Is this Extreme Frugal Living?

We don't live out of a van.  We don't (usually) dumpster dive.  We (very) occasionally pay full price for things.  We buy disposable toilet paper.  Still some of the frugal things we do may be considered too extreme for some people.  What do you think?

We don’t live out of a van.  We don’t (usually) dumpster dive.  We (very) occasionally pay full price for things.  We buy disposable toilet paper (yes, there are very green people who use cloth, in case you didn’t know).

That is why my husband scoffed at my blog’s original tagline: “Extreme Frugal Living to Match Extreme Student Debt.”

There’s no doubt that six figures of student debt is extreme.  The question is whether our frugal living qualifies as “extreme.”

My husband grew up in a very, very frugal family.  Originally it was out of necessity, but frugal ways became very ingrained habits.  From his perspective, much of what we are doing to save money is just “normal” not extreme.

From the feedback I’ve received from friends and family (my side) regarding our lifestyle, I would say that on the frugality scale, we would rank closer to the extreme side in many areas.

Here are a few examples of the norm around here:

  • My husband and kids bring back their fold top sandwich bags which we reuse several times before throwing away.
  • We wash out ziploc-style quart and gallon bags.
  • We use cloth diapers (and got them free or cheap).
  • We have never paid for cable.
  • We’ve actually never owned a TV.
  • We went to a sit-down restaurant once in the past year (with a gift card from a client).
  • We have been to 2 movies in a theater in our 8 years of marriage (one was free).
  • We have never had a car payment.
  • My husband has never paid for a haircut.
  • I’ve paid to have my hair cut maybe 6 times in my life.
  • We have dumb phones on the same $10/month plan we’ve had since 2005.          UPDATE: Now we have smartphones but still at $10/month!
  • In 8 years of marriage, we’ve never gone to Disney or any other amusement park.
  • On road trips, we bring our own snacks and sandwich-makings in the car.
  • We live in my in-laws’ unfinished basement.

Is this just your average level of frugality or is this extreme?  What do you think?  What is the most frugal thing you have ever done?


  1. Jill Udey says

    I love this! If I may ask, what phone plan are you on? We do not have smart phones and don’t intend too and would love to get an even cheaper monthly rate!

    • says

      Hi Jill! We are on an old AT&T family plan under my parents. Originally the phones were for my sisters, but when they got married they got plans with their husband. My husband and I scooped them up (even 8 years ago when we got married, $10/phone was unbeatable) and we pay my dad $20 a month.

  2. Caitlin says

    Ha! I love your plastic bag-drying technique! I’m always trying to prop mine open with chopsticks, but it’s not very effective. We don’t have a t.v. either and we don’t miss it and we are completely happy with dumb phones, because to be perfectly honest, I don’t even use all the functions on the one I have (which was free with our plan.) There are things I look forward to doing once we are debt-free, like buying a home, having a real couch, and going on vacations, but there are a lot of things that I probably won’t change… I actually like not having cable and using my phone only as a phone.

    • says

      My husband is the genius behind the bag drying :)

      We’re not planning on changing a lot once we get out of debt either (except buying a house). This frugal lifestyle will be so ingrained that we should be able to build our saving quickly.

  3. BLOSSOM says

    I love your site, Stephanie! I reuse plastic ziplock bags too. 1. They’re expensive to keep buying over and over again. 2. The Earth pays a big price for us throwing massive quantities of these bags in landfills. 3. They are plastic and should be reused.
    When I wash my bags, I TURN THE WET SIDE INSIDE OUT so it will dry. Hang them on binder clips from a nail or hook while they are drying.

  4. Rebecca says

    I have started saving the plastic bags that cereal is packaged in. I actually made a meatloaf inside the plastic bag the other day and never had to get my hands dirty at all. The plastic is heavier and more durable then an ordinary bag.

  5. Jessi says

    If you have a dishwasher (or dish drying rack) you can easily put the baggies on the prongs to get them to dry out. Also, if you hand-wash vs using your dishwasher, the racks in the dishwasher can be used for drying. :)

    • says

      I’ve only ever hand-washed the ziploc bags. I never even thought of washing them in the dishwasher! It’s only been in the past 5 or 6 months that we got a dishwasher. It seems like it always has dishes in it too :) How did we ever live without it?!

