Shameful Things I’ve Done to Save Money

Shameful Ways to Save MoneyThe other day, I was trolling reading through the FinCon13 Facebook page, and I saw a post from Stephanie at The Empowered Dollar where she was asking people to share the most embarrassing things they’ve done to save money for her upcoming Confessions of a PF Blogger post.

This first made me think of my own Confessions of a PF Blogger series I started over two years ago to chronicle my financial past. Then I began to think of all of the wonky things I’ve done over the years to save a few bucks. From the cringe-worthy to the surprisingly common, here’s where my bad behaviors fall on the shame scale when it comes to saving money/pinching my pennies:

Loading up on Freebies

A lot of people responding to the FinCon FB thread mentioned loading up on free food samples while grocery shopping in lieu of paying for a meal (so have been there, done that). Some also mentioned swiping extra condiments and disposable silverware/napkins from fast-food places (yep, totally have done that before!), while others mentioned taking full advantage of buffets to line their purses or backpacks with snacks for later (what, I can’t take 5 bananas with me?!).

While I’ve done most of these, I think my mecca of free comes in part from the various sporting events I participate in. Race expos can be a gold mine of great stuff for free if you’re savvy and not shy. I’ve flat out asked for free, full-sized samples and products–and I’ve usually been rewarded for my boldness! The most shameful haul I ever pulled in? 5 pairs of brand-new Asics athletic socks that retailed for $13/each.

I was at a race and afterwards a woman put out a few cases of merchandise for the runners who were left to take home with them. I politely took my one pair but as I was turning to walk away, she grabbed my bag and stuffed in a few more pairs, saying, “Go ahead honey, take more!” I sheepishly accepted (feeling a bit odd yet elated because I really needed new socks), and I scurried my way back to the parking lot.

Estimated savings on socks, goo, drink mixes, energy bars, and even apparel: $1,000 and counting.

Milk the Student Discount

It’s no secret that I love to learn and that I’ve been pretty savvy with finding creative ways to finance my education. What’s been a bit of a secret is that I was flashing my student ID card for discounts years after graduating. I’ll admit that it’s still quite tempting to do even today, but I resist that urge because I don’t want to abuse the very programs that allowed me to have a social life when I had no money. That being said, I did get into some museums in Europe for free within the past 3 years thanks to my grad school ID. Oops!

Estimated savings on museums, concerts, travel, meals out, and other fab student-only freebies: $600+

Postpone Gift-Giving Plans

Now we’re starting to enter the real realm of shameful. Back when I was in debt up to my eyeballs, I spent two years delaying my Christmas gift giving until after the holiday had passed. Why? Because I couldn’t afford much of anything that I was used to giving people, so I waited for the after-Christmas sales, I combined the sale items with any gift cards I had received, and I bought everyone’s presents on the cheap.

Looking back, I could have just made things or given my time or even cooked/baked/cleaned for my family members. I now realize that it doesn’t matter what you give as long as you’re doing it with good, loving intentions. I no longer tie my own self worth to the extravagant gifts I can shower people with–I’d much rather just have a conversation or spend some much-need Quality Time with them!

Estimated savings after two Christmas seasons of belated gift-giving: At least $500.

Hitting the Gym for Free

In the past, I was a master of utilizing the “try before you buy” incentives at local gyms, yoga studios, and bootcamps. I was a serial gym goer…but only if it was free to me. I’d happily give out my name and spam email address, and I eagerly listened to the salesperson’s script for however long it took me to get that week-long (or even month-long) pass. Granted, this was years ago and today I don’t even go to the gym because I prefer to run/workout outside, but I shudder to think of how many places I’ve skipped out on when it came time to enroll in a paying membership.

Estimated savings through 3 years of gym hopping for free passes: $800+

Returning Clothes After I’ve Worn Them

OK, I did this once. But in my current book of financial security, once is too much. Now we are knee-deep in the arena of shame. Back when I was interviewing for grad schools and new jobs in Boston, I needed a new suit. With a pile of maxed out credit cards and only a few dollars to my name, there was no way I could buy a suit no matter how bad the need was–even if it came from a thrift store.

So what did I do? I marched into the local mall, picked out a gorgeous suit, pinned up all the tags, wore it for my interviews (all in one day thankfully), then returned it the next week. Graceful? Certainly not. Shameful? Absofreakinlutely.

Estimated savings on new suit: $350

Turning a New Page

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since my days of ridiculous debt and living as a financially clueless wonder. I’m proud to say that I don’t do any of this stuff anymore, but I certainly wouldn’t judge someone who needs to because I understand firsthand how rough it can be to make changes in your financial world.

