Personal finance experts are in the business of helping readers save money every day. Although not every tip can apply to every reader, there is a shared goal of imparting financial wisdom to others to help them cope with debt, improve their credit, successfully obtain a home and accomplish a number of other financially based goals. It’s definitely possible to take frugality too far, however, and the quest to save money can quickly turn from the wise to the weird.
We asked 30 major bloggers and personal finance experts to share both the most bizarre things they’ve ever done to save money — and the lessons they learned through the experience.
I Scrounged in the Lost and Found for a Free Swimsuit
“I don’t consider it weird, but others I’ve told about this incident find it cringe-worthy,” Jeff Yeager, the Ultimate Cheapskate, said. “I checked into a hotel once, only to realize that they had a swimming pool and I didn’t bring a bathing suit. The clerk at the desk suggested that I buy one at the mall next door. Grimacing, I asked if instead they perhaps had a suit in my size in their lost and found. She proudly produced a nice-looking swimsuit in just my size, and said that I could keep it when I was through, since it had been in their lost and found for more than 30 days. It’s still my favorite suit. Lesson: It never hurts to ask.”
I Saved Coffee Cups to Get Free Refills
“At one point in time, I used to save paper coffee cups and use them to get free refills on a different day,” said Deacon Hayes of Well Kept Wallet. “Then places started charging for refills, so it really didn’t make sense to do this anymore. Plus it was kind of weird to take a paper coffee cup home, rinse it out and wait to take it the next time I was at that coffee shop. I learned that the best bet is to brew my coffee at home or, if I schedule a meeting, make sure to do it where they offer free refills.”
I Bought Secondhand Ski Lift Passes
“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was to stand at the bottom of a ski slope and ask people who have finished skiing for the day to sell me their ski lift passes,” said Maria Nedeva of The Money Principle. “This sounds like another middle-class woman playing at money saving but it was a powerful and empowering experience that took me far beyond my comfort zone. And I was already using most usual saving hacks and then some, anyway. To buy three ski lift passes, I had to ask about twenty people.”
Photo Credit: Susan Law Cain
I Dressed in Costume for a Free Burrito
“Some may find this weird, but I thought it was genius,” said David Carlson of Young Adult Money. “When I was in college, Chipotle offered free burritos on Halloween if you showed up in costume (I believe they are now $3). A group of my buddies and I went to about six different Chipotles and collected a free burrito at each. Who could pass up six free Chipotle burritos? Not us.
“I learned a couple things from this experience: College students will do just about anything for free food, especially Chipotle, and lettuce doesn’t stay good for three days in a leftover Chipotle burrito.”
I Sported Free-But-Branded Shirts
“A few years ago, I worked for a certain potato chip company,” said Nelson Smith of Financial Uproar. “As part of the job, I got three or four free polo shirts per year, which are really comfortable and, at least in my opinion (but probably not my girlfriend’s), pretty stylish. There’s just one problem: They have potato chip logos on them.
“You can probably figure out where this is going. Yes, I still wear those shirts to this day. And often, too.
I Wandered Around Looking for Free Wi-Fi
“I’d say it was when I was traveling on a motorbike around Europe and didn’t have a cell phone plan for all of the small countries where I would sometimes only spend a few days,” said Pauline Paquin of Reach Financial Independence. “I was the passenger and we would go around the town center, me with my smartphone in my hand trying to find free Wi-Fi to load our route and look up a hotel for the night. We would then stand outside awkwardly and load up the data. I have learned that although it is nice to be resourceful, sometimes it would have been worth the cost of a coffee just to sit down and relax!”
I Couch Surfed
“I couch surfed to save on travel costs,” said Stefanie O’Connell of The Broke and Beautiful Life. “When I tell people I crashed with relative strangers as a petite 20-something-year-old woman traveling on my own, they think I’m totally nuts. The reality is, couch surfing hosts are more like friendly neighbors than creepy weirdos. I’ve stayed with families, couples, young and old. You might be pleasantly surprised by what’s out there when you stop assuming the worst. Couch surfers are an awesome community of adventure seekers —and it’s free!”
