Breaking Bad Habits: 35 Small Shortcuts to Frugal Living

A tip of the hat to Tightwad Gazette, published 1992 by Amy Dacyczn, her readers and my many friends for their bad-habit ideas.

Frugal living is not a new concept. The 18th Century French Economist Francois Quesnay long ago noted, "To secure the greatest amount of pleasure with the least possible outlay should be the aim of all economic effort."

While it may seem we've been tightening our belts for more than 300 years, it looks like we've still got some time to go before things improve. That doesn't mean you need to completely deny yourself all frivolity, however. Perhaps breaking a few bad habits can help save enough for an evening out, a shopping spree or that longed-for day at the spa.

Read on for 35 tiny tips that will put pennies back into your budget.

1. Turn The Heat Off Under Your Pasta
Did you know you don't need to keep the fire going under pasta once it's boiled? Keep your noodles from going mushy and save energy by turning off the heat once the water bubbles. Leave on the lid, let it sit for about 20 minutes, stir once or twice to keep the noodles from sticking, then strain and serve.

2. Lather, Rinse, Don't Repeat
Most shampoo bottles instruct you to use maximum foamage. In actuality, that second lather is removing vital oils that keep your hair and scalp healthy. Nor do you need a big quarter-sized dollop of shampoo. If your hair is shorter than shoulder length, a dime-size should do the trick.

3. Freeze the Brillo
Don't let that steel wool pad rust on the back of your sink. Pop it in the freezer until next time. It'll thaw quickly, last longer and won't leave rust stains.

4. Recycle Aquarium Water
Are you sending used aquarium water down the drain? For shame! It contains algae and other organic waste that's nourishing for both house and garden plants.

5. Minimize Tea Kettle Use
If you're boiling water in a tea kettle, don't fill up the whole kettle. Heat only the amount of water you need at one particular time. Measure out the amount you need and add a dollop more for evaporation. Don't use a microwave to boil water as it requires roughly 10 percent more electricity.

6. Turn UP Your Water Heater
Most frugalistas will advise you to turn down the temperature on your water heater. What they may not mention is you shouldn't set it below 125 degrees as it needs to be this hot to kill any bacteria in the water tank. What you save on energy you may lose in medical bills and time lost from work. On the other hand, many water heaters are automatically set at 140 degrees, so you might turn it down a smidgen if it's set too high.

7. Maintain Your Disposable Razor
The simple act of thoroughly rinsing and drying out your razor blade will increase its lifespan. If you live in an area of the country where razors tend to rust, coat the blade with a thin layer of Vaseline or cold cream. This keeps the air from coming in contact with the cutting edge and helps to lubricate it the next time you shave.

8. Cool Foods in the Great Outdoors
Turn your front porch, stoop or windowsill into a first-stage refrigerator. Since warm foods draw more energy until they reach the same temperature as the refrigerator, cooling them outdoors will reduce fridge running time. (Naturally, this is not the best idea if you live in an area where untended food will attract hungry animals.)

9. Fill Up Your Freezer and Fridge
While we're on the topic: It's well known that freezers and refrigerators operate more efficiently when full but some of us (particularly singletons) rarely fill all that gaping space. You can reduce your energy bill by filling containers with water and storing them to fill the space. Simply remove when you need extra room. These bottles also make rather handy cooling agents for sprains and sore muscles.

10. Stomp That Toilet Tissue Roll
It's so easy to just let the TP roll rip as the paper rapidly unwinds. Try this trick to reduce your TP output: Before removing the rolls from their packaging, stomp on them so they're no longer circular. Now the roll will unspool about three times before stopping. This trick comes in particularly handy when you have children who grab handfuls, stuff the toilet, flush half a dozen times and flood the bathroom.

11. Recycle Cardboard Rolls For Electric Cord Storage
This isn't all that frugal related, but it's just too handy a tip not to share. Old toilet-paper and paper-towel tubes make the best storage devices for excess electric cords on lamps, entertainment centers, kitchen electronics, and such bathroom appliances as blow dryers and curling irons. Just accordion-pleat the cord and stuff it inside the tube.

