Crazy Ways To Save Money

I was recently interviewed by a television program and the producer asked an interesting question, “What’s the craziest thing you have ever done to save money?” Well, crazy is a relative term. Some people think the idea of clipping coupons and budgeting is crazy! I knew other extreme frugal followers would be unimpressed with tales of washing our own cars or meal planning.

So, I reached back into the recesses of my frugal memories and came up with the following examples. Some are more amusing than crazy, but all of them saved quite a bit of money.

rusty-car.jpgPainted the Roof of My Car. This seemed less crazy at the time, but looking back this move represented a level of extreme frugality I have not been able to duplicate since. Besides the aesthetic risk I was taking in a DIY auto paint job, it was back breaking work and wound up costing nearly an entire vacation day worth of time. Oh well, I saved a ton of money and the paint job didn’t turn out half bad. Rust-O-leum Auto gray looks quite nice in the afternoon sun.

Bicycle Home from Work. I personally don’t consider this move very crazy, but my friends and family seem to think it qualifies. It is probably because I have never been much of a cyclist, and I am what they classify a “heavy rider.” I’ve still got some work to do to maximize this effort such as adding some panniers to my bike, and finding some better road tires. Still, with the rising cost of gas I’m saving nearly $60 a month by not driving our second vehicle four or five days out of the week.

home-haircut-kit.jpgCut My Own Hair (with a little help from Mrs. Frugal). Back in high school and college this would have been much easier to pull off because I “buzzed” my own hair with clippers from a home haircutting kit every couple weeks. I like short hair, especially in the summer, and find few things better than towel drying in 10 seconds of head-scrubbing and calling your hair “styled.” My hair grows fast, so I figure this move alone saves me roughly $200 a year in a dozen trips to the local walk-ins-welcome hair-cutting salon. Now if I could just figure out how to even my neckline in the mirror I would be totally self-sufficient with haircuts.

An (Almost) All-Day Fast. I recently set out on a blogging marathon well before breakfast. I was “in the zone” while writing at a local cafe and spent several hours there without purchasing a single item of food (I did buy a water bottle when I first arrived as to not appear a complete cheapskate!). When the hunger really started to settle in I walked up to the counter and could not find one single sandwich item for less than $7.00. I returned to my table, wrote a little longer and then went home to have dinner. My wife told me I was cheap, stubborn and just plain silly for not ordering a sandwich. I reminded her of the difference between being frugal and being cheap, and I promised to sneak in an energy bar or two during my next marathon.

orange-juice.jpgWatering Down Drinks. Okay, so this is probably the least crazy of all, but I promised you five things. Nearly all of us have been impacted by rising food prices, and our family is no exception. With a little one that chugs apple juice and milk like they are going out of style, our grocery budget’s largest category was quickly becoming “drinks.”

I started “thinning” the already thin skim milk with water, and did the same with my son’s apple juice. It worked fine in the beginning, but I got a little over-zealous and started adding too much water. One day he took a sip of juice and tossed the sippy cup in the floor sounding off, “Dad, I don’t like that apple juice! Yucky!” Oops, I guess we should stick to untampered juice formulas and just let him have less of it.

Photos courtesy of All;ison, Darwin Bell


  1. I don’t think you’re crazy at all! I’ve done all of those things except bike to work… it’s a 30 mile trip with lots of hills, so it wouldn’t be a good use of time to do that.

    I, too, have had toddlers protest the watered down juice… the secret is to learn how much water you can add before they complain!

  2. I thin what little fruit juice I drink because most of it seems much too sweet for my taste. I especially like to thin it with fizzy water that my husband makes from our tap water and a CO2 container leftover from his homebrewing heyday. Mostly we drink our own cider made from our own apples and pressed by hand. Occasionally we find a great deal on juice at a grocery outlet. Then we cleanout the stock and freeze most of it (providing that we have the freezer space at that moment.)

  3. My son-in-law lives in Denver Co. He skate boards to the bus stop, to get to work. Sometimes in a suit! 🙂

  4. OH Dee that is priceless, I dont think I have seen anyone skateboard in a suit!!funny.
    I ate popcorn and ramen for a month so I could save every cent I could when we were house hunting for our first home.
    I mix up powdered milk and keep cutting the store bought jug, here lately my son must think he is part bovine, he is sucking milk down like crazy.

    I dont think any of it sounds “way too crazy”. I suppose I could declutter one of my out buildings of wood scraps and announce “kids we are using the outhouse for the summer”… was here when we bought the place…..then again, maybe not.

