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Personal Finance > Five Tips
Extreme savings 101
Frugal living experts tell you how to live on less and there's nothing miserly about these tips.
January 13, 2005: 11:00 AM EST
By Deshundra Jefferson, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Learning how to be cheap, or just cheaper, won't make you a miser.

For many people, lean living is a financial strategy to generate the best return on their money, akin to stockpicking. Even if you already are an avid coupon clipper who brown bags lunch everyday you can almost always find new ways to save. If you're not doing either, just consider that tips No. 1 and 2.

CNN/ spoke to a trio of frugal savings experts and compiled a list of unconventional, yet easy, ways you can save money on travel and everyday living expenses.

None of these tips will compromise your standard of living. But if you're worried about looking like a tightwad, you don't have to share these secrets with your co-workers.

A penny-pinching hedonist

Shel Horowitz, founder of and author of The Penny-Pinching Hedonist, says his philosophy on frugal living is to "save money on the things that are worth saving in the first place."

Travel is one of them. Among his favorite tips is garnering free airline travel vouchers for being "bumped" to another flight. If the airport waiting area is crowded, approach the gate agent to say that you may be willing to take a different flight in exchange for a voucher.

Airlines tend to offer smaller awards to the first takers, he says, so don't jump at their initial offer unless you can be rerouted fairly quickly.

Joining a homestay organization, such as Servas, helps Horowitz and his family save on hotel costs when they travel abroad. Homestay organizations match travelers with local hosts. Some programs ask that you pay the host family a small fee while others only charge a yearly membership fee.

Are you a fan of live music? Catch the world-class acts that come your way by ushering. Among the concerts Horowitz caught as an usher: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and the Indigo Girls.

It's all About the savings

Pat Veretto, editor the frugal living section at, says that she was "born frugal," a skill later refined by single parenting.

Frugal living, she says, is simply getting the most from the resources you have. Her column at highlights several ways in which you can hold on to your cash.

Home heating costs are easy to cut. Begin by checking the insulation in your home and caulking even the tiniest crack. Insulated curtains will also help block out the cold.

If your bed is chilly, skip that extra blanket in favor of a newspaper. "Newspaper is the best free insulation in the world," Veretto said. Simply insert a paper between your mattress and box spring to heat your bed.

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You can also shape up that grocery bill using the pantry method. Stock up on items when they're on sale and limit your daily menu to what you have in the house. Veretto says you will need a price list to determine whether or not that sale is worth the effort, but you can make one by tallying old receipts to determine a product's average selling price.

The pantry method will prevent you from buying food at full-price, or during a half-baked sale, and splurging on items you don't need. It also helps you recognize different sale "cycles" so you know when to buy.

Chief cheapskate

Mary Hunt, a syndicated columnist as well as the founder of, says that living frugally simply means living below your means. She estimates that the average American lives on $1.20 for every $1 that they earn but she challenges her readers to scale that back to 80 cents.

You may not expect to hear this from a self-professed cheapskate, but Hunt encourages people to set aside 10 percent of their earnings for charity as well as savings. Charitable giving, she says, fosters change because you learn how to express gratitude.

She also has a few smart savings tips that will help you limit your means to 80 percent of that paycheck.

"No one looks after your money like you do," says Jeff Claudio of Crestview, Fla. And few have been so successful at looking after their money as Jeff and wife Leonora.
Email Millionaires in the Making: New York transplants to the Gulf Coast, Jeff and Leonora's retirement strategy pays off early.

If you are a coffee shop regular, for example, that $2.50 you're spending each workday will set you back $650 for the year. Hunt's solution is to invest in an air-based popcorn popper and roast your own beans at home. She says that the quality is often higher than at her local coffee shop and that home-roasted beans make great gifts. Among her favorite places to buy beans:

Hunt has another unique solution for draining a high water bill. Most toilets use six gallons of water when flushed, but you can displace water by placing a brick (sealed in a plastic bag) in the tank. As silly as it sounds, she says the savings add up, particularly if you have multiple toilets.

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You can also zap some of your electricity bill by unplugging any devices you're not using. Items that require standby energy, such as a cell phone or PDA charger, cause the most damage to your bill.

It is hard to tag how much you are saving with some of these tips, but you can get a rough estimate by comparing your bills from your pre-frugal existance to your cheaper incarnation.

"A lot of people just don't get the idea of living frugally. They just see the 50 cents here and the $2.00 there," Veretto said. "They don't see how it adds up."  Top of page

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