7 Extreme Ways to Save Money

Photo (cc) by Wei Tchou

Here at Money Talks News, we spend a lot of time telling you how to save money.

We’ve explained how to save $1,000 by summer and how to save when you’re living on minimum wage. Beyond that, we have articles about saving at Amazon, saving on guy stuff and saving on pet supplies, among other things.

But what happens once you’ve cut the lattes, canceled the gym membership and are still burning a hole in your checking account each month? At that point it may be time to pull out the big guns — time to get extreme.

Below are seven out-of-the-box ways to save big. These go beyond the frugal tips that save you pennies. I’m not going to tell you how to save soap shavings or make cloth toilet paper. No, these are ways to seriously cut your spending, but they may require you to dramatically change your lifestyle.

They’re not for everyone, but they are something to consider if you’re ready to get extreme.

1. Move to a tiny house – really tiny

Imagine your whole family squeezed into a home the size of your living room. It may sound crazy, but the tiny house movement can be the ticket to big savings.

Tiny houses typically run from 250 to 600 square feet, and they may be permanent or mobile. It may seem unrealistic to pack four people into such a small space, but some families do it – and quite happily too.

Small houses mean small bills. Plus, with minimal storage space, you may find you are forced to stop spending money on stuff you don’t need.

For more information on tiny houses, see our profile of the movement.

Less extreme options: If a tiny house isn’t for you, you could still cut your bills by moving to a smaller home. It costs a whole lot less to heat 1,000 square feet than it does to keep 2,500 square feet warm and toasty. Another option may be to move to an apartment. Sure, you’re not building equity, but you’re also eliminating all of your maintenance costs and possibly some utility bills too.

2. Embrace your neighbors with communal living

Another way to cut down your living expenses may be to live in a commune, or intentional community, as they are now often called.

These living arrangements can vary significantly from community to community but most involve shared work and shared expenses. In addition, many of these communities are based upon values such as conservation or voluntary simplicity.

This blog post has an overview from someone running a commune, and the Fellowship for Intentional Community maintains a searchable directory.

Less extreme options: Rather than moving to a commune, you could embrace communal living in your own home by renting out a room. A step above that may be buying a duplex or similar property to share with a friend’s family.

3. Park the car permanently

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we spend anywhere from 14 to 18 percent of our annual budget on transportation. That equals out to about $8,500 per household.

You can save some serious money by selling your vehicle and relying on your feet, bicycle or public transportation instead. If you need a car for a longer trip, rent one through Zipcar, Getaround or Hertz 24/7.

When you’re downsizing from your McMansion, look for a home in an affordable metro area with plenty of public transportation options.

Less extreme options: If you can’t bear to be without a vehicle, at least drive it less. Carpool whenever possible and combine errands. You could also go in with a neighbor or friend and buy a car you could both share.

4. Find your own heating fuel

Pity the people who use heating oil for fuel. The price per gallon has jumped from about $1.50 a decade ago to nearly $4.25 today. The cost of propane is only slightly better.

The cheapest way to replace costly heating oil and propane may be to install a wood-burning stove. If you have trees on your property, cut your own wood for free heating. If not, you might need to spend a couple hundred a year to buy wood.

However, please be sure any stove is installed by a professional and inspected each year before use. Install carbon monoxide detectors too. Dying from an improperly vented stove may be one extreme way to save money, but we would prefer our Money Talks News readers stick around to enjoy more great articles for years to come.

Less extreme options: While a little more expensive than a wood-burning stove, a pellet stove is another inexpensive heating option. If you have a little money stored up in savings, you might want to see about converting to natural gas too. That might cost a bit upfront but will save money in the long run. If you already have natural gas or none of these options will work, you can try the conventional advice of installing a programmable thermostat and lowering the temperature at night and when the house is empty during the day.

5. Unplug and live like it was 1949

We love our electronic toys, but using them costs us a pretty penny.

Cutting cable seems to be fairly standard money-saving advice. More extreme might be to not only cut cable but eliminate the Internet and mobile phones altogether.

Unless you have a legitimate need to have the Internet or a smartphone for work, you could probably get by with checking your email once or twice a week at the library. As for your cellphone, you probably don’t need to be accessible 24/7, right? Try carrying a prepaid phone for emergencies and then only use it for, well, emergencies.

Less extreme options: If you don’t want to completely unplug at home, at least lower your bills. Read our articles on paying less for television, cellphones and Internet service.

6. Let the animals live and go veggie

Although inflation-adjusted prices for meat are lower now than they were 30 years ago, beef takes a bite out of many grocery budgets. According to an NPR report, we spend about a fifth of our grocery budget on meat.

With prices expected to climb in the coming year, extreme savers might want to eliminate meat altogether from their diet. Of course, vegetarian diets can be expensive too if you’re buying out of season or loading up on specialty products.

Read this article for tips on keeping your vegetarian diet spending to a minimum.

Less extreme options: Maybe you aren’t ready to give up meat completely. You could always have one or two meatless days a week or buy cheaper cuts to keep your costs down. We have a whole article dedicated to reducing meat costs.

7. Hold your breath and dumpster dive

Finally, I felt I had to mention dumpster diving because it’s such a well-known strategy. Some folks curb surf for useful items, while others are actually climbing into dumpsters to retrieve overstock food from restaurants and stores.

Although it’s a popular, albeit extreme, way to score free stuff, I have a hard time recommending it. The law can be a bit hazy about the legality of dumpster diving, particularly when the trash is located on private property and not on the curbside.

Less extreme options: Instead of dumpster diving, you could try Freecycle to find freebies in your area. Also, send out the word to family and friends that you are on the hunt for reclaimed items, and you may find you are the first person they call before sending their unwanted goods to the curb.

What other extreme money-saving strategies have you heard about? Share your tips in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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