Thursday, October 22, 2015

30 Slightly Insane Things I Do To Save Money

I've declared before on the blog that I'm a cheapskate but never really elaborated on it.

That's partly because a big chunk of our cheapskate lifestyle is just not buying stuff  and a 500-word blog post about that would be hard for me to write and boring for you to read.

But there are plenty of frugal shortcuts I take that, when I think about them, are a little wacky. Do you do any of these, or is it just me?

I’m all about frugal living and here are some of the most unusual, creative, and off-the-wall money saving hacks and tips I use to keep my family on a budget. I bet you don’t do half the things on this list, and most people have never even heard of Idea No. 5. #savingmoney #frugalliving #howtosavemoney #budget #money #families #unremarkablefiles

This post contains affiliate links mixed with links to hilarious stories on this blog. If a link takes you to somewhere outside of Unremarkable Files, it's probably an affiliate link which means I will get a small commission for purchases you make at no extra cost to you.

1. Buy ink refill kits online instead of new printer cartridges. For our printer, a refill kit has ink enough for two refills and costs $10. A new cartridge costs $30. I still recommend refill kits in spite of the ink explosion debacle back in August (I've been doing this for 10 years and that was a fluke user error.)

2. Join a rebate program. Whenever I shop online, I check if I can get cashback from Mr. Rebates. It's only a little if you buy something small like, say, an ink refill kit, but pretty cool if you're buying airfare for your entire family.

3. Use online coupon codes. Anytime I buy anything online, I Google coupon codes for that store first and half the time I find something.

4. Pay with cashback credit cards. We also got a hotel rewards card before we were planning a family vacation and ended up staying in a one-room suite for free for 6 days in Washington, D.C.

5. Send postcards instead of letters. When my kids mail out thank-you cards for their birthday presents, I give them 4x6" rectangles of posterboard for them to decorate and send as thank-you postcards instead. We save on cards and also postage — did you know that postcards are cheaper to mail than envelopes?

6. Another word on postcards: don't ever buy them. Postcards are a 4x6" picture. Write on the back of a photo and mail it (with the cheaper stamp) instead of buying one!

7. Cut your family's hair at home. Almost a decade ago I bought this haircut kit for under $20 and my husband and sons haven't been to an actual haircut place since.

8. Keep a stash of birthday presents. When I see good deals on toys, I buy them. Between my 5 kids, someone is always going to a birthday party.

9. I stock up on staples like shelf-stable groceries, diapers, toiletries, paper towels, and toilet paper when I see good deals. (Of course, that means you need to watch prices so you know what's a good deal when you see it.) Our basement looks kind of like a grocery store, but if there's ever a zombie apocalypse you can come over because we'll share (unless you're a zombie.)

10. Don't buy pre-cut vegetables, shredded cheese, or premade food very often. This is an issue where sometimes you're willing to pay extra for convenience, but in general I live by the rule that if I wouldn't pay someone to come over to my house and do it for me it doesn't make sense to pay for it at the store.

11. Cook breakfast! Cereal is expensive and not very filling, anyway. If you can convince your kids to eat a bowl of oatmeal or an egg and toast, it's way cheaper.

12. For a parent, pre-packaged snacks are a huge money suck. Seriously, look at the price per ounce of the little snack-size 6-packs of crackers versus the family-size packages. Buy the big container and have the kids portion it out into Ziplocs at home to pack in their lunches. Even with the Ziplocs you still save money.

13. Packets of microwave popcorn are the biggest rip-off in the history of rip-offs. A bag of loose popcorn kernels will last you 6 months and costs less than a few packets of microwave popcorn, and it's not hard to make. I once almost started a fire frying an egg; if I can pop popcorn, so can you.

14. Make your own laundry soap. You probably think no one but Ma Ingalls does this. Well, possibly no one but Ma Ingalls and me. But here's the recipe I use, which I just found on a Google search. I've tried a few other recipes but this is the best I've found so far.

15. Stop paying bills by mail. I die inside every time I need to use a stamp. Really. Whenever we get a bill, I always call the 800 number at the bottom to pay it by phone (or do it online if it's free.)

16. Greeting cards are a waste of money. I hate buying them; they just seem so frivolous to me. Instead, I save the cards I receive and use the elements to make new ones when a card is necessary. I already have a bunch of scrapbooking stuff from my other life when I had less kids and more time, so it doesn't take long.

