TAKE THAT SUSHI, I know it looks good but trust me.

posted by seagull.apollo at 1:25 AM on November 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

Don't have any blog recommendations off the top of my head, so I know this isn't really answering your question, but I do have some tips in response to a couple things you brought up in your post.

Hygiene: I have been bathing sans toiletries for the last year or two and have noticed no ill-effects or comments to the negative (and I have a very blunt circle of friends). Google "water only hair washing" to find lots of information about having clean hair without shampoos or conditioners. As for soap, ymmv, but I find a loofah and lots of vigorous scrubbing works fine.

Haircut: If you are not opposed to a buzz-cut or similar, invest in clippers and enjoy free hair-cuts for a long long time.

Laundry: Have not used detergent or fabric softener for about 3 years and counting. My clothes don't smell like the Body Shop, but they don't smell dirty either. If you have stinkier things, dump them in white vinegar before washing. I've never needed to do this though, and I do engage in a lot of sweat-producing activities.

Other cleaning products: Rags and water work for most things, baking soda or vinegar for tougher messes.

Holiday gifts: Baking cookies is cheap and fast and easy once you figure out how to do it efficiently. Drop cookies (e.g. chocolate chip) are faster than roll-outs, but roll-outs can be decorated gorgeously with nothing more than icing and a baggie with the tip cut off, and then a single cookie or a pair can make an elegant gift. Attach a small piece of cardstock with ribbon or decorative foil twine in lieu of a full-on holiday card.

Exercise: Check out the prison workout. Body-weight exercises in the comfort of your own home: miserable weather and lack of funds can't keep you down!

Diet: Try not to skimp on protein. It goes a long way towards keeping you sane. Eggs and tuna are cheap, and where I am right now, frozen chicken breasts in bulk are pretty affordable too. Also consider tofu and beans. I hear that if you eat beans regularly, the flatulence effect goes away.
posted by Xianny at 2:00 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Read this:

The Art & Science of Dumpster Diving

Good advice therein.
posted by NekulturnY at 2:10 AM on November 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

On the toiletry front, just buy the absolute cheapest from the drugstore. A bottle of Suave is $1 or so, whereas the castile soap that goes into DIY shampoo will cost more than that. Dollar stores often carry toiletries, so check there, too. You should be able to get a few bars of soap for $1 at the dollar store.

And on that note: don't be penny wise and pound foolish. Especially when the price difference is negligible, but doing it the not-DIY way would be worlds more efficient.
posted by Sara C. at 3:57 AM on November 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't have any information on dumpster diving or blogs that haven't been mentioned, but you might want to see if there are any discount or salvage grocery stores in your area for foods that might not be safe to get from dumpsters. There's a national directory here.

YMMV with discount grocery stores: there's one in my area that sells discounted natural and organic products so it's cheaper than Whole Foods but not cheap. Salvage grocery stores, though, are the places that sell off products that are returned to supermarket warehouses. The one I usually shop at freezes some meats and other items that were originally sold fresh so they're still safe after the expiration date.

And on preview, seconding Sara C. -- DIY is sometimes more expensive than just buying the cheapest commercial version of whatever it is.
posted by camyram at 4:01 AM on November 15, 2010

99 Cents Only stores have an amazing selection of fresh produce for $1 . I have purchased asparagus, melons, apples, pears, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, celery, potatoes and lots more. It is like the TJ Maxx of produce, a bit too small or not pretty enough for standard groceries, but always fresh and tasty. Here are the California locations.
posted by zoel at 4:46 AM on November 15, 2010

And on that note: don't be penny wise and pound foolish. Especially when the price difference is negligible, but doing it the not-DIY way would be worlds more efficient.

Amen! I make my own soap, clothes, food, etc. and boy, is it ever expensive! You can make soap with lard, which is not only affordable but also makes for excellent soap, but you still need to invest in (and track down) the lye and invest in a whole set of utensils dedicated to soapmaking. Plus, the learning curve is steep for soap, so your first few batches might get chucked anyway. In my experience, careful shopping and coupon clipping is infinitely cheaper than making anything on your own. DIY is fun and satisfying, but satisfactory results often require higher-end ingredients and a significant capital investment. Take it up as a hobby, but not as a survival solution!
posted by oohisay at 5:41 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cheap, Healthy, Good is fantastic for, well, cheap, healthy and good food tips (recipes, shopping guides, etc).
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:25 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hello: freecycle! People get rid of TONS of stuff. Clothing, garden stuff, kitchen stuff, random luggage, barely-used toiletries that don't work for their skin, furniture. You can post 'wanted' ads too, and it sometimes works quite well.
posted by barnone at 6:32 AM on November 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Let's Be Self-Sufficient.
posted by staboo at 6:55 AM on November 15, 2010

Almost frugal is a good blog
posted by patheral at 7:00 AM on November 15, 2010

I suggest finding a Blog in your area that gives the deals and coupon match-ups for your area.
Look and ask around on Hot Coupon World.

