Welcome to Casual Money Talk’s first-ever blog series, “1 Vs. 20”.
The premise is simple: we ask people 1 specific question about their financial lives, and share the 20 most interesting answers with our readers.
For the second installment of “1 Vs. 20”, we were curious to find out: what extremely creative things have people done to save money?
Here’s what we discovered:
Cutting food expenses seems to be a popular choice among extreme savers.
1. “To save money, I started eating wild plants so I wouldn’t have to buy greens at the store. I got pretty good at identifying ones that are safe to eat, and planted them in my backyard. Over time I grew a sizable crop of edible wild plants. But I wasn’t about to pay for seeds or fertilizers! No way, no how! I harvested the seeds, and used composted kitchen scraps as soil fertilizer, so my only expense for growing my plants was water. I’ve saved a ton this way.”
— JT (age 23) from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA
2. “When I was a college student paying my own way through college, I was so broke I practically survived on ramen noodles. 10 packs of ramen noodles only cost $1 back then, but eating them at least 5 days a week got tiring fast. Plus, I figured it couldn’t have been good for my health.
I found out from another student that our college’s restaurant and hotel management school had an experimental kitchen. It was not open to the public, but they had a small cafeteria that offered $1 dinners to students.
My friend and I started going there 3 nights a week. The quality varied from day to day, but at least it was healthier than the ramen I had been eating.”
— Roger (age 62) from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
3. “I noticed that whenever I went to the supermarket hungry or thirsty, I ended up buying way too much and routinely had to throw expired foods away. This was a wasteful and bad use of my money. So I started to eat a full meal and drink two glasses of water before shopping for groceries, so I’d buy less of the stuff I wouldn’t get a chance to eat anyway. Lo and behold, it worked. I used to spend $300 to $350 a month on groceries, now it’s only about $220 to $270. Who knew that stuffing your belly could actually save you money.”
— Edson (age 33) from Louisville, Kentucky, USA
4. “The only income I earn is from side gigs and about $200 in food stamps from the government. So I have had to live a very frugal life for the past few years.
I have been looking for ways to drop some pounds and save money at the same time, so I decided to cut back on eating out.
I bought a rice cooker and a new microwave to cook all my meals at home, then I combed through the Internet for easy recipes that only require a rice cooker or a microwave.
I’m happy to report that my plan worked wonderfully. Each of my meals comes out to a few dollars only, and they’re tasty and healthy.
My new favorite dishes are: canned chili with beans and rice, Denver omelet (ham, onion, green pepper, cheese), and vegetarian tacos and fajitas.
Comparing to what I used to spend, I’m saving around $150-$250 per month.”
— Tony (age 38) from San Diego, California, USA
5.“When I was really hurting for cash, I only ate the bare minimums. I would go to the dollar store and buy pasta, beans, rice, cheap sauces, and spices – everything off-brand and in bulk, and cooked them following the quick-and-easy recipes I found online (I didn’t have a lot of time then as I was constantly job hunting).
I ended up living on less than $15 of food a week. That was a dramatic decrease in the amount of money I was spending, and I ended up saving almost $200 a month just with that one decision. It took a lot of stress off my shoulders while I looked for work. Although I no longer live like that, I still use the things I learned about food during those couple of months to save money now.”
— Jay (age 38) from San Diego, California, USA
Some chose to drastically lower their utility bills:
6. “I used to live in a house with an oil furnace. Oil was cheap when I first moved in (about $1/gallon, and around $75 a month during winter), but then the price quadrupled just as I lost my full-time job.
I couldn’t afford to buy oil that January with my part-time minimum wage earnings, and had to shut the furnace off. I took 3 or 4 hot showers a day, and wore my winter jacket inside the house. For sleeping, I added even more layers – robe, hat, scarf, and socks – on top of an extra comforter. Let’s just say I didn’t have a lot of people coming over then.