  6. says

    I don’t think most of what you are doing is extremely frugal. The only things on that list I am likely to never do are:

    1. Cut my own hair- It’s curly and I have a stylist for a sister in law.
    2. I won’t wash reusable bags, but I try to RARELY use them. If I do use them it is usually as a piping bag for condiments and I rip a hole in the corner anyway. I pack almost everything in my lunch in standard containers or oddball containers left over from butter, sour cream or whatever. I also use mason jars whenever possible.

    • says

      It sounds like you are frugal yourself Jill! I agree that to frugal people these ideas are not foreign or strange. I would guess that the average person in our culture doesn’t do most of these though.

      We use lots of Ziploc freezer bags because we freeze lots of garden produce and fruit or meat that we get in bulk. If you look in our freezer, you will see only clear plastic freezer bags!

  7. says

    Yea doesn’t sound too extreme, just not wasteful. We don’t reuse sandwich bags, that’s about the only thing. But we also use cloth diapers, also rags and hand towels instead of paper towels. I am not too fond of the TV we have, and we do not have cable either. Only internet, and only because I get an referral discount and we can have it for $18/mo at super high-speeds. I HATE our phone plan at a whopping $169/mo, but we are just about out of contract, at which point we are going to go with a prepaid plan that can hook up our out-of-contract phones for a fraction of the cost! If we weren’t required to have cell phones for work, I’d just go with MagicJack. For $20/year you hook up any phone to your internet and can talk that way. Or of course you can always Skype — that’s free. I’m also planning on growing a garden, learning how to can, and getting chickens.

    • says

      I agree. I don’t think it’s too extreme in itself, only when compared with the typical American lifestyle. For example, my family (that I grew up in) is pretty typical middle class, yet to them our lifestyle is on the extreme side.

  8. Shan says

    That does not sound at all extreme. AT. ALL.

    Do you have a deep freezer? We save a lot of money by buying sales and freezing and by freezing ahead or freezing in lieu of canning (expediency or taste).

    Also we bought a pay as you go phone and add minutes to it yearly (or as needed). For instance (our) T mobile gold is $100 (worth of minutes) in to start and then add minutes as needed. Per minute amount is about 10 cents. Food for thought.

    • says

      We love our deep freeze and it saves us tons of money, between stocking up when meat is on sale and freezing produce from the garden, it’s always full!

  9. Trudy says

    I love to see people reusing things rather than wasting. We live in such a “throw away” society, and there is a lot that people can learn from those of us that live to be frugal. Kudos to you! I also have a husband who throws nothing away, and I have learned a lot from him. :)

  10. Stephanie Brenner says

    I think your husband is normal in the sense of “frugality”. For people who don’t understand what he’s doing, it’s very simple; he saves the earth, saves him and his family money, without much of an inconvenience. American lifestyle and corporations have TAUGHT us consumerism, and your husband is living without all the “Necessities” we have all been taught to need. People who think it is extreme think that way because it’s been taught to them. People who look at frugality as extreme are often the ones promoting this consumeristic way we’ve been “taught” to be.

  11. Stephanie Brenner says

    *Unintentionally promoting the consumeristic way* it is very much a subconscious act to many people. Becoming frugal is making the conscience decision not to live as a true consumerism.

  12. trc says

    Not extreme at all. I dry ziplozk bags and my husband and I do not own a TV. I grew up without one so it doesn’t bother me. My husband and I are newlyweds in graduate school and will rack up a whopping $600,000 of student debt by the time we are finished with our combined education. We do eat out occasionally and buy each other gifts, but we try to save in other ways! We don’t own a car, and we save plastic containers from store-bought items to reuse. I I reuse the foil pans we get leftovers from my in-laws in. We never buy trash bags since we just use the ones from the grocery. It gives me extra joy to be frugal when I know it both saves us money and helps waste down!

    • says

      That’s great that you are working to be frugal now, even while you’re racking up the student loan debt. Are you both going to be doctors? That makes our $130K look piddly.

      Frugality really does pay off! I love that you said it gives you joy. :)

  13. says

    Being frugal is something I learned from my pops. I find pride in finding deals, and the money saved and the energy not wasted. Being frugal is not wasting and not buying into the conformists idea of happiness, more more more. What we have is always enough! Eating out is overrated, sometimes its great, but generally there is the guilt of over spending, the question why eat out the fridge is full? And once youve paid you think, that was a trip to the supermarket to feed the whole family a week. Cheers!

