Back in the day, before reality TV and the internet were there to tell me otherwise, I thought I had mastered the art of living on the cheap. As a single parent on a tight budget, resourcefulness was essential for survival. My ability to stretch a dollar became so great I considered it a super power. I was the Wonder Woman of frugality and a DIY champ before crunchy granola moms and their Pinterest boards made it cool. Upcycled yard sale finds and homemade baby wipes were a way of life because every penny mattered. I was an extreme cheapskate. Or so I thought.
Fast forward about a decade and a half. Our life circumstances had changed enough that store bought products and other modern conveniences were no longer luxury items for us. We could even afford cable television (at least, at the introductory rate we were offered when we moved into our then new house . . . more on that later), and one day I stumbled upon the TLC show Extreme Cheapskates. At that time our income was in a comfortable range, but we were prone to bouts of frivolous spending from time to time. So I tuned in earnestly, with the hopes of learning a few clever moneysaving tricks and/or somehow getting inspired to to manage our money more wisely.
I definitely learned something from what I saw that day, but “clever” and “inspired” aren’t exactly the words I’d use to describe the lesson. I’m all for the Three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), but the moneysaving measures revealed on the one and only episode of Extreme Cheapskates I’ll ever watch were so much more extreme than I’m willing to get, way too far out of this germaphobe’s comfort zone. Ultimately, I learned how wrong I had been to label myself an “extreme cheapskate.” If you’re okay with dumpster diving and reusing toilet paper I won’t judge. For the rest of you not-so-extreme cheapskates I offer this series.
Here’s the plan. Starting today, on a consistent monthly basis, I will share at least one moneysaving technique that I’m trying or have tried. That is, I will swap out a commonly used household product and/or habit with a low-cost (or no cost) option, hence the term “frugal flip.” I’ll review pros and cons of each flip and provide figures of potential savings. Whenever possible I’ll track how much I’ve actually saved. If my preliminary estimations turn out to be accurate, adopting and committing fully to all of the changes I plan on sharing will save thousands of dollars per year. So, without further ado, I give you . . .
Frugal Flip #1: Stop paying for household garbage bags
For me, this is not technically a ‘flip’ because I’ve been doing this for most of my adult life. I’m just not willing to spend money on a product whose ultimate purpose is to be thrown in the trash. It’s like literally throwing money away, and totally unnecessary when I can easily get bags that work perfectly well to contain my family’s household waste for FREE every time I buy groceries (or almost anything else). Instead of a typical tall kitchen trash can (which requires specialized bags you have to buy) we use a smaller trash can that can accommodate the plastic grocery bags. Sure, we have to take the trash out more often than we would with a larger receptacle, but I don’t mind. We have less of a problem with garbage stinking up our kitchen since it sits around inside for a shorter time.
The total savings on this flip are relatively small, but I still think this one is worthwhile because it’s incredibly easy to do. It requires no significant effort or time beyond what you’d normally do, and it’s free. So, unless you live in an area where plastic grocery bags have been banned or are not free, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. Not to mention, recycling these bags is a nice thing you can do for our planet. The amount you will save depends, of course, on many factors, such as: whether you recycle and/or compost, how many people are in your family, whether you have children in diapers, whether you have pets, if you’ve been buying bags for multiple trash cans in your house, and the brand you usually buy. That said, I’ve estimated our family’s average savings per year to fall somewhere in the range of $20-$25 per year.
Frugal Flip #2: Do your grocery shopping from home
A couple of months ago I discussed this topic at greater length. You can easily hop over to my blogger page and retrieve that post, so I won’t spend a lot of time rehashing everything here. Basically, this is another no-brainer way to save both time and money. It takes me no more than 15 minutes to order my groceries online (I use an app on my phone) and only a few more minutes to pick them up later at the store, curbside, usually on my way home from somewhere else. Easy peasy. Whereas, before this service was available, it often took over 2 hours to complete a grocery shopping trip with my often uncooperative preschooler.
You can probably relate to the experience of coming out of the grocery store having bought way more than you’d planned on buying. That’s because most retail establishments are strategically engineered to get you to spend more money. So the less time you spend in a store the less you are likely to spend. Spending no time in a store is, obviously, even better and has saved my family about $30-$50 a week. Over the course of the year we will have saved up to $600.
Frugal Flip #3: Cancel your cable TV subscription
Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime you can watch just about any show you like whenever you want without forking over any of your hard earned dollars to the cable company. This should be another easy flip for many of you; unless, perhaps, you’re a huge sports fan. We’re not, so I don’t know if there’s anything out there that would allow you to enjoy all the content you want in the same way that Netflix, etc. does for us.
What’s more, you can get all major network (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) programs and a few others for free. If your TV was manufactured after July 1, 2007 all you need is an antenna. If your TV is an older model you’ll need a converter box in addition to the antenna.
Back when we had cable it had only cost us a few dollars beyond the cost of our internet service because it came with a promotional package for new subscribers. After the 3 month trial period ended the price jumped up by $60 a month. Had we kept that overpriced cable service we’d be paying $720 a year! I don’t know about you, but I can think of thousands of things I’d rather spend that much money on. We now use Netflix and Amazon Prime and have exponentially more shows to choose from than we could ever watch with cable (plus free 2 day shipping, tons of free music and other great perks that come with Amazon Prime). At $9.99 a month and $99 a year, respectively, we’ve saved over $500 a year compared to what it would have cost to continue our cable plan.
Frugal Flip #4: Grow your own food
Two years ago we started an organic garden. I don’t have exact figures on how much we’ve saved, but I’m sure it’s significant enough, given the sky high retail prices my local supermarkets charge for organic food. The first year we had squash coming out of our ears and a few dozen delicious heirloom tomatoes. Last year the tomatoes and squash didn’t fare as well, but we made up for it in cucumbers. We also had a decent crop of kale and got a pint of raspberries almost daily for nearly two straight months.
I don’t really like proposing a flip here without any real numbers to back it up, but you can probably imagine how difficult it is to quantify this one. The variables are enough to make your head spin. I literally got a headache thinking about it. Despite my lack of data, I thought I should go ahead and bring this one up anyway because now is the time to start planning if you want to start growing your own food this summer. In many parts of the country, to get the biggest bang for your buck, you should start germinating some seed varieties indoors as soon as possible to ensure a healthy harvest at the appropriate time.
If you’re on the fence about whether gardening is worth the effort, here’s a ballpark figure to help you decide. According to the Burpee seed company a $50 investment can yield up to $1250 worth of produce. However, that’s probably a return realized by only those with lots of acreage, the greenest thumbs and the best luck. A regular Jane like me with a small backyard, a grayish green thumb, and slightly less than average luck is more likely to end up with a lot less. The National Gardening Association provides a more realistic sounding scenario. They estimate that a typical garden will cost $70 and provide around $600 worth of fruits and veggies. That’s $530 in free food!
Total estimated annual savings thus far: $1990
And there you have it, your first four Frugal Flips (try saying that five times without tripping over your tongue). See you next time. Or, shall I say, catch you on the flipside?
Sources: articles.chicagotribune.com, techwalla.com, thepennyhoarder.com