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People Told Us the Hilariously Cheap Things They Do to Save Money

From rinsing out used paper towels to dumpster diving for a new couch, here are the sometimes embarrassing—and always clever—ways we avoid spending even a penny more than absolutely necessary.
Sneaking outside snack into a movie theater.
Illustration by Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia

In an effort to keep a few extra bucks in our pockets, we all have those cheap habits that we get called out on by friends and family. It can be small things like taking a few extra packets of hot sauce from Taco Bell or not so subtle things like stuffing your pockets with chicken wings at the Chinese buffet so you can save food for later. Either way, when you’re living on a budget, these small habits become just that — habits. You don’t even realize you're doing it. So when the waiter looks at you funny for taking all the napkins from the table, you're just as confused as they are because, in your mind, it’s free napkins!


You may think your cheap habit is weird or embarrassing, but you’ll be surprised by the number of people who either do the same thing or maybe even take it a few steps further. Here you’ll find confessions by regular people who practice cheap habits to keep some money in the bank:

1. “When I go to the movie theater, I never buy food there because it's always so expensive, so I make popcorn at home and go to the corner store to buy candy. I hide it in my bag and they never notice.” —Anna, college admissions counselor

2. “Double, triple steeping tea bags.” —Freddy, executive assistant

3. “I cut open my face wash and moisturizer to get every last drop because that stuff is $$$$.” —Kara, writer

4. “(Purchase) meat at the grocery store on a Sunday night. They tend to stock up before the weekend but by Sunday everyone has what they are going to grill and such; what remains must be sold, at a big discount too.” —Dennis, auto industry executive

5. “Borrowing from neighbors instead of buying tools (drill, roof rake, jumper cables, drain snake); more neighbors you know the more tools you have.” —Eddie, artist and teacher

6. “My daughter wanted this crazy expensive dollhouse for Christmas last year and my wife had just gotten laid off so we couldn’t afford it. I didn’t want to disappoint her so I built her a dollhouse from the ground up; I got an old box that was about 5 feet tall, I already had some plywood in the house so I used that to make the floors and to divide the different rooms, and I bought construction paper so I could use it as wallpaper for the walls. She loved it and still plays with it to this day.” —Felix, maintenance man


7. “Save old water from washing fruits/rice and use to water plants,” —Nicole, writer

8. “My wife cuts my hair; sometimes I have the kids use my bathwater; I’ll drive up to 4 hours to a different airport for a cheaper ticket; I rarely eat out and when I do it's carryout, no matter the restaurant, to avoid the 20 percent tip” —@dewangibson

9. “When I go to Sephora, instead of buying new makeup, I freeload off the samples. I’ll take home samples of foundation, highlighter, pretty much any type of makeup that comes in liquid or powder form and even skin care products like moisturizer.” —Lisa, student

10. “My mother-in-law refuses to buy a coffee maker so she makes coffee by using a coffee strainer and a paper towel. She’ll wrap the paper towel around the coffee strainer, put ground coffee inside, place a cup under the strainer and then pour boiled water into the strainer so the coffee falls into the cup.” —Sabrina, stay-at-home mom

11. “I bring an empty plastic bottle with me when I go to the gym and fill it up with the hand soap inside the gym’s bathroom. Saves me money on soap and it so happens I love the smell.” —Edith, retired

12. “When traveling, bring an empty water bottle, fill it after security, then bring kool-aid or drink packets in case the water has a funny taste; took these to Disney World, did not need to buy lots of drinks for the kids.” —Laura, system support analyst

13. “I NEVER buy water. For thrift as well as environmental conscience.” —Unmesh, writer


14. “Instead of buying plastic containers, I wash and reuse empty ice cream or butter containers for storage.” —Madison, student

15. “I’ll rinse out ziplock bags so I can reuse them. I only throw them out when they’re absolutely unsalvageable.” —Diana, accountant

16. “My friend Jay and I in our club-going days used to hide our coats in an alley near this club, rather than pay the $1 coat-check fee.” —Alec, writer

17. “My cats need to be entertained at all times and instead of paying for expensive toys, I make toys for them using empty cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls. They don’t seem to mind.”—Kate, receptionist

18. “When I was in college, I would take home rolls of toilet paper from the dorm halls and bring it back to my apartment. I hated paying for toilet paper.” —Justin, cashier

19. “I have spent literally days eating only out of Admirals Clubs … Making creative use of paper cups, I’ve prepped 3, even 4 meals in advance. And walked out of a long layover with a backpack full of fruit.” —Denver, writer

20. “Only going out to dinner when I can get 1000 point tables on OpenTable. You get gift cards if u hit a certain amount of points—10K points is $100 gift card.” —Evy, social editor

21. “If I want to order out, I purposely order from UberEats instead of calling the restaurant directly so I can avoid giving them a tip. The same person never comes so you won’t be known as the person he doesn’t like to tip.” —Josh, salesman


22. “Instead of ordering out or going food shopping, I’ll take whatever is in my fridge and turn it into a meal. Got rice? Got eggs? Got a ketchup packet? Boom, eggs with rice and ketchup.” —Lynell, student

