Living the Frugal Life. Not so Much.

world owes me a living

One recent, sunny afternoon, I decided to make a quick stop at the Taco Bell drive-through and, feeling pleased with my sudden surge of frugality, I reminded the clerk that I was eligible for the senior discount. He replied that although they didn’t actually have a discount, they did offer “older people” a free soft drink. Resisting the urge to kill the mood by reaching through the window and smacking the insolent pup on the back of his head, I smiled and agreed to take the deal.

My 1974 car was built before cup holders, so I set my drink carefully on the console and began to pull forward, forgetting that my car has a tendency to surge at will when you press the gas pedal. Unfortunately, it willed and immediately lunged forward, just hard enough to toss my drink in one direction and the lid in another, spraying the entire interior of my car, including the dashboard, windshield, and sheepskin covers, with sticky, icy cola. Seriously??

This frugal thing may not be for me.

Generally speaking,when I hear the word “frugal,” my brain conjures up visions of living in a yurt, weaving my own clothes, wearing Birkenstocks year-round, and using dryer lint to re-plump my couch cushions. Frugal living seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to dieting. It’s entire premise is based on deprivation. “Here, take this notepad and write down everything to like to eat/buy. That’s going to be your list of things you can never have again.” Awesome.

But it’s hard to argue with the fact that today’s economy often requires cutting back on non-necessities. Like many couples, Hubs and I have spent countless evenings ferreting out exactly where the money went that month and why, and whether or not we can avoid or reduce that expense next month. Like DEA dogs sniffing out cocaine at LAX, we’re constantly on the hunt for hidden spending habits that need to be eliminated.

Then a few weeks ago, I received a newsletter from a local financial guru, promoting his upcoming talk on “How to Live a Frugal, but Fabulous Life,” and it included these “fun tips” on saving money:

1. Buy generic brands. This only works if the generic brand is actually edible. Some are fine. Others are just plain nasty. Hint: If it comes in a large plastic bag and the leprechaun on the front looks more like a garden gnome, it doesn’t taste like Lucky Charms.

2. Buy in bulk. Unless you have four refrigerators and eat a lot of hamburgers, who the hell needs 12 bottles of ketchup? And “Split it between friends” assumes someone (yeah, that would be you) is supposed to drive all over town to deliver the other 11 bottles and collect the money. I’ve already got two jobs.

3. Reuse your paper towels. So now I’ve either got a clothes line in my kitchen, or every surface is constantly covered with drying paper towels that we can reuse later that day. If you’re OCD, this will make your head explode.

4. Wait until the dishwasher and washing machine are full before you run them. Since there’s only two of us, that means I’ll be standing in the kitchen tomorrow morning, buck naked, with a dirty fry pan.

5. Pump your own gas. I tried this once. Sprayed my clothes with back-splash and spent $40 getting the gas smell drycleaned out of my favorite jacket. Big savings.

6. Take your cans in and recycle them yourself. By the time I repeatedly stuck 100 cans in those constantly jamming recycle machines at the local supermarket, I was pissed off and covered with sticky cola residue. The $3 I made didn’t cover the 90-minute relaxation massage and cleaning costs required to regain my zen.

7. Clip coupons. Perfect. Now I get to become one of those women who backs up a line at Safeway for 25 minutes while she digs for the appropriate coupon in her erroneously named “EZ Coupon Finder” notebook, and then proceeds to argue with the cashier about the expiration date, until a manager has to be called over the loudspeaker to come down and resolve the issue. This is a small town. We know where you live, and we hate you.

8. Set up all your bills on Auto Pay, to avoid late fees. Don’t. Think. So. Financial experts are constantly warning us to keep our banking information secure and confidential, but then, because it’s a business request, we cheerfully hand over our account numbers and all our personal information, which they immediately email to an English-as-a-9th-language yahoo in their Billing Department in Sri Lanka. Like that’s never backfired on anyone. And once they take the money out, good luck trying to get it back.