17. I follow a coupon blog. Coupon blogs are regional and you can find one in your area with Google. If you live in New England I like Maven of Savin'(Update Oct 2016: Maven of Savin' has closed up shop. I'm currently in mourning. Don't talk to me about it.)

18. Maintain a gift list for yourself. When people ask "What do you want for your birthday/Christmas?" my mind goes completely blank, every time. So I keep an actual list of stuff I think would be cool to own (I'm told that many people call this "Pinterest.") Then I actually have a useful idea if someone asks me what I want.

19. When traveling, buy meals at the grocery store deli. A rotissiere chicken and a carton of potato salad from the deli counter is cheaper than even McDonald's for a family. (If you absolutely must do fast food, however, we've found that the best value for a lot of people is KFC.)

20. Make your own curtains. I'm the world's worst seamstress, but I can sew four straight lines and that makes a curtain. If you price out the fabric and then compare it to the cost of the two panels you need to buy at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, curtains are crazily overpriced.

21. Join the mailing list for your favorite stores. Some place bury you with coupons if you get on their mailing list: JoAnn Fabrics, JC Penney, and Kohl's come to mind. I never shop at those places without a coupon, because they show up in my mailbox almost every other week.

22. If there's a special promotion to get a gift card for less than its face value, and it's a store I shop at anyway, I buy them and use them myself.

23. I skip school photos and get the kids' pictures taken every year at JC Penney (with a coupon, of course.) Maybe it's not as good as the hoity-toity portrait studio down the road that also does weddings and graduation photo shoots, but it's good enough for me.

24. Get books/magazines/movies/music from the public library. If you know how to use inter-library loan you can get whatever you want for free. (If I ever write a book, though, then by all means please buy it.)

25. Cut up your meat when you cook. Our family does a lot of vegetarian meals now, but even when we ate meat at almost every dinner we rarely had meals that were a slab of meat with some potatoes and veggies on the side. We always used half as much meat by always cutting it up and putting it in a stir-fry or casserole.

26. Join Freecycle. It's a global network of local groups where you can give away anything, as long as it's free. This is a gold mine for kids' stuff including furniture and toys, and all kinds of other things, too. We also have a local "give and take" thrift shop where everything is free, and a swap shop at our town transfer station with the same idea.

27. Avoid buying brand-new furniture. Craigslist is usually the best deal, followed by eBay, followed by kids' consignment stores. If you have a few months to wait and watch before you need the item, periodically check Freecycle and see if it comes up.

28. Learn what a rain check is. I didn't know what a rain check was until I was 30, and even then I was scared to use them. But they're great! If something's on sale and it's not on the shelves, ask the cashier for a rain check. You can come back later and get it for the sale price, usually within 30 days. You can still use coupons if you have them.

29. Never throw away food. The beauty of having babies and small people around is that if there are two spoonfuls of mashed potatoes or 6 green beans or a quarter of a waffle left over, it's a perfectly sized snack for later. My youngest kids and I have random leftovers all the time for lunch  we call this a "choose your own adventure" meal.

30. Join diaper loyalty programs. Since we've had someone in diapers for 11 years and counting, I make it my business to belong to the Huggies and Pampers rewards programs. If nothing else, I can use the rewards for baby shower gifts. (In a few more years, I'll have earned enough points to buy some lucky mom-to-be a new minivan.)

Leave a comment below with your best money-saving tips, and check out my article 30 More Slightly Insane Ways to Save Money. I promise you this is just the tip of the cheapskate iceberg.
I’m all about frugal living and here are some of the most unusual, creative, and off-the-wall money saving hacks and tips I use to keep my family on a budget. I bet you don’t do half the things on this list, and most people have never even heard of Idea No. 5. #savingmoney #frugalliving #howtosavemoney #budget #money #families #unremarkablefiles

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Jenny said...

I do several of these too. I'm way too cheap to spend a lot of money. I love that you have a stock pile of birthday presents. I never knew how many birthday parties happen until my daughter started preschool. I'm also lame and don't throw big birthday parties. Cake and ice cream with the cousins is as big as we usually get. Lame, but then I don't have to buy decorations or party favors or lunch for the kids.

Lynne at The Sweet Midlife said...

FANTASTIC!! I do some of these: Our church has its own Freecycle page on FB, and I get rid of/get lots of stuff from there, we LOVE the library, and we eat leftovers for lunch usually. I am going to do some of the other ones you have on here, especially the coupon codes and the ink refills. One of my favorite things is that I use every discount I can find at our favorite big box store.