That being said, it’s a lot easier on your pride if you simply plan for expenses, save up for them in advance, or have an e-fund for those little surprises that can wreak havoc on your budget!

So let’s hear them: Spill the most shameful things you’ve done to save money!

The Happy Homeowner

The Happy Homeowner

We're a team of freelancers who are on a mission to inspire others to live a healthy, balanced life one cent at a time. Work from The Happy Homeowner has been featured on CNN Money, Yahoo! Finance, Wisebread, Lifehacker, The Dr. Oz Show, Good Housekeeping Magazine and many other outlets.
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53 thoughts on “Shameful Things I’ve Done to Save Money

  • May 8, 2013 at 2:49 pm
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    Mine is not really shameful ,but I have a tendency to return things after trying them out. If I can't get a trial, then I will just use the return period as my trial. It works, but sometimes is a pain.
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    • May 9, 2013 at 2:14 pm
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      Sounds like a real pain. I guess that is one way to reduce expenses and get a trial period.

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  • May 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm
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    I used to be a buyer at a company that sold quilting supplies. We would buy books from major publishers, if they fit in with our product lineup. There was a new book from one of my publishers that didn't have ANYTHING to do with quilting, but I still wanted to read it. I "slipped" the request in the middle of the other quilting related titles I was asking for, and my rep sent it to me, along with everything else.

    I still feel guilty about it, and derive no pleasure from reading that book.
    My recent post My Weekend with Warren Buffett, Part 1

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    • May 9, 2013 at 8:43 am
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      Thanks for sharing!!! I'm always tempted by books, and I've worked PT in a university setting so I can understand this one

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  • May 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm
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    Re getting in museums and attractions for free, I have had a fake ISIC student ID made in Thailand for $2, I made them for 5 years or so, as they expire each year, and they got me into a multitude of places. Recently, I have pretended to be Mexican to get into an archaeological site for free (Sundays are free for Mexicans only) and I have a Guatemalan accent so the guard was doubtful, my BF was blushing in shame but when he opened his mouth too, saying sorry we didn’t carry out Mexican IDs the guard let it go and we were in.

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  • May 8, 2013 at 5:28 pm
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    I use to milk the student discount like crazy even after being graduated for years until retail stores got smart and started asking for student photo ID as well…now I don't do anything that's really shameful to save money…maybe picking up pennies?
    My recent post Girl Meets Debt 6 Month Blogging Anniversary!

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  • May 8, 2013 at 6:40 pm
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    I definitely still use my student ID when I can get away with it. In my "defense" the ID is from grad school and only expired last year. Re: the suit lol, Shameful, but not unemployed 😉
    My recent post How to Host a Fabulous Party For Free

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    • May 9, 2013 at 8:45 am
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      I think a ton of people use the ID thing–I knew someone who forged an entire transcript each year just to get a student ski pass!

      And yes, the damn suit. Not one of my finest moments but as you've pointed out, not unemployed :)

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  • May 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm
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    LOL I wrote about something similar along time ago too. Oh and btw I TOTALLY stock up on cliff bar type things at those races! I always feel guilty too. One thing that I used to do was when I was a member of Equinox gym I brought in empty bottles to fill the up with Kieh's shampoo and conditioner. The tricky part is their showers were pretty see through, so I always had to find the shower and quickly pump and hope no one caught me. It was totally worth it! :)
    My recent post Confessions

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    • May 9, 2013 at 8:46 am
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      Hahahahahaha…I'm sorry but that's genius!!! I've never been to an Equinox–Kiehl's is way expensive; no wonder they charge insane rates for that gym! What other little luxuries did they throw in??

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      • May 9, 2013 at 11:40 am
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        Well they had eucalyptus-infused cold towels that were absolutely heavenly after a good workout, and i LOVED their steam room which was also eucalyptus-infused. It was huge so there were always machines available, and the classes were amazing. I really loved that gym and did use it a lot, but paying $110/month was just way too far out of reach for me. :((
        My recent post Confessions

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        • May 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm
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          Holy piss!! I didn't even pay that for car insurance each month when I had my old car (even the new bimmer isn't much more than Equinox's prices). But that steam room sounds quite tempting :)

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  • May 9, 2013 at 12:52 am
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    My most shameful moment has been taking books from the free section in my apartment, then re-selling them at used bookstores.

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    • May 9, 2013 at 8:47 am
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      This is one of the most common "abuses" I've seen–I'm definitely still tempted to do so myself!