  14. Jennifer H. says

    I wouldn’t say those are EXTREME. I’m basing extreme off of TLC’s show EXTREME CHEAPSKATES though. Where people reuse bath water & turn off power to save on electric costs. The worst probably being the couple that shared dental floss & toothbrushes…EEEEWWWW! I mean, don’t get me wrong….i love my hubby….but I don’t think I’d share dental floss with him. (You can buy a pack at the dollar store for ONE DOLLAR)

    My husband and I don’t have a car payment either. I don’t think I would be able to stay home with my children if we did. Driving a fancy car doesn’t define me as a person…so I’m happy with my 10 yr old Trooper! I wouldn’t pay for cable/satellite either if my husband didn’t “have”to have it. We have so many…literally hundreds…of dvds that I’d be ok without all the trash on tv. I used cloth diapers with my youngest. The only time I used disposables with him was on a road trip or if I was going to be out and about most of the day (which was rare..but happened a few times). I think I only purchased 1 small pack of disposable diapers. The rest I got as free samples. I exclusively breastfed him also…no expensive formula! He was so super inexpensive as a baby! Most of his clothes came from Once Upon A Child, too. I spent lots in my daughter’s clothes when she was a baby. However, neither the president or any member of royalty ever showed up at my house to see her and I don’t have an extensive social circle so I wondered, “why did I spend so much on her clothes”. I used to cut my husband’s and son’s hair but my clippers are broken so they’re back to visiting the barber shop. I don’t reuse plastic sandwich bags…but I don’t think I’d be “above” it should the need arise. I’m not too good to use generic or store brand food/products.

    I say, if it works for you and you save money….GO FOR IT!

    • says

      Yes, we are definitely not like any crazy reality shows around here. Thank goodness! My family just thinks we’re a little off our rocker. Thanks for sharing Jennifer!

    • says

      I too have a husband who has to have cable. I managed to get him down to a slightly cheaper package and ditched the multi-room (he watches TV on his phone anyway), but I think that’s the best I’m going to do. The worst part is that he also has a huge DVD collection that he keeps adding to, despite the fact that we hardly ever watch them…

      Compromise, compromise.

  15. Helen says

    The other money saving thing is to try and use less toiletries etc as most people pile on the shampoo, washing up liquid etc. I try and encourage my kids to use less (exp toothpaste) and always cut the toothpaste tube to get the last bits out. Also not to use loads of fancy cleaning products. My friends seem to think I’m a bit odd re-using bags but I just say it’s for the environment which seems to satisfy them.

    • says

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets odd glances for being thrifty! :) You definitely have to watch kids on the toothpaste since all the ads and commercials show people putting an enormous amount of toothpaste on their toothbrush. I would gag if I used that much!

  16. Juliana says

    I really admire your frugality and want to emulate some of the things you do! Do you think you’ll continue doing things this way once your debt is paid off?

    • says

      Hi Juliana! I imagine we’ll continue to live frugally even after our debt is all paid off (which is still years down the road). It’s just in our nature. Plus, after the debt is paid, we will be saving for a down payment on a house! Being super frugal helps so much in reaching financial goals!

  17. kathryn says

    Not too extreme, but it is a learning process. As others have mentioned, cutting back on toothpaste, shampoo is good too. turning bottles upside down, and cutting open toothpaste tubes usually gets you a few days more of product.
    Washing bags, reusing tin foil, margarine containers all add up. We save the styrofoam trays (meat etc) and use when we’re having a picnic..saves buying disposable plates.
    When cooking hardboiled eggs, macaroni, vegetables etc, I usually bring to a boil, and turn off the burner. The residual heat is usually enough to cook the food.
    Learning to substitute ingredients you have on hand or just ommitting it, instead of buying a special ingredient usually doesn’t change the flavour much…sometimes it improves it.
    Portion control in meals, and adding a healthy salad keeps your weight down, and your nutrition up. Buying ‘whole foods’ instead of boxed convenience foods are much better well as cheaper, in the long run.

    • says

      Hi Kathryn! Thanks for including your frugal tips! I substitute ingredients pretty frequently and use lots of whole foods. I need to remember to turn off the heat early when I boil things. I do it with hard boiled eggs, but I often forget when I’m making other things.

