How can I be more frugal?
September 7, 2007 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm on a (self-imposed) tight budget, but I don't want to compromise my quality of life. So I'm looking for the best strategies to get great deals on everything from computers to clothing to books. What are your recommendations?

I've always saved money with somewhat obvious deals, e.g. clipping coupons or taking advantage of student discounts, but I feel there's a higher level of cheapskating I could achieve with your help.
posted by scottreynen to Shopping (41 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't bought a book in years. Libraries are wonderful thing. Use the online search & request system if you library has one. I choose a book and a week or two later it's in my local branch waiting for me.

Also, eat more beans. They're cheap and super nutritious and filling. Gas jokes aside, I love my beans.
posted by GuyZero at 9:41 AM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

books: book sales are great, as are libraries
other stuff: yard sales, estate sales, second hand stores
down side of course is that you don't necessarily get exactly what you want exactly when you want it
posted by DarkForest at 9:42 AM on September 7, 2007

For books (and maybe public computers), your local library.

For clothing, ARCs.
posted by cog_nate at 9:46 AM on September 7, 2007

You can get refurbished computers from Apple at very good discounts. Craigslist always has great bargains and free stuff
posted by DudeAsInCool at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2007

You can't underestimate the value of Craigslist when it comes to finding deals. I was able to purchase both a cute metal daybed (with trundle and mattresses) and a 5-drawer shabby chic dresser for less than $175. Recognizing that you're probably not talking about furniture, there are always books and other entertainment items listed in the "free" section.
posted by parilous at 9:56 AM on September 7, 2007

The Tightwad Gazette is sort of the bible of these sorts of things. The link is to their (very out of date - like, years out of date) website/blog, but there are also a number of books......

There is also Frugal Village that specializes in this sort of thing, plus many other sites.
posted by anastasiav at 9:57 AM on September 7, 2007

Also, for cheap stuff to do (movies, concerts, etc.), scan or search the events section of your local "alt-weekly" (which is actually owned by the Village Voice, but I guess that doesn't matter all that much to the question at hand). Westword actually lets you search for only free events.
posted by cog_nate at 9:58 AM on September 7, 2007

I am deeply committed to cheapskatery. I hate buying things and throwing them away. So I don't buy paper towels, zip lock bags, coffee filters, or dishwashing sponges (I wash and re-use sponges and I get all my ziplocs from the farmers' market with okra and whatever in them). I use grocery store bags for trash. I also have one of those dopey "swiffer" things, but I use real cotton rags with it to mop the floor--you wash and re-use the rags so they don't get skanky and you don't have to be constantly buying a mop every six months. I wash my shower curtain with bathmats and vinegar. I use one of those frother thingies and dilute liquid soap--like one part soap to ten parts water--so I don't have to buy soap as often. Plus, if you don't use bar soap in the shower, it doesn't get soap-scummy and you don't have to buy soap-scum dissolver crap. Recently I discovered you can wash your hair with baking soda. Baking soda costs next to nothing and a box lasts a long time. Make a solution of half soda, half water in an old shampoo bottle. Shake up and schmear on head. Rinse with vinegarwater--half and half--also in an old shampoo bottle. If you don't do the vinegar rinse, your hair will be left in state of pH unbalance and will feel all gummy. I use vinegar for everything--counters, stovetop, floor. It's also excellent for knocking flying insects out of the air and incapacitating them long enough so that they can be dispatched. You can spray it all over the place and not worry that you're killing yourself along with the fly, plus it's much cheaper than Raid etc. I'm sure I have other embarrassing cheapnesses, but at the moment I am late to go spend my savings on tacos lengua over to the tienda. I heart this thread and am glad it got revived.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:01 AM on September 7, 2007 [16 favorites]

The "Festival of Frugality" keeps track of blog posts on the subject from all over the place. Tips upon tips upon tips.

