Tough times inspire creativity in frugal families and it’s fun to see just how much we can cut out of the budget–how we can reuse or substitute things, how much we can do without–it becomes a game, but there’s a limit to what savvy shoppers should do to save a few dollars. With so many money-saving tips and tricks available on the internet and in the newspapers, budget-conscious consumers need to exercize some caution to avoid going too far. Let’s take a look at the top worst money-saving ideas:
Bad idea: Stop tipping your waitress when you go out to eat.
Reasoning: Your waitress makes a base hourly pay anyway and doesn’t really “need” the extra money. Besides, she’ll understand that times are tough right now and not everyone can afford to leave a tip.
Counter: Actually, your waitress’ base pay is less than minimum wage (as low as $2.33 per hour in some states and $4.25 per hour in Arizona). She needs that extra tip to even bring her wages to what the state considers a “livable wage.”
Better idea: If dining out is important to you, set aside a little out of every paycheck and only go out to eat when you have enough saved to cover the entire meal and the tip.
Bad idea: Complain about products in the hopes that this will get you something for free.
Reasoning: Big companies like grocery stores and restaurants can afford to give out a few products free of charge and the price of the “free” product doesn’t come out of anyone’s paycheck.
Counter: Come on people–have some sense of personal integrity. Complaining about a product or meal when there is nothing wrong with it is lying and then accepting a free product or gift card is stealing. Times are tough, but stealing is stealing even if it “doesn’t come out of someone’s paycheck.”
Better idea: Let companies know that you found their product or store enjoyable. Send a quick email to the companies that make the products you use most often telling them what you really like about their product and that you plan to continue to demonstrate your loyalty to their brand. Companies appreciate positive feedback from customers and often send back letters of thanks–with free coupons included!
Bad idea: Eat everything in the fridge regardless of how it looks or smells–don’t waste anything.
Reasoning: You have a strong stomach. You don’t mind picking off the mold. Products are designed to last longer than the packaging states. You’ve heard that some bacterias are even “good for you.”
Counter: It’s true that many products last longer that the packaging states, but be careful when deciding to eat something that is visibly old or rotted. Some bacterias and molds are very bad for your health and anyone who has had food poisoning knows that taking care of the resulting sickness is much more costly than just tossing the rancid food and buying a replacement.
Better idea: Cut moldly parts off of cheese and bread. Do the same with most vegetables and fruits (but not tomatoes). Never, never eat meat of any kind that smells or looks rancid. If you take a bite of meat and it tastes old or sour at all–stop eating it right away. Do not eat any foods that have mold or rotten spots on the inside–like pumpkins or other squashes, bell peppers, apples or tomatoes. Keep track of when you bought certain foods and eat them before they start to go bad. It is never wise to risk your health over a few dollars worth of food.
Bad idea: Reuse everything! There are frugal families who post some really weird tips on how to reuse things like dish water (reuse as bathwater) and toilet paper (reuse as garden mulch).
Reasoning: Getting two uses out of everything saves twice as much money.
Counter: Yuck! Seriously, there’s a point where you just have to say no. Soaking yourself in nasty old bits of food and greasy dish soap and worse, eating food grown on plants that have been mulched with your or someone else’s toilet paper is disgusting and DANGEROUS! Use common sense when you come across ideas like this.
Better idea: Reuse things like old newspapers, egg cartons and cardboard boxes (you can find plenty of safe and sanitary uses for these).
Bad idea: Don’t spend any money on anything that’s not a necessity.
Reasoning: If it isn’t a necessity, then it isn’t, well, necessary.
Counter: Money-saving startegies work better if you and your family can see the results. Telling your husband how much money you have in savings doesn’t mean anything–it’s just a number–but buying him a few really exquisite cigars and giving them to him with a note that says “bought these for you with some of the money we saved by clipping coupons” is something he can understand. Luxuries are what makes life tolerable. Whether it’s games or movies, cigars or chocolate, don’t eliminate them entirely from your life–the stress of having only the bare necessities can wear on families after a while and people usually respond to this stress by going out and spending a lot of money at once to make themselves feel better.
Better idea: Add specific luxury items into the budget. If you’re a wine drinker, add a $10 bottle to the grocery budget once per week. If movies are your thing, add a Netflix subscription to the monthly budget (it’s cheaper than renting from a retail location like Blockbuster)–it’s less than $20 per month! Also try setting aside a few dollars per day in a “luxury fund”–literally, a jar or container that you can look at as often as you like–and resolve to use this money only for luxuries (things you really want). Don’t use this money for bills or other necessities–it’s called a Luxury Fund for a reason.
With a little common sense and some basic decency, savvy shoppers can save money without doing anything dangerous or deceitful. Remember, saving isn’t worth sacrificing your health or integrity–put your thinking cap on and brainstorm for money saving ideas, but don’t hesitate to eliminate tips or tricks that won’t work for you or that, for whatever reason, just don’t sound right. Good luck!
Check out some of Chef Grey’s safe and sanitary money-saving ideas like Grill to Cut the Bills, Eating Healthy on a Tight Budget and 6 Uses For Stale Bread Products