What are your frugality hacks?
January 7, 2019 6:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for simple changes that I can make to my purchasing habits to save money.

A while ago, I realized what a ripoff Gilette-style razor cartridges are. (They're like $2 per shave! At least!) So I switched to an old-school safety razor that uses single blades – which cost $0.10/shave. With this one simple change, I've probably saved hundreds of dollars over the last several years.

Other examples of the kind of hacks I'm looking for (some are more obvious than others):
  • For products that use consumable refills, check whether a generic version of the refill is available. (Example: I use the Tidy Cats Breeze cat litter system. Pads cost $1.30 apiece at PetSmart. But Amazon has an aftermarket version that costs $0.57 apiece.)
  • Similarly: I used pine pellet litter for a while. It's hella expensive at the pet store. Then I learned that you can go to any farm supply store, and buy a 40 lb bag of horse stall litter (which is basically the same thing) for like $6.
  • Always buy consumable, shelf-stable items in bulk, when possible.
  • Reuse plastic grocery bags as wastebasket liners (instead of buying liners).
  • For larger purchases that you don't need right away, wait until the item goes on sale.
So: what tricks in this vein have you discovered? What else am I paying too much for?
posted by escape from the potato planet to Work & Money (61 answers total) 127 users marked this as a favorite
Welcome to being on the frugal train. You're just getting into the basics. Here are some more tips that work for my household...

- Use coupons (electronic or paper), and especially if you're not brand loyal, you can get your regular items for cheaper.
- Meat prices are really variable. Take some time to figure out what is typical and what is a bargain and when to stock up to freeze.
- Coupon aggregators can help for big savings (Krazy Koupon Lady is a popular one).
- For household items, buy used. Goodwill and the like always has a huge selections of irons, for example, at a fraction of the cost.
- If you must buy electronics new, check the returns at Best Buy and the like.
- Costco usually is cheaper for paper products unless you really bargain hunt and use coupons elsewhere.
- Costco also has deals on travel, car rental, and car purchases that can pay off.
- Grocery store gas, especially if you're loyal and have a lot of points saved up, is often the best deal. Costco gas is pretty cheap too.
- Inventory your subscriptions. Do you *need* Hulu and Netflix?
- Are there internet service bargains? I pay $40/month for higher speeds because I locked into a 2 year deal.
- Eating out is a huge money suck. If you don't already, pack your lunch.
- Meal planning and prepping can also save a lot.
posted by k8t at 7:09 AM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Eat dried beans, several times a week. Bought in bulk, they're basically free compared to any other high protein food, and shelf stable too.

Buy a chest freezer, that will allow you to fully exploit sales on meat and also minimize food waste.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:12 AM on January 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

At Middle Eastern markets near me I buy packages of six large pitas for $3 (used to be $2, sigh), freeze them, and use them in lieu of pre-baked pizza shells.
posted by XMLicious at 7:16 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I save envelopes that come with junk mail and use them to write grocery lists. If you have coupons, they go inside the envelope.
posted by FencingGal at 7:28 AM on January 7, 2019 [18 favorites]

One thing I've just learned about from a bunch of frugal videos and advice columns is doing a single protein for your weekly shopping or weekly meal planning. That doesn't necessarily mean chicken for dinner every night, but don't try to find specials on all the different types of meats you want to have for your meals each week. Find what's cheapest (that you like) and make your plan around that.

Also, being okay with repetition in meals means you can stretch things a lot farther. If you don't mind chili or stew 3 nights and 2 lunches in a week, you'll need a much smaller variety of things to buy, and buying fewer things in larger quantities really pays off.
posted by xingcat at 7:45 AM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Learn to love beans and lentils. Cook them from dry for better flavor and more savings (a pressure cooker helps a lot here). Make a big batch and freeze extra.
posted by momus_window at 7:46 AM on January 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

After holidays, at least in the US, there are often specials on meats that you can freeze. Like after a summer barbecue holiday like Memorial/Labor days or 4th of July, they’re discounting ribs and other grillables. Corned beef will be cheaper after St Patrick’s Day than before. I’ve gotten super cheap fancy things like veal shanks or filet mignons on February 15th. Cheaper hams right after Easter, etc.
posted by padraigin at 7:57 AM on January 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

Anything you think you want on Amazon goes on the wish list for a week to see if the need wanes.
Don't drink when you go to dinner.
posted by InkaLomax at 8:10 AM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Get a library card!
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:16 AM on January 7, 2019 [33 favorites]

Maybe I’m OTT, but I wash and reuse my ziplocks. And I reuse sour cream and yogurt tubs to bring in lunches to work.

