Help me cut costs without feeling the pinch.
August 19, 2008 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Obvious or creative--shameless or shady, even!--ways to cut costs and live cheap?

Be creative; I'll determine the ethicality on my own.
posted by HotPatatta to Work & Money (68 answers total) 194 users marked this as a favorite
Based on your earlier posts, I gather you're in NYC, so it's unlikely that you have a car. But if you live there and do have a car, get rid of it! Your cost of living will drop by thousands a year.
posted by j-dawg at 12:45 PM on August 19, 2008

Land line or cell phone, but not both.
Cancel your internet and steal from a neighbor, if possible.
Do your own cooking.
Download movies, music and tv shows instead of buying, renting or subscribing to any of them.
Borrow books from friends or the library.
posted by jon_kill at 12:48 PM on August 19, 2008

Instead of ordering a Big Mac at McDonald's, order the Poor Man's Big Mac:

"I'll have a double cheeseburger, make it like a Big Mac."

This almost always works. Depending on the cashier, you will only get charged the dollar or you might only have to pay a few cents more for extra ingredients. Sure you won't get the sesame seed bun, or the extra piece of bread in the middle but you are living cheap, right?
posted by comatose at 12:49 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sell your blood (or, more usually, blood plasma).
Pick up stuff via Freecycle and put it on eBay.
posted by K.P. at 12:54 PM on August 19, 2008

Sigh. Today at Cosi, I accidentally (I swear, it was accidentally) told the cashier I had the hummus sandwich (my usual) when I actually got the turkey. I saved a dollar. I mean, clearly, you don't want to go eat at Cosi when you're trying to cut costs, but this might work for other things.

Also, sometimes I don't tell the cashiers when they ring up my 2.99/lb pluots as 1.29/lb plums. This briefly makes me feel like a really horrible person.
posted by kerning at 12:58 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fully ethical: Buy as much as possible from the bulk bins in your grocery store. Do some price checking to make sure that they're really passing on the savings to you, but where I shop, it's totally worth it, particularly for herbs/spices, grains and tea.

Not ethical, but your call: when buying from the bulk bins, you are usually responsible for labeling your purchases with a product code. Oftentimes products that are visually identical are not qualitatively identical (organic vs. non- for example, or different types of rice) and you could, if you wanted, identify your purchase as being something cheaper than it should be without your checker ever suspecting. I do not do this, but I often wonder how common this practice is, and how much it impacts the cost of bulk goods.
posted by mumkin at 1:00 PM on August 19, 2008

Land line or cell phone, but not both.

Get rid of both—make your calls through Gizmo at only 1.9 cent/min. Or do that for most of your calls and keep a pre-paid mobile phone around when you need one. This is what I do (I actually use GrandCentral so the VoIP calls are free).
posted by grouse at 1:02 PM on August 19, 2008

• Vegetarianism
• Cold wash on gentle, hang dry
• Sweaters instead of space heaters; windows instead of AC
• Libraries
• Download
• Live in the developing world (this one actually works really well, having done it)
posted by mdonley at 1:03 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ghetto latte. (Less likely to piss of your barista: drip coffee).
Check your phone plan-- you're probably paying for more than you need.
Bring your own alcohol (vodka in a water bottle!) to bars, and keep on refreshing one single drink. Alternately, pre-game.
Buy clothes from thrift stores, especially if you like dressing creatively.
Be wiser about waste, and be less forgetful (example: buying toiletries when you're out of town).
If you have any salon/spa expenses, cut those habits.
Be ruthless about finding happy hours, places with portions big enough to bring home, etc.
For dinner, have samples from the cheese shop, or whatever.
If you're young-looking, whip up a student ID to get discounts.
Go to the library instead of buying books (if possible, hold items online so you can get new releases quickly).
Don't buy bottled water, ever.
Spend some time to figure out how you could save on taxes.
Umm, catch double features at the movie theater? Shoplift?!

Could you maybe be more specific about what types of costs you're trying to cut? Generally a good rule of thumb is to take stock of your habits (anything from cigarettes to new computers) and evaluate just how important they are to your life.
posted by acidic at 1:09 PM on August 19, 2008

if you have access to/membership at a Costco I highly recommend that you buy a food vacuum packer, especially great for buying larger (cheaper) quantities of meat, fish, cheeses etc., to store longterm with no loss.
posted by supermedusa at 1:10 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Make friends who like doing stuff without blowing a wad of cash. Live within stumbling distance of a subway station so you don't have to take a cab home even when you're really drunk. And save 10% of your paycheck even if you do nothing but put it in INGDirect or savings bonds - you'll be surprised at how much there is at the end of the year.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2008

I imagine vegetarianism has saved me a ton over the course of my life. Probably also disliking avocados, which are always extra!

Walk instead of taking a cab. Go running outside instead of paying for a gym membership. Make people at bars buy you drinks even if you don't intend to sleep with them.
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Find a sugar momma or daddy and live for free.
posted by teleri025 at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't believe that no one has mentioned dumpster diving yet--it seems exactly the sort of creative / shady thing you're looking for. Hopefully someone with more experience will post after me, but it's pretty amazing what stores throw away. In some cases (as I understand it) they are legally obligated to toss the food, and legally prevented from donating it, so there often really, truly, aren't any reason why you shouldn't eat it. Note that this does not apply to meat, see above re: vegetarianism. (:

I just had the best nectarine of my life the other day, for free, because some fool decided that no one would pay for it.