9. Make your own housecleaning products. I tried that once. In an ill-advised attempt to create a better bathroom cleaner than what was on the market, I poured every cleaning product we had into a big bucket, including bleach and ammonia. Almost blew the house up and it took months for my eyelashes to grow back. Moving on.

10. Ditch the gym membership and work out at home. Good idea, if you’re not ADHD. 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer takes two hours to accomplish if you’re getting off every other minute to put the clothes in the dryer, let the dogs out, answer the phone, and check your blog stats. Who’s got the time?

11. Take home the sugar and condiment packages from fast-food restaurants. Because nothing says “class” like serving your family and guests dinner with bowls of ketchup packets you boosted from the local McD’s.

12. Don’t flush after just a pee. Wait until it matters. Wow. Few things leave me speechless.

But in keeping with the spirit of savings, Hubs and I have our own way of being frugal. On those days we’re just itching to go on a spending bender, we head out to Costco (an hour away) and spend the afternoon happily going up and down every aisle, piling our cart high with every single “really cool and amazingly low-priced” item we just can’t live without. Then we park the cart at the front of the store and dash across the street to the Wooden Chicken Pub for cheap lunch and drinks, feeling the rush of shopping, without spending any money.

White trash frugality at its finest.

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  1. says

    LOL. I admit that I sometimes hold up the line with excessive coupons, but I do organize my coupons before my shopping trip so I have all the ones I need right away. And clearly my son is trying to save the world with rule #12. Sooooo gross. So excited to have met you!!!! :)

    • says

      Sarah, I’ve tried the coupon thing, but I never have them with me when I need them, or they’re expired, or it’s not my brand, or… You get the idea! And boys should come with a remote toilet flusher so they can do it from the TV room when we shout out “WHO DIDN’T FLUSH THE DAMN TOILET??” LOVED meeting you at BlogHer14!!

  2. Mlou says

    I tried taking my bottles and cans back – once! I hate sticky hands! Now, I drop them off once a month for the Leo’s. I feel so much better – priceless!

    • says

      Mlou, I do that too. We often just put them in a shopping cart and park it right next to the recycle machines for anyone who wants it. Lots of times, we get big smiles from homeless guys or younger kids looking for a few bucks to spend. Works for everybody! :)

  3. says

    Sorry about your eyelashes! I’m laughing WITH you, honestly.
    I worked with a man whose father followed ALL of these, and more. They had to recite a rhyme for the toilet:
    “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”
    Remembering that makes me less sad about my being poor rant today. And I mean AMERICAN poor, not actual poor. We shop the discount grocery store, big whoop :)

    • says

      Joy, loved your rant! American poor is definitely not Every-other-country-in-the-world poor, but we don’t live in those other countries, so (sigh), we’re poor. But I just can’t reuse my paper towels. :)

  4. says

    Vikki, you might want to steer clear of Canada: you’d be hard-pressed to find a gas station that has “full service”–they’re almost all self-serve here! :)

    • says

      Karen, I know of what you speak. I lived in Vancouver, BC, for 15 years. Of course, then I was young enough to flirt my way through every gas station and get guys to do it for me, but those days are a faded memory of perky boobs gone by… :)

  5. says

    Ok #3 (Reuse Paper Towels) is just downright ridiculous. In most cases, this would require washing the paper towels so they could be reused. Um. No. Not gonna happen. Guess I’ll never be rich. :)

  6. cate says

    You saw me in town in my Birks and wool socks didn’t you?! OMGoddess, we know where you live and we hate you!! Seriously laughing at that, because it is true!

  7. cate says

    Vikki, that is what I think of Rosauers Thurs 13 hour sales…I would rather eat glass than go there on a Thurs! Have you ever gone in while they are having there cereal sale!!? Really, you need two carts full of Coco Pebbles…

    • says

      Cate, I’ve never ventured into the cereal sale. I saw too many people come out of the last one with THREE CARTS overflowing with boxes. What do these people DO with this stuff?? I’m thinking there are more bomb shelters around the valley than we know about… :)

  8. says

    So that’s how the carts at Costco get there. Generic drugs have to be looked at closely. The FDA gives generic manufacturers a 20% leeway for accuracy on active ingredients. They may save you money but may not properly treat the condition.