I make one lunch for the week. Maybe it’s a sandwich, or an instant pot stew (heavy on beans), or this week, it’s coconut cauliflower curry with rice. But I make a huge batch on Sunday and bring it in for the week. I only had to buy 2 heads of cauliflower and green onions - everything else was a kitchen staple for me, but all total, the ingredients wouldn’t cost more than $15 for a week’s worth of lunches. Where I work, any single lunch I bought here would be that much.
I also make a week’s worth of steel cut oats on Sunday, so there’s breakfast. Oats in the bulk bin are pretty cheap. Most things are cheaper in the bulk bin, and you can buy only as much as you need. If you can find a store that sells spices in bulk bins, that’s a huge find! Some spices are so light, if you buy a small enough amount, it won’t even register on the scale and they’ll just give them to you for free!
And I skip dinners now. (I know that wouldn’t work for a lot of people, but I was eating too much anyway, so this is actually much better for my health.) My food bill has been more than halved in the last few months. The key is if you’re willing to give up some variety. I now view variety as a week to week thing, not a day to day thing.
posted by greermahoney at 8:24 AM on January 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

Do you eat out? Stop.

Do you drink? Don't.

Those two things, all by themselves, would save many people hundreds of dollars per week. Even if you don't want to cut them out entirely (hey, I'm hardly an aescetic over here myself) just cutting back can lead to huge savings. Huge.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:37 AM on January 7, 2019 [16 favorites]

The key thing for us is to always check the weekly grocery store flyers for each of the major chains in your catchment. Get an idea for the regular prices of stuff and when your staples go on a deep sale, buy in bulk. You may need to get there early on some days if it's something like a package of bacon for $2 because people snap those up. But as regards meat, depending on the cycles of dairy production in your area, you may find some months meat is much cheaper than others. Ethnic food stores often (but not always) have relevant staples for much cheaper than regular grocers do; cheaper even than Costco. Prepare ahead and freeze, and get used to eating a small spectrum of cheap staple foods that you change the flavour of with spicing and cooking method.

Don't buy paper products for cleaning unless necessary. Use washable cloths for clean-up. Mend your old clothes; turn ratty towels into cleaning cloths. Be careful of buying cheap clothes for work or outdoor wear; the "Vimes Boots" policy applies: buy for durability, not lowest price. This goes for durable goods as well: as pointed out above if you can buy something at a Goodwill or similar, you'll get much of the functionality of new at a fraction of the price.

If you can ditch your car, do so. It's a huge freaking expense, and full of uncertainty, too: breakdowns, tires, maintenance, insurance payments, etc. Very hard to work into a tight budget. Can you cycle instead? Carpool? Transit? Walk?

Watch your health! It's expensive to get sick. Eat good food, not too much, mostly plants. Walk or cycle when you can. Look into isometric exercises such as the 7-minute workout (or variations if you have mobility concerns). These cost nothing but a little time and the payback in stamina and strength is critical to long-term health.

If you have expensive hobbies or subscriptions, figure out what you like about them and substitute in things that are free. Like books/movies? Join the library. Like going out to eat/drink with friends? Maybe learn how to brew your own and stay in, do regular potlucks.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:40 AM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Bulk spices are so much cheaper. We have. It’s picked them up at the grocery and ordered them on line.
posted by kerf at 8:44 AM on January 7, 2019

Do you eat out? Stop.
Do you drink? Don't.

This is also true for smoking and other habits that add up quickly. Some of this depends how frugal you want to go. I am frugal bordering on flinty and I think part of it is figuring out the stuff you care less about and cutting it to the bone and trying to allow room for other stuff so you don't feel like you're depriving yourself (and then inclined to splurge). So other room for adjustments...

- do you have the cheapest internet/tv/phone plans you can? Often these are things people glide along with and don't realize there may be room for negotiation. Get people on family plans if you can, cut out premium channels, make sure you're really using whatever you pay for
- Stop buying books, or cut down considerably. You can get a lot of books from the library or from various online places depending on how picky you are. Same goes for other digital media. Tweak the knobs but try to use your local library more.
- Are you going to the gym if you have a gym membership? Look into all of your other monthly subscriptions and see what can go.
- Buy shelf stable things in BULK and see if you can get them in cheaper locations. Whole Foods quinoa costs more than "dented can" last-month's-style quinoa and it's the same thing (if you like quinoa, brown rice is cheaper). Often the food coop will have cheaper spices (MUCH cheaper spices) than the supermarket.

Do not pay for delivery for practically anything if you can go out and get it yourself. That said, get some stamps at the post office and rediscover the joy of letter writing, it's cheap.