I did this for 2 months and saved about $650 in total, even with the higher water bill.”
— Michelle (age 35) from Newton, Massachusetts, USA
7. “I tried limiting my water and electricity usage as much as possible. I cooked using my camping gear and walked around my home holding a flashlight (so I didn’t have to turn the lights on). I showered at the gym and truck stops. My utility bills were practically $0.”
— Ralf (age 35) from Houston, Texas, USA
8. “I stopped running my air conditioner in the middle of a Texas summer because it was too expensive, and because I had been unemployed for about 6 months at that point. I had to shuffle around the house throughout the day to find the coolest spot to sit in. It was miserable but cutting my AC did lower my electric bill by about $100 each month.”
— Tony (age 32) from Houston, Texas, USA
Paying rent or mortgage? Not for these frugal ninjas:
9. “No one knew about this, but I literally lived in my car for an entire summer to save money. I had all my stuff in self-storage and kept blankets and pillows in my trunk, along with clothes and a cooler for canned and shelf-stable foods. I showered at Planet Fitness, spent evenings at the library and local bars, and then read free ebooks on my phone before bed. Oh yeah, I slept in the Walmart parking lot (putting sun visors on all the car windows).
It sounds dramatic, but it actually wasn’t so bad because the weather was nice. It was kind of an adventure for me, and I appreciated everything I have so much more after going through this.”
— Ashley (age 26) from Spring Lake, North Carolina, USA
10. “When I was in my 20s, a friend and I decided to buy a $2,500 car together. But we had no money, so we had to get creative. We were living in the country at the time, so we moved out of our apartments and moved into a tent we set up in the woods.
We spent two months in the woods hunting and fishing. We hardly spent a dime but were still able to make it to work each and every day.
Two things stood out to me the most during that time:
- Other people want you to shower more often than you might wish (cold showers in the waterfall were not fun).
- You can save a lot of money if your living situation doesn’t make it possible to spend any of it.
We did eventually get our car and immediately headed up to Portland and joined the carnival. Ah, to be young and wild again.”
— Butch (age 56) from Portland, Oregon, USA
11. “Back when I was a college student, I struggled to pay rent. I asked one of my friends if I could sleep in his closet for free. My friend thought I was joking at first, but I, unfortunately, wasn’t. My friend eventually relented.
My first night sleeping in that tiny space was miserable. The carpeted ground was hard. I was cramped and kept hitting my head. After hours of fooling around, I passed out from sheer exhaustion.
I did eventually get used to my new bedroom, so much so that I spent my entire senior year sleeping in there. It was rough, but I was able to save a lot of money. I’m forever grateful to my friend for allowing me to use his closet.”
— Josh (age 27) from Rockville, Maryland, USA
12. “When I decided to leave my husband, I knew I would not be able to live on my own unless I reduced my monthly expenses drastically. I had half of the proceeds from the sale of our home. Combined with some savings, I was able to purchase a small home outright that was two states away (where housing prices were cheaper). I made very few purchases for my new home, and socked the rest of my savings away for emergencies.
From that point on, I no longer had a house payment.
To save even more money, I rented out my spare bedroom to a good friend of mine who took up all the landscaping chores. We got along far better than my husband and I ever did. Win-win!”
— DiDi (age 62) from Stover, Missouri, USA
Sometimes, creativity is in abundance when money is not. Cases in point:
13. “This happened after I bought a new-to-me house a few years back. To celebrate the house purchase, I bought 2 puppies which I wasn’t allowed to have in my previous apartment. Well, I didn’t close their cage properly when I left for work one day. When I got home, the puppies had ripped up and shredded the entirety of our new carpet.
I had no money to replace the flooring, so I did the next best thing: I took massive sheets of plywood and stained them. In doing so, I literally spent a fraction of the cost of any other flooring alternative. It looks great too. You couldn’t tell that I have cut a corner.”
