When it comes to saving money, there’s a whole spectrum of strategies.
Some people love money-saving challenges, and others embrace unusual options like reusing dental floss or budgeting just $4 a day for food. But those of us who have lived frugally for years — though in less-extreme ways — may feel like we know all the tips and tricks.
But do we really?
From my experience living and working abroad, many people outside of North America live frugal lives to stretch their resources further. Many strategies are familiar, like taking lunches to work, drinking water instead of soft drinks at restaurants, reusing plastic bags and recycling cans for extra cash.
But some ways they stretch their rupees, quetzals and yuan might just give you an “aha” moment. Could you add some of these money-saving tips to your frugal repertoire?
1. Forage for Food
Nature provides all sorts of edible plants, and too often they go unnoticed and unused. When American educator Melanie Sosinski taught in Poland, she discovered that many of her students and their families would go into the forests to find wild mushrooms and berries. These wild treasures added delicious flavors to their cooking. After the corn is picked near my home in China, retirees rush out with sacks hoping to find a few extra ears to turn into porridge. An apple tree in my local park is popular with kids and adults; we’ve already picked 10 pounds from it this year.
Do your neighbors have trees or berry bushes whose fruit goes to waste? Ask if you can pick from their trees if you split the results. Look along country roadsides and you might find apple, pear and plum trees, raspberry or blackberry bushes, or other fruits native to your area.
Outside my home are some plants I used to call weeds. It turns out that one is an edible plant called purslane! We’ve enjoyed it in salads, stir-fry recipes and green smoothies since it can be used like spinach and is rich in Omega-3s and vitamin E. We’ve even — at my mother-in-law’s suggestion — dried some for future medicinal uses such as reducing fevers and treating diarrhea.
2. Bargain for Everything
In Asia, negotiating is a daily practice for things as ordinary as vegetables. No matter whether it’s a computer, cell phone, bed or house, there’s always a chance that you’ll pay less if you just ask for a lower price and are willing to haggle a bit.
Need to brush up on your negotiating skills? Steve Gillman wrote a great post on bargaining strategies.
3. Empty the Entire Container
Whether it’s mayonnaise, mustard, toothpaste or laundry soap, there’s usually a way to use up every last bit of a product. Cutting the container with scissors and using a rubber spatula can net you a week’s worth of conditioner!
Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich often jokes about how his immigrant parents still use every last bit of shampoo before tossing out the bottle, and his post on why immigrants are able to save so much money has comments with money-saving tips from around the world.
4. Hand-Wash Clothing
It’s not the best time-saving technique, but hand-washing clothes keeps them in top condition longer than conventional washing. My husband has jeans from the mid-90s that are in great condition, albeit out of fashion. I’ve also noticed that my undergarments last a whole lot longer now that I’ve adopted this practice.
5. Use Cloth Instead of Paper
Several Asian cultures are known for raising diaper-free babies, but in the early weeks of the baby’s life, they often use homemade cloth diapers — usually old T-shirts or long underwear cut into large pieces.
This same strategy works to create cleaning rags, and you can make a homemade mop by cutting the cloth into strips, tying them together and attaching them to a long wooden handle.
6. Ask for Family Input
Before making purchases, whether small ones like a toaster oven or a larger one like a television, in many cultures it’s common ask for input and advice from family members: parents, aunts, uncles — the whole gang!
Amy Dunn Moscoco says that her Guatemalan in-laws do this all the time. You never know who has a great connection, a friends-and-family discount, a coupon, or even an extra of the item you need.
7. Charge Your Electronics at Work
When I taught at a high school in China, I watched several colleagues lug their electric bicycle batteries into our office each day to charge them while they worked — and escape the hefty electric charges that they’d pay at home. After plugging in their bike batteries, they’d charge phones, laptops and any other electronic devices that were low on power.
When I asked about their power use at home, they recommended unplugging everything as soon as they were done using it or a device was fully charged. Consider bringing your phone charger to work with you, and using a powerstrip to easily turn off power to lamps, TVs and other power-hungry electronics while you’re not using them.
8. Use Other People’s Water and Conserve Your Own
In China, “shower centers” offer guests a hot shower and buffet dinner for about $5, hoping people will opt for additional paid services like shoe-shining and massages. Savvy locals sometimes use this deal to enjoy a nice dinner and a long shower on someone else’s dime. Another option is to time your daily workout around the time you’d like to shower and take advantage of your gym’s facilities, as Laura Alvarez Mendivil has seen local people do in her travels around Spain, Finland, France and China.
If showering outside your home isn’t practical, try to make the most of the water you use. My family keeps a five-gallon pail in our bathroom for extra water from washing vegetables, hand-washing clothes or cooking. We then use this water to “flush” the toilet, which helps us save money and avoid wasting water. Odd as it sounds, it’s not difficult to get used to. While we don’t notice the savings (because my husband has been using this trick since long before we got married), it does feel good to know that I’m not wasting environmental resources.
This strategy could easily be implemented in any household as a way to reuse bath water or leftover water from the kitchen. Or, if you prefer, use this “gray water” for indoor plants or your garden.
Your Turn: What frugal tips and tricks have you picked up from other countries and cultures?
Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.