I buy most of my clothes at the thrift store except for some durable stuff like shoes where good fit is important. I cook most of my meals at home and usually in bulk (things I splurge on include good crackers and good apples because i make applesauce once a week and eat it all week). I don't skimp on car maintenance or tires but I walk anywhere in town which is less than a mile or so from my house (and it's winter, but that is fine most of the time). I buy fancy shampoo and soap but usually at the weird discount store so it's last year's scents. I don't wear makeup (omg so expensive, I know it's totally worth it for some people but not for me) but I do invest in good sunscreen and moisturizer.
posted by jessamyn at 8:48 AM on January 7, 2019 [16 favorites]

Don't wait until you're almost out of something before buying a replacement, so you can wait until it is on sale.

For most food and other grocery store products, store brands are the equivalent of national brands but far cheaper. To my way of thinking, buying store brands when you can saves enough money to justify buying a more expensive brand when it really matters to you. The same thinking goes for clothing and household goods - buy on sale when you can so you're not wracked with guilt for paying full retail when you see something you *must have*.

Most subscription services, like cable or newspapers, will cut you a better price if you call up and insist. After three years, we have not yet paid full price for our SiriusXM subscription, for example. Similarly, Xfinity keeps giving us the "new subscriber" price every two years because we ask for it.

Liquids, in general, are a huge money sink. Filter your own water instead of buying bottled. Use a SodaStream and to make your own sodas. If you want to consume alcohol, do it at home.
posted by DrGail at 8:50 AM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

The most effective hack is to track your expenses and then focus on cutting down on the largest categories.

Spending an hour cutting out $4 worth of coupons is strictly a waste of your time, but figuring out how to cut your monthly cafe spend from $200 to $100 would be a huge win.
posted by shanek at 9:06 AM on January 7, 2019 [25 favorites]

A corrollary to bulk shopping: put all of your bulk purchases in the freezer for 24 hours as soon as you get them home. Bulk goods are a major vector for pantry moths and having to replace all your infested items will negate any savings from buying non-packaged foods.
posted by corey flood at 9:09 AM on January 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

Capsule wardrobe. When everything goes with everything, picking outfits is quick (time- and mentation-savings), and even if one does need a new (retail or thrift) item, it's truly only one new thing, not a whole outfit just for some random occasion. It also massively cuts down on shopping time and temptations, in my experience.

Price adjustments: if you notice something you bought gets cheaper within the return period, request a price adjustment. Usually stores will give it to you without any more effort than that. There are even online tools to keep an eye on things for you and send e-mail alerts. Even if it's a coupon that says that it doesn't apply to prior purchases, it's worth asking politely. Similarly, if something is just a spectacular failure, bring it back! Or if it turns out to be missing parts, or a little bit broken, ask the retailer (or manufacturer) what they can do to help. Don't assume it's your problem just because you opened it and/or used it.
posted by teremala at 9:09 AM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Learn to repair instead of replacing. It's often easy and makes your stuff last way longer. Mending clothes is a good example; start off easy, by replacing lost buttons.

Replace things like power switches and plugs. Replace buckles on bags. Upgrade your computer by adding more memory, or replace the power supply or the fan.

Even if you can't fix things yourself, it might be worth having stuff fixed for you, especially high-priced things that are worth keeping, like good quality shoes. Find a good local cobbler.

Some good websites for you to explore:
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:19 AM on January 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

I found keeping a price book handy as it showed me the pattern of sales at my local supermarket.

Tracking the prices I found for example, my favorite coffee went on sale every 3 months so every time it was on sale I'd buy enough to last me 3 months. If I had a coupon to use then too even better. I cut about 25% off my grocery bill using this method alone. It combines advantages bargain hunting & bulk buying without the OMG I have a years supply of toilet paper I have to find a home for problems as you're only stocking enough to last you until the next sale.

It's a pain at first but once you get into the habit it's only a few minutes to sit with your receipt & update after a shopping trip. Best part is I save money & get to use the brands I prefer.
posted by wwax at 9:26 AM on January 7, 2019 [10 favorites]

N-thing beans and lentils. Friday nights are daal nights at the furnace.household. Daal has an almost infinite dimension of variety, it is never boring.

Ethnic grocery stores have usually cheaper produce and better spices than regular grocery stores, and depending on where you are in the country, a far wider selection of produce.