Zen Habits writes about frugality often too.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:08 AM on September 7, 2007

Check out the "Hot Deals" Forum at
Warning: Although you save money, you also get tempted on stuff you don't need.
posted by Sloben at 10:13 AM on September 7, 2007

you might also find something of interest in this recently deleted thread on great deals
posted by DarkForest at 10:13 AM on September 7, 2007

In addition to Craig's list, keep an eye on your local Freecycle chapter, if there's one available. You can get stuff for nothing (or the price of transporting it). Thrift stores can also great for book bargains, though you may have to visit regularly to get a sense of what the normal inventory is so you can spot the new stuff quickly.
posted by jquinby at 10:29 AM on September 7, 2007

I visit this forum quite a bit - lots of very helpful people, great tips.
posted by jbickers at 10:31 AM on September 7, 2007

I recommend Your Money or Your Life for tips on ensuring your expenditures correspond to your values (this is strategy, not tactics.)

Ditto the library -- I've been on a library book binge, and my wife and I dropped GreenCine and figure we'll rely on the library as a primary source for DVDs. Yard sales can also be excellent for dirt cheap books.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:46 AM on September 7, 2007

Whenever you think about buying anything that costs >$100, check eBay & craigslist first.

Get rid of car payments, pay off your debts. Save/invest the money.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:50 AM on September 7, 2007

The Tightwad Gazette has a (very large) compendium book of all their newsletters with tons of tips/inspiration. One of her very best ideas is to do a price book - visiting a bunch of grocery stores in your area and finding out what the prices are on the items you buy most. I didn't actually do the price book, I just started memorizing and comparing prices so I know which store to go to for what. Then you also know when something *really* is on sale and you can stock up.

Since trimming the grocery budget was one of my biggest moneysavers, here are some tips:

*Decide what you're willing to compromise on. Usually it's going to be no-name brands over name brands or less-processed foods over processed. Bulk oatmeal is cheaper than oatmeal in packets, regular lettuce is cheaper than bagged lettuce, a Brita filter is cheaper than bottled water, and so on.
*Don't buy things you can easily make. Hummus out of your food processor takes ten minutes and costs 25% of what hummus in a container does. Muffins take less than a half hour to mix and bake. Make your own coffee at home.
*For both of those though, after trying the cheaper way for a while, if it's not working out for you go back to the more expensive and trim elsewhere. My husband said he'd cut up carrots into sticks to snack on but he never did and I had to figure out ways to use up a five-pound bag of carrots. If I buy bagged baby carrots, he'll eat them. We end up saving because a bag of baby carrots is a bag of chips or a candy bar he's not buying.
*Keep your eyes open at all times for ways of getting your common items cheaper. I hardly bought raisins because they were expensive at the supermarket - then I found them at the dollar store, same quality. Canned sweetened condensed milk is half the price if I buy it in the "ethnic foods" aisle instead - and I wouldn't have figured that out if I hadn't had to go looking for it once when it was sold out in the baking aisle.
*Bigger sizes don't always mean cheaper - if the store doesn't give you unit prices, carry a calculator to do the math. Those bagged baby carrots above are cheaper by the small bag than the large at my regular supermarket.
*Plan menus and you won't have to run out for last-minute ingredients and spend more, or look at a kitchen that doesn't have anything obvious to make out of it and say screw this, let's order pizza. Planning menus don't have to be tight. More like, figure out what you eat often, keep that stuff on hand, know what you're going to make to use up everything you buy (if you're only using half a can of this in that recipe, what will you make with the other half?).
posted by Melinika at 11:04 AM on September 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Similar to Paperback Swap is Bookmooch. This has revolutionized my reading habits.

RetailMeNot, whenever I am about to buy something online (after doing major comparison shopping), I always check here to see if I can get additional savings.

Strategic shopping at the 99 Cent store. I have one that I buzz through once or twice a week, only looking for quality name brand items. If it's food items, buy bulk and freeze.