  5. Yeah, none of these sound crazy to me either. Except maybe painting your car yourself. That just seems like it falls more in the “not worth it” catagory. We have always added water to my son’s juice. Not for frugality though, but so he gets less sugar in his diet. If you do it from the start, it’s just what they are used to.

  6. Don’t forget all the nutritional benefits of watering down the juice. I personally prefer dilute juice and cut mine 50/50 with water, but that’s as much for taste and health frugality.

    Juice contains a few vitamins and minerals but it’s also as loaded with sugar as soda, though not as harsh on your teeth.

    If I could suggest only one thing to save money AND time AND pain it’s take care of yourself when you’re young! You’ll be more productive short term and (on average) safe a fortune long term.

    P.S. I’ve done all of the above but the cutting own hair and painting the roof. Not doing most of them seems crazy to me;-)

  7. I water the juice, though my toddler has caught on and calls it water-juice! I also cut my husband’s hair – though it’s more for his laziness (won’t GO get a haircut) than the savings. The other ‘crazy’ thing I do for savings is buying the cut-rate, almost-expired meats at my grocery – the ones they put out for clearance @ 75% off. My sister thinks this is courting food poisoning, but since she lives 5 states away, I don’t think she will be coming to dinner anytime soon! I bring it home, repackage in freezer paper and ziplocs and deep freeze it. I’ve cultivated a good relationship with the butchers; they’ll tell me when the meats we like will be on sale. And even better, when I’ve ‘missed’ something – like the prime rib @ $2.99/lb on clearance, they have even put the 75% off sticker on a ‘good’ package for me! That’s happened 3 or 4 times this year alone – I figure at that rate, just saying hi & asking the butcher his recommendations (schmoozing) has saved us about $100 in the past 4 months.

  8. When my kids became used to the name brand cereal, I would secretly mix the store brand in it and put it back in the brand name box. They never knew the difference.

  9. I agree! I cut my own hair and have been doing so since the age of 10, I am now 22 (12 years later). It costs about $15 to get my hair cut in my area. I usually cut my hair every two weeks. Now lets do the math

    $15 (cost of hair cut)x 26 (number of hair cuts in a year) x 12 (number of years I’ve cutting my own hair) = $4,680


  10. The “watering down” of the juice is a good one. We don’t water it down with water here…..I brew 4 cups of herbal or green tea and add that to half a gallon of juice in a gallon container. The warm tea enhances the taste of the juice and the flavor of the tea adds even more to the taste. Also, tea bags are so cheap! Especially if you get them on sale with a good coupon.

    Hubby cuts our son’s hair and I do my own at home. Since I know I’ll mess up Hubby’s hair, we take 20 bucks out of the budget every 2 months for him to go get a haircut.

  11. I painted my car as well. Not the roof but the bottom 1/4 of the doors. Tremclad worked fine. As for cutting hair, I’ve been doing mine for the past 2 years. Not much there so I keep it short. Why dole out money for someone just to do the same thing with the clippers.

  12. LOL!

    Watering apple juice is fine but the kids figure it out… eventually. Ha!

    I also shmooze with the people at my supermarket and have gotten some great deals that way.

    Nowadays I’m always looking to save and I always thought that budgeting was crazy.

    I used to hate budgets. But I also hated spending money I didn’t have. I dumped my credit cards except for one for EMERGENCIES. Cash or debit card only now.

    I also looked carefully at “regular” expenses and decided to dump my AT&T phone for a prepaid phone. Got a Tracfone for 30 bucks but it was kinda-sorta free since it came with 30 bucks worth of air time.

    Now I budget my phone use by buying the amount of time I want, up front. I also got a double minutes card which makes it an even better value.

    There are some expenses that can be “managed” and those are the ones to budget.

    Crazy? Maybe. But I gotta get a handle on my expenses and this is a good way!

  13. I am so glad to see watering down drinks! When I have a glass of my beloved diet coke, I add ice and then maybe a quarter cup of water to my glass. I also water milk, dish detergent, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner and sweetened ice tea (too sweet for me- Boyfriend likes his SWEET tea).
    These ideas seem not so crazy FD!

  14. I’ve been buzzing my own hair for year and have saved a fortune. Before, I used to go to the Barber’s every 3 weeks and it would cost me $20 (with tip)
    When I lived in Toronto, I biked to work for a few months, until my bike got stolen. The summers were brutal so I went back to transit.
    When I was really broke in my 20’s, I went without food for 3 days! I was unemployed and didn’t want to ask anyone for help.
    The first day was hard but after a while, my body adjusted.