  18. Twiztc says

    we do most of those things on your list- i dont pay large cable companies for tv- hubby built an aerial to get all the free view.

  19. Timmi says

    One thing that has saved us a bunch is toiletries. We make our own laundry detergent so that saves I don’t know how much but I see the prices at the store and shocked. I also use very little of the things that I don’t make. I use coconut oil as my face moisturizer and love it. I use water in my empty detergent container with a little bit of bleach for an all purpose cleaner. By the way once you are debt free you are gonna probably hug so many people. My husband and I have never really gotten into debt the way most Americans are and if I went back to school I would pay for it not get loans. Even though we live without many things (that I personally would love to have, I was brought up to satisfy happiness with stuff) its really satisfying knowing that we don’t have the stress of debt other than our house which will be paid off start to finish in 10 years.

  20. sam says

    Thought your ideas were great!!! Good job. As a side note on the $10 phone plan…I hold an at&t plan that sounds similar, and have my mom and m-I-l on it for the $10. They would not otherwise have phones, so it is totally worth it, but it costs me closer to $20 for each of them once taxes and fees have been added.

    • says

      You’re probably right Sam. I’m sure my dad picked up some taxes (without a complaint). We have since switched to Republic Wireless (a full post on our Republic Wireless experiment here). Now for $10/month we have smartphones with unlimited talk and text as well as data on WiFi. It’s a great deal. A month after we made the switch, my parents switched too! With a 30 day money-back guarantee, you can’t go wrong.

  21. Rachel says

    The only time I re-use Ziploc bags is if there has never been any type of raw meat or cooked food. If a bag holds a sandwich that’s fine, and I store my flour in Ziplock bags too. I re-use them a few times until they get kinda grimy, then I toss.

  22. Bonnie C says

    So… I just found you the other day and have been *burning* through your archives – lol!

    Re: plastic baggies – have you considered the disposable “bento” boxes out there? We (I) invested in some of the Ziplock and the Easy Lunch Box brands (for lunches and car trips) and have almost done away with baggies all together! My kids are 10, 8, and 3 and all of them can get into the boxes without help and I love that I can toss them in the dishwasher, easy peasy. We still buy zipper bags but the boxes last FOREVER now. :) I switched more because I was looking for a less wasteful solution but the clear savings don’t hurt one bit – lol!

  23. Tina says

    We are a pretty frugal family, except when it comes to family events. We feel that the two places where we aren’t extremely frugal, (although people still consider us frugal, because of our careful planning in these areas) are groceries, and making memories with our two daughters. The most frugal thing, that I would NEVER do (that is if I didn’t HAVE to) is live with family. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my parents, in-laws and siblings, but I wouldn’t want to live with them. Kudos to you if that works for you :) My family also thinks we’re nuts, but we’re also the ones who aren’t living paycheck to paycheck because of our frugalness (for lack of a real word, lol).

    • says

      I think what makes the “living in the in-laws basement” situation work so well for us is that we have our own entrance, own kitchen, and own bathroom. It really is like its own apartment, only we don’t pay rent and see my in-laws quite regularly. It has only improved our relationship. I would have a hard time sharing a kitchen or any living space though I know some people can make it work fine.

      You’re right that being classified as “nuts” isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

  24. says

    The only thing I would consider extreme is living with family, but that’s cause I need to know not to do that for my sanity level. Sorry family. I do many of the other things and often receive strange looks about that myself, therefore I would say the average person would probably consider you extreme but I would be right there with you.

  25. mrs stookey says

    I reuse jam jars, butter tubs, deli trays, I dumpster dive in my complex, most things I own were bought at yard sales handed down or given to me free. I have a Facebook page:
    My Eco/thrifty/frugalnesss
    I show ways that I’m frugal and green.

  26. Molly Marlow says

    If you lived in your own house like grown ups, NOT off your in laws, then maybe I could begin to take you just a little bit seriously. Grow up and move into the real world. Then share real life tips.

  27. Molly Marlow says

    I want to apologize for my last post. It was very rude and ugly. I had no right saying that and should never have posted it. I tried to delete it but I couldn’t. I know that my apology doesn’t make up for what I said, but I’m truly sorry and hope that you will forgive me. You can delete both my posts if you want.

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