What’s Your Frugal Secret Weapon?

Most hardcore cheapskates have a secret. Their price book or coupon strategy or a hard-and-fast rule “never shop on Fridays, always buy gas on Tuesdays.”

I’m going to bare all, and share my arsenal of secret weapons. One on condition. Please, please share your secrets too!

Here it goes—my secret weapons to saving money.

  • A spare email account: A Gmail account is great because it has a large capacity and is easy to filter, sort or search. Send all coupons, and mailing lists here. If toilet paper is on your grocery list, search for toilet paper coupons, etc. But under no condition should you actually read every item that goes into this list. Just use search features to see if it happens to include whatever you might be looking for.
  • Frugal Friends: Make a Twitter or Facebook list and watch what your frugal friends are doing! While you are at it—follow hashtags like #frugal and #cheap and #coupon on Twitter.
  • Home-made: Home-made is almost always cheaper. I make my own laundry detergent—I found the recipe in the Duggar’s book. We do six loads of wash a week, and I can make enough soap for a year for about $4. We used to spend $17 a month on liquid laundry detergent. You can home-make washable baby diapers, (our tot is in washable pull-ups at nighttime) soups, pastries and more. Unless you require gluten-free bread (I do) bread is one of the few exceptions I have found. Just buy bread at the store.
  • Your calculator. Our grocery total went down an average of $30 a week simply by carrying a calculator and keeping a tally as we shop.
  • A pricebook: I don’t use a pricebook anymore while grocery shopping, as we have found one store that consistently has lower prices. I do use a pricebook for shopping for business items (paper, binder clips, toner, etc).
  • Hand-me-downs: We have “too big” boxes of clothes for the kids, and “too small” boxes, and eagerly accept hand-me-downs from friends and family.
  • Websites and Blogs: Blogs and Websites can be a wonderful source of ideas and encouragement when it comes to living your live even more frugally. I personally like BillShrink for monitoring the competitiveness of my wireless plan and local gas prices.
  • The public library. From free printing (my library offers 30 pages of free printing per day) and Internet access, to magazines, books, movies and music, the library can save you tons of money.
  • Clocks: Learn “off peak” times for utilities. Shower or run the laundry and dishwasher at the off-peak water times, make phone calls in “off peak” long distance times.
  • Cash envelopes and a solid budget. We use a budget each month. We put the allotted amount of money in an envelope for each subject (grocery, gas and so on) and spend only as much as is present in the envelope—thus never going over-budget.

Now—can we “sharpen the pencil” even more by adding your suggestions? What is your favorite secret weapon for shopping?


By , on May 16, 2011
Jessica Ward Jessica Ward is a full-time writer and adoptive mom to two wonderful children. She writes to support her parenting/adopting habit. For frugal family tips see The PennyWise Family or @jessc098 and my google+ profile.


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  1. kate:

    Shop at discount food stores like aldi. Use coupons matched with sales at regular supermarkets.

    Garden. Tomatoes cost as much as steak in stores. they cost nearly nothing when you grow them, especially if you grow heirlooms and save the seeds.

    I buy my clothes (except underwear and socks) at goodwill. I only buy on sundays when they have their sale on clothes because i refuse to pay more than $1.50 for a sweater, even if its a fancy one. And i wear clothes until they die, which brings me to my next part

    I use pretty much everything until it wears out. My car currently has like 200k miles on her. I wear shoes until i wear holes through the bottoms.

    I watch dvds from our library.

    Kindle, every day there is a new free book available on kindle. My kindle was a gift. It more than paid for itself in free books when i have taken various lit classes in college, also fyi it has plenty of free textbooks so if you are taking a math class where the homework isnt checked, you can totally skip the 200 dollar calculus book and just read the free calculus books on kindle.

    I water down my shampoo. This may not seem like such a big savings, but my hair touches my thighs so i use a lot of shampoo otherwise.

    On the same note, i reuse foaming soap dispensers. To refill them put a teaspoon or hand soap in one, add enough water to fill the thing, and you have enough foaming soap for maybe 100 hand washes from the amount of normal soap people usually use in 2 hand washes.

    Oh yeah and it goes without saying that i cook my food myself

  2. Jennifer:

    These are great ideas. I’m going to have to try the laundry soap. I use retailmenot.com for an in store coupons. Just type in what store you want and it will show you what is available. I also buy off season for clothes and shoes, and save it in labeled bins for when it is needed. Turn down your heat and air when you are going away for the day. Form a clothing and toy exchange with your church or friends. If you have a skill that you can trade for services offer it. I exchange teaching piano lessons for dance classes, babysitting, lawn mowing etc.

  3. Kim53:

    I save money by trying to stay out of stores, period!The superstores get me into trouble because I start to wander to the isle end for clearence items (non-food items). I do better in solo grocery stores, my favorites Aldi’s, Save -A-Lot, Krogers. Our Save-A Lot will take coupons at face value. Lose leaders are hard to pass by – if at a superstore I’ll try using a list (for me I need amazing self-control to pass the clearence) and stick to it!!