Do you eat chicken? Lean how to break down a whole bird. There are a couple ways to do it, but any way you can, it will save you coin. Two chicken breast’s can have the same end price as a whole chicken. That whole bird yields two thighs, two drums (think soups, stews and stir frys here) along with the two breasts AND a carcas that can be turned into broth real easy with minimal efforts. One bird can go a long way. The skin, rendered of its fat and crisped up makes a damn fine garnish on a baked potato. Like chicken-baco-bits.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:27 AM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Also, and this is sort of a meta-message, be aware of the inputs you are getting that encourage you to buy. I always watch more television during some sports seasons, for example. I find that when I watch more television I have a tendency to be a little more "Hmmm I could buy a thing to solve this problem" than I might be when I am not watching TV. I consider myself pretty immune to advertising that is like "Buy this specific cleaner" but I am less immune to messages that are like "Hey your floor might be dirty... maybe you should get on that" This is especially true for health and body image stuff (at least for me, cishet woman)

In a lot of ways advertising is less about pushing a specific product on you than it is to be convincing you that products are the answer to your dissatisfaction. And it might be that your dissatisfaction is due to something else in your life (we all have little things we would like to work on) but getting a lot of media messages might convince you that it's about stuff you need. So be aware of those messages and maybe consider a bit of a media diet from television, mainstream magazines (even ones that cater to your interests, I find mags like Yoga Journal for example can be the worst because it's your hobby, but it's also encouraging shopping for your hobby which is not your hobby) and radio and even internet ads. You'll always need food, clothing, a place to live, some sort of entertainment and things to keep you clean and healthy. But how you decide to address those specific issues should be choices that you are consciously making and so thinking about that on your own, isolated from the pernicious influences of modern capitalism, can also help you save.
posted by jessamyn at 9:40 AM on January 7, 2019 [38 favorites]

For clothes, shop at thrift stores. I found some wonderful work-appropriate clothing that way. Or department store sales.

Your local library has more books than you could read in a lifetime. You're already paying for it (taxes) so use it! My library also has a subscription to Acorn TV and Hoopla and RB Digital, which means oodles of free ebooks, audiobooks, TV shows, and movies. I discovered this by accident clicking around on the library website.

Grocery shopping at Costco and Aldi. Costco kind of gears itself toward families, but I am a single person and still do the majority of my groceries there. Just means I eat a lot of fruits and veg. Most of their other stuff is freezeable/nonperishable.

Use GasBuddy to find cheaper gas near you, or along your route if you are planning a road trip.
posted by basalganglia at 9:44 AM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

For any subscriptions, figure out how much it's costing you per year, per 3 years, per 5 years, especially if it's something like streaming services or subscription boxes that you can easily live without. Plenty of people will spend a lot of time researching and considering a one-time purchase that costs $200 and lasts for years but will say "why not?" to a $15/month subscription service. Maybe it's still worth it to you but at least give the decision the weight it deserves, especially if there's a cost to cancel.
posted by eeek at 9:46 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

In regards to entertainment subscriptions, find some people to share with. I have Netflix and share with my sister. She has Amazon Prime and shares the login with me. I have a friend who lets me use her HULU account.

Join a buy-nothing group or free-cycle listserve in your neighborhood.

For home repairs research if there is reuse supply store like this in your area - you can get all sorts of big supplies there for home improvement. My local university also sells surplus supplies for cheap (that's where my non-profit got most of our office desks and chairs); check them out for all kinds of things.

You can probably volunteer at your local live theater venue and see shows for free. Likewise, film festivals, conventions, and other events also need volunteers. You give a few hours of your time and get free tickets - it's a great way to save on entertainment costs.

Quit the gym and use a free site like Fitness Blender to stay in shape.
posted by brookeb at 9:52 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is pretty hardcore, and I've only ever managed to do it for like a month at a time, but if you want to force yourself to stick to a budget, you can reduce your liquid assets by buying and using gift cards instead of cash/credit/debit card. So basically, you figure out how much you want to spend on groceries, gas, certain favorite restaurants during a particular period (e.g. a month or a two-week pay period). Then buy gift cards for those places in the amount closest to your budget. I.e., if you budget $210 a month for groceries, buy a gift card for $225. Then, don't carry any cash or non-gift cards. That way, if you don't have a Starbucks gift card, you don't have a way to stop at Starbucks for your morning coffee. If you don't have a gift card to the restaurants near your office, you'll have to pack your lunch. And if you've got $224 worth of groceries in your cart already, you won't be able to buy a candy bar or 20oz pop at the checkout lane.

The basic idea is that liquidity gives you choices about what to purchase. If you remove that liquidity, you have fewer choices. Of course, some liquidity is necessary - you'll need to have some cash to spend for unforeseen expenses. But if your problem with sticking to a budget is willpower, this system removes that aspect of it for you.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Cook meals from ingredients. You can do it in batch, and freeze it if you have a freezer. Don't buy ready-to-eat or convenient stuff except for things you can't make, or don't have time to make (chocolate, bread). Don't buy presliced cheese or lunchmeat, and don't buy convenience packaged food (little boxes of raisins, string cheese, trail mix, etc).

Cut back on the amount of beef that you eat (indeed, the amount of meat that you eat), and buy your eggs 5 dozen at a time (we go through a lot of eggs here). Remember that the link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol is, and always has been, fiction.