“I attended time-share presentations for the gift, free meal or show tickets,” personal finance writer Barbara Friedberg told us. “In Southern California there were many opportunities to visit vacation properties with time-share ownership possibilities. At the beginning of our marriage, when we had more time than money, we attended the mandatory time-share sales pitch (never bought in spite of the pressure) for the perks. For example, we got a great meal and show tickets at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Southern California.
“The takeaway was to figure out what your time is worth. If you’re young with no money, use your time to save or make more money. Be creative when looking for low-cost experiences and money-saving strategies. We also got a lovely luggage set at one time-share presentation, and free Las Vegas show tickets at another presentation while on vacation.”
“I think most of the money-saving strategies I use are pretty normal,” said Jeremy Biberdorf of Modest Money. “I guess one that is less common would be unplugging appliances when not in use. A lot of those appliances are draining electricity even when turned off. There were also specific appliances that I’d put on a separate power bar knowing I would rarely use them. Then I could leave that power bar turned off.
“For this strategy, it might have been more effective if I had one of those devices that gauge appliance electricity use. Then I could determine where this was most worthwhile. Of course then there would be the extra expense. Due to the inconvenience, I have started leaving many of those appliances plugged in. Sometimes the time involved does make a difference in which money-saving strategies are worth the effort.”
I Charged Rent to a Credit Card
“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was put my rent on my credit card,” said Lance Cothern of Money Manifesto. “Even though I had to pay a $10 fee to my landlord in order to pay with a credit card, I earned $30 cash back each month. In the end, I saved $20 a month by filling out a credit card rent form once a month in my apartment complex’s lobby.
“There are always creative ways to save money, you just have to find a way to take advantage of them.”
I Opted for a Red-Eye to Get a Flight Voucher
“I was flying out to the East Coast to start my first real job after college,” said Nick Loper of Side Hustle Nation. “My flight was supposed to get in Sunday night, and I would show up to the office on Monday morning for training and orientation. At the airport, the flight was oversold and they were looking for volunteers to take the later, red-eye flight that landed at [5 a.m.] Knowing I had several cross-country trips in my future, I wanted that flight credit voucher so I volunteered.
“Thankfully the flight was on time; I got a couple hours of sleep at the hotel, and made it to my first day of work only a little tired and bleary-eyed. It was probably a risky move though, and perhaps I didn’t make the best first impression!”
I Celebrated Christmas Late
“Growing up, we sometimes used to celebrate holidays a day or so after their official date,” said William Charles of Doctor Of Credit. “As we all know, after a big holiday (Easter, Christmas, etc.) the prices for items relating to that holiday dramatically decrease. In the past, my family has decided to celebrate these holidays a few days after their official date so everybody could save some much-needed money. It also usually means flights and other travel items are much cheaper as well, as you’re not needing to travel during those peak periods.
“Holidays really aren’t about presents or celebrating on a specific day (unless that day holds particular significance for you), but rather spending time with loved ones.”
Keep reading: How to Save Money During the Peak Travel Season
“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was waxing my own eyebrows,” said Shannon McLay of Financially Blonde. “A friend of mine told me about this waxing kit which costs about as much as one waxing for me, so I figured I had nothing to lose. The entire experience scared me and I almost dripped hot wax on my eyeball, but I learned that I could do anything if I just put my mind to it. I now wax my own eyebrows regularly, and I have no fears whenever I do it.”
“As a 21-year-old single mom, I was a clerk at a big-city newspaper, where an editor would ask me to run to the cafeteria for coffee for reporters, ‘and get something for myself, too,'” personal finance writer Donna Freedman said. “Instead I would pocket the 35 cents it cost to buy an orange drink and purposely get more sugar packets than necessary; that way, I’d get an extra buck or so a week (these were 1979 dollars) plus sugar to take home for my oatmeal.
“I don’t know about ‘weird,’ but it’s certainly sad. Money and sugar! But seriously: It was just one more reminder that since I had very few resources, I’d better be creative about meeting needs for myself and my baby. My various hand-to-mouth coping strategies were pretty useful much later, when I was a mid-life college student and broke divorcee.”