  4. Fifi:

    Ah, frugal friends. Those are hard to come by in this day and age. Many a people fall into the consumerist trap and never look back. Nice/new things are good, but only when you can afford. Many people can not.

    I think another key is focusing on what is important. The amount you spend does not make a particular item or service better than another.

    Just started my own frugal financial make-over. Check it out!



  5. Amy:

    We always have a few side-hustles going such as picking things up at garage sales and reselling them on Amazon.com. We made about $600 doing that last year. Super Nintendo games are usually something we keep and eye out for and college text books.

    We buy in bulk whenever possible. In the past few months we’ve purchased a quarter cow (grass fed) from a local farmer and a 50lb bag of quinoa from amazon.com. We have a larger freezer to stock up whenever there is a good deal on items we know we’ll use.

    My husband is the King of free samples. We’re constantly getting little presents in the mail from his requests on various sites, Walmart being one of the better ones.

    If we EVER need to purchase something online we check out retailmenot.com for a coupon code first. I love that site.

  6. Tribble Mom:

    We save big $ making laundry soap at home. I picked that up watching the Duggars tv show and from the simple dollar. I also make bread at home which is a huge cost savings and yummy! My husband has taught himself to work on our vehicles. The amount we save in oil changes alone is amazing. Vehicle maintainece is a must with older vehicles so thank you husband!

  7. Nico:

    How about keeping an expenses journal and planning meals? I find them pretty good ways of keeping an eye on the costs…

  8. kath:

    I also keep an email address just for coupons and sales! I do much of what your other posters are doing, but I did get some great hints!
    I write menus for the month for my house and it’s a huge timesaver for both me and my family. I found the local supermarket with the lowest prices, best sales, double coupons and a loyalty card and I usually save about 50% on my grocery bill. I buy my bulk items once a month at Sam’s Club, and always make sure the items aren’t on sale with a coupon somewhere else, because often they are cheaper at the supermarket than at Sam’s. I grow a small garden and freeze vegetables and tomato sauce, I make jam from the grapes and strawberries we grow, and I sew. This has actually been one of the biggest money savers for me. I prolonged the life of my still usable but worn out sofa by making a slipcover out of dropcloths. It looks brand new now. I’m working on covering the mismatched chairs next. I recycled curtains into longer panels by adding fabric to the bottom, which is very trendy right now, I remake older clothes into newer outfits for my teenage daughter and my young grandchildren. I’ve never purchased artwork for my home. All of the gorgeous things hanging on my walls were created either by my children or were gifts from friends who are artistic. I hate to shop, so I only go when I need something, and then I try to only buy on sale or used. I love Goodwill and yard sales! I also save on Christmas in a big way. Now that my kids are grown or almost grown, it’s very hard to shop for them because the things they really want or need are usually out of my budget, so I do give them some money or a gift card toward something they want to buy, but my Christmas stockings are becoming legendary in my family. I make them for my husband, kids, parents, mother-in-law and grandkids. I shop all year for them and fill them with small treasures. Not junk, mind you, but unique and inexpensive small items, like shopping bags that zip up into very small pouches that can be kept in a purse, or an emergency whistle for the outdoorsy types, or travel mugs that I found on clearance. I don’t spend a fortune on them – much less than a gift would cost, and everyone is happy.

  9. marci357:

    Garden, sew to make over clothes or remake clothes, cut your own wood, put another layer on in the winter, keep the thermostat set for savings.

    For seniors (as young as 55 now!), first Tuesday of the month is 10% of store brands at our Freddies, and every Wednesday is 10% off at the day old bread store :) Watch for those kinds of deals.

    Simple pleasures and leisure time. There are hundreds of things to do that don’t cause money, for fun. Learn to enjoy what’s free!

    Change your mind set is #1 – it doesn’t have to cost money to be fun!

    No cable TV – besides saving money it frees up soooo much time!
    Take full advantage of your local library for books, audio books, downloads for your nook, music cds, movies, and internet access. Free wi-fi there too :)

  10. Elide Fregoso:

    I always buy generic, saves me tons of money.

  11. AngelSong:

    I also prepare meals in bulk when I cook on weekends, and freeze the food in meal-size portions. That way, when we come home late and tired, it is so easy to pop the meals into the oven to reheat instead of getting take-out.

  12. Angela N:

    1. Accept formula samples, free formula or excess from others to use for transitioning from breast milk to cow’s milk or to stretch your cow’s milk for toddlers by using half and half with cow’s milk.

    2. Buy marked down produce such as overripe bananas.

    3. Drive cars as long as possible, have a fair priced mechanic and don’t be afraid to drive cars with over 100,000 miles on them. Our goal is to get 300,000 miles out of each car. We just retired a Saturn SW with 290,000 miles. We sold it for $300.

    4. Have garage sales frequently to get rid of clutter and turn it into cash.

    5. Use rewards checking accounts that pay higher interest than the best cds if you jump through their hoops. I use Texas Bank, Telco Plus credit union and Altra credit union to get anywhere from 3-4% interest.

