Frugal Tips for the Real World and for Television

The other day, my friend Joe (not that friend Joe! wait… are all Joes cool or am I just lucky to know the cool ones? doesn’t matter) moved his seat so he could sit closer to me at the (b)logger happy hour.

I thought he was just being friendly. I like you too, Joe! But no. He wanted to talk to me about something specific.

“So, you’re Frugal Portland,” he starts. “How are you frugal? What do you do that others don’t in terms of frugality?”

I was puzzled. What’s he getting at? And further, doesn’t he read every single word of this fine blog? So I listed a few things. Turns out, he’d been contacted by a big time television network.

They wanted him to upload a video describing all the ways that he was frugal.

The show? Extreme Cheapskates. We talked for a bit about our habits. Andi chipped in.

Frugal Tips for the Real World

Frugal Tips for the Real World

Here’s what we came up with.

Frugal Tips for the Real World

  • Don’t buy clothes for a year. This one is Joe’s, but it’s not like he was someone who was dropping $5,000 on clothes in a year’s time anyway. I don’t know the numbers (not being Joe, and all) but I think, in all cases, this is only extreme if you are a clothes person, and you like your clothes fancy.
  • Do not eat in restaurants, unless a) it’s a social thing, or b) you are traveling and might die without eating something. Yawn, right? Everyone knows that eating at home is cheaper than eating out. I’m pretty bored writing this. Yes, it saves money. Gobs of money if your habit is to go out and eat food in places where you never have to do dishes. But, jeez, that’s pretty basic. I’d switch the channel on this tip, wouldn’t you?
  • Bike to work. This is more about saving the planet and making sure I get some exercise every day than saving money. And again, it saves me maybe a tank of gas a quarter. I’m sure you could save more if you swap out the bike on your 20-mile commute, but … who does that? Oh, right. The people who should be on this show.
  • Drink cheaply (happy hour) out, and save the nice stuff for drinking at home. Andi (my favorite lightweight) suggested buying really nice whiskey (or whatever you drink) and making cocktails at home. That way, you’re not tempted to buy a $14 Manhattan at a restaurant and you have the added bonus of not having to drive after having one of those. Extreme frugality? Hardly. If we were really extreme we would be recommending drinking only tap water or alcohol at weddings.
  • Don’t buy anything in boxes (except toothpaste) at the grocery store. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating since it’s one of the few “tricks” that come to mind. Things in boxes are more expensive (both in the short-term and the long-term) than things like vegetables and meat. While we’re on this topic, eat your vegetables, dang it! Ones that come mixed into your fried rice do not count.
  • Always bring your lunch. Always. Unless you’re meeting up with someone and the point is to reconnect.
  • Buy local groceries. From the farmers’ market, from your CSA, or even just in the produce section, seek out local things. I’m lucky enough to be living on the set of Portlandia so I’m able to buy local meat and fish at the store, with remarkable consistency. Local food is cheaper because they don’t have to add shipping costs to their per-pound price. It tastes better because it doesn’t have to be frozen in order to get to your table fresh. The extreme version, I suppose, is an urban garden and a vegan lifestyle. “I only eat things that came out of my yard.”
  • Make your own soap. Or other things, I suppose. I had an adventure in DIY hand soap as well as DIY drinking vinegars. I might try laundry detergent next.
  • Clean with vinegar and baking soda. It works very well, and it’s much cheaper and better for you than the chemical stuff. Cheaper than the fancy organic stuff too.
  • Buy (a lot) less house than the mortgage guy says you can afford. My very close friends bought a house last summer. They were pre-approved for… let’s just say a lot. They make good money, they’re successful, and the formula said they could afford close to triple the price they ended up paying when they bought their house. This is a brilliant strategy (both by the lenders and my friends, but I’m talking about my friends). They can save more aggressively, they can go on more or fancier vacations, or one of them can duck out of the rat race for a while. My friends have more options because less of their money is tied to a mortgage.
  • Start your own frugal traditions with friends. One of my favorite things on the planet is family dinner, which you can read about or just know that it’s where you choose your friend family or families and alternate making dinner for each other. It is the bee’s knees, and always the highlight of my week. Always. It makes cooking more fun, and I’m very rarely cooking for one, which is helpful, since I tend to think I need to make enough for six, even when it’s just me and the upstairs dog. Thank goodness for Tupperware. (What’s the non-branded term for that? Reusable, washable containers for your food?)
  • Let others know you’re interested in their hand-me-downs. This can be tricky, since some people have too much pride associated with accepting or giving used things. I make it known loud and clear (especially to the friends that are my size!) that I am happy to receive their castaways when they upgrade things or combine housese. My friends know that they can give things to me, and that I will pick through, choose the best things, and donate what I do not want.
  • Get started with minimalism. The fact is, the less you have, the less you need. I am a minimalist, of sorts. I donate to Goodwill every other week, I make sure that I’m wearing everything that takes up valuable space in my closet, I go through my kitchen drawers at least twice a year, but it’s not extreme. I have more than one pair of pants. More than four pairs of shoes. At least two black dresses. There are people out there with far fewer things, so maybe the TV show can find them.
  • Buy used cars. I’ve considered (many times) getting rid of my car altogether. But I don’t think I will. And now that I’m moving to a slightly less geographically convenient area (and I am a big wimp about biking when it’s disgusting outside) I will hold onto it. But I will never, ever buy a new car. In fact, I would very much like my 2005 Corolla to last another 10 or 15 years. Wish me luck!