(I am not a mom, nor am I religious. Many of these blogs can have that slant.)
That said.. Blogs...
Money Saving Mom
Common Sense with Money
Stretching a Buck

SlickDeals often lists free stuff.
I also use Swagbucks to get Amazon giftcards.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:29 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hillbilly Housewife has advice and recipes for cheap eating and homemade convenience foods and household supplies. Terrible website design, and I hate the writing, but some really useful stuff.

Coupon Mom (requires registration, but it's free) matches up newspaper and online coupons with weekly sales ads to find the best deals on groceries. I don't think I've spent more than a quarter on any toothpaste, shampoo, or deodorant since I've been using it. Another horrible website design, but really helpful once you get used to it. I know there are other sites that do this, but this one works well for me.

Seconding Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar for financial advice.

Frugal Village
and Frugal Hacks are some pretty good collections of frugality advice. There are active forums at Frugal Village and the blogroll at Frugal Hacks lists scads of blogs on the subject.
posted by Dojie at 7:35 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regarding the cookies as gifts idea - here's my recipe from another answer. Totally easy and people love them. I also make a lower carb version, if you have anyone on your present list who'd want that, but fake sugar is way more expensive. (But still cheaper than real presents.) Let me know if you want that recipe.
posted by artychoke at 8:31 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest the same ones as nimsey lou, and I also agree about Cheap Healthy Good.

I would look more along the lines of mommy/bargain blogs. You will need to wade through some deal posts that are not really relevant to you, but you can get some good tips, and you can start there and look around their blogrolls.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2010

I have chickens. There's a some start-up cost involved (food, chicks, building a coop from dumpstered parts, fencing off the garden), but it's possible to raise them such that they're giving you more in eggs than you're spending on them. They only lay very heavily for the first few years, so if you're still broke, you can raise up some new ones and then turn the old ones into soup. Plus, you get fertilizer for your new garden, and eggs that you can trade for your friends.
posted by aniola at 8:58 AM on November 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you so much! There are some excellent suggestions here! I have so much appreciation for everything you've shared.
posted by slidell at 9:03 AM on November 15, 2010

And on that note: don't be penny wise and pound foolish. Especially when the price difference is negligible, but doing it the not-DIY way would be worlds more efficient.

Yes, I agree with this - if you have time to make laundry soap, great, but if not, then buy it and make something else. I like making my own bread, because it's yummy and cheap, but for things like make-up/toiletries I'd rather buy something good that lasts for ages and save that way. I appreciate this is not always an option if you're broke, though - just that if you work full-time, you need to value your time as much as your money and don't pay yourself less than the minimum wage for time spent 'saving money'.

Most of the blogs I was going to post have been covered (TSD and Old Style Moneysaving) but I can recommend the book 'Free' by Katharine Hibbert if you can get it at the library. She tried to live for a year without money and it's interesting to see how she did it - it wasn't a priviledged kid entering into poverty tourism, but a genuine account of squatting, saving and dumpster diving (or skipping as we call it here).

The MoneySavingExpert blog is great for advice on rebuilding your credit rating and how to manage money, but a lot of it is very UK specific. I also use Hot Deals UK a lot (google HDUK) if I plan to buy something online, as it's full of discount codes and is written by regular consumers.

I'm in a position now where I am earning a good wage but because of mistakes when I was less financially savvy my credit rating is terrible and I find a lot of 'money saving tips' are things like 'Don't buy lunch! Make your own! Don't have a manicure! Paint your own nails!' which are things people with no money are doing already. Sigh. will help you make things, though.
posted by mippy at 9:19 AM on November 15, 2010

Look for an Aldi's grocery store near you. Great quality food, I get as much of my groceries from them that I can. Save-a-Lot is another chain that is cheap, if not quite as ingredient-y as Aldi's; they seem to have more convenience type stuff, but that could be just an impression. I used to make my own laundry soap - and it IS cheap - but I've found that Aldi's brand works better and is insanely cheap.

