Frugal Tips That Go Too Far

I consider myself a frugal person.  I like finding ways to cut back on our expenses so that we can put money toward our goals or fun activities/purchases.  However, I often come across frugal tips that make me think “No way!”  Either the trade-offs don’t make financial sense, I find the alternate activity unpalatable for some reason, or it just wouldn’t work in our family – whatever the reason, I’ve read plenty of tips that I’m not willing to implement.


I’ll share with you some examples of tips that I’m not willing to try as well as some that I have.  This is a very subjective list so you’re welcome to share in your comments how you use some tips that I think wouldn’t work or how what I do goes too far in your mind!  (And of course, if our financial situation were tighter, I’m sure there are plenty of “too far” tips that might start looking more attractive.)


10 Frugal Tips that Go Too Far


1. Cancel your home internet service – I don’t know how we would survive without internet at home!  We’ve already canceled cable (see below) so our entertainment comes largely over the internet – Netflix/Hulu and online video games, for a start.  Add to that Kyle working from home quite often and the overall dependence we have on being able to look things up online and this one doesn’t seem feasible for us.  We like our mindless entertainment!  I know some people use their smartphones when they need internet access at home, which is somewhat of a stopgap.


2. Bike to work – Don’t get me wrong, I like this tip a lot and it definitely works for others.  I had some hopes to do this when I first moved to NC but our town is about as bike-unfriendly as it gets.  The route I would have to use to get to work has a large section of narrow (barely any shoulder), windy, hilly, and unlit road.  (Don’t ask me how or why there are no streetlights on this road.  It makes no sense.)  I don’t have enough confidence in myself or the drivers around here to do go that route daily.


3. Give up your smartphone – I don’t have a smartphone but Kyle does, and having one in the family makes all the difference.  He actually went a few months without it two years ago when he was waiting for a contract to end, and it didn’t work out well.  We rely on the smartphone heavily for GPS navigation and being able to stay connected to our email while out.  Kyle in particular is vigilant about responding to his advisor’s emails when he receives them.  I might have thought that this tip would work for us except for the period when we actually tried it – we survived but it wasn’t pleasant!


4. Negotiate – No.  I don’t do this.  It’s not in my personality.  I recognize it’s a defect and that I should work on it but I haven’t.  Similarly disadvantaged, Kyle attempted to negotiate with our cable company to reduce our price and failed.  I’ve heard that you can sometimes negotiate lower prices at stores using cash, but to me it’s not worth it to carry the cash.  When I get a real job I will negotiate salary and benefits, and maybe that will help me over the hump to doing it in everyday life.


5. Buy less-processed and slice at home – We often do this for vegetables, but I would never implement this for cheese even though it would shave a bit off our grocery bills.  I use shredded cheese on at least one or two dishes per day and Kyle and I both used sliced cheese.  It’s not worth the time to me to grate or slice it and then clean up the kitchen utensils used.


6. Eliminate meat from your diet (or reduce) – Hell no.  We love our meat.  Humans evolved eating meat and that’s what our bodies are suited to digest, not cereal grains.  (Can you tell I’ve been reading about the Paleo diet?  The pot shots Robb Wolf against vegans and vegetarians that he sprinkles throughout The Paleo Solution made me chuckle every time.)


7. Hypermile – Our cars are already fairly fuel-efficient and I like to get places fast.


8. Stockpile discounted non-perishables – We live in an apartment that is already stuffed with wedding gifts.  Honestly, we barely have room for the bulk packages of paper towels and toilet paper that we get from Costco.  If we bought more we would have to use them as living room furniture.


9. Unplug your electronics when not in use – I can’t even imagine what a pain this would be.  I actually suggested it to Kyle a few months ago and he refused.  This is one where the rewards are not worth the time we would put in.  Plus Kyle often has to leave his desktop on overnight to run simulations for work.


10. Take shorter/cooler showers – I like hot showers and Kyle likes long showers.  This is one of life’s little pleasures that I’m not willing to give up!

Reflecting on this list, I think it’s funny that conservation arguments would be much more effective at getting me to implement some of these tips than money-saving arguments (2, 6, 7, 10).


Now for the tips we do employ!


10 Frugal Tips We Actually Use


1. Cancel your cable subscription – We cut out cable shortly after we got married.  We get our TV from Netflix, Hulu, and over-the-air broadcasts.  I really don’t miss it and the only frustrating part is not being able to watch all the sports we want, but another couple in our basketball group invites us over quite often to watch the games we don’t have access to.  I can’t wait until the current cable model fails and we can do a-la-carte subscriptions.