That was our list. It works, but is it enough to get a TV appearance?

Frugal Activities that Might be Television Worthy

  • Gross bathroom strategies. Including the “only flush for solids” rule and the “try not to use more than one square of bargain basement toilet paper” rule. Also included in this category: shower at the gym, wait until you’re at work to go to the bathroom, steal toilet paper from hotel rooms when you’re staying the night somewhere (I really do know someone who used to do that!), wash towels a lot less often, and maybe one or two more strategies.
  • Duplicitous food choices. In college, I went to every single “free pizza” night for seniors. “Free pizza and let’s talk about teaching English in Korea!” I’m in. “Free pizza night to talk about Optometry school!” Didn’t take one biology class, but what time is pizza served? In that same vein, several years ago, one of my friends, in trying to go an entire week without buying groceries or spending money in restaurants, lined up first date after first date. By the end of the week, she’d had ten first dates, and didn’t have to buy a single lunch or dinner. Yes it was the week before payday, why do you ask? And, to be fair, she probably had to work really hard on those dates. I haven’t yet been on ten first dates but every time I meet someone new, it takes almost all the energy out of me. And to the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t done it since. But it’s good to know that she could if she wanted to.
  • Dangerous food choices. Eating out of the dumpster. Eating food off someone else’s table. Eating mayonnaise past its expiration date. Drinking milk that failed the smell test. These are dangerous, and missing work because you ate poisoned food will not in fact save you money. All these strategies do are marginalize you from your friends.
  • Acting like a jerk. We are all very lucky to have the friends we have. Let’s not be jerks to them, okay? Do not assume friends will take you out on their dime. Always offer to pay your fair share. If you’re striving to save money, then bring enough cash to cover your part plus tip. They ask you if you want to come to a concert with them? PAY FOR YOUR TICKET!

There’s no amount of money that can cover you if you ostracize yourself from your loved ones. Remember A Christmas Carol? That guy was the king of frugality. Fat lot of good that did him.

So, no. I don’t think I’m frugal enough for TV.

And here’s why:

In order to be on that channel, you have to be kind of messed up. I have a full, very rich life, and so that right there means I wouldn’t qualify. I surround myself with amazing people (at work, in my Portland circle, and more and more in my “holy crap I have honest-to-goodness friends all over the place!” circle), I do a lot of fun things, and yes, I save money where I can.

What about you? Are you frugal enough for television? Did I miss anything on this list? Is anything on my list “just too crazy” for you?


  1. Budget & the Beach says

    I think the whole big difference there is being frugal vs being cheap. The people on cheapskates, or at least what I've see, are cheap…and weird. But that's TV for you. I do think seeing people living frugal lives is interesting, but then again I like that sort of thing. I don't know what the general population thinks.