12. Half a Dab of Toothpaste Will Do Ya
The ads always show toothpaste extending the entire length of the brush, but how much of that paste ends up down the drain or on the edges of the sink? You don't really need a neat, bristle-length swath of toothpaste to get your teeth clean. One-half inch should do it.

13. Repurpose Milk Jug Rings as Sock Savers
Save the rings from the tops of milk jugs and slip them over the tops of socks (down to the ankle) before laundering. Store them this way in the drawer then remove the ring and place it on the dresser top while wearing. Replace the ring before tossing the socks back in the laundry. Goodbye mismatched and mysteriously disappearing socks.

14. Go Below Your Budget
Do you always spend the allowed amount for a line item on your budget? Try spending less on areas that are flexible, such as food and entertainment. 

15. Don't Toss That Phone Book
With newspapers disappearing from our lives, thin and disposable paper has become harder to find. Since few of us actually use the phone books that appear annually at our front doors for their true purpose, consider using the pages as you would old newspapers. Line a bird cage or make paper maché art project: Just don't toss it automatically into your recycling bin.

16. Tone Down the Make-up
Not every day is make-up sponge worthy. Cut back on the base and eye make-up for every day and you'll save both time and money.

17. Air Dry Your Hair
Not only is blow drying hard on your hair, blow dryers are energy vampires. Consider letting your "freak flag fly," as they said in the 1960s, and air dry your hair.

18. Appreciate a Half-Full Cup
Don't automatically fill your plate or glass to maximum capacity. First try a partial cup of coffee or smaller portion of food to see if it satisfies. You may be surprised how often you've actually finished a portion simply because it was there.

19. Lower Your Wattage
Could some of the lightbulbs in your home be a lower wattage, particularly in hallways or closets? If you find the dimness irritating, you can always replace the bulb with a brighter one.

20. Experiment With Recipes
Do you follow recipes exactly or do you experiment? When baking, try using less sugar, eggs and oil. Find the point where you notice a significant taste difference and then reintroduce the ingredient slightly.

21. Hand Wash Dishes With Minimal Water
When washing dishes and/or pots, do you always fill the sink to the brim with super-hot water? If you're doing a small number of dishes, a sink half-full of lukewarm water may suffice. If you're concerned about germ removal when using less than boiling-hot water, add a teaspoon of bleach to the rinse water. (This is the U.S. government's recommendation for consumers using unsafe public water systems.) While you're at it, a one-second squirt of dish detergent should be all you need.

22. Never Pay For Shipping
There are plenty of advantages to shopping online, particularly with the great deals offered these days. But those savings can go bust if you reach check out and find you're paying a bundle to have the product shipped to your home. Know before you go by stocking up on free shipping codes and you won't end up abandoning an online shopping cart.

23. Cut Down on Laundry Detergent
Unless you're washing super-duty clothes, you don't really need a full scoop of laundry detergent. It's hard on your clothes and hard on the environment, but super handy for the detergent manufacturer. Think about the dirt level of each load and add detergent accordingly. Often, a half scoop is all you need.

24. Wash Clothes in Cold Water
Rarely do clothes actually need to be washed in cold water. It's hard on the fabrics and adds enormously to your energy bill. As with clothes detergent, consider the dirt level of each load before you press "hot."

25. Minimize Drying Time
If your dryer doesn't have a moisture sensor, do you always turn the dial to a specific time setting? Try setting it for less time until you find how long your dryer actually requires to dry clothes.

26. Remember: You Get What You Pay For
Sometimes cheap isn't always best. Inexpensive skin lotion often contains alcohol, which actually dries out your skin instead of softening it. Cheap, single-ply toilet paper ends up costing more because it's less absorbent. That $5 tank top with single-stitch seams will last half a summer, whereas a well-made $15 tank will last several years, and look much better. What I'm saying is you shouldn't automatically cheap out for the immediate price savings. Consider the long-term before you buy.