I've also gotten incredible tips on Consumerist. I got my $200 cell phone for $50, by following their suggestions.
posted by kimdog at 11:06 AM on September 7, 2007

Some are really hard. At the beginning of trying to get two people to live off of $25k, I quit drinking. I lost 20 pounds (which was a mixed blessing) and saved a boatload. Cook all your own food. Give up TV and wasting time on the internet; time spent doing other things will prevent you having to buy services, and time doing maintenance will stretch the things you own. Clipping coupons and keeping notes about what-costs-how-much-where saved a lot on food.

Keep detailed records of what you spend money on, then think really hard about reducing each category. That kind of more focused inquiry is easier for everyone to help you on.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:07 AM on September 7, 2007

If you're going to any big-city attraction like "Bodies the Exhibition" or the Empire State Building, Google the name of the attraction +discount, to find $5-10 off of these (usually overpriced) spots.
posted by xo at 11:09 AM on September 7, 2007

Don't shop better; shop less.
posted by NortonDC at 11:18 AM on September 7, 2007

Greyhound eSavers tickets (you have to buy online, sometimes 3-14 days in advance) for many routes have pretty deep discounts.

Buying big ticket items out of state or online to save on sales tax, if applicable (may not be 100% legal in all jurisdictions).

Subscription based utilities, like cable and cell phone networks, can almost always get you a better deal than what they advertise, especially if you ask them about it when your contract is up for renewal.

Get the best rewards credit card you can and use it for everything. Pay off the balance at the end of the month. I have a Chase Rewards card, which is one of the best cards for this purpose unless you do a lot of specialized shopping at a store that has its own branded card.

Pay bills online through your bank's website--it's more convenient than paper mail and you save money on stamps.
posted by phoenixy at 12:17 PM on September 7, 2007

In most instances, don't buy from vending machines.
posted by drezdn at 12:17 PM on September 7, 2007

$25 or $30 box of food from Angel Food Ministries.
posted by Xere at 12:42 PM on September 7, 2007

Can you write? If so, approach your local alternative newsweekly with some sample reviews. They're always looking for writers who can meet deadlines. You'll get free CDs and books. Granted, some will stink, but you can sell those back.
posted by Atom12 at 12:45 PM on September 7, 2007

Start dumpster diving and gleaning. Some of the stuff you can find will save you tons of money or even make you money by selling it on Craigslist. I have found lots of high quality things.
posted by JJ86 at 12:45 PM on September 7, 2007

For us Canucks:


Simply wonderful.
posted by 20something at 1:52 PM on September 7, 2007

Don't shop better; shop less.

This is basically what I was going to write, but in less words. I believe firmly in prioritizing, so that you can spend your money on what you really care about, and not spending at all on what you don't value. So I buy books and tools and really nice food, but I've never bought a video game console in my life. For someone else, it might be the reverse, where they save on kitchen utensils to be able to afford being an early technology adopter, or to travel, or whatever. The point being, that you can save a bit by looking for deals, but you can save lots by just not buying stuff you don't really care about.

About the price book idea for grocery shopping, I tried that, and it was a lot of work and the prices kept changing and I found it frustrating. Then I figured out that I could use people who were feeding large families on tight budgets to do at least some of that research for me, so now I go to the grocery stores where a lot of the shoppers are LDS and immigrant families. In practice I go once a month to Costco to load up on non-perishables, weekly to the local no-frills supermarket for perishables, and to the farmers' market and small shops for the stuff I'm willing to spend more money on.

I'll admit I haven't found the cheapest car solution. I keep really accurate records of what my cars cost, and can tell you the cost per mile to the cent for each one I've owned in recent years. And the truth is that the ultra-cheap beaters have cost me almost as much per mile as newer cars, partly because they needed a lot more work, and partly because I find I tend to drive an old beater fewer miles (because they have fewer creature comforts, and break down more often) than I do a newer car that is reliable and fun to drive. I suspect that buying a modest new or almost new car with good reliability ratings, maintaining it scrupulously, and driving it for many years is the cheapest solution on a per-mile or per-year basis, just because that is what the people I know who are really careful with their money do.
posted by Forktine at 2:33 PM on September 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I only wear used clothes except for socks and underwear. I buy everything at garage sales and thrift stores. Since I'm spending under $5 for stuff, I ignore "dry clean only" labels and wash everything with water. If it shrinks to a nubbin or catches fire or something, so what. (Besides: most dry clean only stuff does fine in the wash--I come out way ahead ignoring that rule.)