2. Air-dry your laundry – We’ve been doing this for a few months now and have definitely noticed a drop in our power bill.  We hang up all our clothes to dry except jeans, socks, my underwear, and towels.  We live in an apartment and don’t have a ton of room to line-dry, so we just put our clothes on hangers and put them on the shower rod in our second bathroom overnight.  Works great!


3. Delay upgrading electronics – I have had my cell phone since 2006 and Kyle has had his for almost 2 years.  We have no plans to upgrade his but mine is on its last legs.  I think it’s served me well and has definitely held the line against lifestyle inflation!  I also recently found out I can get my 1st generation iPod nano (bought in 2005) replaced because of a manufacturing defect, even though it still works fine – woohoo!


4. Buy used – Both our cars were bought used, most of our furniture is from craigslist, and part of the surround-sound system Kyle set up is refurbished.  (I draw the line at buying used clothes, however.  It just ooks me out – I don’t even borrow clothes from friends or family.)


5. Install ceiling fans – We installed our third fan last summer and definitely noticed a drop in our power bill from our reduced A/C use.


6. Bring your lunch to work – I haven’t had to buy any food at work in a year at least.  I really just prefer to eat food I prepared!  Kyle doesn’t always bring his lunch but he never buys – he has a lot of opportunities to get free food and he freakishly doesn’t need to eat for hours at a time.


7. Cut your hair at home (for men) – We attempted this for the first time a couple weeks ago and it went fairly well!  The clippers we bought paid for themselves in just one session.  (I wouldn’t let Kyle cut my hair though, especially now that I’m getting complicated bangs and layering.  Maybe back when I was keeping it all the same length we could have done it at home.)


8. Use permanent water bottles – Yep.  All the time.  No-brainer.


9. Buy store brand groceries – We do this almost 100% and it’s rare that I would prefer a name brand of anything.  I think the only name brands we still buy are Kraft macaroni and cheese and Oreos.


10. Cancel your magazine/newspaper subscriptions – I haven’t had a subscription to a magazine since my parents got internet access, and we get free newspapers at work.  It’s all online anyway so why pay for print?

There are also a few tips about which Kyle and I feel and behave differently.


“House Divided” Tips


1. Eat free food whenever offered – Kyle does this and it probably saves him a couple meals per week.  I am picky so I virtually never eat free food at work.


2. Give up soda/coffee/juice/etc. – I gave up non-water beverages over a year ago, but Kyle still buys soda and milk regularly and juice and beer occasionally.  Thankfully he has greatly reduced his soda intake since college and neither one of us likes coffee.  It’s amazing how expensive beverages can be.


3. Carpool – We live in the same place and work at the same place, but we only drive together 1-2 times per week.  Carpooling every day would save us gas and the cost of a parking permit ($270/year).  Kyle likes his freedom to keep variable working hours, though, and we have different after-work activities that we usually go to straight from work.  I think we could swing this with some effort but Kyle thinks it’s worth the money to remain flexible.

And finally, a couple tips that intrigue me but that I haven’t tried.


Possibly not worth it


1. Dumpster diving – It’s not the food that keeps me from trying this but the legality issue, and the effort to become part of a community that knows what it’s doing.


2. Couponing – Maybe I’m mistaken, but I think we mostly buy things that don’t have coupons, like vegetables.  And we get nearly all our non-perishables from Costco.

Are there any tips in my “too far” list that you use and enjoy?  What tips would never work for your family?


photo from coneslayer


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21 Responses to "Frugal Tips That Go Too Far"

  1. H says:

    I’m very comfortable in the “frugal person” role, so I love this post! N and I agree that even though we can afford to not be frugal, it’s kind of fun. Plus we enjoy putting those saved dollars toward other things, like pricey road bikes or plane tickets to see family and friends.

    Re: Tips that go too far…

    I think I could be convinced to do (or already do) almost all of these except #1. However, I do know people who have smartphones that use it as their internet source. Wherever the phone is, the internet is. It makes a lot of sense for single people.

    In choosing all four apartments I’ve lived in since 2008 (two in Los Angeles, two in a rural area), the ability to use non-personal-vehicle transportation as my main mode of transportation has played a major factor. Have you considered making this a priority when choosing a place to live?

