What are some things you do that others might consider ‘radically frugal’? Keep in mind that being frugal means it saves you money. Being cheap means someone else has to pay for your financial choices. Yes, it’s ok to use a ‘two for one’ coupon for a meal out. No, it’s not ok to tip the waiter for just the one meal.

Here are some things we do that might be considered radically frugal. For some these are just ordinary things. For others it’s going way to far.

1) We only have one car. I admit it’s a pain occasionally especially with two school age kids in different activities and two adult drivers in the house. It means a lot more scheduling but it also means significantly lower transportation costs.

2) We pay cash for cars. As well, we pay ourselves the car payment so when it’s time to buy another car, we can pay cash again.

3) We live in a 1000 sq foot house. It’s small but it fits us all just fine. Less to clean. Less to heat. Less to cool. Less property taxes. The good news is that it’s among the lower priced homes in a great school area.

4) I use reusable feminine products. *Warning* If you don’t have ovaries, you aren’t going to want to look here. http://www.lunapads.com/default.aspx? They are 100% Canadian. All I can say is I have been thrilled with these products. Once I tried them there was no going back! A bit of an upfront cost but after 8-10 months they pay themselves off fast and the rest is pure savings! Squawkfox did a great write up on the Diva Cup for those who want to read further. http://www.squawkfox.com/2008/06/13/10-reasons-the-diva-cup-can-change-your-life/

5) We used cloth diapers on the kids. Yes, it was messy and it meant more laundry but after a one time cost for the diapers, it was really inexpensive other than the cost of water and soap. We have a front load washer which uses significantly less water so we didn’t even notice a difference in the water bill.

6) We drink tap water. I can’t even imagine spending money for something that comes out of the tap for free. Sure, we use a water filter so it tastes better but this is Canada. Our water is generally pretty good. We lived in South Asia for nearly five years where we had to treat and purify our water every day. To turn on the tap and have clean, drinkable water come rushing out any time of the day or night has been absolute bliss.

7) We make our own pseudo maple syrup.

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract

Bring to boil. Boil gently for 5 min. Let cool. (It thickens as it cools). It keeps in the fridge for months.

My kids like it so much they they won’t eat the fake stuff anymore.

8) We make our own salad dressing.

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dijon mustard (optional)
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Mix together and keep in a glass jar. Shake before using.

It’s so good, many of our friends have asked for the recipe and are now making their own.

9) We buy and sell stuff on kijiji. It’s free to post an ad. It’s local. And the best part is you don’t have to pay sales tax when you buy something! As our kids grow out of their clothing, toys, and furniture we sell it on Kijiji and look for things in the next size up. There are no risks as you see the item before you pay for it and all transactions are in cash.

10) We keep our air conditioning at 25C in the summer and the heat at 19C in the winter. In the hot months, we turn off the air conditioning at night and sleep in the basement where it’s nice and cool. The difference between our summer and winter temperatures is only 6 degrees. In the summer we wear shorts in the house and in the winter, we’ll put on a sweater. Yet the number of people who think we’re out of our minds for not keeping our air at 22C year round has amazed us. Six degrees makes a significant difference in energy costs.

We don’t dumpster dive. We don’t have a chicken coup in the backyard or even a veggie garden. We don’t have a windmill or solar panels although these are on my dream list. Until then, these are some of the steps we take that some might consider radically frugal.

What are some things you do that others might consider radically frugal?

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.


  1. cannon_fodder on July 10, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    I love to save a buck as much as the next guy, but our lifestyle might be considered ‘radically extravagant’ by many of you. I work from home mostly, but we still have 2 cars. We don’t have a finished basement but our home is 2800 sq. ft. and there are only 3 of us in it most of the time. I’ve been used to living in a 700 sq. ft. apartment and when my wife and I got together we would sometimes have 3 kids in our little townhouse and sometimes no kids. It felt quite cramped when you had to share 1 bathroom with 4 other people in a 1250 sq ft home (without a finished basement).

    I sometimes sleep in the basement (not that my wife instructed me to, let’s make that clear) when it’s too warm. I let the house get a little warmer than I’d like, and definitely much colder in the winter. Although I’m home most days, I just dress for comfort.

    I use coupons, I haggle and I’m prepared to not buy if it doesn’t suit my budget. My wife usually only treats herself to a lunch or breakfast 1 time per week during the work week. When we go out to movies, I haven’t paid full price in a long time – I either use gift certificates I’ve purchased at a discount, or go before 12 when it is only $6 instead of around $12. And, in the Toronto area, many blockbuster movies came with a promotion at AMC theatres where you could get a large popcorn and large pop for free! (I’ve also, on occasion when the kids were small, snuck a box of Smarties into the theatre.)