I do like to shop for entertainment. I just stay out of shinypretty stores. I deal only in cash. I have a lot of credit cards, but it bugs me that the company gets a little kickback every time I use the card--it's just annoying. Plus inevitably I'll screw up and have to pay a $35 late fee because I was two days late on a $14 balance. Credit cards infuriate me. So I take out cash every week and spend it at garage sales. It is really fun if you go every week and stay in the same area. You quickly learn which neighbor has a sale every other week with the exact same Lladro shepardesses and owls made out of pinecones and googly eyes crappola. Garage sales satisfy my primitive thirst for acquisition without bankrupting me.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:57 PM on September 7, 2007

See that^^ answer from Don Pepino to know exactly where to apply the "shop less" principle. It might even keep your home from smelling like vinegar.
posted by NortonDC at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2007

seconding (or thirding or whatever) craigslist: last december a friend and visited my aunt in the states for a couple of months, and since we wanted to go from ma to ny, we looked for a car on craigslist figuring we might be able to get a beater that would work just for the trip.

long story short, we got a '95 cavalier with god only knows how many million miles on it, super-crappy looking, but the bitch ran. and she sure did, taking us from north ma to nyc to buffalo back to ma. had to stop using it when confronted by local cops (being a "foreigner", the dmv wouldn't let me register it though the title was in my name). we even got a decent radio from the deal, which i removed and have now installed in my dear '95 vw beetle back home.

ok, what was i talking about? oh yeah, craigslist. look into it. tons of free shit too.
posted by papafrita at 3:59 PM on September 7, 2007

ugh, that should be "a friend and i". also, story checks out. have the pics to prove it.
posted by papafrita at 4:02 PM on September 7, 2007

one final thought and that's it i promise: i went outside to have a cig, and decided to offer one to the security guard (violent city, all buildings have their poorly-trained illiterate armed staff), and was still thinking about this frugality stuff. i realized that one thing that's always worked for me is to strike a friendship, at least a chatting one, with the people who are always looked over: janitors, guards, maids, etc. these people are usually grateful that someone takes time to have a little chat with them, and many times they hook you up with small favors and stuff.

hell, even if they don't, often they're the ones with the most interesting stories.
posted by papafrita at 4:20 PM on September 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Take care of your stuff so you don't have to replace it. Take your shoes and handbags to a cobbler to have them repaired and resoled. Mend your clothes when they get damaged. Get your knives and scissors sharpened. If a home appliance breaks, see if you can find a replacement part online. Properly maintain your automobile in hopes of preventing expensive repairs. Use cloth napkins and cloth handkerchiefs instead of paper. Don't wash your clothes every single time you wear them unless they are obviously dirty. Always pack your own lunch. Get a brita filter pitcher instead of buying bottled water, then use a nalgene bottle to carry water with you. Exchange dvds, books and cds with your friends. Try to buy as much as possible second hand. Take excellent care of your body, because getting sick is one of the most expensive things that can happen to a person.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:10 PM on September 7, 2007

- Being mindful about stuff, both the stuff in my life and the stuff I find myself wanting, helps.

- Reading articles like this one help me maintain a perspective on my material desires.

- Sometimes I repeat this to myself: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or go without."

- Previous AskMeFi question here.

- Root around your home and see if you have old stuff you can use up before buying more - I just spent a few months going through a bunch of travel-sized soaps, etc. I've also been more conscious lately about using the food I have rather than automatically buying more - pasta and canned tuna, for example.