Then again, often times (especially in the City, I think) they toss out a ton of perfectly great food and then pour bleach on top of it, so there you go.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2008

Dumpster Diving!

on preview, SV beat me to it
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 1:22 PM on August 19, 2008

Oh, if you decide to take Squid Voltaire's advice on dumpster diving and apply it to furniture/other stuff on the curb, I'd think twice - these days I'm a former garbage picker because of all the bed bugs going around.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 1:24 PM on August 19, 2008

(pulls up chair and sits down)

I have been living frugally, in one of the world's most expensive cities (nyc), for the past 10+ years, and I think I'm a lot happier that way.

Some tricks.

* Screw getting a car. That's what the MTA is for.

* Libraries for the books. You can also get DVDs and CDs from there.

* There are an utter crapton of free things to do in this city -- about 10 free film festivals alone. As well as free theater, free concerts, free lectures, free dance...go to them. Make a big calendar for yourself where you write down who's playing what where so you have no excuse.

* Learn to cook, and make your own meals. Have dinner parties to get your friends to come hang out with you ("dinner parties" do not need to be formal affairs, they can be as simple as "hey, the game's on, and I've got some fixin's for everyone to make your own pizzas, wanna come over?").

* Or hell, round up friends for "board game nights" or "pictionary nights" or "trivial pursuit nights" or whatever. I have had a great Easter party once at a friends' house where we did nothing but dye Easter eggs and watch NIGHT OF THE LEPUS and eat candy. Not your typical go-go night in New York, but -- you know, it was fun.

* Find the nearest park and go for a walk. Or find a street you always wanted to know what was on it and go for a walk. Or find any intriguing neighborhood and go for a walk. get the picture. I once walked the entire length of Broadway from the Bronx down to Battery Park -- it's a 20-mile walk -- spending only about seven bucks for lunch and a bottled water somewhere along the way, and had a fascinating afternoon.

* Lots of museums either are pay-what-you-wish generally, or have pay-what-you-wish hours. Others have one day a week or one day a month that are "free to all comers." Check out which museums in your area do which and use that.

* See whether your workplace has a corporate membership in anything and use that. (I now get in free to 95% of the museums in the city because my office has corporate membership.)

* Give youth hostels a try when you're traveling. YOu don't need to be a backpacker, you don't need to be in college, and you don't even need to be a member. You may end up in a bunk bed with 6 other people, but if you can put up with that, you can stay somewhere for about $25 a night (maybe even less).

* Check out whether the extended commuter transit in your area goes anywhere or connects to anything, and make use of that for day trips or even longer-flung evening trips (you can get from New York to Pennsylvania for only $17 each way -- yes, I know you can do that on the bus, but you can also do that from NJ transit's connection to Philadelphia's SEPTA rail system).

(NB: Between the youth hostels and the commuter rail, I once spent a weekend in Philadelphia and spent only about $125 for the ENTIRE TRIP -- transporation, food, lodging, entertainment, EVERYTHING. The most expensive part of the entire vacation was the $22 ticket to the zoo.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:29 PM on August 19, 2008 [9 favorites]

Take basic preventative health measures: eat well, brush your teeth, get enough sleep, exercise, wear a helmet/seatbelt, don't smoke, wash your hands etc. All these are a lot cheaper than health care.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

Go live in a co-op. Expenses/things are shared by the house, so you can sell some of your stuff, hold off on buying a lot of other stuff, and take advantage of all your monthly necessities being bought in bulk. I (a 265 pound person who works out and eats constantly) pay a little over $100 for month for food bought in bulk by the house, plus another $60 or so for meat and other treats. I don't have to worry about buying dish soap, toilet paper, printer paper, pens, etc... I have a whole house full of interesting people to hang out with, so I save a lot of money that would have gone towards entertaining myself in traditional consumerist ways. Our house movie/music/book library is immense. I pay cheap, cheap rent for an enormous room in an enormous house; if I want one of the kitchens or one of our three living rooms to myself or for a gathering, I can almost always get it. This is a bit rambling, but you get the idea.

If you can't find a co-op, consider gathering like minded individuals and starting one.

Here's a place to start:
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

Whenever you use a public bathroom, tuck a fresh roll of toilet paper into your backpack.

Visit friends at times when they're likely to be cooking dinner.

NYC's 99 cent stores are packed with insane finds.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is a pretty simple thing to do, but it takes some finesse to apply: Don't buy shit you don't need. Obvious enough, sure, but it takes a little thinking to find all the stuff you buy that you shouldn't. After housing, food should be your primary expense. If it isn't, you're probably buying something you don't need.

I'm going to stick to the more-or-less ethical end of the spectrum. There's plenty of unethical crap you can do, but if you need me to tell you what those are, you're not elite enough to get away with it anyway.

Making your cup of coffee for yourself every day? Well, I won't tell you to cut it out or switch to grocery store coffee because dammit we have a civilization to uphold but how about using a piece of coffee hardware that doesn't require consumables like filters? Percolators, presses, and vacuum pots just need to be cleaned to be reused.

Keeping your leftovers in those awesome Rubbermaid containers? Sure, go for it. But when you need another, I'd like to introduce you to the concept I like to call the "old sour cream container."