— Kelly (age 39) from Dallas, Texas, USA
14. “The most creative thing I have done to save money was lending it to people (mostly friends and family) at a low 5% interest rate (much cheaper than the 9.7% rate for personal loans) so that I could not misspend it as I waited for their return.
Because I only lend to trustworthy people, I’ve always gotten my money back with interest.
One coworker was particularly keen on borrowing from me, which I wasn’t comfortable with at first. But he always paid a little more than what he owed plus interest, so he soon became my favorite “customer”.”
— Steve (age 30) from New York, New York, USA
15. “The craziest thing I’ve done to save money was intentionally putting money in between my couch cushions. After I get paid on Fridays, I would store $5 to $20 in there, depending on how much overtime I did that week. My kids haven’t caught on yet, so I’ll keep doing it for now. I have no idea how much is in there. Maybe enough for a new couch.”
— Joe (age 35) from Watertown, New York, USA
Facing a hefty medical bill, a desperate couple found a way to amend the situation.
16. “Our health insurance was terrible. When I had a baby, the bill (for prenatal, delivery-related, and post-partum care) was just shy of $10,000, which was a lot for us. In the past, we had been able to bargain with the hospital, but this time the hospital’s policy had been changed so negotiation was taken off the table.
The only thing we could do was wait until the bill went to collections and try to catch it before it showed up on my credit report.
It was nerve-wracking for me every time we received a bill, but it worked. When it went to collections, we were able to negotiate with the collections agency, and they agreed to settle the bill for $7,000. In the end, we saved roughly $3,000.”
— Rachel (age 36) from Dallas, Texas, USA
Handiness sure comes in handy.
17. “My husband wanted a luxurious sports car, but we didn’t have the money to buy one. So here’s what we did: we bought a damaged 2013 Dodge Viper from an auction, spent 4-5 years and $17,000 fixing it up in our garage. Now we got a running, roaring Dodge Viper, and it’s practically a family member. A brand new one costs around $130,000. Ours only cost us about $30,000. No regrets.”
— Donna (age 36) from Miami, Florida, USA
Not everyone saved money in honorable ways. While we don’t condone these behaviors, we do applaud people’s honesty in sharing their stories with us.
18. “This was not my proudest moment but here goes. A few years ago, when I just got out of a relationship and worked part-time, my best friend set me up with a coworker who was really interested in me.
Frankly, I had zero romantic interest in him, but he would always offer to take me out to dinner at fancy restaurants and let me order whatever I wanted. So I would order large portions of dishes, ate some, and took the rest to go.
I stopped talking to him about 3 months later because I still did not develop any feelings for him, but I probably saved about $900 on food, thanks to him.”
— Diana (age 31) from Orlando, Florida, USA
19. “When I first moved to New York City, I found a roommate off of Craigslist, and we agreed to split the rent and utilities.
He was already a tenant before I moved in, so the utilities were all in his name.
A month after moving in, our lights went out. Turns out, my roommate was so disorganized with his finances, he forgot to pay the bills. I believe he was behind by a couple hundred dollars.
But his lack of disorganization benefited me as well, as he never remembered to ask me for my share of the utility bill. And I chose to conveniently forget about it too. I probably saved around $150.
We’re still friends to this day though!”
— Alex (age 38) from New York, New York, USA
To add a little sunshine to your day, here’s an all-around happy story:
20. “I wanted to buy a home outright with cash, so I spent the next four years saving 60% of every paycheck I earned (I didn’t make that much). I stopped going out, and I kept myself entertained by going for walks, watching TV (no cable though), and doing other free things. My only small indulge was a case of beer a week. And my only “vacations” were to go home for Christmas and Thanksgiving. After four years, I was able to buy a condo for $67,000, which I paid cash for.”
— Brian (age 38) from Berea, Ohio, USA
Got a suggestion for an upcoming installment of “1 Vs. 20”? Please send your awesome idea to [email protected]
Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.