Unknown said...

Great ideas! I have stopped buying plastic bags at the grocery store. The dollar store has them so CHEAP, and often they are the name brands.

Unknown said...

Good tips Jenny but I think some of those must be US things (I've never heard of a rain check either and I'd be surprised if it existed in the UK). I love that you are so dedicated to a frugal life - making your own curtains and laundry soap is *very* impressive! I am so bad for buying stuff like ready made cheese sauce from the grocery store - the convenience and time saving nature of it sucks me in every time! Guess I'm never going to have that holiday home...

Unknown said...

The links for #2 & #7 didn't work for me...and where do you buy ink refills? I'd like to try that. I have a reputation for being a cheapskate, but I've gotten quite lax as our family has grown. I love a great bargain but it takes time to find them and get to the right store at the right time :(

Jenny Evans said...

That's what I get for not testing my links to make sure they work before I post. They're fixed now - thanks for letting me know!

I buy my ink refill kits from, but I think that's because they have my specific type of cartridge cheaper than I could find anywhere else. (If you follow my link to Mr. Rebates and search for "ink" in the top lefthand search box, 10+ ink places come up for you to choose from.)

I admit that I've gotten worse at saving money as our family grows too, simply because I don't have time! Online deals are great, I'm way better at taking advantage of those.

Jenny Evans said...

Birthday parties are crazy, aren't they? I think it's worse now that everybody feels like they have to invite everyone in their class. We love home birthdays and would never do it any other way - it takes all day and messes up our house, but it's a few hundred dollars less than a party place so I'm all for it!

Jenny Evans said...

I've come to appreciate and love the dollar store in the last few years. Certain office supplies, household things like cleaners and tape, dishwashing brushes, hair accessories for the kids... all cheaper at the dollar store. I also made everyone a Christmas gift using cute picture frames from the dollar store one year. Here's a picture:

Unknown said...


Melanie Redd said...

You go girl!

I don't think you sound crazy, but very frugal and wise! What a bunch of great ideas and suggestions!

I found your post tonight on Mommy Moments.

Hope you have a blessed week~

gail akeman said...

I have never tried the ink refill kits before.

PurpleSlob said...

Way to go Jenny! Cheap is the new "in" thing! And you are the Queen! Be proud!
Maybe you can be the lucky winner of the new minivan!

Rachel said...

We're frugal of the "we just don't buy stuff" category, too. Like, we don't own a dryer or a microwave or a tv or a blender...if we want to make smoothies we go to my parents house and make smoothies for my whole family, so they really discourage us from getting a blender since then they'll lose their smoothie makers. :P And nearly all the furniture in our house is borrowed or handed down by friends. Bonus!! Cheapskate strategies are a little different on this side of the globe, where coupons don't exist. The biggest "strategy" I'd say is eat local. Angel and I can buy roti and curry from a roadside stall and eat dinner for 5RM....or a pizza and eat dinner for 50RM, 10x the cost! Expats who crave food from home too much have to know they'll be spending lots of extra money on it! We sometimes do treats, and I like to cook American dishes for our local friends because things like tacos are so exotic and interesting to them--but rice and veggies and chicken is the norm.

Unknown said...

I love these! I've always been curious about those money-saving sites like Mr. Rebates--I've also seen other people use apps to price compare or get coupons too. Gotta get on that! Great post. :)

Giftie Etcetera said...

Sounds wise to me.

I always by stuff to cut off (cheese, veggies) but my husbands insists on machine-cut. He says I cut uneven. I say he wastes money!

Alexandra said...

Some of these made me chuckle :-) Some I do, some I wouldn't, some I can't. The library isn't really doable for me, as books here are in Italian and rarely the topic I want. But I've started to buy whenever possible used books from the Amazon Market Place as they are often a fraction of the new Amazon price.

Coupons are just starting here, but I use them when I get the chance. Yesterday they had a 25% off anniversary sale at the local supermarket, and you bet we stocked up as much as our apartment could carry ;-)

Stopping by from Monday Madness, have a great week!

Linda at Mixed Kreations said...

These are all great ideas, some I haven't even thought of. I do buy shelf staples groceries. My kids tease me and ask can they go shopping in my closet. But I save lots of money that way. I don't buy the single serving snacks I also just package my own in ziplock bags and I even wash and reuse baggies. Hubby use to make fun of me but I got him doing it now too. Thanks for sharing your tips and detergent recipe.

Treasures from a shoebox said...