Have cable? Turn that crap off. You're paying them to advertise at you and you're too cheap to get the good channels anyway. Besides, the good channels aren't that good.

Netflix account? Suspend it. You're all about the library now that you're a cheapskate.

Mail in your rent every month? Hey, that's a stamp a month you could avoid buying. Embrace your cheapness and make your bank's free online bill payment service do it.

Pay for internet service? Get a neighbor to share with you instead and run a wire. Offer to cover half the bill, and ideally pick a neighbor who doesn't know what BitTorrent is.

Bank doesn't have free bill payment and interest-bearing checking on all deposit sizes? Find one that does. I've got an ING account with those features, but there are plenty of other banks doing the same thing. Don't buy bank accounts or you're just paying fees to those bastards for the privilege of letting them make money off of your deposit.

Like that fancy-pants organic local green slow fair trade produce from the cute little market or Whole Foods or something? To hell with that. Go find an Asian produce market or a Mexican carneceria and get half the quality at a quarter of the price. Maybe you'll score a deal at a Farmer's Market but in my experience these days Farmer's Markets are more like Farmer's Flea Markets with all kinds of useless craft crap and geegaws on sale now that they're trying to go upscale, and the produce is no better than you'd get in Chinatown anyway.

Thinking about going out and having a couple of drinks with some friends? Hell no! Invite 'em over. That two beers and a cocktail costs less than half to have at home.

Work from home. Even if you're a conscientious transit user -- like most metropolitan people tend to be -- you can save a few bucks a day not going to work. Plus, then you aren't tempted to run out for a slice of pizza at lunch or grab that 3:00 latte.

You have a freezer, right? I mean, it doesn't have to be a big honkin chest freezer with your grandpa's deer carcasses buried 20 feet under the ancient baggies of questionable berries, a regular old freezer is fine. Buy food when it's on sale and freeze it. Bread, meats, veggies, whatever you can get a deal on.

Mooch stuff on Craigslist. A family member broke my camera while I was unemployed, and I put the sob story up on CL since while I don't really care much about taking photographs it was pretty important to other people in my family. The next morning I got an offer for someone's old camera they didn't use in exchange for whatever I thought was fair (I gave 'em a pound of my good coffee).
posted by majick at 1:41 PM on August 19, 2008 [16 favorites]

I'm back with more:

* Find ways to make your own health/grooming care items. This isn't as hard as it sounds, really. And it doesn't mean that you'll be making your own soap using lye as such -- adding a couple extra things to a bottle of Johnson's Baby Shampoo is often the most out-there thing you'd do. (If you are into more elaborate beauty potions -- didn't get your gender, so forgive me if this doesn't apply -- this could get even more fun; rather than shelling out all sorts of money for a weekly hair defrizzing treatment, you can get exactly the same results with a couple spoonfulls of honey and a mushed-up banana. You can do similar froofy spa-type stuff for similarly cheap, so you can get all girly for about five bucks.)

* Find ways to make your own cleaning supplies. A big bottle of vinegar, water, some plain liquid soap, and lemon juice in a variety of combinations will make 95% of the cleaning supplies you will need. I've even found a way to make my own powdered laundry detergent by running a bar of soap, a cup borax, and some baking soda together in a food processor. And -- it works better than Tide!

* Take up some kind of handcraft -- be it knitting or sewing or beading or papercraft or something of that sort. You will have to invest in the materials, yes, but those can always be found for fairly inexpensively, and you will get twice the enjoyment out of it -- you'll get the entertainment when you're making it, and you'll have something when you're done that you can either keep yourself or give to someone else. Handmade stuff is always a score when it comes to gift-giving (I make jam, and I've often used jam as a last-minute "oh, crap, I forgot to get a present for Aunt Cindy" or "wow, neighbors downstairs, thanks for letting me crawl through your window to get back in my place after I locked myself out" gift).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:46 PM on August 19, 2008 [5 favorites]

Ride a bike.
posted by rocketman at 1:52 PM on August 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

An oldie but a goodie: Meal planning around grocery store flyers. My local supermarket allows you to create shopping lists based around the flyer for that week and then lets you email it to yourself. So every week or so I go through all the discounts and select cheap protein sources for the week. I then plan meals for the week around them. I do this pretty loosely since I like to fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to cooking dinner. For example, if chicken breasts are on sale I'll probably buy a big value pack of those and decide how to prepare it based on what vegetables are on sale. It helps if you're good at cooking without a recipe and have a good idea of what normal prices for most items at the store are. Certain items I know I'll need sooner or later (for example, paper towels or oil) and I watch for sales for such items. I've been doing this seriously for about 2 months now and I save 20-25% consistently.
posted by peacheater at 2:00 PM on August 19, 2008

You're in NYC?

Go to bars like The Charleston, Alligator Lounge, etc. that give you a free pizza with a drink.

My old roommate was super cheap and used to buy cheap salads by weight and sneak more expensive things in there (like organic chicken salad) underneath it.

Day old stuff from bakeries.

Eat from street carts or 24-hour places (sometimes even cheaper than cooking for yourself).

Live in a shitty apartment. I paid $350 for my last spot in South Williamsburg.

Find specials (like $1 a slice pizza on St. Marks, 5 shots for $10 at Continental, etc)

Buy whatever food is the native food at the bodegas of the predominant ethnicity of your neighborhood and cook at home.

