Black Belt Tightwads Share Their Money-Saving Secrets

by Dollar Stretcher Reader Contributors

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Do you want to become a frugal expert? Learn from the pros! Black belt tightwads share their money-saving secrets, tips and tricks.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I think I am pretty good at frugal living. However, with gas, milk, etc. on the rise and cold weather on the way, I am really struggling to cope. Please consider calling on all the great “black belt” tightwads to send in their greatest money-saving tip (just one idea from each). I need to know how the very best frugal folks are dealing with issues today. Many thanks!
Iris in Dallas

Fabulous “Freezer Stew”

Most “black belt” tightwad tips require a willingness to experiment. Here’s a tip we’ve used for years that may sound “gross,” but it is really good and works great for the budget. Using this tip, you’ll have a delicious “free” meal.

Keep a freezer container handy in your freezer. After every meal, put the bits and pieces that are left into it. For instance, add the spoonful of green beans that aren’t worth saving, the mouthful of hamburger or chicken no one ate, and the rice that has nothing to go with it tomorrow. Also, add all the juice you drain from cans of vegetables (you did pay for it!) and all the juices that foods have been cooked in. Just dump it all into the freezer container; don’t worry about what was put in there before. (About the only thing I don’t add is fried foods, cheese, fish, or bread.) Just keep it in the freezer until there’s enough for your free meal.

At that time, dump it into your slow cooker and let it cook. Sometimes, I add a piece of chopped chicken, some beans, barley, rice, or a can of veggies, but usually, there is plenty of variety in it already. It often does not need seasoning either because everything that went into it was already seasoned! We have done this for years. My whole family loves it, and we call it “freezer stew.” It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s delicious. Serve it two to four times a month and save a good $10-$20 dollars a month, using good food you were going to throw away.
Babette in CO

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Stick to Life’s Essentials

Simply put, I just don’t buy what I don’t need, including soda, candy, cookies, cake, potato chips, etc. This also includes entertainment items. I don’t rent my entertainment either. I check out books, DVDs and other recordings at the library for free or I go without.

I have made it a sort of game to see how much I can save by using my head instead of my “wants.” In the past few years, I’ve saved enough money to buy the essentials, like a new furnace, refrigerator, and other appliances to replace the ones that were over 20 years old.

Adopt Car-Free Days

Consider car-free days, and keep the car parked. This may mean doing an errand on the way home from work, but a day at home once a week without using gasoline is good for the wallet, sanity, and family life. Because I am choosing to remain home, I am not out spending money, and I am cooking soup and a casserole for the next few days when I am at work. The laundry gets done, and we have time to just “be,” which restores the spirit.

Milk Savings

To save on milk, especially if you like whole milk, go to your local Asian grocery store. Look around for a big yellow tin with KLIM in big letters on it. Many stores have large cans of this. This is a Nestle-branded powdered whole milk product. It tastes better than the fat-free milk powder that you find in regular grocery stores, and people who come to our house and have some after I’ve put it in the fridge can’t tell the difference!

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Where Can You Cut Back?

Look at your monthly bills, like phone(s), cable/streaming services, Internet, etc., to see what you can cut back or out. We don’t live with a cable bill and we don’t miss it. I use the library’s Internet service and my husband goes online at work. Also, our culture is all about buying and spending. Try to go a month only spending money on food, gas, utilities, etc. (things that are needs not wants). See if you save a lot of money and space.
Kacy in Kansas

Black Belt Tightwad Life Motto

I, too, consider myself to be a frugal person, but I have learned to adopt the motto, “If it isn’t free or a necessity, then it is no bargain.” I have always shopped sales, but when my kids grew up and left home, I had to be completely honest with myself and realize I simply didn’t need to stock up on so much stuff. In America, there is always a sale, but it isn’t always a bargain, especially if you don’t really need it or you can’t pay cash for it. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying everything must be “need-based,” but when you are strapped for money, things you don’t need are luxury items, not a necessity. Do an experiment. Is there something you can do without for a month? A week? A day? You will sleep better, even if you don’t have tons of toilet paper in the closet.
Mary in WA