  15. I buy a 1-litre of milk each week and when it runs out, make up powdered milk. No-one in the family has noticed or made comment. I do have to buy that 1 a week though as they all check the expiry date on the bottle. Maybe I should invest in a datestamp so I can just change the date?

    I too bike to work when I can to save train fare – it’s a 32 kilometre trip for me (all flat). People seem to think I am sort of hero for doing this – but I need the exercise anyway and it doesn’t take that much longer than if I walk to the train station, sit on the train for 40 minutes then walk to work.

  16. Dry powdered skim milk is a great coffee creamer. Put it in dry. It also works fine in all cooked milk applications.

  17. Watering down your drinks?! Wow, I hope I never get to that level. Hopefully I won’t have to take ketchup packets from fast food joints as well!

  18. i hope never get this cheap, insetad of trying to save 60 bucks a year and giving watered drink to your child, please spend more time working, being productive and increasing your salary.
    Jeez such cheapos.

  19. Never confuse money with values, “waren’s bufet”. Do not short your family on things you need or things that are worth it to you. I seriously doubt packing an average kid with even more sugar qualifies.

    But to each his own. I for one value free time for reflection and personal growth over conspicuous consumption, and act accordingly.

    Though I must admit misleading family members about what they are eating rubs me the wrong way, especially for spouses and older children. Thinking you’re “saving them the worry” or “afraid they won’t like it” is a dangerous path to be going down.

    In general, cut any expense you don’t need and don’t want. You’ll never miss them. Think you don’t buy things in that category? Think harder; I know I make this mistake time after time.

  20. I bike to work and all around. My father’s house is the farthest at about 25 miles round trip. Once you start biking you just cant stop. I wear whatever I want while biking, I guess it is a CO thing… don’t want to be seen in spandex LOL. I have yet to wear high heals like some, but wear pretty much anything else.

    I too cut my hair and have for a few months now. I got sick of all the money and tipping for hair I never really cared for. Now I cut it how I want. Everyone I know has been asking me where I got my cute haircut from LOL!

    If I can I do research and fix anything and everything I can around the house. I have always been like that and love being frugal.

  21. You’re seriously proud of yourself for parking yourself all day in a retail establishment and only buying a bottle of water?

    For treating the place as if it was your personal lounge?

    That’s not cheap. It’s way beyond cheap. That’s what I call abusive for lack of a better word.

    Those places are not the library or other public venue, where you could also probably park yourself for free and get WiFi.

    Regardless of whether the place was full or not (and if it was full at certain points when you were there, shame on you for taking up a seat from an actual patron), it’s not a public venue. They have overhead and your one bottle of water for an all-day visit cause you clearly wanted to get out of the house…that’s just inconsiderate, rude and outrageous.

    I’m totally turned off by your behavior and worse that you seem proud of it (you shared this story as an example so you must be OK with it).

    This is NOT constructive frugality. It’s one thing to go someplace for even an hour or two with a bottle of water or cup of coffee. But all day? Hello. You’re old enough to know when you are in essence sponging off a business’ good will.

    Now, if you happen, during the year to heavily patronize this place, then MAYBE this is OK. Maybe. Because you are offsetting it by other purchases. But I rather doubt this is the case.

    I don’t own a store and I rarely if ever go to coffee spots anymore unless I’m meeting someone else. (Not only do I not want to spend the money but I hate the coffee in most of these places. And the food choices are usually pretty bad, regardless of the price.)

    But as a small-biz owner, I’m pretty outraged by your thoughtlessness, greed (yea, it’s a form of greed)and generally poor behavior.

    This is the reason that so many people who say they are frugal are really just plain old cheap–and cheap at the advantage and good will of others.

    Your story reminds me of people who talk about how much money they save on food because they go to events where everyone else brings something, but, wait for it, they don’t bring anything.

    Or people who just seek out events with free food and then go (or worse, sneak in if uninvited) to get free stuff.

    Just because a chair is open doesn’t mean you, as basically a non-patron, get to occupy it for a full day.

    This story to me is a real turn-off about your behavior and choices.

    By the way, your wife was kind in her labeling you.

    And the story is not about fasting. It’s about inappropriate behavior.

    If you wanted to fast, you could fast at home.

    Why should a retailer pay for space so YOU can have a hideaway when you don’t want to work at home? Come on…

  22. Reading all these comments has made me realize I am not a weirdo for actually preferring watered down juice (not OJ though, that has to be in it’s “pure” state). I would never trust my clumsy hands to cut my hair, but as a kid my mom always cut my hair and did a great job! She stil cuts my stepdad’s hair and it’s a great way to save money. Crazy or not, the important thing is that we all recognize small changes in our lives that we can make to improve them. Whether it’s store brand cereals, DIY car care, or at home manicures, as they say in my new fave book, The Power of Small, it’s the little things that make all the difference!