Costco, and notice when you break even on your membership fee. Buy that entire roasted chicken, eat the easy food off of it with some vegetables that you roast with olive oil and salt, and boil the carcass to make soup. Gawd that chicken is good.

Shop for food in places where the customers don't look like you do (for me this is Asian, Mexican and Indian markets). Produce at Asian markets here in this urban center, for example, is much cheaper than namebrand stores. I can't compose a sentence lyrical enough to describe what I think of Indian food stores.

Kill most of your subscriptions. Make your charitable donations once a year, instead of monthly (public and college radio stations, newspapers, online Patreon recipients).

Stop buying *things* for *entertainment*, or as "retail therapy". There is a feeling that comes from buying a new toy, and it's predictable and nice, and you can find better ways to fill that void.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:20 AM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'd say decide what's important to you and pick your battles, if you find it hard to wean off things or take on new habits.

- joined the library (they have enough of what I want to keep me reading, plus the existing TBR pile)
- am trying to buy clothes only via thrift this year, except shoes, socks and underwear (that's my personal line, not an edict)
- my admittedly small household gets together once a week to lay out our entire meal plan for the week, including packed lunches, breakfast items and home-brewed coffee, and then we try to buy just those ingredients. That's more of a time savings and waste cutting measure than money saving, but I think it helps with money too. We fall into Fuck It Let's Order Out territory sometimes, but not that often.
- We have very little brand loyalty and compare prices constantly.

YMMV. It takes time to plan stuff like coupon cutting, I am not a high-powered lawyer and don't need super nice clothes, and cooking takes time. But those things are worth it to me/us.
posted by cage and aquarium at 10:33 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another thing that can be helpful and fun is doing challenges. I once decided to go a year without buying clothes except socks and underwear. You could also do monthly challenges of something too extreme to do all the time: no meat or no eating out, for instance. Right now, I'm not buying anything but food for the month of January.

Remember that the link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol is, and always has been, fiction.
Per studies paid for and designed by the egg industry. See here for how this works.
posted by FencingGal at 10:36 AM on January 7, 2019

One thing that's worked for me is to pay cash for things.

The swipe of the credit or debit card doesn't have the same sting that emptying my wallet does. I tried the 'envelope' method but found it too hard to stick to regularly and tend to do better with a broader cash allowance for groceries/gas/Target/whatever rather than having it broken down too narrowly.

Lots of restaurants will also give you something in exchange for a completed survey. Money off next time or a free item. I agree that going out to eat is expensive but it's unrealistic for me to expect to make everything I'm going to eat so when I do go out, I try to find a place where I have a coupon or can get a reward.
posted by Twicketface at 10:43 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Eat less meat. If you don't want to give it up entirely, make stir-fries with lots of veggies and a small amount of sliced meat (and lots of rice/your preferred carb). Aim to never eat a meal that includes a giant hunk of meat on your plate; it'll be healthier and cheaper both.
posted by serelliya at 10:45 AM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

To build on what Kevinbelt said about gift cards, I use a credit card that gives additional cash back for purchases at grocery stores. Grocery stores sell gift cards to just about anywhere. I figured out what my yearly budget was for shoes and athletic clothing and bought a gift card to sporting goods store for budgeted amount. Same for restaurants and coffee shops. For the grocery store that also sells gas, I bought a gift card to use when purchasing gas. Caveat on the gas purchase, don't use gift cards for pay at the pump gas. Go to the window and pay the clerk for whatever amount of gas you are buying to avoid having the merchant put a hold on your gift card for some outrageous amount [$75 is common] that would take 3 tank fillups to meet.

I love and use Apple products. I don't pay retail for new but purchase from Apple's refurbished stock for 10% or 15% less than new. All covered by the same one year warranty. If you don't need the latest and greatest electronic item, buy used from somewhere like Gazelle.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 10:47 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Stop buying cleaning products and buy better concentrated multiuse products in bulk - baking soda, white vinegar, and good soap (I like sal suds and dr. bronner's liquid castile soap) are all I use to keep things clean (have a vingear solution in a spray bottle, a soap solution in a spray bottle, you have mirrors/windows and surface cleaners). I use baking soda as a scrub on sinks and tubs. I use the sal suds on dishes and as a floor cleaner. I buy those kitchen dish scrubbies and use those instead of sponges to wash dishes, when they get worn they turn into sink and tub scrubbers.

Use a variety of cloths/rags instead of paper towel for cleaning.

I make my own foaming hand soap by adding castile soap to a foam dispenser (I like method's so just buy them on sale and dump them out), add essential oils, and water, done, and easier on your hands than most. Ikea also sells really cheap (like 80 cents) glass soap dispensers that work great if you prefer to buy a regular product refill in bulk.

Hang dry your clothes, they'll last longer and you'll save money on electricity.

