Make a budget and track your spending. Don’t buy things you don’t need. Open a 401 (k) and put ALL THE MONEY into it. You’ve heard all these frugal tips before. But what are some ideas for us experts who already know everything there is to know about being frugal? Plus, how are you supposed to save money and still have fun? Below are some of my more unusual frugal insights.
Go to Trivia Nights
I have one group of friends that lives about an hour away. It’s hard to keep in touch with them and we can’t do the usual at-home frugal options of board game nights and potlucks without a lot of driving.
Instead, we found a restaurant about equidistant from everyone that has a weekly trivia night. The grand prize is a $75 restaurant gift card and there are only eight teams. We don’t win every week, but we win enough that about three quarters of our beer and nachos are free.
You may have to look around for a trivia night that’s not too competitive and still has decent prizes, but it’s a great way to go out without blowing your entertainment budget for the month. Plus, when you’re the only one in the bar that knows who wrote Lord of the Flies, you’ll feel a lot better about the money you spent on your liberal arts education.
Switch to Popcorn Kernels
Whenever I buy potato chips, they disappear after a day or two; I can’t have just one. And I hate spending several dollars on a bag that’s at least 80% air.
Enter popcorn kernels. I only had microwaveable popcorn growing up and I didn’t realized this was a thing until I moved in with my boyfriend and, more importantly, his popcorn maker. To make popcorn, you drizzle olive oil over the surface, pour on some kernels, and plug it in. You can add any toppings you want. Garlic salt, Parmesan cheese, and ranch powder are my favorites.
I usually stock up on bags at Aldi whenever they’re on sale and currently have at least ten pounds in my pantry. A bag of kernels is $1.19 on sale and, unlike a bag of potato chips, it should last you more than a few days—a quarter cup of kernels can make an entire bowl of popcorn.
And while popcorn may not be as addictive as Doritos or Lays potato chips, it hits the same crunchy/salty craving and is marginally healthier. Well, if you don’t eat the entire bowl by yourself.
Work Part-Time at a Hotel (or Date Someone Who Does)
My boyfriend, like many teachers, has a side hustle. He works at the Hilton Garden Inn about five minutes from our house. As a banquet server, he only gets called in about once a month and he makes $14 an hour to basically bring food out from the kitchen and then bring empty plates back. Even on its own, it’s pretty good money.
The best part? He gets a HUGE discount on Hilton hotel rooms worldwide. They don’t always have employee rates in hot destinations like NYC or Miami, but we can get a $40 a night room whenever we visit family a few hours away or attend a wedding in the middle of nowhere.
So yes, my boyfriend came with both a popcorn maker AND a hotel discount. What a frugal catch!
Forgo a Grocery Trip
If you’re like me, you probably have about three months of food stocked up at home. It may not be food you want to eat, but it’s food you paid money for that takes up space in your cupboards. You know what I’m talking about—the kidney beans in the back of the pantry and the freezer-burned broccoli you bought with the best of intentions.
Instead of going out and buying tastier food you actually want to eat, skip a trip to the grocery store and use what you have at home. Throw out anything that’s way past its expiration date and get creative with the rest.
One time I only had tortillas (technically expired but frozen), shredded cheese (frozen), and ground beef (also frozen). It wasn’t quite enough to make a real taco so I did a beefy quesadilla instead. I don’t think it had any nutritional value but it was tasty and I didn’t have to run out to the store to buy lettuce and sour cream.
Another option is to throw all of your ingredients into a Crock-Pot and see what comes out, or to invent a new kind of casserole. Remember, it’s okay to not eat perfect meals every night, as long as you have something to eat.
I tried doing the online survey thing to make extra money, but it was getting frustrating. I would spend 10 minutes on the “pre-survey” and then get rejected. The surveys I could complete were boring and I wasn’t getting a lot of money for them.
So instead I started getting paid to use Bing. Yes, Bing is such a terrible product that Microsoft will pay you to use it. It’s not a frugal panacea—you’re not going to become a full-time Bing-searcher—but it’s an easy and somewhat enjoyable way to earn a $5 gift card every month or so.
I still use Google for my main search engine, but I’ll occasionally click through the top stories on Bing to get points. I’ll also do the special activities, like clicking on a link about pangolins for World Pangolin Day, or taking a quiz about the Olympics.
You can earn a few hundred points per day based on how much content you’re willing to click through. Once you have several thousand points saved up, you can use them to donate money to charities, participate in sweepstakes giveaways, get gift cards, or just opt for a PayPal payment. The boyfriend uses his to pay for his X-Box Live subscription; I usually go for the Target e-Giftcard.
Yes, I would technically earn more money per hour working at McDonalds, but I was already planning to web-surf from my couch all weekend, so I might as well get paid to do it.
Go to Your Library for Entertainment
Okay, I’m kind of cheating with this one. I have read this tip in other frugal blogs so I wouldn’t really call it unorthodox. Obviously, you can get books, e-books, and magazines from your library. And a lot of frugal experts also know that you can borrow movies, video games, and gadgets. But your library may have a whole other host of weird stuff you can check out.
Some will let you borrow things like ukuleles, movie projectors, telescopes, 3-D pens, and household tools. My local library has “Discovery Kits” with supplies for activities like ghost hunting (?), calligraphy, crocheting, bird watching, and candle making. It also has 37 unique cake pans so you don’t ever have to make an inferior, rectangular cake again.
You’ll have to Google what your local library actually has (I guess you could Bing it if you’re desperate for points) but the library is a great way plan a cheap date night or try out a hobby without investing any money upfront.
This list is only a supplement to a healthy frugal lifestyle, but it can help you if you feel stuck. You don’t have to stay at home and stare at the wall to save money. Put some popcorn on, gear up the library-supplied movie projector, and load the Bing website. Top it off with an Elmo-shaped cake, and you’ll be ready for a fun, frugal night.
What unorthodox frugal tips do you have? What are the weirdest things you can check out at your local library? Leave your answer in the comments.