Keep the Green in Your Wallet

  • Line drying clothes can save about $200 a year in electricity costs. Yes, clothes tend to freeze in snowy areas.
  • Read the paper at the library or a place of business on break. Get a Sunday paper for coupons. Join a coupon club in your area or a coupon train. Some places will double or even triple coupons. Walgreens and other drug stores have several items every month free after rebate. Some stores have reduced the prices of items and no longer do rebates.
  • Think green. Eliminate paper napkins and paper towels. Cloth ones will last for years. I still have linen tea towels that I embroidered 40 years ago, and linen screened towels that I pick up at thrifts with the original tags still on. “That old stuff” wears like iron.
  • Thrift stores and garage sales are your best friends when it comes to keeping green in your wallet.

Lynnea from Ohio

No More Drafty Windows

I lived in Colorado for 13 years, and many of my residences had single-pane or old windows, which were quite drafty. Even though it didn’t look great, the best way to keep the heat in was to cover the windows on the outside with thick plastic (drop cloth thickness) and wood strips. Although you really could not see in or out, it still let light in. This was well worth the investment. I got the wood strips from a woodworker for free. It greatly helped with heating costs.

Black Belt Tightwad Tips: Reduce Energy Bills by Hundreds Per Year

Dividing in Half

I have many terrific money-saving tips, so choosing just one is difficult. However, you can cut your food budget significantly by dividing things in half.

Carefully consider the ingredients when preparing recipes. By cutting some of the more expensive ingredients in half, you will reduce the cost of the meal. For instance, do you really need a full pound of hamburger meat in that casserole? In most recipes calling for cheese, you can usually decrease the cheese by a third or half. You’ll sacrifice the cost and calories but not the taste.

The directions may tell you to add a full cup of sugar to a packet of flavored fruit drink mix, but half a cup (or less) works just fine. Your children certainly don’t need all that sugar. Better yet, cut out the fruit drinks and sodas completely, opting instead for water.

When eating out, divide appetizers or desserts with a spouse, child, or friend. If the entrees are large, you may want to share that as well. Even if you can’t share your entree, ask for a “doggie bag.” Immediately put half (or part) of your meal in the container to save for later. This is especially great if you’re trying to lose weight.

Before eating that candy bar, cake, or other dessert, cut it in half. You’ll save money and calories as well. Cut smaller servings of cake or pie at parties. Just by using smaller plates at a brunch, luncheon, or party, people will naturally eat less. The same is true at mealtime. Use smaller plates, chew slowly, and wait before eating the second helping. You’ll eat less and will probably feel satisfied. Again, you’ll save money and calories.

Avoid wasting food (and money) by serving smaller portions to your children. Over the course of a year, throwing out uneaten food from your children’s plates adds up to quite a bit of money. Why buy food simply to toss it in the trash?

Being frugal and saving money takes effort. These are just a few simple ideas to get you started. Combine these ideas with your own and save more money.

Black Belt Tightwad Tips: 5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste by 20%

Around-the-World Food Savings

Make at least one day a week vegetarian if you aren’t doing that already and make at least one day a week a homemade soup night. Make a big batch. Either freeze some or use it for lunches or as part of another evening meal.

To make this really work and be fun, too, try recipes for both nights (vegetarian and soup) that are representative of other cultures. What do people in other cultures eat when they are not spending much on food? What is basic for Ireland, for Thailand, for Chile?

Your library may have cookbooks or other books that help. This way, it becomes an adventure. Do a little planning and consider Indian one week, German the next, Spanish the week after that. How about Indonesian? Brazilian? Most are based on a starch staple like rice or potatoes or some grain or lentil.

Years ago, I discovered that the cheapest meals I could come up with were what I like to call “Russian Winter” and involved cabbage and potatoes and onions. Cabbage is one of the most versatile vegetables we have. Most of us use rice, but how about barley? Barley is also very overlooked in American cooking and is wonderful in soups and casseroles.

You’ll be amazed at how inexpensively you can put together meals this way. You may have to buy some new spices, but you’ll more than save the cost when you realize how little dairy you are using.

Reviewed November 2021

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