Learn to cut your hair yourself.
posted by lafemma at 10:49 AM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Choose cheap hobbies instead of expensive ones. Better yet choose hobbies that actually save you money. For example if you have a yard, grow some of your own fruit and veg. Make wine with some of what you grow - raspberries, rhubarb, etc are easy to grow and make good wine. If you don't have a yard try foraging for blackberries or elderberries. You'll save a fortune if you drink a lot of wine over the course of a year, and it's a fun hobby too. I make jams, chutneys, and salsas as well.
posted by hazyjane at 10:59 AM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Making a weekly meal plan.

I was always resistant to the idea of a meal plan - I'm a somewhat freewheeling cook, especially since I only cook for myself (single, no kids, my roommate's schedule and eating habits are different from mine). But that just left me with a lot of leftovers in the fridge that got buried and then went bad and I had to throw them out, and that plus a pledge to pay down debt forced me to start by simply making a list of what things I had left over in the fridge and how I was going to use them - reheat for dinners, bag lunches at work, whatever. And from there it was a short hop to seeing "okay, wait....I have enough here for all my lunches and half my dinners this coming week as well. So....I only have to pick up a package of chicken and a half-dozen eggs and I'm sorted for the whole week." Which made my grocery run much lighter - and waaaaaaay cheaper that week.

That was incentive enough to get a little more regimented. I still don't call it a plan (if you look at my notebook, it says it's a "meal plan-ish"), it is simply a list of things I can use for lunches and things to make for dinners over the course of the week. What date I make the various things is still left up to whim, which is whimsy enough for me; especially since my grocery bill has dropped by about $15 each week.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you have cell service from one of the big four U.S. carriers, get a MVNO (basically a company that resells cell network access under a different name). Plans are as low as $10, $20 plans are available with unlimited talk/text and "only" 1-2gb of data. Lots of people are paying $40-60 a month for cell service, you can save $200 a year easily this way. The only significant drawback is that you don't get roaming service typically.
posted by skewed at 11:15 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Bulk spices are so much cheaper.

And often fresher (and therefore tastier) than the bottled ones on the baking/spices aisle, which is nice when depending more on beans and rice meals.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Being good at thrift store shopping helped us a lot in regards to clothing our kid (and me). This is really useful as kids seem to grow out of clothes on a nightly basis and it gets expensive fast. With practice you can get good at this and do it very quickly. For instance, my partner keeps an eye out for clothing from companies that have guarantees in regard to replacing items which have had extreme wear or damage. So if there is any damage, say a broken zipper or ripped pocket, the company will replace or repair the item. If they will replace an item, you can also often talk the customer service people into upgrading the size to the next one up. So from ages 0 to about 6, we only had to pay once for the winter clothes & boots (at second hand prices) and for the shipping when we returned the items to be repaired. You're out your time, as there is some to and fro with customer service occasionally, but we've saved hundreds of dollars doing this for the family (and our extended family & friends).
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:35 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don't wait until you're almost out of something before buying a replacement, so you can wait until it is on sale.

This. We literally have a cabinet for “got it on sale favorite brand shampoo/deodorant/toothpaste/whatever”.

You either save money or time.

If you have time - cook at home, shop different stores on sale eg TJ maxx shampoo area.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:32 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Speaking of gift cards, a lot of folks sell unwanted cards at a discounted price, which translates to an automatic 10-20 percent off of everything you buy with them. The discount varies with the popularity of the store. Caveat: I don’t know if there’s an issue with counterfeit cards. It’s also worth getting the apps that go with the stores where you shop often; at Target, for example, you sometimes see signs you can scan to get additional savings, often in the form of a gift card, if your purchases in that category exceed some threshold. Caveat: read the fine print since some popular category items—Lego in toys, for example—may be excluded.
posted by carmicha at 12:34 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

at Target, for example, you sometimes see signs you can scan to get additional savings...

Came in here to say get a Target RedCard linked to your checking account. That gives you 5% off everything in the store and 5% off + free shipping for online orders.

Then link the card to the app and use the Cartwheel function to find additional savings on things. You can use the app to browse for items ahead of time to look for things that have the Cartwheel savings enabled so you're not impulse shopping.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:47 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you buy a thing at Costco, and it goes on sale in the next few weeks, Costco will refund you the difference if you ask. I.e., retroactively extend the sale price to you.

Some credit cards offer this as a perk, also. I think it's called "purchase protection"
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:53 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I dislike the taste of our tap water. Adding a few dashes of trace mineral drops to a glass is way cheaper than buying mineral water.
posted by hishtafel at 1:17 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you buy a thing at Costco, and it goes on sale in the next few weeks, Costco will refund you the difference if you ask. I.e., retroactively extend the sale price to you.