27. Divide And Conquer the Paper Towels
Before you plop a whole roll of paper towels on the kitchen counter, cut the roll in half up to the cardboard tube. That way you'll automatically pull just half a sheet for each use. You can always take additional squares for bigger jobs.

28. Don't Play the Spice Rip-Off Game
Every time you buy a bottle of spice you're paying more for the bottle than its contents. Bulk spices, purchased from your local co-op, are much cheaper and often fresher. Since juggling all those little baggies can be a pain, however, you might buy one nicely labeled bottle of spice and keep refilling it from the bags. Cheaper still, labeled baby jars hold more spice, are air tight and are equally matched in size so they fit neatly into a cupboard.

29. Concentrate on Juice Savings
Don't just grab the pre-made carton or jug of juice as you swoop by the refrigeration aisle of your supermarket. Concentrated frozen juices are an excellent way to squeeze savings into your budget. You can also add extra water to reduce the caloric intake of sweeter juices.

30. Squeeze More Life Out of Your Sponge
For some reason, kitchen sponge prices keep going up and up. Here's a way to extend their life spans. Thoroughly moisten that funky sponge and toss it into the microwave. then heat until dry to kill all microbial nasties. I also toss sponges into my clothes washer but can't swear this kills all germs.

31. Rejuvenate Masking Tape
We don't tend to use masking tape all that much anymore, but every now and then it comes in handy. By the time you unearth an old roll, however, the glue may have dried out. Here's another instance where the microwave can provide a product with new life. Give the tape a quick zap to moisten the glue and you're ready to go.

32. Save Old Socks
Even if you don't want to darn old socks, they have a million uses. Save them to cover bottles, mugs and glasses when moving. Cover well-oiled tools and parts. Protect garden tools from rusting during long winter months. Used as gloves to polish and clean. Cotton socks are particularly handy when cleaning chandeliers. The higher the cotton content the better.

33. Stop Buying Books
This was a hard habit for me to break because I have a serious reading addiction. Once I transferred my affections to our local library, however, I learned to love the wider selection, the smell and texture of older books and, best of all, the fact that everything was free. As a bonus, our library district offers an exchange program whereby I can order books from more than 20 other libraries in our state and usually pick them up from my local branch within a week. Pretty cool...and pretty free.

34. Check Your Oven Temp
Oven thermostats are notoriously wide ranging, which means you could be overheating every time you toss in a batch of muffins. Instead of relying on the recipe time, check for doneness a few minutes early. You might also buy an oven thermometer and use it to regulate the temperature, instead of your oven dial.

35. Don't Toss - Repurpose
We're such a disposable society it's easy to get in the habit of throwing away items that can easily be repurposed -- not just recycled. For a list of suggestions, read our blog post "40 Eco-Frugal Ways to Repurpose Household Items."

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love the ideas. I use SOS and let them dry and return to box until I need them again. No paper towels for me and socks with holes are very useful for polishing, oiling leather, dusting after washing. You can use a measuring cup to serve your food instead of a spoon to help with weight control too.
Posted by Janet
Drying laundry - just dry your clothes a little - then put on hangers on the shower rod, or over the door - an inexpensive rack works great for socks and undies. Also, I rarely use paper towels, except for nasty pet messes - Instead I have several dozen cotton dish towels. If they get nasty, I soak them in a pail with a splash of bleach before putting in the washer.
Posted by Carol M
Most frugalistas will advise you to turn down the temperature on your water heater. What they may not mention is you shouldn’t set it below 125 degrees as it needs to be this hot to kill any bacteria in the water tank. What you save on energy you may lose in medical bills and time lost from work. On the other hand, many water heaters are automatically set at 140 degrees, so you might turn it down a smidgen if it’s set too high.
Posted by Chris Taus
I also will be my sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher while I'm running a cycle to get them clean and fresh. I use a wooden clothes pin if I'm concerned about them falling out to the heating element.
Posted by Karen