    6. Live in the smallest house you can function in.

    7. Don’t have cable TV.

    8. Conserve electricity and water as well as use energy efficient appliances, CFC light bulbs, etc.

    9. If you have a wood stove, look for free wood on craig’s list.

    10. Drink water only instead of tea, coffee, lemonade, koolaid, cokes, etc.

    • Our cards are at 145K and 170k miles. We’re also hoping for 300k! We take good care of the cars, and they’ve taken good care of us. :)

  13. Kathleen K:

    My frugal secret is a saying from the days of the Great Depression:

    Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

    • Like! :)

      • Patsy:

        BEST tip!

  14. I have hundreds of strategies! I’d need a book and a month to list them all. My main ones:
    1. I make a meal plan, stock up at rock bottom prices, stockpile enough to last until the next sale, coupon and match sales to coupons.
    2. I shop secondhand whenever possible. Nearly all of my family’s clothes are secondhand. Exceptions: socks, underwear, bras and shoes. Everything else has been pre-conditioned!
    3. We do it ourselves when feasible. I’m the family barber, baker and chef. We grow a little garden. I nurse my kids (had issues with my son and had to supplement until I could pump enough, as he had birth injuries preventing effective milk transfer until he healed at about 3 months old). I mend clothes if I can (fix buttons, sew rips in seams, patch knees, etc).
    4. We bought less than we could afford. When we took out our mortgage, the bank was willing to lend us a ridiculous amount of money. We said thanks, but no thanks. We took out a modest mortgage loan and paid off our house in 6.5 years rather than 30.
    5. I do the drugstore game. I shop yardsales, rummage sales, thrift stores, inventory sales, freecycle, craigslist and ask friends for hand me downs.
    6. We give generously. This month I am donating 100 boxes/cans of food to the food bank. I freecycle / donate our outgrown clothes, toys and books. I donated 6 copy paper boxes of toiletries to a domestic violence shelter.

  15. Jenny:

    When something you use regularly is on sale, buy several and stock up, but only non perishables and only as many as you can use in a reasonable amount of time.

    This way you are always eating cheaper food. If tomato sauce is normally $1 a can and you see it for $0.50, instead of just buying one and saving on that night’s meal, buy 5-10 and save 50% on your next several tomato sauce meals.

  16. Why is bread an exception? It costs me far less to make a loaf at home than to buy it at the store, even at the bakery outlet.

    • Eppie:

      Gluten free bread often requires multiple gf-types of flour, that tend to be more expensive than regular flour. And it doesn’t quite turn out like bread, so store-bought is much better, unless you have the time and money to really perfect your recipe.

      • Yes, we do GF bread here, and it seems unreliable on how it turns out. I typically prefer not to buy it at all–and get it instead in Gleaning programs, or make it if I have to have it–but usually I do without. At $7.00 a loaf, that’s just damn nonsense. :-( We can usually get a loaf of regular bread for the kids (they eat wheat sometimes). A loaf runs about $0.85 at our Local WinCo. There’s no way I’m going to make a loaf of bread when I can pick it up for under a buck. (Especially since having loose wheat flour in our house risks contamination of other stuff).

    • knitwit:

      I agree with Canadian – I can make homemade bread for 50-60 cents a loaf. That includes the cost of using a gas oven and replaces a $4 loaf at the store. (Having a bread machine makes it very easy too.) Whole wheat and no additives to boot.

      Gluten free isn’t an issue at our house.

  17. You can get a debit card at Target saving you 5% each time you shop there. For us in Maine, that saves me the tax. I tend to spend $50 a week there…so that will a $130 saving on average. All it took was five minutes to bring to customer service a blank check and my license. I am not using credit and it automatically comes out of my checking book!

  18. Sheila:

    I’m sorry to be distracted by this, but how do you sort in gmail? I didn’t think it was possible. This has been a great frustration to me!

    • marci357:

      on the top of the page, from the left is the GMAIL logo. To the right a little is a box, followed by the words “search mail”.
      Fill in the box with the word you are looking for… then press the “search mail” button.

      A list of all the emails that contain that word or phrase you typed in will appear. Enjoy!

      • Sheila:

        Thank you for your reply. I do know how to search, but you mentioned sorting. I wanted to be able to sort by name or subect, and you mentioned sort, so I thought that is what you meant. Thanks!

        • Shelia–you can also use folders in Gmail. It took me a while to figure it out (I usually prefer to use Outlook, but for my coupon stuff, I’d rather not be distracted by it. Some things go direct to a folder, others just get “searched” but I never open every message. That would take forever.

  19. AngelSong:

    I make my own laundry detergent, and I make my own household cleaner. I like them because they are inexpensive and work as well as or better than commercial products I used to buy.

    I cook from scratch as much as possible. Much cheaper and healthier than buying processed foods.

    I find as many new uses for items I already have as I can.

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I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

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