While i don't agree with all of her philosophy, Amy Dacyzyn's Cheapskate Gazette books are what I go to to get my head in a frugal/cheapskate mindset; it's not so much about the specific things she suggests (though she does have great ideas, and great recipes) it's getting my mind in that particular creative mindset, to stop thinking of what I need to buy and start thinking of what I already have that can fill that same need.

Thrift stores. you can't just go once. You have to go and keep checking with an open mind of what you're looking for. But one of the big things is to get away from the idea of shopping as entertainment/time filler.
posted by lemniskate at 9:55 AM on November 15, 2010

to stop thinking of what I need to buy and start thinking of what I already have that can fill that same need.

This. I have no idea who this Amy Dacyzyn is, but it is definitely important to think in terms of not buying and cutting back on your needs rather than just COUPON MADNESS!!1!11!!!!
posted by Sara C. at 10:04 AM on November 15, 2010

I absolutely love this thread.

Learn how to make soup. Chicken and roasted root vegetables pureed. THE Best Ever! Hit the discount grocery store and buy up the slightly wilted not peak celery and stuff. Roast it, then puree it. Add to chicken.

The recipe I got was from watching Hubert Keller and my life has changed since I learned about roasted leeks, and parsnips. Roasted leeks and parsnips pureed into chicken broth. Kale purees very well and combined with beef is very filling. [Simmer cheaper cuts]

It makes for a super satisfactory supper on a cold nite and you know that it's packed with nutrition.
posted by AuntieRuth at 11:59 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


posted by lalochezia at 2:47 PM on November 15, 2010

The Simple Living Forums were always good, but it's been awhile since I've been there.
posted by TheOtherSide at 4:11 PM on November 15, 2010

I just remembered this site by an LDS woman who has had to feed her family on her food storage for the past year or so.

There are a lot of frugal tips, vegetable garden info, and inexpensive recipes. It's religious, but not obtrusively so (or maybe I'm just desensitized to Mormons).
posted by elsietheeel at 9:03 PM on November 15, 2010

Here's the ~$40/week emergency menu for a family of 4-6. (Though inflation has struck and the 2009 prices are more like $70.) If you're single, you could obviously stretch that out more. It also assumes that you have none of your own supplies on hand, and involves making your own bread.

She also offers a slightly fuller $75 emergency menu.

You can also add variety to your food by growing your own bean sprouts. Great in stirfrys, salads, and even on sandwiches.

My number one biggest money saving tip regarding food: Give up soda pop and stick to water or homemade lemonade, iced tea, or hot tea. Or home-brewed coffee, if that floats your boat.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:37 PM on November 15, 2010

Came back because I remembered something else. If you have a local Angel Food Ministries location, they sell food in monthly bundles for not much money. Here's December's bundles. There are no sign-up requirements to meet - it's open to anyone. If there's something you don't like in a box (say you don't eat pork but it comes with the box), you can donate to your local food pantry or trade with friends and neighbors. There's a site locator on the website.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:03 AM on November 16, 2010

There is so much good advice in this thread! I'll add a couple more ideas to the pile:

In terms of free toiletries, is there anyone in your life who is a bit of a hoarder? I was living on a very tight budget last year (as I moved cities without a job lined up and I committed myself to becoming debt-free). I was on food stamps, sold a lot of my possessions, the usual. When it came to toiletries, I realized that my mom had a huge box of those little shampoo bottles (and conditioner and body wash...) from hotels. She was happy to give them to me. If the answer is no, then of course, I second Freecycle!

And in terms of keeping your spirits up, be sure to visit your local library. Almost nothing cheered me up more than an audio book or a magazine from the library. I started checking out all kinds of art books and novels as well, not to mention DVDs and CDs. I have always loved the library (I was a big bookworm as a kid) but I really appreciated the free entertainment. And don't forget about looking into what is available at more than just your local branch. I am a film buff and found that one branch in my city had lots of releases from the Criterion Collection. It was a longer bike ride to get there, but it was worth it. And there is also inter-library loan. My friend loves independent/alternative comic books. Those can be expensive! But he has managed to borrow most of them from the library, sometimes loaned from a library on the other side of the country.

As for blending in at work, I kept my work wardrobe simple: lots of neutral colors and a blazer every day. There are so many gently-used work clothes available at your average Goodwill. (YMMV - I am a twentysomething woman who works in a mix of non-profit and creative fields, so the workplace dress code for me is often somewhat lax). I got compliments from co-workers and friends on how nice I looked, often while wearing almost the same (thrifted) outfits every week.

Good luck to you!
posted by pinetree at 5:58 PM on November 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

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