Bring a flask.
posted by atomly at 2:11 PM on August 19, 2008

You save the most by cutting your biggest expenses, which are;
- housing - find a roommate situation with really cheap rent, or join a coop, or live in a van. I knew someone who camped 2/3 of the year in a wooded area.
- transportation - no car, transport pass; be good to friends with cars for when you need a favor
- food - eat lots of grains, buy what's on sale in the dented can bin, make food from scratch, work part time at a bakery and get lots of day old delicious baked goods

Get great at scrounging. Craigslist Free section and freecycle are awesome. Get a part-time job helping movers and you'll get great stuff from people who don't want to move it.

Be handy, and learn to repair broken stuff so you can re-sell it. People discard amazing stuff because they can't be bothered to fix it.

Lots of people in my area pick up scrap metal, take it to the recycler and get cash.

Give up materialism. You can eat well, participate in amazing cultural events, and have lots of fun with friends even if you don't care about expensive shoes or a cool bike. The more expensive stuff you have, the more you have to take care of it and worry about it getting stolen. I know somebody who scavenged a bike that looked so useless, it was never stolen, but it worked fine to get him everywhere. Develop a frugal attitude. There are lots of frugal living blogs.
posted by Mom at 2:32 PM on August 19, 2008

Electronics sans fruit logos. Interlibrary loan.
posted by Theloupgarou at 2:34 PM on August 19, 2008


Vegetarianism isn't necessarily cheaper than being omnivorous; it's actually one reason why low-income people are more obese than wealthier people.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:37 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've often thought at church-organized meals that a well-organized person could probably eat a good percentage of their meals for free by keeping track of all the religious organizations in a decent urban radius. You might start getting a lot of "want to be a member" hassle after a while but many churches would allow you to freeload pretty much indefinitely.

If you do live in New York you're in the most expensive rental market in the country, with average rents about double what I'm paying for the mortgage on a 3 bedroom house in Minneapolis.
posted by nanojath at 2:40 PM on August 19, 2008

-Shop at ethnic markets. I live close to a Chinatown and produce is ridiculously cheap, like 40 cents a pound for apples vs. $2.50 at a normal store. They have meat, seafood, and all kinds of spices and things and they are all cheap. A lot of the produce is bruised or not "perfect" but if you sift through it you can food the good stuff and a slightly bruised apple never hurt anyone.

-Save everything and use it. I save vegetable scraps in the freezer and when I have a lot I make vegetable stock. I save bones and meat scraps and if I go out I ask for a doggie bag to bring home anything that could be used to make stock also. Homemade stock is delicious and can be used to make risotto, soups, etc. Stale bread = bread crumbs. Overripe bananas = banana bread. If I fry bacon the grease gets saved in a jar in the fridge to use to fry or flavor something later.

-Ride a bike.

-Download everything, bittorrent is your friend. Get your friends to hook you up with invites to private sites, they are the best.

-For cleaning I buy a big, cheap gallon of Simple Green concentrate from the hardware store and dilute it with water according to the instructions. It lasts forever, is non-toxic, and cleans anything.

-This may or may not be an option for you: I cut my own hair. I just buzz it off with a set of clippers every week or so, takes only a few minutes and I haven't had to pay for a haircut in years.

-Save old containers. I specifically buy things I know I can re-use (ie. Classico pasta sauce comes in standard mason jars, you can get the lids at any grocery store and re use them for forever).
posted by bradbane at 2:41 PM on August 19, 2008

Vegetarianism isn't necessarily cheaper than being omnivorous; it's actually one reason why low-income people are more obese than wealthier people.

Gotta disagree. Meat is the most expensive part of any diet, hands down, even the McDonalds dollar menu, and that's not including future healthcare costs.
posted by piedmont at 2:46 PM on August 19, 2008

Best answer: Awesome post. This is stuff that I have done, thought about doing, or knew someone else who has done the following:

Only go to restaurants that serve free biscuits, bread, and tortilla chips. Don't order anything to eat, and only order water to drink. If you're bold enough, ask for a lot of lemons. Squeeze the lemons in your water and then add some sugar, and you'll have lemonade. Voila! I'd suggest you only do this when you eat out with other don't want servers to get mad at you and refuse you service the next time around.

Ride your bike half way to a destination, tie it up somewhere safe, then take a cab for the rest of your trip.

Drive your car half way to a destination, walk or hitchhike the rest of the way.

Four hotel, continental breakfasts.

If you go to a large university...park at an apartment complex or business near by, walk to the nearest shuttle bus stop, you'll save money by using purchasing a parking permit.

Poop at public places to save tp, water, and soap.

Go to the 'hood and sell fried chicken, bbq, and baked goods from the trunk of your car.

Become a stripper! Get paid for showing your goodies!

Sell ADD and pain medication. Colleges is the best place to sell them.

Get drunk off of mouthwash instead of booze.

Breed your pets and sell the babies. If you are too poor to buy one, ask for baby pet that someone else has. People usually want to get rid of some of their pet's babies or at least some of them. Let the baby grow up and breed it. Or snatch a stray and breed that.

Get a house with a wood fireplace instead of a electric one. It will make your gas bill a lot cheaper.