    I, too, rarely negotiate–but I find thrift stores (another frugal tip!) to be the perfect place to test out your negotiation skills. “I think each of these are 75 cents each… can I pay 5 bucks to get all 10?” and I left with a stack of nearly-new 3-ring binders.

    I prefer to buy less-processed cheese anyway–it tastes better and is
    “better” for you. I never thought of this as a money-saving technique. For me, one extra knife or the cheese grater doesn’t tip the scale that much when it comes to washing dishes.

    There are lots of good arguments for and against reducing meat from one’s diet. I haven’t taken any informed-action to change how much meat is in my diet, but I do enjoy meat-less meals a few times a week.

    “Hypermiling” I had to google that one. Turns out I do some of those techniques already! It’s just how I learned to drive. I loved calculating my fuel efficiency in high school, to the point where you could say I was hypermiling as an individual sport. Of course, there are occasions where I’m in a rush and these techniques go out the window, but once they become habit, they’re not hard to practice regularly.

    I’ve read #9 may not do that much cost-savings anyway, but we do this when we leave for over a week.

    As for #10–Several times in high school I spent a week in Mexico building houses and staying near the site. With no real plumbing, showers consisted of 2 gallon water containers we let warm in the sun while we worked that were then placed on a shelf, and let to trickle when we unplugged the stopper. Of course, while you soaped up, you plugged the stopper back in so you had enough to rinse. Each time, for the several weeks following my return, I couldn’t get myself to let the water run in the shower while soaping up. It was such an obvious waste! Eventually I’d go back to my old ways. More than a money saver, for me, the more compelling argument would be the environmental one.

    Re: Not worth it?

    I’ve never truly dumpster-dove (is that the past-tense?), but I’ve picked up large items that have been placed on the curb. Especially in college towns near move-out dates, I place apartment buildings on my running routes in search for good stuff: couch, picture frames, etc. Free-cycle is another slightly-less sketchy way to catch unwanted items before they actually get to the garbage.

    As we both admire each other for our “resourcefulness,” certainly married life has only reinforced my frugal tendencies. I do wonder, though, if/how my habits will change when my life-situation changes to homeowner, parent, etc.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for your perspective, Heather! One comment in and my “too far” list already differs greatly from your habits/willingness!
      I haven’t considered making bikeability a factor in choosing where to live, although it’s an obvious thing to look for. I definitely would factor in access to public transportation. When I moved to Durham my priority was to get an apartment close to Kyle’s (I ended up 1 mile away) and from our part of town the only non-freeway artery to get to school is the one I mentioned. I do know other people who bike in from a different direction so that would have been a smart option if it had been on my radar at the time. Maybe upon the next move!
      By coincidence, I just signed up for a “negotiation for women” seminar for later this week, so maybe I’ll get some helpful tips/confidence there.
      We have also “recycled” some items (folding chairs, coolers) slated for the dumpster at our apartment complex, but that didn’t involve actual diving!
      I think being married has made us more frugal as well. I suppose I’ll be using this blog to document how our habits change through the life transitions you mentioned.

  2. renee says:

    Fun post, Emily.

    I’ve always wished negotiating was more a part of American culture than it is. I don’t know how many times I’ve been at Banana Republic Outlet and had an imaginary conversation with the store manager: “Really??? $45?? You and I both know you aren’t going to sell this skirt for $45. It’ll go on sale for $30, and you’ll sell a few. Then it will go on sale again for $20. How about you take my money now, and I’ll give you $25? You can invest the extra $5 between now and the second sale.” hahaha – but that’s not how it works, so I leave empty-handed.

    One thing that crossed my mind with food though: If you’re just looking for conventional meat, then checking the Sunday paper for the store with the best meat sales can really save $$$. J loves Jimmy Dean’s sausage for b-fast sandwiches, and we just always look out for when it’s $1.99/lb at one of the nearby stores – it’s always different every month.

    hahaha – and when I’m offered free food all my principles and philosophies get thrown out the window and I chow down on the pizza or burger or whatever is offered me!! A free meal can really make a difference in the grocery budget!! But… I think just one of those binges can really counteract any healthy eating habits I’ve been practicing. So I should take a lesson from your restraint.