Lots of stores will do this if you ask for a "price adjustment." I did it at Target recently, for example.
posted by mosst at 1:26 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Citi credit card does price protection. I think it's 90 days. It's very useful around Black Friday. I'd buy games new in the summer/fall and they'd be discounted by the holidays. You get a refund of the difference.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:03 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I always buy my cleaning supplies in bulk and refill containers when they get low.

For example, I buy a HUGE container of dish soap for cheap and then refill a smaller dish soap container when it runs low.
posted by JenThePro at 2:17 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interested in vegetarianism or veganism? Give it a shot! I switched in grad school for all but special nights out for budgetary reasons and it stuck. And I got the smugness for free!
posted by q*ben at 2:22 PM on January 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

Don't shop.

Counter-intuitively, I sometimes buy milk at the gas station. Because if I walk into a grocery store at 6:30pm when my and my kids' willpower is low, and there are half-price baked goods, I might get those and then we don't eat baked apples and then the soft apples either go to waste or end up as endless containers of frozen applesauce...

At the gas station, there's NO WAY I'm paying gas station prices for anything but the essential milk, plus my gas.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:32 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Some expenses may be negotiable, e.g. you could call your internet/TV provider and telephone provider, after conducting some basic research about what the competition is offering, and ask if they can match or beat the offer. I've also noticed that these providers sometimes have better offers online on their websites that you can just sign up for without talking to customer service.

Also, perhaps consider reviewing your home energy consumption and think about steps you could take to lower electric and heating costs.
posted by Little Dawn at 2:46 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love the opera and I love the museum; but I am not willing to pay for opera tickets and I am not willing to pay to see traveling and special museum exhibitions that cost more than the price of getting into the museum. And since I'm underemployed (i.e. I have more time than money), I get free awesome stuff by volunteering.

I volunteer at the museum in Visitor Services. Basically I help people find the restrooms and give directions to whatever kind of art they're interested in seeing. It took some persistence to get on the visitor services volunteer list (including kind of a dopey first job that I see now was kind of a test) but eventually it paid off. Now I volunteer a 3-hour shift every week or so.

So as a volunteer, not only do I get free admission to the traveling and special exhibits, there is usually a secret tour of traveling and special exhibitions given by the actual curator for just the volunteer staff. I did NOT know that when I signed up. It's an amazing perk.

The Opera doesn't have an ongoing volunteer program, but I did sign up to be a Light Walker. Light Walkers are volunteers that work during the Tech Week for a production. Basically, I stand on the stage where the stars would stand and the techs fiddle with the stage lighting to get it just right. Then I move to another spot on the stage and the stagehands will move props around so that they look right with a person standing there. Then I will walk back and forth across the stage to make sure that I don't fall into a weird shadow, or have to dodge around that piece of the set that nobody thought would be in the way, etc etc. Most of the other Light Walkers are theater kids from the local colleges, but there are a few of us Olds as well. It's really fun: last year I got to Light Walk for La Boheme and I laid in Mimi's bed for an hour, pretending to be dying piteously of consumption while they fiddled with the lights to make sure that my pallor was the perfect combination of beautiful and near-death.

For my time (which is usually about 3 hours) I get to attend to the final dress rehearsal for free: me, the other volunteers, and the journalists. Only once have I ever seen a final dress rehearsal stopped - usually it's a legit straight through opera done full voice, full set, full tech, full costume, everything. I sit in the seats that are usually for the season-ticket holders - hundreds and hundreds of dollars. It's a blast.

So: if you have an expensive hobby that you simply can't imagine giving up the name of frugality, maybe there's a way to exchange time for access.
posted by Gray Duck at 3:46 PM on January 7, 2019 [38 favorites]

Make sure you don't skimp on nutrition by focusing on cheap carb sources of calories. Fast track to diabetes there.

If you're like me and don't do well without a fair amount of animal protein, try fish instead of meat. For example: Frozen smelt are a bargain, and quite tasty. Frozen Alaskan salmon is cheaper than fresh, and canned salmon is cheaper still.

Keep an eye on sustainability and safety guidelines, which means for the most part you'll be buying wild-caught fish. But even with that constraint, there are bargains to be found in the frozen section.

Forget packaged carb bombs like pasta, crackers, and bread. They aren't worth the money you spend on them even though they are cheap. Same goes for dairy, except maybe for kefir. Spend the money on quality protein, veg, and fruit instead.

If you must have sweets, learn to bake.

Make your own nut butters! You'll need a food processor or Vitamix.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:29 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Some groceries are weirdly overpriced. If you like to eat leavened bread, make it yourself: it's easy, way cheaper, and often tastier. Corn tortillas do not have the same markup for whatever reason. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is a whole book about this (but of course you'll need to check her calculations against your own prices and inclinations).