I Took a Bus 1,000 Miles Out of My Way
“One of the weirdest (and best) things I did to save money happened soon after college graduation, during a recession when few landed regular jobs,” said Julie Rains of Investing to Thrive. “I accompanied a friend on a road trip from North Carolina to Montana, where she stayed to work the summer at Yellowstone National Park. Rather than flying directly back home, I extended my trip by taking the bus to Los Angeles and then flying out of LAX, because the total transportation cost was less expensive using this route. While in LA, I stayed with a college friend studying law at Pepperdine University; her campus housing was on Malibu Beach, so my cost savings involved a free beach stay.
“From a business perspective, I learned that costs are often lower on high-volume routes; from a personal perspective, I discovered that free-form adventures are often more fun and cheaper than traditional travel.”
“The weirdest thing I ever did to save money was to use my birthday to collect freebies from more than 20 restaurants and stores around town,” said Kyle Taylor of The Penny Hoarder. “A lot of retailers offer these birthday freebies as a promotion and you only need to present your driver’s license to score tons of free food, free gift certificates and valuable coupons.
“My goal was actually to get to all 100 places on this list, but after my fifth scoop of free ice cream I realized that my eyes were a bit bigger than my stomach. It was still a pretty fun day, and I scored a few free gift certificates that I was able to use later in the week.”
I Earned Cash Taking Surveys
“I once used an app that recorded my location and occasionally asked me simple survey questions in exchange for ‘points’ that could be redeemed for cash,” said Louis DeNicola of Cheapism.com. “In the end, it took a lot of time and battery life and I only made $10. I’ve since learned to recognize when something takes more time than it’s worth and focus on outcomes.”
I Slept in the Car Instead of Paying for a Hotel Room
“My wife and I once took a trip to Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio,” said Brian Fourman of Luke1428. “Instead of paying for a hotel, the night before we went to the park we slept in our Saturn at a Walmart parking lot. Our big takeaway from that money-saving experience was that we are never doing that again.”
I Took My Trash to Work
“A few years back, I took a look at that huge garbage receptacle provided to me by my local government, and I realized how little trash I generated,” said Andrew Schrage of Money Crashers. “I decided therefore to opt out of garbage pick-up, and I believe I saved myself close to $200 annually. I obtained permission from my employer at the time to use the company dumpster, and took my refuse to work with me each day. It might sound like a rather unseemly process, but I recycled and composted everything I could, so it really wasn’t that bad.
“What I took away from the experience is that oftentimes you can find savings just by taking an objective look at some of the things you spend money on. If you’re willing to be a little creative, there are plenty of ways to save.”
I Put on Bike Stunt Shows
“When I was a kid, I would save money to grow my baseball card collection,” said Elle Martinez of Couple Money. “I had my can recycling route I did, but I wanted to earn a little bit more. Not weird, but I came up with the idea of putting on these little bike ‘stunt shows’ (no real skills, but I marketed it all around the neighborhood like I was a star), and charged like a quarter per spectator.
“I discovered that there are different ways to earn and save money, and having a job. I liked the idea of these small projects or games that allowed me to build my savings. Even now, I look for fun ways to build my savings.”
I Window-Shopped for Free Cookies
“When I used to be a broke college student, there was a discount store, Bob’s furniture store, that gave cookies to shoppers,” said Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista. “I never bought furniture but I always went for the free cookies. What I initially took away from the experience is free cookies taste better than paid-for ones. What I really learned is that there is always a way to get more for less.”
I Ate Free-But-Stale Bagels
“The weirdest thing I’ve ever done to save money was drastically cut my grocery budget for about two months while I was paying off debt,” said John Schmoll of Frugal Rules. “I figured out the cheapest way I could eat and still allow myself to get by, and thus have more money to throw at my debt. So, for roughly six to eight weeks I ate nothing but stale bagels from the grocery store and rejected frozen pizzas I was able to buy from a friend who worked in the food service industry. That allowed me to cut my grocery spending to a little under $100 a month for the span of time I did it.
“The lesson learned: Sometimes short-term sacrifices aren’t worth it in the long-term. It did allow me several hundred extra dollars to throw at my debt, but I could have looked for other ways to accomplish the same thing.”