    We don’t have internet in the apartment, and we apply the money directly towards meat. We have a super nice library down the street for when we want internet, though. And we do have smart phones because we still operate at a distance on occasion and the facetime is what keeps us connected so well. We both agree that those phones can be a mixed blessing though. I’ll likely give mine up at the end of the contract, and we’ll just have one for the family.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m glad to hear from someone who has given up the internet connection! I think more and more people will be as we move from computers to cell phones as our primary means of entertainment and communication. I’m old-fashioned with my laptop dependence and lack of smartphone so we need the internet for now.
      When I was trying to lose weight just by eating less I still ate free food (in moderation) when it was offered. I think all the free food available at the start of grad school was what derailed my weight-loss effort in 2008. Now that I avoid grains there isn’t much free food I will take – almost never a whole meal’s worth. Health wins over frugality in those cases, although it is difficult!

  3. Great post!

    Personally, I love to negotiate. And I will totally walk away from something if the company doesn’t meet my terms. I’m not particularly loyal if I feel they’re charging me too much. I also firmly (but fairly) negotiated my job offer last year. Getting to Yes is a helpful book on the topic.

    1. Emily says:

      What are some services you have negotiated? I think most everything in our area is a monopoly, so we don’t have much leverage. Thanks for the book recommendation. I know the importance of negotiating salary so I will force myself to do that.

  4. […] tips: Emily presents Frugal Tips That Go Too Far posted at Evolving Personal […]

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  8. aaron says:

    Great tips! I can’t imagine living without home internet, but I refuse to pay for a smart phone and data plan. However, I do skip cable tv. Anything I want to see I can find on broadcast or online. Big sporting events are the only things I can’t get, but friends are always having parties for those things anyways.

    I had to call my internet provider last month when prices became outrageous after 2 rate hikes in a year. When I pointed it out, I didn’t even have to negotiate. They offered to take me back to the introductory rate for a year, which cut my bill in half!

    If you’ve never been dumpster diving, you’re really missing out! H was right about move out times at a college, but the dorm dumpsters are the way to go. I’ve got nice pants (one of my fav pairs, actually!), dishes and cookware, and computers that weren’t even that old. Some popularly dumped items from graduating seniors are mini fridges and vacuums. My $200 vacuum was free from the dumpster as well as several of the smaller, compact types that are great for spot cleaning. Also, last year the dorms where I am replaced all their couches and several of my friends were able to pick up free furniture.

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t think we’ve had a rate hike on the internet service in quite a while. I’ll have to check my records. It’s great that you had such an easy time lowering it.

      The times we’ve rescued items from the dumpsters at our apartment complex were in May when all the MBA students were moving out. 🙂 Maybe we’ll do some closer scouting this year for nice items like vacuum cleaners! Although I can’t imagine anything else we actually need so it might just end up taking up space.

    2. Cheryl says:

      dumpster diving? I picked up my son from college and we brought a truck. He had a lot of stuff. I saw a couple parents bring sea dans to pick up their children and their stuff did not fit in the car. So after a three hour drive one way, I saw a parent transfer a lot of stuff to the dumpster that they could not take home. So dumpsters outside dorms after finals would be a great place to find treasures. Oh and I save hundreds of dollars a year getting my hair cut at home. Also a great job, I fear the horror stories I see of coworkers and friends that are still stuck in the rut of going to the salon. I’ll take my free, no tears haircuts at home any day.

      1. Emily says:

        Definitely! I was really referring to food in my post. Dumpster diving for furniture (which really involves no dumpsters or diving whatsoever) is a great strategy. Just this week we saw a sweet futon left out by the trash in our complex – it was claimed within a couple hours!

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  10. I use just about every tip in the list of tips that you use. I used to have my sister cut my hair, but she moved to another state, so I’ve gone back to paying someone.

    I have used a few tips in the ‘too far’ list. I do agree that the most of them go too far. I don’t unplug my electronics when not in use, but I do have them plugged into a power strip and flip that switch when they are not in use. I was skeptical about doing this at first, but it has seriously dropped my electric bill by about $10/month. It’s become second nature to me now too.

    I don’t always negotiate prices, but every now and then I do. I definitely call the cable company and get lower prices there. If the customer service rep says they cannot do anything, just ask to speak with the retention department. They always extend my current promotion at least 6 months, sometimes up to a year.

    1. Emily says:

      Hmm $10/month, that’s pretty good! I know there are some smart powerstrips that eliminate vampire power but we haven’t looked into them.

      Thanks for the tip about the “retention department.” Maybe we gave up on our last negotiation too soon! Kyle just said to me yesterday that we should try to re-negotiate our internet price – but he wants me to do it because he thinks women are more effective!

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