Get an apartment unit that is centrally located, heat should radiate from adjacent units, so you can use less of yours. Again cheaper gas bills.

Stay home less as possible on really hot days so you don't have to turn on the AC. Hang out at malls, churches, libraries, and coffee houses to cool down.

Some cheap supplements are as effective as expensive prescription medications. Do your research though.

There's a LOT more, I just can't think of everything right now.
posted by sixcolors at 2:56 PM on August 19, 2008

Majick is right about the cable, I never understood why someone would pay for ads. We are such a bunch of suckers.

Heat rises, get an upper floor apartment.

Cheap beer does the same thing as 12 bucks a six pack beers do.

Dare I mention thrift stores? My old lady's entire work wardrobe cost her like 10 bucks ( welder, burns a lotta shirts).

Brown bag lunch, fast food blows anyway.
posted by Max Power at 2:58 PM on August 19, 2008

That is...

you'll save money by NOT purchasing a parking permit.
posted by sixcolors at 2:58 PM on August 19, 2008

"Breed your pets and sell the babies. If you are too poor to buy one, ask for baby pet that someone else has. People usually want to get rid of some of their pet's babies or at least some of them. Let the baby grow up and breed it. Or snatch a stray and breed that."

At the risk of climbing on an inappropriate soapbox, please don't do this. You even point out the folly of doing this: "people usually want to get rid of some of their pet's babies." So why start breeding unnecessarily when there are no homes for them and your motivation is less than honorable? If there's one thing this country doesn't need, it's more homeless animals.
posted by hollisimo at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2008 [18 favorites]

Gotta disagree. Meat is the most expensive part of any diet, hands down, even the McDonalds dollar menu, and that's not including future healthcare costs.

I guess you missed the word 'necessarily'.

I can go to any of the little Chinese markets in the Little Chinatown area of Vancouver and buy cuts of pork, chicken drumsticks, beef shin meat, and so forth for as little as $0.49/lb, and not necessarily even have to buy in bulk. That's cheaper than lettuce. That's cheaper than imported field tomatoes. It's cheaper than most fruit, it's cheaper than the cheapest day-old bread, it's cheaper than anything in a can. About the only stuff it's more expensive than is bulk staples like flour or rice or dried beans -- and not even then in most cases. I can't use a 50 pound sack of flour before the bugs get at it, but I can stick fifty pounds of chicken drumsticks in my freezer indefinitely.

"Go vegetarian" is less a piece of advice to eat cheaply and more a political statement. "Shop around and buy less expensive food" is better advice.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:42 PM on August 19, 2008 [4 favorites]

The simplest way to cut costs is to figure out everything you spend money on and stop spending money on it or find ways to slash the costs of those things. If you are serious, this will take preparation

- un auto-billpay everything
- claim your wallet was stolen and get all new CC numbers so everything you autopay will require you to reup
- group your expenses into luxuries, pretty important and mission critical
- stop paying for luxuries, people have given you some good ways to do this above
- figure out if you can make the lifestyle choices to go without pretty important (stuff like haircuts, work clothes, etc)
- do the same for mission critical, at the bare minimum cut costs

Look, we all need shelter at some level. How far are you willing to go to save money on it? Would you be a caretaker? Would you live with someone who needed assistance in their home? Would you live in an RV? Would you couchsurf with friends?

The true answer to how to do what you are asking is to figure out how hardcore you are about money versus all the other things that are important in your life. You have indicated that you might be willing to slide ethically, but are you willing to sleep outside? Would you mooch off of your friends in order to save money? Would you break the law? Would you switch your jobs?

I am only asking because it's easy to quit paying for cable, it's a lot harder to, say, decide you want to live in an East Village squat but people do it all the time. The great thing about these answers is you get an idea of what other people's limits are and you can figure out how to adjust your own. I just started paying more that $350/mo rent for the first time in my entire life this month, and I had a little pang about it because I've been living cheaply abd placing a priority on that. On the other hand it was time to stop caretaking the crazyhouse and get a place on my own because peace of mind and good sleep became more important than a few hundred dollars a month. Everyone makes choices.

So with that in mind, my short list. Anything you say "eww, no" to is somewhere that you and I draw the line differently, naturally. Actually I don't do all of these things, but I've considered all of them.

- go bare bones on personal hygeine, develop a style that works on the cheap. eschew hair gunk, haircuts, smelly stuff you don't get free, pit wax and anything that isn't soap. Buy soap on sale. Get it for birthdays. Shower infrequently.
- Anything you pay money for where you live, try to get it elsewhere. Hot water? Shower at the gym or at work (note I consider my $20/mo for the gym mission critical for sanity and sociability). Trash pickup? Compost and recycle within an inch of your life and buy stuff that is as little packaged as possible. Electricity, sit in the dark, sleep and rise with the sun.
- Stop buying clothes. Stop buying music, books, movies, gadgets.
- Do not own a car. Do not own a pet. Do not own plants.
- Never redecorate. Never vacation. Never have friends over.
- Never change your style.

Remember that in the US there are still things that are free and wonderful. These include the library and the great outdoors. Make ample use of both of them. Also, time spent with other people can often be low or no cost and enjoyable and rejuvenating. Consider actually not just spending less but actually returning value to your community. With all your free time that you're not spending money, maybe you could use some of your surplus value -- because I suspect you have some -- helping out at a pet shelter (free pets) or a homeless shelter (free food) or someplace else that gives you some perspective (free) on what problems other people are grappling with that someone like you is in a position to actually help with. Put your energies and efforts back into the system that returns so much to you for free, let the cycle continue. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 4:54 PM on August 19, 2008 [19 favorites]

Oh, yeah: definitely buy from thrift stores.