I Gave Up Luxuries
“The weirdest thing I did to save money was cut luxury items out of the budget,” said Brian of Debt Discipline. “In order to save money immediately to have more cash to apply to debt repayment, we cut satellite radio, Game Fly and eating out. By simply changing our behavior, we were able to free up hundreds of dollars each month in our budget. After a few weeks of doing without these things, it was clear that they are wants and not needs and can be easily sacrificed.”
I Listened to the Same 12 Songs
“The weirdest thing I did to save money was listen to the same twelve songs over and over again, for years!” said AJ Smith ofSmartAsset. “I got an MP3 player as a gift when they first came out and I stuck with it, even after better, newer versions came out and long after I was able to add or change the songs. I ran with that MP3 player for years and finally when it started to bother me, I budgeted for and eventually bought a new one. This reminded me that finances are all about priorities; I chose to spend my money elsewhere until I prioritized it and then added to my budget.”
I Stocked Up on Free Condiments
“There are [two] weird things I did to save money that are related,” said Jon Dulin of Money Smart Guides. “When I was in college and I would be out at a fast food restaurant or a picnic, I would load up on ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise packets so I wouldn’t have to buy the condiments. I would also stock up on plastic utensils so I didn’t have to wash my regular silverware.
“At the time I thought I was a genius for saving money, but then I realized I was barely saving much money since I rarely use condiments in the first place and the cost to actually wash my silverware wasn’t that much either.”
I Hacked Gift Cards and Other Offers to Save More
“I do a lot of weird things to save money, but I recently wrote about my purchase of a treadmill desk which went way off the deep-end,” the eponymous Lazy Man of Lazy Man and Money told us. “I stalked Sears’ website for a few days to get the best price. Then I used a reward card to buy discounted gift cards to buy the product. I also attempted to apply for the store credit card to save another 10 percent off the $1,500 treadmill desk. I did this even though I was paying the bulk of the bill with the gift cards. It didn’t all go according to plan, but I ended up with a tremendous deal.
“I learned that I am a little crazy about saving money. On a more serious note, I got competitive in searching for the best price and the end result was more money in my pocket. You don’t have to go overboard like I did, but saving money on big purchases goes a long way.”
We Sweated It Out to Keep the A/C Off
“The weirdest thing we’ve done to save money is refusing to run any form of air conditioning for a month in the Texas summer heat,” said Jason and Vanessa of Cash Cow Couple. “We wanted to see how low our electric bill could fall, and our punishment was an abundance of sweat. It was a good experience because it served as a reminder that air conditioning is a luxury for many people in the world, not a necessity. We human beings are quick to adapt.”
I Lived in a Rent-Free Basement
“After my husband graduated from law school, we sold our home and moved into his parents’ unfinished, two-bedroom basement with our three kids,” said Stephanie of Six Figures Under. “We decided we would pay off our $130,000-plus in student loans before buying a house.
“While we’re itching to get into our own place, the free rent makes a huge impact on how much we are able to put toward our debt. Our living situation is also a constant reminder of our goal, which helps us not get sidetracked along the way. Two years (and one more kid) later, we are making great progress and are glad we chose this weird way to save money.”
I Was an Airbnb Early Adopter
“The weirdest thing I’ve ever done to save money was using Airbnb (back when it was just getting started) to stay in someone’s spare bedroom while on a business trip to NYC,” said Philip Taylor of PT Money. “It quickly became obvious that this room was the ‘cat’s room.’ I learned there is such a thing as being too cheap and to do a better job reading the reviews.”
I Canceled Cable
“I got rid of my cable subscription a few years ago,” said Chana Schoenberger Zimmermanof Max, a service that helps consumers maximize their interest earnings. “In addition to saving about $100 per month, I discovered that I didn’t really miss the ability to just turn on the TV, which also saved me from wasting time. If there’s a show I feel compelled to watch, I buy it from iTunes or watch it on Netflix, but even then I don’t come close to replicating that cable bill cost.
“At Max, we’re passionate about earning more interest on your cash in the bank, so it makes sense to keep cash there, or to invest it, rather than spending it on TV.”