15 Extreme Ways I Save Money

No judgement please! Some may call me extreme in my saving habits. But the reality is that I live within my means, and in a manner that’s consistent with my values. Do you consider my saving habits extreme?

I’m not embarrassed to say that something is not in my budget. Some people just put things on credit card. But if I do not have enough money to pay off my card at the end of the month, I will put something back on the shelf.

With 3 kids, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to budget. One’s outgrown his shoes while another comes home with 5 things for which they need money at school. Not to mention birthday parties, activities, and fundraisers.

In addition, I’m constantly asked at work to contribute to one thing or another.

Here are some of the ways I save money, that either on their own or when combined might be viewed as a little extreme.

1. Conserving water by treating every day as if there were a drought

Clean, potable water is a precious resource. When it comes to cleaning, bathing, and flushing, I try to conserve water by acting each day as if we were in a drought.

2. Minimizing use of air conditioning and heat

I would never compromise my family’s health, but I do go to the edge of discomfort before turning on the air conditioner or heater, which saves money on our electricity bill.

During the summer months, my A/C is set at 83◦ F when we are at home. We bump it up to 85◦ F when we are away or in the pool. We gradually increased the temperature by one degree over the years to get to this point.

We live in a warm climate, so it rarely gets below freezing. But it does get cold. When the babies were younger, we would turn on the heat. Now that they’re older, my family bundles up with warm clothes and blankets. We use a fan with a heating function to warm each of their rooms before bed and in the bathroom during bath time. It worked great last year and I plan to do the same this year.

3. Taking staycations

Many people love to travel. But I find nothing appealing about flying, staying in a hotel room, or paying admission and parking fees to stand in line. Growing up in a destination area, I hate being a tourist.

In the 20 years my husband and I have been together, with the exception of him accompanying me on business trips, we have never taken a vacation out of our state.

Nowadays, we have 3 small kids (a toddler, the dreaded non-stop temper-tantruming three-nager, and a school-aged child who never wants to leave the house). Taking a trip to the store is an ordeal.

Many people enjoy staying at hotels because they are clean and relaxing.

But being minimalists and a little obsessive-compulsive, my house is kept clean and organized.

We have a swimming pool in our backyard and a community center with two pools, a water slide, splash pad, playgrounds, and areas for most sports. Our staying at home is like many people’s vacations.

When we do go out, it’s to parks, friends’ houses, local festivals, or beaches that the locals have tried to keep hidden from the tourists. We’ve found a lot of free things to do in our city.

Maybe when the kids are older we will take vacations. For now, a day lounging at home or hanging out with friends is relaxing enough (and free).

4. Sticking to our budgets and lists

I remember a day before kids and while living off student loans when my husband and I were at the store. We couldn’t decide which flavor of donuts to get (he wanted powered and I of course wanted chocolate). So we bought both.

These days, we do something that most people don’t do: have a budget, create a list that will fit in our budget, and stick to them both.

When shopping, we keep a running tally (including tax) of our purchases. If we go over our budget, a decision is made of which item to put back. This helps us to stick to our budget of $100 per person per month for groceries.

Each receipt is logged when we get home. We are careful to not charge more than we can pay off at the end of the month.

5. Refusing monthly payments

“It’s only $X a month!” Not in my house! I get angry when I see advertisements of monthly payment that don’t mention anything about how much you will actually be paying for the product.

I avoid monthly bills and contracts whenever possible. This includes:

  • using a pre-paid cell phone plan
  • paying for car insurance every 6 months rather than monthly (saving $200 a year)
  • saving up to pay for all purchases in cash, including vehicles, furniture, appliances, and (ugh) major home repairs (I need a new roof and am dreading that purchase)

6. Avoiding stores

Recently a friend asked me if I had taken my kids to the playground at the new mall. Taken my kids to the mall to play?

Growing up in the era of the mall (your remember Mall Rats and Tiffany), it was our hang out. When my husband and I first started dating, we would go to the mall every Sunday to eat at the food court. He always had to stop at the Lids store to check out the new hats. I liked to look for sales on clothes and shoes (I am petite with wide feet, so finding items that fit me was always a big deal). And of course we had to get a pretzel or dippin’ dots before we left. We shopped for entertainment.

It was a conscious decision I made to avoid going to stores or malls for entertainment. If there is a specific purchase that needs to be made we will go there for that purpose, and stick to our list.

7. Eating out budget of $25 or less for entire family

One day a co-worker asked me to join her for lunch at her favorite restaurant. It was a buffet, but we only have 30 minutes for lunch (and it takes 10 minutes just to walk to our cars), so we didn’t get to eat very much. When the bill came, I was flabbergasted to see that lunch (and tap water) came to $13 plus tax and tip.

$13 for lunch?! I remember saying to myself “so this is how the other half live.” My co-worker and I earn the same income, but I would never dream of spending that much on one meal.

If I go out to lunch with co-workers, my limit is $7 (admittedly, this is hard to do when others choose the restaurant). If my family goes out to eat, we have a limit of $25 for the 5 of us.