23. “When I go food shopping, I always buy the generic brands. My kids don’t even know they’re eating bootleg frosted flakes.” —Tamika, daycare worker

24. “This is something I hated as a kid but find myself doing now. My mother would always reuse sandwich bags and tin foil. The tin foil I especially hated because she would admonish us for throwing it out instead of bringing it back in our lunch boxes … Anyway, I do the same now. For environmental reasons.” —Desa, journalist

25. “When my bottle of liquid soap or shampoo/conditioner starts to run out, I pour water into it to make it last longer.” —Stephanie, convenience store worker

26. “The ‘foamy’ version of dishwashing soaps is really just a dilution of about 32:1 of the regular product and sold in a dispenser that helps it foam up. But they charge you about the same as the concentrated product. So buy one of the foaming pump dispensers and then refill it in the future with your own dilution of the normal product.” —Michael, tech industry executive

27. “We try to but non-perishables on sale … toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies including laundry detergent. When it’s on sale, I buy it.” —Hemalee, lawyer

28. "I've been storing my extra junk—camping gear, Christmas decorations—in a friend's attic for the last four years so I don't have to pay for a storage unit. Thanks Maryanne!" —Anita, editor


29. “My way to save money is to never buy a book unless it’s a travel book or reference book. I just use the library. I have even gone as far as getting cookbooks from the library and copying the ones I want to try,” —Laura, scientist

30. “I hate paying for textbooks and even though it's cheaper, I even hate renting them. Instead, every semester I flash my million-dollar smile and ask a classmate if I can photocopy their textbook or the chapters I'm required to read. Works every time. —Tymel, student

31. “Finally getting a library card was pretty eye-opening in terms of what you can get digitally — tons of stuff you can download, audiobooks, albums, etc,” —Mike, editor

32. “I enjoy reading but I don’t always like buying books, mostly because I’m only gonna read it once, so sometimes I’ll hang out in Barnes & Noble just to read newly released books and not buy anything.” —Charmane, student

33. “I never buy greeting cards because they are stupid expensive. I just buy a set of blank flat cards and use them for every occasion,” —Rachel, editor

34. “Buy cloth napkins to use instead of paper towels.” —Beckett, writer

35. “If the paper towel isn’t too dirty, I’ll rinse and hang it out to dry so I can reuse it.” —Maritza, custodian

36. “When there’s a special occasion I have to attend, like a wedding or a graduation, I’ll buy an outfit, keep the tags and then return it after I’ve worn it. Just gotta make sure you don’t get the clothes dirty.” —Edmee, payroll manager


37. “Nowadays shopping for clothes is so expensive but I need to feed my shopping addiction so I frequent at different thrift shops. I get all my clothes for dirt cheap.” —Nicolette, publishing assistant

38. “I keep all my kids’ hand-me-downs so I can avoid buying new clothes for them as each one gets older. Vintage is in right?” —Sarah, stay-at-home mom

39. “My building doesn’t allow us to have washer machines so I have to pay to do my laundry at the laundromat. In order to avoid spending money every week on laundry, I’ll hand wash some of my clothes in the sink. Not as good as a washer machine but gets the job done.” —Eddie, fast food cashier

40. “When my kids were born, I used cloth diapers instead of the regular diapers that you have to constantly keep buying. All I had to do was wash them so I could keep reusing them. It’s cheap and environmentally conscious.” —Rita, human resources manager

41. “My mom would cut me and my brother’s hair so she wouldn’t have to take us to the barbershop. She eventually got better at it, but for a while we’d go to school looking like idiots. At least she got to save money on haircuts” —Ryan, customer service specialist

42. “I use to go through two packs of hair ties every month because I’d always lose them so instead of buying more, I started using my shoelaces to tie my hair. I’ve never lost a shoelace.” —Noel, student

43. “Having my neighbor trim my neck/back hair.” —@p1koh


44. “Cutting open the toothpaste tube.” —Peter, social editor

45. “Every time I go to any fast food place and they dump your bag full up ketchup or other condiments, I save all of them so I can use them later.” —Christian, cashier

46. “Stealing all the shampoo and conditioner from every hotel stay.” —Rachel, editor

47. “When I go out to eat at a diner or something, I secretly take all of their sugar packets. I don’t remember the last time I paid for sugar.” —Melanie, social worker

48. “Park 20 minutes away from a concert to save time and $20 because the line to get out of the parking lot is super long.” —Maria, legal assistant

49. “I have my car inspected on the first of the month one year, and then have it renewed the first of the next month next year, essentially getting 13 months out of an inspection instead of 12.” —Name withheld, editor in New York City

50. “I’m always trying to fix my car but car parts can be super expensive. Instead, I always go to scrap yards to see if I can find cheap car parts.” —Max, dishwasher

51. “People are always throwing out furniture and odd goods in the basement of my building. If I see something I like that's in reasonably good condition, I’ll take it home. Don’t tell my wife but our couch once belonged to the neighbors.” —Lorenzo, sanitation worker