  2. John S @ Frugal Rules says

    We're definitely not frugal enough to be on TV. We're frugal, but not crazy frugal. I second you on not buying things in boxes at the grocery store. Not only is it cheaper, but you also get the healthiness aspect…which will likely save you money in the future.

  3. krantcents says

    TV shows want drama, comedy or something embarrassing. My frugality is too practical and does not fit their criteria.

  4. plantingourpennies says

    We did an interview for an article (don't think it ever made it to press) about what we do to save so much of our income, and our #1 savings tip was don't buy too much house. We did it just like your friends did – completely ignored what the lenders said we were pre-approved for and bought at the level we felt comfortable. I can't imagine wanting to pay taxes on a half-million dollar home or anything like that. Ouch!

  5. therandompath says

    I'm frugal, but the people on television bring it to a whole new level. And I am definitely not on that level ;)

  6. says

    I seriously think my former roommate could be on this show. He is quirky and frugal as HELL – but it works for him, he hasn't had a full-time job in over a decade yet has a house in Portland and is very happy with his life. Some of his tricks: donate blood at a place that always serves a lot of food – AND make sure he's the last appointment AND arrive with tupperware in his bag so he can take their leftovers home. Genius! And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

    I wouldn't want him on the show because they would edit it in a way that would probably be pretty unfavorable, but he could definitely teach at Frugal Academy.

  7. says

    To most people, I imagine well thought out frugality is super boring. It's all about not taking stupid chances and getting blown up (which is what most of TV is). To make it interesting for a TV audience, you'd have to have frugal challenges against other normal people. Like see who can ride their bike more and drive less… either way, I'm not sure that it makes for great TV, haha.

  8. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says

    I spent a year traveling, camping/sleeping anywhere and hitch hiking, that would have been pretty good for TV, now those days are behind, time to get comfy!

  9. says

    I'm definitely not frugal enough to be on TV or even to keep up with you and your (b)logger friends! I just try not to buy things other than food unless it's a very well-planned-for purchase.

    I like your family dinner suggestion… my wheels are turning about how to implement it with my friends.

  10. says

    In University, I organized a clothes-swap for my sorority and the girls of the other 2 sororities on campus. All the left over items were donated to charity. It was a great way to give back, save some money, and be social.

    I definitely still do the clothes swap/accept hand-me-downs all the time. But that's about as frugal as I get. I don't think that's weird enough to be on tv, unfortunately.

  11. says

    I like the list! Good one with vinegar, I found that it cleaned some drinking glasses VERY well. Better than detergents.

    Interestingly, I too was contacted once by a Canadian radio show (interesting, since I live in Chicago). Anyway, the producer talked to me over the phone to learn more, and as it turns out they never had me on. I think they thought that all of the extreme frugal stories I shared were of things I did, when in reality some were but the craziest things were by other people.

  12. says

    I am frugal but I will never be considered cheap or messed up enough to be on the show. There was an episode that followed a NYC accountant and showed how cheap she was. She was so cheap that it her habits clearly seemed like a compulsion and the only thing she was focused on to the detriment of her personal relationships and well-being. She looked unhealthy, exhausted, and seemed lonely. I am sure what friends she had found her cheapness exhausting. I did and then I got off of youtube!

  13. says

    Hahaha, awesome. I shot some videos and posted them on my site today, but I'm pretty sure we won't be picked. I should have stretch the truth a bit to get on. :)

  14. moneybeagle says

    We do a lot of cleaning with vinegar but that was first prompted out of not wanting to expose our young kids to so many cleaning chemicals.

  15. says

    I love saving money but I don't think I'm frugal enough for a TV show. Your bullet about eating off of someone else's table reminds me of that Seinfeld episode in the Chinese restaurant when Elaine is so hungry she goes for someone else's food. Hilarious.

  16. says

    These are a lot of very useful ideas. Let us go to the frugal tips such as buying local groceries and used automobiles. You can really save money by following these suggestions. It's hard not to buy new clothes in one year but it can be done. There's nothing wrong in saving until you have extra money to splurge on a nice wardrobe. There is always a good side to frugality and this is what practical people should adopt.

  17. edwardra3 says

    If I have to go to the bathroom, but am about to go somewhere, I will wait and go when I get to the store/work/restaurant/bar/park/etc to help my TP stretch.

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