    I’d say I’m somewhat like Brendan – we max out our RRSP’s, RESP’s and now TFSA’s every year, we aggressively pay down our mortgage and we’ve now embarked on the SM. My wife has taught me that we still need to enjoy life and for us, even though we could afford more, bigger, ‘better’, we still live ‘relatively’ simple lives for our income.

    I’d rather ensure we are enjoying some of the fruits of our labour now because I, like most everyone I suspect, know people who put off those indulgences until it was too late.

  2. Kathryn on July 13, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Gates VP: This is worthy of it’s own post. I couldn’t agree with you more, especially your last paragraph.

    We’re fortunate to live within 1 km of a huge farmers market that also sells local cheeses, local meat and freshly made breads. We buy a lot there, avoid most processed foods, and pick up our milk, butter and other misc grocery items at the local grocery store.

  3. Alexandra on July 13, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    #4 – I just barfed in my mouth a little bit.

  4. Victor on July 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    I don’t have ovaries, but I think barfing in your mouth is a lot grosser than reading about reusable, *washable* feminine products. I thought #7 was worse than #4 :)

  5. Steve Zussino on July 13, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    I really enjoy saving money and being frugal but at some point you have to enjoy it. I just was married on Friday and my new wife and I are going for 3 weeks honeymoon in Europe and for our wedding we cut costs wherever possible. I think you should spend money on what you enjoy but not to get into debt.

    Some good tips:

    -> no tv, (don’t even have a tv for movies (what an utter waste of time – name more than 5 great movies to watch this year).

    -> Do a vacation swap when travelling. (BTW, anyone want to go to Victoria BC?)

    I use sites like mine or MDJ or RFD to save money or to share deals with other deal hunters! Great tips from everyone.

  6. Tom @ Canadian Finance Blog on July 14, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    With a baby on the way and the wife about to be off work we’re about to try the one car idea and we’ve already ordered some cloth diapers. The cars are paid off but we’re better off selling one, investing the money… plus we’ll save on the extra insurance.

  7. prairiegal on July 14, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    That’s radically frugal? I was looking for new tips to follow, but already:

    1) Live in a 860 sqft house. That’s all we could afford when we were newlyweds, but we still love it and it’s quick to clean. Plus cousin rents out the basement while he’s in school, but his rent just about covers his insatiable appetite.
    2) We have two cars, which is a must because we work in opposite sides of the city and there’s limited public transport. However, lucky us have gotten our folks’ old cars for free or else we pay cash.

    Check: tap water, brown bag, cook at home – aren’t those normal?
    Extras: homemade cleaning supplies, bread, and veg garden – but that’s more for fun and I haven’t caluclated if it’s actually cheaper, considering labour. What’s A/C? (haha)
    Love: Kijiji & Earthcycle (where I only pick up stuff I know I’ll use & I donate many items too – not only am I frugal, but I’m a tidy-nut too)

    Finally – Born with the frugal bone! I don’t like “stuff”. I don’t like shopping, clutter, extras, duplicates, or collections. It has to be worth it for me to part with my hard earned money.

  8. dalmanca on July 14, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Brendan, I agree with you. Most of these ideas are just out of my world. I have never been that frugal even when I was in college. Money is for the enjoyment not for save. You save just because you want to live a good life when you get older, not because you just want to save the money! We all have to find a balance of how much we save and how much we spend. Based on my calculation, if I max out all your pension, RSP and TFSA and work another 30 years, I will have at least 600k something. Plus I will pay off your mortgage and my kids will go through the school. Why I need that much money when I are 80? I can not even go anywhere! Enjoy while you can! So I am spending all the money left after I contribute to all the savings. Why not? I am still living under my means. I know a friend who always has to buy things when it is on sale. While I also enjoy the savings, it is too time consuming and take your mind out of other important things in life. (Talking about how many times he has to go to check out whether the item is on sale or not)

    We only have one life and we should enjoy every moment of it as long as you spend under your means. Remember, we should more concentrate on how to make more money. Saving alone will not make you rich.

  9. Auto Insurance Rates Guy on July 14, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Amazing, and I thought I was frugal. As for the dressing, I’m going to try your recipe.

  10. Victor on July 15, 2009 at 4:19 am

    I have to agree with prairiegal. Almost none of the ideas I’ve read here are what I would call ‘radical’. Isn’t anyone with the goal of living within their means and saving for retirement already doing most of them?

    To me, dumpster diving was the only exception on this list.