  23. @IRG: I’m speechless (almost). First of all, if the owners had a problem with it, they could have asked me to leave.

    There are a lot of people who come and go without buying a thing, similar to those who stop in at a fast food establishment on the interstate to use the bathroom and don’t even buy a snack. I admit looking back it seems kind of silly to work all day on a bottle of water, but the post was sort of light-hearted anyway. I mean, watering down juice and spray painting the top of my rusted van? Not exactly hardcore frugality here.

  24. That post from IRG has to be a joke. Seriously? If he were really offended, it would’ve been shorter. I owned a small sandwich shop at one dark period in my life and while the seating was seriously limited, I loved having a packed restaurant. If you don’t have a national label behind you, the next best way to legitimize your place is to have a crowd. If I still had my restaurant, you’d be welcomed to sit and drink water as long as you’d like. Plus my over-achiever employees wouldn’t have stuffed their pockets with the register cash if you were lingering.

    My grandma once took the entire family during a family reunion to a local grocery store for lunch. I’ve known more that one person who has had a free lunch at Costco on sample Saturday.

  25. To Head Above

    I really was taken aback by the sit all day bit.

    Length of post is not related to how serious my response is.

    I don’t know where you all live, but I live in a major U.S. city with tourism as a key component even in residential areas.

    Real estate is extraordinarily expensive and we lose good shops of all types all the time due to rent increases. Turnover is critical to making money and staying in business.

    So, yea, I feel strongly that people should not take up space in a retail shop (not a mall) if not a real customer.

    And as for being asked to leave. That will rarely if ever happen. Owners who are not always on property aren’t big on doing it, and the workers certainly aren’t. (And new customers, who don’t have any idea how long someone has been there, probably won’t do it.)

    What goes on elsewhere in the country and is acceptable, I would not know. I do know what does not work here in our metropolis.

    FYI: There are quite a few open spaces, public areas in and outdoors that are perfect to go and sit as long as you like.

    it’s not as if you do not have options.

    Frankly, it’s this attitude about so-called “frugal” types that makes them so offputting to many (clearly not the folks here)others.

    As for a free lunch at costco…I’m pretty sure if you’re at costco, you didn’t go just to get free samples. You probably bought something on your visits otherwise you wouldn’t be a member (which costs $).

    As for a grandma taking an entire family reunion group to a local grocery store for a free lunch. I’m not even going to comment.

    Because to me, YOU must be kidding.

    It’s one thing to enjoy free samples when you are shopping, it’s another, again, to just take for the sake of taking.

    And by the way, if you’re homeless, can’t afford food…and you are doing this. That’s another story entirely. That’s sheer need. But you don’t see homeless people doing this (usually because they are shooed out of stores or not let in).

    Frugal Dad
    You may have meant it as lighthearted, but to me, it was just that you didn’t even think about it till someone commented negatively.

    And it’s NOT the same as using a fast food bathroom when you stop while driving. Not by a longshot.

    FYI: Most places have public bathrooms on the drives we’ve taken. So you don’t even need to go into a retail shop.

  26. Watering juice is fine- but not the milk. As an early childhood educator- that is a no no. Instead of watering down you might consider saving two gallon jugs. Next time only purchase one gallon of WHOLE milk and then mix it with Carnation powdered milk. Children under five should not drink skim milk. The milk fats are what they need for certain proteins for brain development. Other cultures get those nutrients from soy.
    Besides that – I have done almost the same things. Cutting hair family hair was always fun (now we go somewhere to get it cut- helping the economy). The internet cafe? Only off hours. I have been known to ask if it is all right since many friends have cafes. Painting the car- nope- but recovering the seats- yup:>)

  27. some of your tips are really funny but I would never dare to cut my hair by myself, for that my fingers are all thumbs 🙂 but what I did I bartered me a haircut on and it was so nice. Maybe you should consider bartering as a option to save money, too.

  28. this is crazy: our food budget for 2 adults and a baby is $20 (or less a week) and i feed 8 people 1x/week. how do i do it?

    i don’t buy ANYTHING that has a “list of ingredients”:
    -organic fresh fruits and veggies
    -organic dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
    -organic bulk bin items (whole grains, legumes, nuts)
    -we only eat organic meat 1-2x a week (that’s all the animal protein humans need anyway)
    -i try to make my own breads (tortillas, biscuits), and most things homemade

    this is crazy to some people!!!