5 Extreme Budget Makeovers

By Tara Struyk | February 10, 2010 AAA

Do you consider yourself frugal or thrifty? How about stingy or cheap?
When it comes right down to it, it's all a matter of perspective. While one person may feel that he or she goes to great lengths to save money, another may view these same efforts as downright trivial. However, some people who have taken their thrifty habits so far that most people would consider them extreme. Very extreme. Then again, for those who practice these Spartan habits, they're just a part of life. (Even one of the world's richest men practices thrifty habits. So the question is, Warren Buffett's Frugal, So Why Aren't You?)

Downsize – Like, Way Down
What's considered "small" in terms of real estate depends largely on what part of the country you call home – unless your house is 89 square feet. Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company has been living in such a house since 1997. He became so convinced of its charm, he began selling tiny homes to others. In fact, a number of companies have picked up on the growing interest in this trend and are coming up with new ways to make small spaces liveable.

The Benefits
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average size of a new home in 2009 was about 2,300 square feet. Shafer's tiny abode is nearly 25 times smaller, making the utility and maintenance costs much lower. Plus, you won't need – or have room for – much stuff, forcing you to curtail regular shopping expeditions.

A Less-Extreme Alternative
Not ready for a tiny house? You can still get some of the money-saving benefits simply by downsizing your home. (For more on how a cozy living space can add to your bottom line, read Downsize Your Home To Downsize Expenses.)

Putting Your Utilities Bill on Ice
If you don't think you could stand the cramped quarters of a house of less than 100 square feet, there's another way to slash your bills. According to a January article in the New York Times, for some city dwellers, having a large space to live and work is more important than anything. Like heat, for instance. And New York City loft and warehouse dwellers aren't the only ones going cold turkey. A couple from Maine have been living largely without heat since last winter, motivated by what their blog on the subject (www.coldhousejournal.com) describes as "Yankee stinginess", "environmental inclinations", "curiosity" about how people lived before the days of central heating, and "boredom, alleviated by amateur heat-reclamation engineering projects." But although the cold in Maine and other parts of the U.S. can be bitter, cold house dwellers appear to be anything but; the Times piece cited cases of people across the country who had cheerfully chosen to turn their thermsostats way down, or do without central heating altogether.

The Benefits
According to the Energy Information Administration, heating costs for the average home through the winter will be about $960 this year.

A Less-Extreme Alternative
If the thought of your fridge turning itself off or the water freezing in your toilet makes you cringe, you can still reap some of the benefits by turning your thermostat down several degrees while you're at work, avoiding heating areas of the house you don't regularly use, and getting a programmable thermostat. (For more insight, see 9 Ways To Save On Winter Bills.)

The $1 Dollar A Day Diet
Perhaps you already clip grocery coupons or shop at discount grocers, but what if you went even further? Could you imagine feeding yourself on $1 day?

In September 2008, two teachers tried just such an experiment, and eventually turned their experiences into a book "On A Dollar A Day: One Couple's Unlikely Adventures In Eating In America" (2010). If you think this sounds impossible, think again: the couple lived this way for a month, and others have gone on to replicate the experiment.

The Benefits
According to the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average U.S. household (2.5 people) spends more than $3,000 per year on groceries and more than $6,000 total on food. While the $1 dollar per day diet may not provide enough energy and variety for most people, it does stretch the boundaries of we assume to be a "typical" grocery bill.

A Less-Extreme Version
If you're looking to cut your food costs, you can imitate some of the key components that all $1 day dieters have adhered to. These include cooking from scratch, buying unprocessed foods (such as rice, barley, dry beans, nuts and seeds) in bulk, reducing your consumption of animal products and choosing local, in-season produce. (For more tips, see 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)

A Free for All
In its most extreme form, "freeganism" is an anti-consumerist movement in which proponents seek to live outside the conventional consumer economy. As a result, it involves some pretty extreme behavior, the most highly publicized of which includes foraging for edible food that grocery stores, restaurants and other food industries have thrown away.

The Benefits

There are certainly safer and more sanitary ways to get a meal, but freegans aren't entirely out to lunch. A 2009 study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease calculated that about half the food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten. Therefore, freegans' foraging habits are not only a way to save money, but to correct what they see as an environmental and social imbalance.

A Less-Extreme Alternative
Many regular and discount grocers will mark products down as they approach their sell-by dates. Some grocers also sell day-old bread at a discount and slash prices on overripe and bruised fruits and veggies.

Getting Thrifty, Going Green
Freecycling involves giving away items you no longer use, or obtaining items you need for free. According to freecycle.org, a network that helps connect people who are interested in giving away or obtaining goods, hundreds of millions of pounds of useful items end up with new owners each year – rather than in a landfill.

The Benefits
For many people, the notion of getting an item they need for free is not hard to swallow. If you need something and you aren't too particular, freecycling is one instance where you really can have your cake and eat it too.

A Less-Extreme Version
If connecting with strangers doesn't appeal to you, you can still reap some of benefits of freecycling by shopping for used items at local auctions, flea markets and consignment stores. You can also obtain used items through other channels such as Craigslist or Kijiji.

Are You Ready to Get Extreme?
If you're looking to cut down your spending, consider using these meticulous money conservationists as inspiration. You don't need to go as far as they have, but you can certainly count on their stories for a boost. After all, inspiration is free.

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