    • says

      Yes, Haralee, those carts are ours! :) I didn’t know that about generic drugs. So our choices are wildly overpriced or possibly ineffective? Awesome! Loved your post today. Shared!

    • says

      Jhanis, you’re absolutely right. Money is serious stuff, but sometimes serious gets out of control and goes to silly! Loved that you stopped by and commented! :)

  9. says

    When people are raised by a child of the depression—i.e. most Baby Boomers, we either grow up to be massive spendthrifts or “penny wise, pound foolish” frugalistas. For better or for worse, I ended up as the latter.

    • says

      OMG, Bryan. I’m sure if I’d have kept reading, that would have come up! One women uses dryer lint that she’s stored all year, to make Halloween masks. I’m thinking she’s more excited about it than her kids… :)

      • Mary Lynn says

        I hate to say I am old enough to remember when there wasn’t self service (Wa.) , then we moved to totally self service, there was that random cute guy who would come to my rescue. Today we still have self service and I still get that nice random guy ( notice I didn’t say cute ) come to my aid, unfortunately he sees the white hair and assumes I can’t manage it myself any longer! So now I thank him and turn him down, trying to prove white hair doesn’t tell the whole story. Love your blog Vikki!

        • says

          Thanks, Mary Lynn! I’m also at the point where I get help because they think I’m old, not hot. But what the hell, I’ll take it! :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  10. says

    Hahaha… the imagery of the paper-towels drying around the OCD perso’s kitchen and still laughing about how long a home workout takes..

    Great writing and thank you for the Monday laugh out loud..

  11. mac says

    You are too funny. I wouldn’t/don’t do most of these either. I have heard of people using “re-usable” toilet paper, it goes in the washer like diapers then you roll up each piece around each other and put it on a roll and you need a pail to put the used ones in. Yikes and hell no!

  12. Melanie Tucker says

    I laugh with you nearly everyday and it never gets old! This is hilarious and had a good laugh, out loud, alone in my empty home, then I remembered I was depressed. :-P that’s ok though, you’ll make me laugh tomorrow too. Ha!

    • says

      Thanks, Melanie! I love that you stopped by to comment! I’ll try to come up with something tomorrow that will keep you in the office across the hall for a long, long time… :)

  13. says

    So much to comment on but the last one just left me going eww!! I do use Autopay a lot, but with Costco, it’s very rare that I ever walk out without a bill of over $100!! So much for frugality!!

  14. says

    Lol. We don’t have any gas stations that pump your gas anymore. It’s awful.
    For me frugal is staying out of Wawa. (Do you know Wawa?) They are money suckers. Good money suckers. You just cannot go in for a coffee or tea.Everything is just too good. So I stay out and save $80 a week. I was stunned when we added it up.

  15. says

    My technique for coupon clipping is to collect them, wait until they expire then throw them out. Bed, Bath & Beyond is so annoying because their coupons never expire. Totally throws off my system.

  16. says

    You get paid to take back bottles and cans?!! We don’t in the stingy old UK. Though to be honest, we don’t need to nowadays because ours get collected from outside our house.
    I’m so pleased to see from number 11 that we’ve got “class” – we’ve done the taking home sachets of sugar thing. (Our excuse is nobody uses sugar in our house, so it’s handy for visitors.)

  17. says

    I’ve always done #’s 3 and 12, not to be frugal (although I definitely would say that I am), but because using paper towels only once for little things and flushing the toilet constantly seemed so wasteful. You are so right about the paper towel thing, though. I have little paper towels all over my kitchen and it drives me NUTS because the rest of the kitchen is normally pretty spotless. I usually will end up moving them around constantly so that they’re not in my way when I’m cleaning, or else I’ll forget that one is there and grab another one to clean up a mess, then notice the one that was just waiting to use–and get mad and curse. The flushing thing works–until you forget that the toilet downstairs is hardly ever used and head down one afternoon to grab something, only to be accosted by the awful smell. Also, the more you save up the pee, the harder it is to get the rings out of the toilet when you clean. So dammit, it’s hard being “green” and frugal!