I've got a buddy; we'll call him Tony, because that's his name. He lives in an apartment that costs him $1400 a month. He leases a New Beetle convertible. He buys $100 Hugo Boss shirts. He nearly always eats out; the last time I saw the inside of his fridge it had a bottle of mustard, a bottle of ketchup and a bag of kaiser rolls.

Me? Right now I net about $400 a week as a part-time freelancer. I have simplified my life, but I live in Vancouver, one of the most expensive cities on the continent, or so the numbers tell us. I pay $680 a month for rent, utilities and Internet by sharing a house. I pay $45 a month for my cell phone, which I consider to be a kind of insurance. $54/month for provincial health premiums. I cook nearly all of my meals, and am omnivorous. I spend under $45/week on groceries, and that's enough to feed visitors and support my cola habit. When I need a 'new' shirt, jacket or pair of pants, I go to Value Village, and rarely pay more than $7 for a dress shirt (more often $3).

So Tony shows off his $100 shirt. I show him mine. "You know what the difference is? The difference is the $97 in my fuckin' wallet, chump."

My monthly living expenses are less than $1000 a month. I'll give you one guess who has more disposal income and more free time.


- Cook most of your own meals. If you don't know how, learn. It's easy.
- Buy used clothing
- Share accommodation; you may get more privacy than you might imagine.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:55 PM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Let's talk Paper Towels and Wine:

Don't buy paper towels. Buy cloth napkins instead. They look classy and they're reusable whereas paper towels are pure waste. I have cheap cloth napkins for myself plus some nice ones for when I have company. If you must buy paper towels, for the love of god, make sure you buy the select-a-size kind. The size of a regular paper towel is intentionally huge. And it's all waste. A waste of money and a waste of trees.

Find discounts on wine. At Safeway, you get a 10% discount if you buy six bottles at a time. "Don't mind if I do!" I'm sure other stores must do something similar.
posted by 2oh1 at 5:13 PM on August 19, 2008

If you go out for the day (to museums, the movies, shopping, wherever), bring your own snacks. Those cheap peanut-butter cheese crackers in small packages are great, but anything you take with you will most likely be cheaper than buying a snack off the street or in a cafe. During the week (if you work a 9-5 type job), bring your lunch every single day. It's okay to be that cheap guy who never goes out to the deli with the co-workers. Really!
posted by Jemstar at 5:30 PM on August 19, 2008

Don't take money or credit cards with you when you leave the house, so you aren't tempted to buy anything you don't need.

Carry a water bottle and fill it up in public bathrooms/drinking fountains so you don't buy sodas or coffees or whatever.

Steal salt, pepper, sugar packets. If you're less scrupulous, steal ketchup, hot sauce, syrup bottles from restaurant tables. Steal napkins, steal toilet paper.

Learn to cut your own hair. It's not that hard, have a friend help you with the back if you need it.

Learn to mend your own clothes. A few pennies worth of thread can save an old shirt or sweater, and make holey underwear and socks functional (if not pretty) again. Some basic sewing skills will also allow you to alter thrift-store and hand-me-down clothes to fit better. If there are any clothing factories nearby, look for sales of defective merchandise, which are often perfectly good, or only in need of a small patch.

Take advantage of free food wherever you can find it. Wouldn't your grandma like you to stop by for dinner? Pretend you're a guest at hotels with comp breakfasts. Go to bakeries, bagel shops, etc at the end of the day and ask politely if you can have the left-over baked goods, free or discounted-- they often just get thrown out. Church groups often have get-togethers with free snacks or pizza, especially those aimed at young crowds. AA meetings have coffee (and sometimes donuts).

When you need quick cash: sell plasma. Model nude for art classes. Participate in research studies-- check your local university (particularly the psych department), drug company, or research hospital for opportunities.
posted by bookish at 5:33 PM on August 19, 2008

Don't carry a balance on your credit cards. Ever. Do that, and you're throwing money away. Do, however, use credit cards. Definitely! Charge the stuff you would have put on your debit card on your credit card instead - for the rewards points. Just make sure you always Always ALWAYS always pay it off each month.

Every year, I get free money in the form of gift-cards from Discover. Since I don't ever carry a balance, there was never any cost to me.

Also - the benefit of having a zero balance each month is that it's very easy to negotiate with the credit card company. Call them up and get your interest rate lowered - just in case you ever do carry a balance (which you shouldn't).

While you're at it, call the cable company and negotiate with them too. I like having cable (I'm a news junky, plus I love The Daily Show and Colbert). I called this afternoon and got my bill lowered by over a third for the next 6 months (and it'll still be 1/4 lower for the following six months, at which time, I have a note in my calendar to remind me to call and negotiate the bill again).