    I would also say that even most frugal people don’t sleep in their basements in summer and don’t make their own cleaning products, but both of these are great ideas and not hard to do!

  11. Martin on July 15, 2009 at 8:42 am

    If you’re really frugal, you don’t have a basement to sleep in during the summer because since you are frugal, you live in a house that is too small to have a basement or you live in a condo.

  12. cannon_fodder on July 15, 2009 at 12:15 pm


    If you’re really, REALLY, frugal, you live in a van down by the river!

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned which my ex wife used to do for me – haircuts. Take one large garbage bag, create 3 holes for your arms and head (I’m assuming if she were to do it today she probably would just put the bag over my head and tie it tight at the waist and leave me there, but I digress) and slip it on. That way the hair doesn’t get over your body. (Tip – it gets pretty warm under there so you want to dress lightly, think plastic body wraps used to sweat weight off.)

    A lot of men have pretty basic haircutting needs. I wouldn’t even think of trying to cut a woman’s hair because it usually requires a lot more creativity and skill than I possess.

  13. Victor on July 15, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Good one cannon_fodder!

    I’ve been cutting my own hair since I took up cycling more seriously 10 years ago. A set of clippers costs exactly the same as I used to pay for ONE monthly haircut. Nice tip with the garbage bag. I usually just use an old towel over the sink.

  14. Carl on July 15, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    So Cannon, you see no difference between living in a van and living in a condo?

  15. cannon_fodder on July 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm


    If you want to become a landlord, here is a frugal way to do it.

    1. Purchase a condo that includes 2 parking spaces and car wash facilities in an underground garage.
    2. Rent out condo that covers your carrying costs.
    3. Live in van that resides in one of the parking spaces. You get to keep an eye on your tenants, you live pretty much rent free, and you have access to bathing and dishwashing facilities (i.e. car wash) and laundry facilities.

    Which reminds me – better to ask your tenants to pay you in quarters, loonies and toonies. You’ll need them for the car wash and laundry.

  16. Carl on July 15, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Damn, I should have thought of this 25 years ago. Thanks Cannon.

  17. DAvid on July 15, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Cannon_fodder said: “If you’re really, REALLY, frugal, you live in a van down by the river!”

    If you were REALLY frugal, you forgo the van, and sleep under a bridge abutment. This also ensures you don’t accumulate too much expensive junk, as well!


  18. Victor on July 16, 2009 at 4:36 am

    All joking aside, there are [admittedly very few] people who live this way, and die with loads of money. It’s likely classed as a mental illness of some sort.

    thedigeratilife discusses it here:


  19. Ms Save Money on July 16, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    WOW – I had a really bad mental image of a couple of the items listed in this article. Specifically # 4 and #5. I’m sorry – but that’s GROSS and going overboard – no offense.

  20. Kathryn on July 16, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Ms Save Money: Well, to each her own. I think the creators of the disposable products have done a marvelous job at making what is perfectly natural appear gross. I’d much rather have something soft and washable then hot crinkly plastic any day.

  21. Squawkfox on July 16, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    I love my Diva Cup! It’s seriously the best girlie product ever. It being frugal was actually the last reason I switched from disposables to the Diva. Those disposables are kinda gross – they contain chemicals and weird absorbency features that require warning “Toxic Shock” labels. How is that not gross? And rashes way down there? Lovely. Plus the cost. I’ll choose to save thousands, thank you.

    Anyreallypersonalcomment, the Diva is environmentally friendly AND creates less fuss and less mess than other disposable girl gear. I’ve done triathlons with mine. Can you even sleep soundly with your branded disposable? I dare you to “Have a Happy Period” and try the Diva. You’ll wish you found it sooner. Seriously.

  22. Brendan on July 16, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    If I can chime in here, I make a point of not cussing, burping, and other man things in front of a lady.
    I think it is reasonable to ask that the ladies refrain from talking about mensteral product solutions in our prescence.

    I would also like to add as a co owner of PG, and CL, I am strongly against reuseable products of any kind.

  23. Silicon Prairie on July 20, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Making salad dressings doesn’t just save money, it opens up a lot of new possibilities. The selections at a usual grocery store are limited and fairly plain, but with a few simple ingredients and some ideas found online you can have a lot more options. For that matter I’m disappointed by supermarkets in general because it’s hard to call half the things there “food” but I suppose it is cheap.

    We recently got a couple of cans of real maple syrup as a gift and after all the things we’ve tried with it I don’t know if any fake syrup can replace it – it was even good enough (compared to the usual cheap option) to get my fiancee to like syrup.