- Quality over quantity - when you do spend money on things, choose things that will last. Shoes, for example. If you're willing to put in the time, you can find well-made, expensive-brand clothing at the thrift store. Even if you spend a couple of hours and only come up with a couple of nice things, you can feel good about knowing they're made to last.

- Think about time vs. convenience - often, you can do things in ways that take more time (see the thrift store example above), but that will save you a lot of money. Public transportation is another example of this; also, cooking your own food.

- Go to the store as infrequently as you can manage; no matter how much you buy on sale during a trip to the grocery store, it's all money you wouldn't have spent had you stayed home instead. Of course you need to go buy stuff, but minimize trips to the store and you'll minimize temptation to spend.

- As we all know, the library is awesome! ILL is awesome! Free DVD rentals at the library are awesome! Late fees that are still cheaper than renting a movie at the store are...still kinda awesome!

None of this is about buying new stuff on the cheap (as your question is asking), but by cutting back on the things you currently spend money on, and using up what you already have, you'll save money that you can (if you choose) spend on other things.
posted by splendid animal at 10:12 PM on September 7, 2007

If you usually drive, don't drive when you go shopping. Carry a backback and walk, bike, or take public transportation. This will guarantee that you pretty much never pick up useless junk on a whim. When you have to carry it on your back, you get pretty frugral!

Find out what the regular excellent loss leaders are at your nearby supermarkets, and stock up specifically on those things. Make it a special trip just for those cheap items (that you need) and don't allow yourself to be tempted by the more expensive items stacked conveniently nearby.

If your supermarket has their own generic brand, try it out for things you need - you might be surprised by the quality. One supermarket chain where I live has their own line offering pretty much everything at much, much lower prices, and the quality is consistently high, across the board. (I have a fantasy that the CEO of that company makes his/her family use the store generic items, and that's why they always seem to find great sources for the brand. Probably not true, but I enjoy the thought. :)
posted by taz at 11:46 PM on September 7, 2007

This is predominantly an Australian site but it has tons of very practical advice for anyone no matter where they live, eg - inexpensive gifts, how to get cheaper prices on white goods, cheap and healthy recipes, how to use your chest freezer to save money, etc.

You have to be a member to view the entire vault but check out the free tipsheets first and see if you like the ideas -

I've been a member of this site for about 4 years now and definately recommend it.
posted by katala at 2:12 AM on September 8, 2007

A food cooperative is popular among greenies and frugal folk in my remote, rural area, as is the weekly farmer's market. Some staples and organic foods from the co-op are cheaper than the local supermarket, but others aren't. Agree with other mefites about thrift stores, garage sales and the library. Our library offers free Internet access, DVDs, CDs, etc. -- and no fines for late returns on books. (This is in Texas; YMMV elsewhere.)

A tip for frugal women: Buy T-shirts, Hawaiian shirts and board shorts in the men's department. Cheaper, better selection, funkier fabrics (on shorts and Hawaiians). You might have to make minor sewing adjustments in the waist, but that's why God made needles and thread. I also buy my sneakers, sandals and socks in the men's dept.; they seem to be better made and last longer.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 7:12 PM on September 9, 2007

My public transport tip might work for you.
posted by flabdablet at 8:44 PM on September 10, 2007

It sounds flip, but really, I didn't know anything about living frugally until my income dropped dramatically, so try giving yourself a hard, set, budget, and often you'll find the fat to trim out of your budget will present itself. And another vote here for Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette.

Also, ours is largely a service economy, so to save on this, you'll want to delve into the flourishing DIY (do-it-yourself) culture - there's tons of material out there on the web: learn to sew, learn to solder.
posted by eclectist at 8:05 PM on September 13, 2007

I love shopping at Goodwill stores. I donate an item and ask (you have to ask) for a 20 percent off coupon.
posted by bakon at 5:01 PM on September 14, 2007

« Older super cool kids magazines   |   Alternative concert venues in Montreal? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.