Don't you.... love... to... NEGOTIATE? (said in my best Shatner voice)
posted by 2oh1 at 5:40 PM on August 19, 2008

Also--I've found that by keeping very little cash on hand (max $5) most of the time, I'm less inclined to buy things without thinking about it. It's easy to decline to do or buy things if you don't have the cash in your wallet, regardless of how much you may have in your bank account. Plus, you can honestly avoid lending people money this way.
posted by Jemstar at 5:44 PM on August 19, 2008

At the risk of climbing on an inappropriate soapbox, please don't do this. You even point out the folly of doing this: "people usually want to get rid of some of their pet's babies." So why start breeding unnecessarily when there are no homes for them and your motivation is less than honorable? If there's one thing this country doesn't need, it's more homeless animals.

I didn't mean sell all the babies to one person. I'm sure someone would love to buy a single kitten or puppy at a cheap price.

But, I doubt the OP would even do it. I never did it, and I only know one or two people who has. The OP said they would determine the ethicality own their own, anyway. I just listed what I knew or thought of.
posted by sixcolors at 5:56 PM on August 19, 2008

An amazing resource for this type of thing is the (UK-centric, but probably still full of relevant stuff) MoneySavingExpert forums.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:31 AM on August 20, 2008

If it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down.
posted by bobber at 7:01 AM on August 20, 2008

Go through your cabinets every now and then and return the unopened food you never ate to buy food you do want. Ethical? Probably not. Legal? You bet.
posted by hipersons at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2008

Pay off your credit cards, then cut them up. You don't want to pay any interest. Pick your smallest debt, add 50 bucks more than you have been paying on it, and when its paid off, add that whole payment to the next debt's payment. keep rolling the total amounts onto each bill until they are all gone.

Ditch cable, any phone extras--I'd keep just a cell phone, and I'd cut off any additional charges on that too (get only as much as you need).

buy new clothes rarely, and buy them at the end of the season off the clearance rack.

If you have the hookups, get your own washer and dryer. buy used ones off Cragislist. I got a set for $40 bucks. MUCH cheaper than the laundrymat. Use about half the soap the detergent people recommend. Wash in cold water. Dry on a line if possible, then toss it in the dryer to fluff it up at the end.

buy used furniture

Drink water, not pop, both at home and if you eat out.

Eggs are a cheap source of good protein. Pour a scrambled one into your Ramen while its cooking.

Shop later at night to get meats on cheaper prices. My local grocery sells all the deli meats they have presliced (the popular stuff) for about 1/3 of the price at 8:00, as they can't keep it till the next day. Rotisserie chickens are on for 40% off at the same time.

use the library for your reading materials, including newspapers and magazines.

I personally couldn't give up internet access, but you can do that at the library too.

use your computer to watch television and listen to the radio, so you won't need as much electronic gear.
posted by midwestguy at 7:42 AM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

2oh1 I totally do this, too. I actually had a wine party, rented the plates and glasses and put out my nice fabric napkins. Even though we had a lot of people over, many people chose to not use a plate or a napkin and reused what they did use. I've done the same in the past with disposables, and it was amazing to see the difference in usage. With the disposables, people used and threw out at least double what they did at the party with the reusable things.

So yeah, I agree with investing in some cheap reusable things, it will save you money in the long run for not having to re-buy.
posted by hipersons at 9:06 AM on August 20, 2008

I second the 'do your own haircuts' thing. charity shops. If you live somewhere cold tape bubblewrap over the windows and close the curtains in the early evening in winter. Wear more clothes at home.
posted by daveydave at 9:32 AM on August 20, 2008

Pick up stuff via Freecycle and put it on eBay.


Remember it costs a listing fee to put something on eBay at all, and not every eBay listing will sell, particularly used household items. You could actually lose money trying this. So setting aside the fact that selling Freecycle stuff is against their rules and makes you a total douche, it's also not the Eureka instant-profit scheme it sounds like at first.

How about: scan freecycle for no-cost items you need to live. It's a great resource.
posted by scarabic at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Wash your hair with baking soda. I swore off shampoo and conditioner a few months ago, and let me tell you, it is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Shampoo is a detergent; it does a great job of cleaning your hair but strips away all natural oils and conditioners, which requires you to re-add synthetic oils in the form of conditioner. It may feel and look similar, but your head isn't fooled. When you wash your hair every day or every other day with shampoo, your hair produces an inordinate amount of natural oils in order to replenish what the shampoo washed away. This, plus the conditioner, makes your hair oily and greasy after only a few days. Have you ever tried to go more than a couple days without washing your hair? It probably gets messy.

Baking Soda doesn't remove any of the natural oils from your hair. No need for conditioner, and your hair doesn't overcompensate by turning your head into an oil slick. I use baking soda about once every five days and my hair looks and feels nearly identical to how it did when I used regular shampoo and conditioner.

One tbsp of baking soda to a cup or so of water, mix it up, rub it into your head, and rinse. If you like your hair to smell fragrant (as opposed to no smell at all), try making your own conditioner with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice mixed with water.

I would recommend anyone try this, it's really a revelation. And it's way cheap compared to shampoo and conditioner! Plus baking soda has a ton of other household uses (dishes, laundry, etcetera etcetera etcetera).
posted by jckll at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2008 [12 favorites]

Instead of finding ways to drink booze for cheaper, just don't drink at all.
posted by idledebonair at 9:39 AM on August 20, 2008

Anyone who thinks they can make money breeding and selling mixed breed puppies or kittens has never actually totaled up the real costs of raising pets. Pets need vet care, feeding, etc. Even when breeding pure-breed puppies and kittens and selling them for $$$ it can be very hard to make a profit. Please do NOT do this or suggest this to anyone else. Odds are high that the outcome will be more unwanted puppies and kittens in the shelter, and/or a pet that needs vet care that the owner can't pay for, or doesn't want to pay for.
posted by jcdill at 11:10 AM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

art openings and university events often have free food and booze.
posted by RedEmma at 11:32 AM on August 20, 2008

I can't believe no one has mentioned incarceration!