    There is one downside to cooking for yourself a lot – if you take it far enough and get creative with what you make, you might find your grocery bills creeping up as you need more and more unusual and imported ingredients (at least basing most of your meals on regular vegetables and meats can compensate for this a bit – the prices of some packaged foods are shocking). There are always substitutes but I can’t resist knowing what the real thing is like – sometimes it just takes time instead of money.

  24. Alexandra on July 20, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    71. Squawkfox – Rashes??? What are you talking about?? Of course we sleep soundly, and I don’t even understand how you would get a rash. It’s a tampon. It’s cotton. It’s no big deal. Storing a cup of blood in your hoo-ha…??? Yucky. I’m sorry, that’s just yucky…

  25. Kathryn on July 20, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Alexandra: Brendan has politely asked us to refrain from discussing the specifics on here which I will respect.

    If you like to reach Squawkfox here is a direct link to her post on the subject.


  26. Trish on July 21, 2009 at 4:54 am

    I thought the use of cloth nappies for the kids, and sleeping in the basement was a little extreme, but otherwise most of your ideas are really effective. I totally agree that living in a smaller space is more economical than owning a big house and having to clean in day after day.

  27. Silicon Prairie on July 21, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Sleeping in the basement doesn’t seem extreme unless you move the bed back and forth every day – of course for us it’s unfinished and we have a relative living there so it doesn’t work – I have considered it. It would be nice to stay cool without the noise of an air conditioner or a fan.

  28. Kathryn on July 22, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Silicon: Good point. We have a guest room in the basement so in the summer we only move back upstairs when we have company. :-)

  29. The First Million on August 8, 2009 at 2:01 am

    If you want to get real maple syrup, go to the sugar bush and get it from the farmer. Its about $20/litre which will last a long time for most people. In the grocery store I have seen “real” maple syrup for $10 for 200 ml! Sleeping in the basement to avoid heat seems a bit extreme for me. As well, my 1000 sq. ft. apartment is way to small and I am moving to a 1400 sq. ft. home in September. My best tip to being frugal is to shop directly from farms. If you need peppers/cukes/pumpkins etc, go to a farm and pick your own. I find the prices are always excellent.

  30. Dave on August 9, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I think it’s funny how much effort some people go to to save pennys. Yes, I think saving is always better than spending but there is a line. I want to enjoy my life and living in a cold house in the winter, limiting our activities because we only have one car to move 5 people around in, etc is crazy – I work so I can enjoy my life and provide for my family not so I can die with a million dollars in the bank.

    FYI – tap water is not free, at least where I live.

    FYI 2 – for those of you that cut your own hair – trust me – we all know who you are, spend $10 at supercuts and let your co-workers find someone else to laugh at.

  31. Victor on August 9, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Tap water is either free or so close to free that it might as well be free when compared to the cost of bottled water. Bottled water, at least bought individually, costs you more by volume than the gas you used to drive to the store, yet most people complain about the gas, not the water that they could have gotten for free (or almost) from their tap. Lunacy.

    Ironically, I work with a guy named ‘Dave’ who cuts his own hair. Funnier still, I work with some others who have the same haircut as ‘Dave’, but pay to get it cut.

  32. Ben Hebert on August 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Personally, I have always cut my own hair as a way to save money while also washing all of my clothes on cold water setting. To save money on food I like to make a giant bowl of spaghetti and eat it all week. :) My personal favorite

  33. Evolution of Wealth on August 10, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Are you proud of these things? Is this what ‘frugal’ has come to mean? I don’t see the happiness in some of these activities. What I see is worrying. Worrying and concern about not having enough money whether it be now or later. To me it looks like money is ruling your life. Why don’t you live your life? You only get one. What gives you enjoyment? I couldn’t imagine it being this constant worry about money. Reading recent posts like this was the inspiration to my recent blog post titled “Redefining Frugal” http://evolutionofwealth.com/2009/08/09/redefining-frugal/


  34. Kathryn on August 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I wouldn’t say ‘proud’ per say but yes, I’m very happy about these things. We are a happy that most of them are environmentally friendly as well.

    There are lots of areas where we aren’t frugal
    1) We drink only VQA wine because it’s made from 100% local grapes
    2) We donate 8-10% of our income to charity yearly
    3) We support local arts and attend area concerts and art shows.
    4) For fun we go hiking in local conservation areas (which charge an entry fee)
    5) We have weakness for hardcover / rare and antique books
    6) Weekly we have friends over for dinner and serve great food .. with good wine.
    7) We love hosting out of town friends and family and take them around to see the local sights, often paying for all of their expenses.