This is a fantastic list! I not only pinned it and tweeted, but I also hoot 'n hollered while reading. Your posts always make me smile.

Jenny Evans said...

I'll definitely be asking you for cheapskate tips if a trip to Malaysia is in our future! Phillip lived in Venezuela for 2 years after high school as a missionary for our church and he also said that buying food at the roadside was often a really good deal! Guess we don't have a nice equivalent for that in the U.S...

Jenny Evans said...

I totally recommend it! Sign up, even if you don't want to use my referral link in the post (although I sure would appreciate it!) We use them quite a bit.

Jenny Evans said...

Maybe you're both right. But in my book saving money trumps even-ness.

Jenny Evans said...

We wash and reuse our Ziplocs, too. Phillip and I argue over whether that's actually saving money because of the cost of water - but I can't stand to fill up the trash with Ziploc bags after one use! He thinks it would save us as much money and more time to buy the flip-top bags, toss them after one use, and not have to do the rewashing, etc.

The fact that we've had numerous discussions about this topic suggests that we're really bad at managing our time and focusing on things that actually matter. :)

Jenny Evans said...

Thanks for sharing!

Brita Long said...

This is hilarious! My husband and I don't quite go this far in our thriftiness, but we definitely agree with the "just don't buy it" strategy. We rarely eat out, for example. We pretty much only go to restaurants if we're traveling, or if his parents/my dad are paying, or if it's a special occasion. And by "special occasion," it's someone else's special occasion, and they want to go out to eat. We much prefer celebrating by cooking nice steak at home!

This isn't exactly a frugal tip, but it's a money-saving one. We just got back from a 9-day trip to Orlando, during which we spent 3 days in Disney World and 2 in Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. Clearly, that was an expensive trip. But we still found ways to save money, starting with pre-vacation decisions. 1) We ear-marked a monetary gift from my parents to cover food on the trip 2) We packed tons of snacks, sandwich fixin's, a water bottle, and more to take into the parks 3) We made our own Disney hats before we left to wear in the parks 4) We decided on our one big souvenir in advance (the interactive Harry Potter wand).

Kelly said...

Fellow cheapskate here! Love this list!

sharon rowe said...

This is an awesome list I love the great tips! So thank you for sharing your post on last week's Monday Madness link party :) You will be pleased to know that I loved the ideas and tips you had to save money that you are one of the features in this week's party! Hope to see you there!

So-So Mom said...

The food ones that require more of my time are my weakness. Burger King has 10 nuggets for $1.49 right now so my kids will be eating a lot of those after late ball games. I can grab 40 at the drive-thru for 6 bucks and have a peaceful drive home and then feed them some fruit or something when we get there.

mom jeans said...

Hi Janny my favori girl :)

Thanks a lot for the tips.

Kassie said...

My money saving tips tend to be related to food. I make my own yogurt (gallon at a time), granola, smoothies, humus; and I cut my own veggies including romaine for salads. Like you I do not buy breakfast cereal and shred my own cheese if it is cheaper as a block. I buy meat (read: ground beef and chicken) on deep sale and cook and/or freeze (this did require us to buy a separate freezer). My husband and I do Bing reward searches which we cash in for Amazon gift cards. We wash Ziplock bags (although they are often not brand-named Ziplock) and reuse water bottles. We mostly cook from scratch, always eat at home (or brought from home), and eat the leftovers. Hubby takes left overs as lunch. I hardly buy processed food (it will be boxes of crackers or pretzels on sale and usually kept until we are going on a day trip or road trip) and we make our own sweet treats.

I have tried to train myself to evaluate what is in the cart and just put stuff back if it is an impulse. I am also not above returning things if I feel remorse later. I figure since I am home and THIS is my job, I don't mind the extra time to make something if it saves money, I have time (somewhere in my day or week) we don't always have the money.

Birthday parties are at the home with old school games and activities and a balloon (left-over from the tie-a-balloon-to-your-foot-and-don't-let-others-pop-it game) as a "party favor". I have found many kids like these simplistic parties; they really just like hanging out together.

We love the library for books, movies, and activities and watch "our" shows online so don't pay for ANY movie streaming. I hadn't thought of ink refills kits and I haven't bothered joining the Huggies or Pampers clubs, perhaps I should.

Jenny Evans said...

I love all your tips, especially just putting back things in your cart if you don't really need them. I've been known to do this even at the dollar store. I think I'd do this even if I was a millionaire. It's just the principle of the thing.