There is no way to live more cheaply than to be in jail. I don't recommend going in with hardened criminals, but you can definitely score a good gig at a resort prison by cheating or avoiding paying your taxes. Then, not only do you save money by avoiding taxes, but you can go to jail for a couple of years and relax while the taxpayers pay for you to watch cable and play Tennis in the yard. Double whammy!

Maybe you could even work on a degree while you're in. Talk about win, win, win!
posted by noir at 12:56 PM on August 20, 2008 [9 favorites]

Unethical : You can buy the more expensive organic produce for the price of conventional produce by using the self-checkout. Organic produce has a 5-digit plu number -- it's the same plu number as the conventional produce, but with a 9 at the beginning. So, for example, the number of a conventional fuji apple is 4131. An organic one is 94131. Just leave off the leading 9 when you key in the code.
posted by Dave Faris at 1:12 PM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine used to spend the day picking up things listed for free on craigslist, cleaning them, and selling them on craigslist. He made enough to live reasonably well in LA doing so, until he found a job he liked.

I also second giving up shampoo and conditioner. I'm on 6 months of cleaning my hair with baking soda, and I doubt I'll ever go back.

Other options:
-move to Panama
-go homeless
-move back in with your mom
-become The Guy Who Always Forgets His Wallet when you go out with friends
-dine and dash
posted by duckierose at 1:14 PM on August 20, 2008

Ramen noodles, 10 for $1. And the way I usually cook it is to toss out the water, and just eat the noodles, dressed with a couple teaspoons of oil and the flavor packet mixed in the bottom of the bowl, and a some frozen vegetables.

If you have a credit card balance, call your credit card provider and say (exactly) "I want to pay my debt in full. I don't want to declare bankruptcy or switch my balance to another company. How much can you lower my interest rate so that I can stay with you?" This will get their attention, and, provided you have been good about paying your balances, they will usually bend over backwards to try and lower your interest rates. While we're at it, ditch any credit cards that offer you miles or points in favor for the lowest rates possible.
posted by Dave Faris at 1:40 PM on August 20, 2008

Do not leave your house on your days off. At all. If you do, walk where you go and carry no more than 1$ in quarters (for an emergency pay phone call). I haven't filled up my truck in over a month doing this. I also find that if I am not face to face with consumer items, I am not tempted.

I am also avoiding ebay.

My house is full of crap that I have bought to do. Economizing is a good incentive to enjoy all those potential projects/hobbies you have already spent money on.
posted by Emintx at 5:19 PM on August 20, 2008

Get a crock pot. Buy cheap, tough meat. Serve with rice.
posted by djb at 6:27 PM on August 20, 2008

Search Craigslist for free haircuts. I got this idea from a NY Times article about some clever ways recent grads were making ends meet in NY.
posted by tenaciousd at 6:56 PM on August 20, 2008

Response by poster:
If it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down.

posted by HotPatatta at 7:14 PM on August 20, 2008

I can't believe no one has mentioned SPROUTS! Sprouts are the #1 best food bargain if you sprout them yourself. You start with a couple tablespoons of cheap dried beans, grains, seeds and end up with a quart jar packed full of the most nutritious enzyme/antioxidant richest foods known. things you can't buy in a pill. Sprouting your own food can save a ton and the long term health benefits are priceless.
posted by OneCrayon at 3:10 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Buy large bottle of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. Dilute! Use it for everything.
posted by snofoam at 7:19 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oooh -- my roommate just turned me on to You list books that you don't want any more that are in decent condition; if someone wants one, they email you, and you ship it to them (they do make you pay for shipping, but you can ship book rate so it's usually only a couple bucks). For every book you ship to someone, you get a point -- which you can then use to request a book someone ELSE has posted, which they then pay to ship to YOU.

They also have related and similar sites for swapping DVDs and CDs as well.

I've gotten three points so far (the old roommate moved out to Australia and left behind an ENORMOUS amount of crap, and we've been having tag sales and such ever since), and am starting to think about books I may want. You are at the mercy of what other people have listed, so it can at times be hit-or-miss in terms of selection. But -- hell, free books (well, okay, you need to shell out a couple bucks first). Always a good thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:28 AM on August 21, 2008

Read The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn

Also, I've started trying to keep a tally of the good frugal-related threads here at MeFi - in my profile, my favorite posts are all about frugality (as I define it) and resource-conservation.

(Whereas my favorite comments are often the first comment of a post that would otherwise be favorited (along with, well, my favorite comments) . In the spirit of tightwaddery, I dual-purposed MeFi's favorite-mechanism)
posted by eclectist at 11:19 PM on August 28, 2008

Buy a big jar of peanut butter and a loaf of raisin bread. Make peanut butter sandwiches for lunch at work--you can get a lot of lunches fairly cheap on that deal.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 7:13 PM on September 1, 2008

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