Five Craziest Things I Have Done 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 haircutting 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.

photo by All;ison, Darwin Bell


  1. I think my craziest frugal step was after I got out of the Navy. I was recently divorced, working three jobs, in debt, and totally totally broke–so this is probably more desperate than frugal. Anyway, I went to Costco and bought a huge tub of peanut butter and a case of tuna fish (high protein, don’t you know) and that’s pretty much all I ate for three months. Looking back, I’m lucky I didn’t get scurvy…

  2. I admit to cuttng my own hair, thinning my drinks, eating open faced sandwiches to save bread and halving the meat in all my recipes.

    The worst one is from my parents. They have waterfront property and there’s some weird ecological changes going on brought about by some jerks dumping fertilizer down a creek. As a result, we have tons (literally) of rotting vegetable matter washing up on our shore. My parents made the family dig it out and haul it the first year, causing at least two trips to the doctor for strained muscles and unexplained coughs. Now we pay some local college students $10 an hour to do it.

    To give you an idea of the amount of crap, the one year the EPA let us use machinery, it required a backhoe and a dumptruck 8 hours to haul 12 full laods away.

  3. That’s a great list, and made me laugh as it hits home, too. I used to cut my own hair exactly the same way, and just paid for a haircut yesterday, and was really thinking of starting to cut my own hair again to save money. I had my wife help with back of my neck as well. I’ve has the same experience with the kid’s juice as well!

  4. FG, I tried cutting my own hair once with a little trimmer I had. I didn’t ask for help however, since I was already kind of embarrassed I was trying to do this.

    Suffice to say, it didn’t really work out. I had to go to get my hair “fixed” by a pro and that ended up costing me my time.


  5. I had a cordless phone with a keypad that no longer worked. Rather than buy a new cordless, I dialed numbers with a corded touchtone phone and then switched to the cordless handset.

    I went for two years with no haircut. I did not need one unemployed at college. Then I had two jobs where no one care what I looked like.

  6. I always thin out my son’s juice (and sometimes mine, depending on what type of juice it is). Once I put the water in the cup and then passed it off to my husband to put the juice in. He thought there was too much water in it and poured a bit out. My son saw this, threw a fit, and made my husband put more water back in.

  7. There are obviously tons of ways to save money. I have cut (shaved) my hair for several years now. This works great for me since I don’t have much to start with!

    However, I have also gotten a little too over zealous trying to save money which is to say that I tried to do something “on the cheap”. This usually backfires and ends up costing me more later. Sometimes, you just have to pay the piper to get something done right. An excellent example of this is car maintenance. Trying to go cheap on this one has bit me more than once.

  8. A few years ago I found out my Mom had been making powdered milk for me and my brothers to drink when we were kids (I’m now mid 30’s). She never told us at the time, but because of 5 teenage boys in the house we normally consumed at least a gallon of milk at every meal (yes, 3 gallons a day) My folks didn’t want to tell us we couldn’t have milk. Being a traditional farm family (without dairy cows) we ate most of our meals as a family and rarely missed the 1 gallon a meal mark.

  9. Funny. Especially the part about painting your own car roof. I would love to do the at home haircuts. My wife won’t do it, and won’t let me do it to the kids.

  10. The craziest thing that I have done (and sometimes continue to do) is dumpster dive for coke points. All my neighbors must think I am crazy.

  11. When I have long hair I cut it myself. I just hold it behind my back and chop. It’s curly when it’s long so it doesn’t matter if it’s totally straight. But I donated it awhile ago and it’s short now. Cutting it myself would be disastrous, and I think having my husband do it might be bad for our marriage. 🙂

    We don’t drink a lot of juice, but I do water it down. It cuts calories and sugar intake too. And you get more out of a package so you aren’t piling up the waste as fast.

  12. I’ve painted the windshield wipers of my car when they started to rust with some leftover spray paint from my son’s school project. Thankfully there was some black left. Otherwise I might have gone with orange. 🙂

    I frequently make my own cleaners when I run out. I’ve made my own “scrubbie” sponges by using old onion bags. I make my own funnels and pots by cutting up old vinegar jugs.

    I gave up juices, because they are mostly empty calories. You can get better nutrition straight from the fruit. I primarily drink water, followed by tea and coffee.

    And I cut my sons’ hair. They’re young enough they don’t care yet (my oldest is nine).

    The most dramatic thing I think I do, though, is that I never buy my kids’ clothes new. I get the majority of them free through Freecycle or friends, followed by clean-out sales at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Most of the stuff I get are things I would never purchase brand new – name brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Nike. Not that I or my kids are yet into brand names, but I think when that peer pressure hits them, it will help.

  13. I cut my own hair once to save money. But it turned out fantastically. I wish I had the guts to do it again…only I was in college then and now I’m employed I’d be a bit more nervous. In college I could have buzzed it if things got that bad. 🙂

    I think the craziest thing my parents did was use clothes from my cousins 4-9 years older for me for the first 10ish years of my life. It worked pretty well, but I rather wish we’d augmented it with clothes from the thrift store, since it made me feel very behind the times.

  14. I’ve only paid for a haircut once in the last six years. In fact, until recently, I was cutting my daughters’ hair also. But they decided Mom’s Salon wasn’t cutting it anymore. That’s okay. They’re teens with jobs now.

  15. @Kevin: I thought of this myself last summer when the ballfields were full of empty Coca Cola bottles. My problem is I’m allergic to yellow jacket bites and it just wasn’t worth it.

  16. Saving nearly $60 a month by not driving the second vehicle is a perfect idea! I must confess I never though of watering down drinks…I don’t think it can really work.

  17. I save may packets because I am too cheap to buy Hellman’s. I even bully my husband into asking for them. I love brand name mayo, but they don’t carry it at Aldi.

    Oh, the things we do to save money!

  18. I cut my own hair and favor the bike over the car these days.

    The local Barnes & Noble has pitchers of ice water. I’ll buy one bottle of water and refill it.

    You’re not paying an exorbitant price for the water. You’re leasing the table, and possibly their electricity if you’re lucky enough to sit near an outlet. 🙂

  19. We always water down our kids’ juice, except a cup pure juice for breakfast, but we do it more for health reasons: juice is one of the largest supply of sugar. On the other hand, the kids like water with 30% apple juice much better than pure water, which we offer, too, of course.

  20. My family does not like powdered milk, but it is far less expensive than regular milk. I keep some in the house for recipes that call for milk. Also, when our gallon of regular milk gets about halfway used I’ve been known to fill it back up with the powdered version–it’s a trick that saves money and is undetectable (make sure no one is around when you do this)!!!

  21. Considering apple juice’s amazing digestion-speeding qualities, I’ve always watered it down before giving it to kids.

    In college I saved money by skipping dinner in order to get drunk off of less booze. I tried to dust off that plan off the other weekend with pretty much the disasterous results you would expect.

  22. I cut my husband’s and child’s hair. They both seem to prefer it and it’s not a complicated cut. I get my hair cut once a season at about $30 and it’s totally worth it for me.

    Otherwise, we just do the normal stuff. Shop the perimeter making meals simple with rice, fresh in season veggies and a little meat. We mostly avoid boxed and canned stuff (aside from an emergency box in the pantry). We’re all allergic to dairy so we save a ton there. Dairy is super expensive anyway.

  23. One thing I did last year was take my girlfriend to McDonalds for Valentines day…. I would not recommend this, unless she is high maintenence then it will save you more in the long run.