To save money eating out, we enjoy pizzas, Chinese food, or sharing a large order of chicken tenders.

We do make exceptions to the $25 budget if it is someone’s birthday or if we get enough food that it makes two meals.

8. Bringing water everywhere we go

Another thing that I see as being so simple and logical but most people don’t do is carry a reusable water bottle with them. I’m fascinated as I walk around and see how many people are carrying cups with soda or coffee.

Not only is buying beverages expensive and unhealthy, but all that waste has an environmental cost as well.

Yes, it can get cumbersome carrying 5 water bottles. To work around the lack of cup holders, we attach clips to our backpack and stroller. This works great!

9. Aiming for zero-waste parties

When hosting a family event or planning a party, I do my best to create as little waste as possible. This is extreme to some of my family members.

They ask if we have bottled water because they refuse to drink filtered tap water.

Although the meal is carefully planned so that appetizers are finger foods that do not require a plate, some people do want a plate for their appetizers. They think it improper to use the same plate for your appetizer as your main course and don’t understand why we don’t just buy paper plates.

They can’t fathom rinsing off their utensils for the next course when they could just throw away a plastic fork.

Of course I am not perfect. There are some instances (like a party at the park) where we do use disposable items. But even in those cases I used simple white paper plates rather than plastic or Styrofoam. I also brought a bag in which we could put the used water bottles to bring home and recycle rather than throwing them away. Finally, a large container of chips in a recyclable container were brought rather than single-serving bags.

10. Turning Down Free Stuff

Another extreme habit is turning down free items. I go by the rule that if I wouldn’t pay for it, then I don’t accept it.

So how does this save money? It helps me think about what I need and use. This practice helps counteract that consumeristic mindset to which I’ve grown all too accustomed.

11. Not buying things on sale

Similarly, it’s helpful to think that if I wouldn’t pay full price for something, they I won’t buy it on sale. Now I love getting a good deal, but only on things that I want or need. If something on my wish list goes on sale, of course I will take advantage. However, buying something because it’s on sale is not saving money, it’s costing money.

12. Reserving gifts for children

Some people view giving and receiving gifts as a sign of love and affection. Not I. My children and parents receive gifts for Christmas and birthdays. However, my husband and I express our love for each other through our daily actions, not by stuff. It is important for me to pass this value onto my kids.

13. Not taking medications

If my children develop a fever or need an antibiotic cream on a scratch, I do what I need to make sure they are healthy. And I do believe in vaccinations.

But personally, I do not use over-the-counter treatments (e.g., no pain relievers, sleeping aids, antacids), prescription medications (I’ve had bad reactions to almost all I’ve ever tried), or vitamins (with the exception of prenatals when I was pregnant and breastfeeding).

Fortunately, I am in good health. If I do develop a condition, I exhaust behavioral interventions before taking any pills. For example, once I had high blood pressure. Because my weight was good, the physician’s assistant told me that diet and exercise wouldn’t control it. He prescribed medication. Of course, I didn’t believe him, so I started exercising more often and improved my diet. Wouldn’t you know that my blood pressure improved without the medication.

As a health psychologist, diet, exercise, stress management, and sleep are my first-line treatments for non-life threatening problems.

14. Picking up pennies

Whoever said that it’s bad luck to pick up a penny on tails just wanted  easier access to half the money. I don’t understand when people say “it’s only a penny.” How much money does it have to be for you to not pass it by? It’s that mindset that leads to other poor spending behaviors.

When you go through life thinking “it’s only a penny” or something’s “only $13 a month,” these small decisions can add up to thousands of dollars.

15. Not spending money on myself

To afford things for others, I admit that I am extreme when it comes to not wanting to spend any money on myself.

When we were DINKs (dual income, no kids) I went on shopping trips for myself regularly. But since becoming the sole provider for my family I feel guilty when I spend money on something that’s just for me. It’s an enormous pressure to make sure everyone has what they need, all the bills are paid, and that 3 kids can receive an education and 2 adults can have enough money to live when I become unable to work.

The other day I did buy a pair of sneakers (my last pair was purchased nearly 20 years ago). I felt so guilty that we hadn’t even left the mall when I asked my husband if I could return them. He talked me into keeping them. I’m glad he did because I have worn them every day since, and even started jogging. It helps me to reframe the purchase as an investment in my health.

But I’m Not Cheap

Mind you that I am not cheap. I am frugal. Tomorrow I will take a special trip to the Farmer’s Market to purchase a $19 jar of olive salad from a local vendor to use in a potluck dish for co-workers. Because of my frugal ways, I will be able to pay in cash (or maybe some of those coins I’ve been picking up).


How far do you go to save money?


2 thoughts on “15 Extreme Ways I Save Money”

    1. Hi Angela! Yes, we had more details on treating every day like it was a drought, but it was getting a little personal so I removed the specifics. It’s something we can all be doing more of not just to save money, but also to remind us clean water doesn’t grow on trees. Thanks so much for the comment!

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