    So, yes I’m very happy about my life. I’m not worrying and I am living my life. I’m hesitant to say ‘proud’ as it implies what I do is better than what others do. This isn’t true. It’s what works for us. It means we have more money to spend on the things that ARE important to us.

  35. Eddie Parker on August 10, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    I have to say how interesting it’s been reading people’s comments on this, particularly how emotional some of the response has been.

    I love hearing some of these suggestions, even if some of them aren’t for me.

    Good work everyone, and so long as you’re not less happy doing any of these things, keep it up.

  36. steve in W MA on August 11, 2009 at 5:11 am


    I would be careful about the fake economy of home-made unhealthy food like the fake maple syrup. The recipie made me shudder. It’s the best way to get fat diabetic kids. It’s just not worth it.


    I happen to love my fat diabetic kids quite a bit.
    Our family also makes our own sugar syrup, which costs less than a fourth of the stuff in the stores. We usually enjoy a glass of it after dinner before dessert.

  37. steve in W MA on August 11, 2009 at 5:23 am

    as to suggestion 2, “paying” yourself a car payment to savings so you can buy your next car in cash: you can use a service like ING Direct Orange Savings or Smartypig (not sure if Canadians can use Smartypig but it has the highest interest rates around, at least right now) to take this money aside and put it into a savings account that you name specifically for this goal.

    Quite handy and keeps the cash segregated, named, and out of sight/out of your monthly checking account.

  38. Rosa on August 11, 2009 at 11:57 am

    (I’m here from fivecentnickel) – we do all these things except we just eat jelly instead of syrup.

    The thing about not making your house a way different temperature from the outdoors is that you get acclimated as the seasons change and it’s actually way more comfortable overall – in winter if you’re already wearing warm clothes you’re more likely to venture outdoors, and I’m finding this summer working from home (with no AC) i don’t feel as hot as I did last summer when i’d come out of my arctic office into the blast of hot air – my body is used to it being hot and I feel fine most of the time.

    (ovary stuff) I love my menstrual cup, too – i got it for a long camping trip (no packing out dirty stuff!) but now i use it all the time. I don’t get how it’s more “gross” than a tampon.

  39. Annie G on August 11, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I’m wondering if my F to C converter is wrong…

    I get 25 C is 77 F, and 19 C is 66.2 F.

    That doesn’t seem very radical to me. We have our AC on 85 F (29.4 C) and our heat on 65 F (18.3 C).

    Some people think our reel mower is radical, but we like that it’s quiet and doesn’t aggravate grass allergies like a powered mower.

    Probably the most radical thing we do is do without medications that would make our lives better because the prescriptions cost too much.

  40. Evolution of Wealth on August 11, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    @Kathryn I’m glad you are happy. Why not present it that way? Lead people to happiness and using these methods to find or spend more time and money on what makes people happy. You start the post comparing frugal to cheap. To me frugal is anything but cheap. The tone of the article is missing the way in which you posted your comments. I like what you said in the comments it sets the tone. I think it is more important the reasons why you are “frugal” than how you are “frugal”. Would you agree?

  41. Kathryn on August 12, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Evolution of Wealth: Have to you read my other posts?

    This one answers one of your concerns:

    This one answers the other:

  42. Garage Sales on August 31, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Instead of virtually doing it through kijijji I go to garage sales and yard sales finding them either from the classifieds in the paper, http://www.oodle.com and http://www.garagesalestracker.com

  43. Jacklyn on November 24, 2010 at 7:31 am

    Regarding #4….The Diva Cup…don’t be afraid, it is really worth trying. Will not be for everyone but it does have it’s place :)


  44. Mrs. Gryphon on November 27, 2010 at 11:50 am

    “My kids like it so much they they won’t eat the fake stuff anymore.”
    LOL But that IS fake. It’s vanilla-flavored sugar syrup, not even maple-flavored. Sorry, but in our house, that would be the height of nasty and Mr. Gryphon would refuse to eat it.

    For the person who said the best solution would be to plant maple trees – I believe a sugar maple has to be 50 years old before it can be tapped. So plant them for your grandchildren.

    Although I don’t do all of the same things (using cloth diapers/napkins when I live in an apartment and pay $4 per load of wash would be eco-friendly but anti-frugal), I don’t consider any of what you do radical. Except putting vanilla-flavored sugar syrup on pancakes. (Do you use real vanilla extract or is it the cheaper fake stuff?) We have one twelve-year-old car, don’t use air conditioning at all, use Freecycle and love it, drink unfiltered tap water, don’t have cable …

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