Meta: if you're serious about this, you need to think about how this affects your work, friends, and family. If you've built a good friendship/marriage/career over sips of 50 year single malt at the club, it would be false economy to resign your membership.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:37 PM on January 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Buy this book. Do everything it says.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a compilation of years of newsletters put out by Amy Dacyczyn in the 90s. Obviously there are going to be some changes. Some of the situations she and her family faced might not apply to you at all. But I pull my copy out several times a year. It's fabulous.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 6:27 PM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

So we've been figuring out how to repair things by watching youtube videos. This week we've had to repair our leaking toilet. Six bucks for a new valve and a little head scratching and a little elbow grease, rather than a hundred bucks to the plumber. A few months back I used YT to learn how to fix an issue with the stove, and as it turns out I managed to do that repair for free.

There's still stuff that I wouldn't do myself, but at least I've learned more about what the actual issue may be, and avoid getting scammed. If something is not flooding or on fire, it's worth it to try the repair yourself first. At the worst you just still have to call a repairperson.

Relatedly, we've been using YT to review specific resorts we want to travel to, to gauge if they would be a good fit for our family, and also to get tips about how to travel more economically. Tons of people like to post videos of their own personal reviews of the hotels and amenities where they are staying.
posted by vignettist at 6:40 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

MintSim. I pay $15 a month for unlimited phone and texts+ 10GB data. Runs on T-mobil's network.
posted by jessca84 at 8:02 PM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Counter-intuitively, I sometimes buy milk at the gas station

Here's another counter-intuitive one along the same lines. If I'm bored and just want to go out and wander around indoors and look at stuff, go to the super-pricey mall with all the designer stores. If I go to a regular or cheap mall, I mgiht see something on sale and be tempted to buy it. At the expensive mall, I wouldn't even dream of buying the stuff on sale. I look around get the stir-crazy out and don't spend a penny (except at the food court, maybe, but would have done that at the cheap mall, too).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:27 PM on January 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Target has really good discounts on about to expire meat, sometimes even $5 off something that's normally $7.50. I often put it straight into the freezer.
Had not come across a food inventory/shopping app that I liked, so I made one using Memento database. It lets me track how much an item is at different stores, and has a field for cost per unit (oz, piece, serving etc). This way when I see something I usually get that is on sale, even if it is a different size, I can tell if the sale price is actually better than my usual source.
Zenni.com for eyeglasses.
LED bulbs, especially if you can get 50 cent ones that were surplused from a utility program.
Buying from places like Geekbuying.com, dx.com etc can save you a lot for now, partially due to them exploiting international shipping loopholes. Those may be closing so take advantage while you can.
posted by Sophont at 9:38 PM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Counterintuitively -- don't scrimp and save.

Food in cans, boxes and bags do eventually expire. Buy what you will need, but don't overstock the shelves. Old tomato sauce cans will burst out in the back of the cabinet (voice of experience.)

Spices degrade over time. Buy the sugar and salt, but leave the jumbo jars of chili powder behind unless you can really use all of it in six months.

Can you store paper goods in bulk? A zippered body pillow cover can turn bathroom tissue into a bolster, but tough luck getting red wine out of it.

Others have mentioned that unhealthy food is false economy.

Don't cut your own hair. Get a simple style (long with trims a few times per year) or buy an electric trimming set and have a friend do a no-nonsense cut for a few dollars every six weeks.

Budget for teeth, annual health exams, car maintenance.
posted by TrishaU at 10:25 PM on January 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Watch your health! It's expensive to get sick

Yes! Also, take care of your teeth. Go every year and deal with problems as early as possible. You can fix a cavity, or wait and have a root canal and a crown or wait and have an extraction and an implant. This times 32. I could own a really nice house for what I have spent on my teeth.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:27 AM on January 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I was broke, I stole toilet paper, paper towels, sanitary supplies, etc. from places of work. My friends did the same, we all kind of thought it was okay. Once I was able to pay for my own, I stopped. This is morally questionable, but it is what I did.

( These days, I've noticed a lot of places have the huge tire rolls of toilet paper, so that is probably less of an option. )
posted by rhonzo at 3:38 PM on January 8, 2019

I follow the wife around when she goes to target, any time something goes in the basket I use my phone to find out if the same item is cheaper on Amazon. For the items we regularly replenish, I try to get up to 5 items on Subscribe and Save to get the extra 15% discount on them. I then regularly compare those items to their equivalent price at CostCo.

If you have a nice round head and don't care about having hair, an electric trimmer can be had for $15 at most Ross / Marshall's / etc. and I haven't paid more than that original $15 and a small bottle of blade oil for a haircut / hair product in a couple decades.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:42 AM on January 9, 2019

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