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    • May 9, 2013 at 2:15 pm
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      The "meals" were just to tie me over until I could get home to the ramen….hahahaha….I hate the samples now, but I will eat them if hungry enough :)

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  • May 9, 2013 at 9:00 am
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    I'm also ashamed to say I've done the clothing thing. It was for my undergrad graduation, I'd just started working, my credit card was maxed from the previous semester, and I needed shoes to walk across the stage in! So I bought a pair of basic black flats, went to graduation, and return them the next day. I was terrified they would smell like feet when I returned them, but I got away with it! Never again…

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    • May 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm
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      I absolutely used the student ID card in Europe and well past the age of 26…oops? Hahaha

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    • May 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm
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      Yes–that's part of the reason why I'm always outside! I love the change of scenery

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  • May 9, 2013 at 11:21 am
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    This is great! I've been guilty of some of these myself and the one that comes to my mind is milking the student discount. We would use our grad student id's for years after we got our Masters. We started getting goofy looks when we started having kids and tried to get by with the student discount.

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  • May 9, 2013 at 11:26 am
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    I'm all about the freebies. I will line my purse and take extras with me. I've worn and returned something. Like you, it was only because I absolutely did not have the money and I needed something to wear. I did feel a little bad about it too.
    My recent post Baseball. Bar Hop. Shop

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    • May 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm
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      Good for you about the freebies! If it's something I'll use and love, I'm not opposed to sneaking a few into the bag :)

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  • May 9, 2013 at 11:29 am
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    Saving up on freebies is something I do myself, too! It was SO helpful back in college when I was broke, and now with my blog I get free things every month!

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    • May 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm
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      Oh yeah…I love the good freebies that I can actually use. The others go into a shopping bag and saved for when I pass them to my sisters or drop them off at a local shelter. Everything can be put to good use with a bit of creativity!

      Reply
  • May 9, 2013 at 3:22 pm
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    That's awesome about running socks, they can get so expensive (especially when the laundry troll snags one of them and you're left with a missing sock). I don't really do anything crazy, though I do love me some samples!

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    • May 9, 2013 at 3:24 pm
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      Oh man, I hate the laundry trolls–I have so many socks missing their pair partner and it drives me crazy!!

      I'm wearing a pair of those socks I got for free as I type this…mwhahaha :)

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  • May 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm
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    Oh my lord, woman! These are some funny items. I too have done the condiment thing, particularly frequently in high school when we'd all hang out at the au bon pain in the copley square mall after school. I think we thought that adding lots of pepper to our soups added more calories :)
    My recent post What to do with mom’s house…?

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    • May 10, 2013 at 12:51 pm
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      :)

      Glad you liked them…it was a liberating post to write and I laughed (while shaking my head) quite a bit!

      Reply
  • May 10, 2013 at 11:52 am
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    As a graduation requirement we had to attend a portfolio show, set up a table in a visually appealing manner to attract potential employers to view your work (where only one showed up in a downed economy). I decided to hit up the Container Store to purchase things to hold my business cards and trays to hold my resumes and demo reels. The sticker/tags were on the bottom so I returned them the next day.
    My recent post Don’t Double Our Rates!

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  • May 10, 2013 at 12:36 pm
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    The town I live in offers free use of the public transit for students of one of the colleges in the area. When my girlfriend and I were only using one car (one or the other was perpetually in need of expensive repairs) we would use our student IDs to use the bus when needed…years after we both stopped being students.
    My recent post Favorite Days of the Month

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    • May 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm
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      I would probably do the same! That's great that your town does something like that!

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    • May 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm
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      Let's just say I was pretty darn creative when it came to pinching pennies when I had to be…hahaha! :)

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  • May 13, 2013 at 7:48 am
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    I haven't done anything too shameful. I do give my kids used stuff for Christmas and birthdays. They are still so little that they don't know the difference.

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    • May 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm
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      I see no issue with that whatsoever–they're just psyched to have a present, right?? :)

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    • May 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm
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      I like that concept, KC! I definitely do try to adhere to that, although I'm not so crazy about finding ways to make things free anymore… :)

      Reply
  • May 14, 2013 at 11:02 am
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    Love this post! I'm ashamed to admit that when I was younger I found out that a local movie theater would give you free movie passes if you had a complaint about a movie-going experience…and so I started calling to complain about stuff that didn't really bother me to get free movie passes in the mail. I only did it twice but it still makes me feel dirty.
    My recent post Help Me! Should I Get a New Smartphone?

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  • July 17, 2013 at 5:54 pm
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    I'm completely guilty of milking the student discounts, even though I graduated 2 years ago. I don't plan on stopping either .. I get free bus fare in my city as long as I flash my old student ID. I also always carry it around for discounts or free covers to events/bars/etc. Oh. and I steal toilet paper if I'm low on cash at any given time. #guilty I have a habit of mooching meals as well, as in I go to events at work if I know there will be free food, same with other events.
    My recent post Focus Doesn't Last: How I deal with dying motivation

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