  18. says

    So funny, Vikki! Your #12 reminds me of a trip my college pals and I took way back when to a vacation home in a drought area. To conserve water, they told us this ditty for our bathroom business: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down!!”

    • says

      I’m with you, Jill! Although if I had to pick one, I’d have to choose saving my paper towels. I may look like an cheap idiot, but it’s slightly less cringe-worthy! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

  19. says

    Vikki, I would love to hear more details about the bleach and ammonia explosion. I’m not willing to try it, so I want to live vicariously through your adventure. So glad you are ok and hopefully not to many brain cells were killed! ;)

    • says

      Stacey, whenever people hear that story, they say, “Don’t you KNOW you can’t do that??” Well, gee, if I knew that, I wouldn’t have done it! Must have skipped that science class… :) Thanks for commenting!

  20. says

    “If it comes in a large plastic bag and the leprechaun on the front looks more like a garden gnome, it doesn’t taste like Lucky Charms.” Bwahahahahahahaha! This is hysterical! Did you ever watch Extreme Cheapskates in a desperate TV moment? That show makes these tips look tame. One guy asked the butcher if there was any part of any animal he was going to throw out that he could have for free. The butcher gave him a goat head, and he made soup with it. KILL ME NOW!

    • says

      My grandmother was a superstar of epic proportions when it came to buying super-cheap stuff and feeding an army. When she would visit us she would go the fish store and buy a cod collar for about $2.00 and my family of 6 plus her would eat fish chowder and fish salad for days.

    • says

      Okay, I draw the line at goat head soup! :) I can’t even save my paper towels, and I’m definitely not ready for Extreme Cheapskating! Glad I could make you laugh, Your Thighness!

  21. says

    Thanks Vikki, another hilarious post, and I think you’ve just given me some material for a post of my own! BTW I use about 1 roll of paper towels per month! (And I never buy paper napkins).
    Stay tuned.

    • says

      One roll per month?? Oh Nancy, you’re going to have to send me instruction notes. We go through a roll a day. We may have to come and live with you for a few weeks! :)

  22. says

    #10 – I totally do that. I can’t stay on that machine if I know there is laundry in the dryer, etc, etc. Heck, I can’t even usually finish a sentence without moving on to another one if I have another thought. I can’t do coupons. I need to find some other ways to be frugal.

    • says

      This frugal thing is harder than it seems, Michelle! It seems to always involve something stupid or time-consuming. Guess we’re just not destined to be rich… :)

  23. says

    Bless you. You’ve made my day. Cup holders are not all that they should be! Let’s have a look at that time that I was driving down the coast (two ferries and a water taxi) from a lovely holiday at my sister’s cabin, shall we? Ok. Hottest day in August. Two cranky, beyond tired kids in the back seat. We have a few extra minutes so pull into McD’s for milkshakes for them and the largest, hugest, burpingest honking cup of refreshing Coke for me. Perfect. Hand out the shakes to the grumps and settled the Coke in the cup holder. Not two blocks down the road I turn slightly to the right and wwwwiiinnnnggggggg goes the Coke sailing out of the cup holder, soaring into the air and landing with a solid splash at my feet. Can you say “horrid mommy language?” By this point we’re late for the ferry so I can’t stop and clean up. I just dump a sandy beach towel under my feet. Arrive at the terminal with three minutes to mop up the damage. What the? NOT ONE DROP LEFT. All evaporated it’s so hot. Lord above – I thought I was having early onset. ie: Did that really happen or did I somehow drink all of it …

  24. says

    Bwahaha. I’ll cop to a few of these, namely the coupons and buying in bulk. Sure there are only two of us but with our crazy schedules and nasty habit of saying, “Ahh screw it. Let’s order pizza.” we kind of have to. We’ve been broke for so damn long that we’re in the process of getting our act together once and for all. Only took four years!

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