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The Thrifty 50

A wealth of clever ways to spend less—from you, our readers.

We asked how you pinch pennies these days, and you responded with a thousand suggestions. Our pick of the lot could save you thousands of dollars.

1. Quit idling. "To save gas, UPS drivers plan their routes to avoid tie-ups at left turns. So now I plot out my errands so I'm not zigzagging around." —Sue Foster, Titusville, Florida

2. Hoard your Lincolns. "I tuck the $5 bills I get back in change in my favorite piggy bank. At the end of the month I deposit them in my '$5 Account' at the bank. I'm able to save anywhere from $150 to $300 a month. It's always a blessing to know that if an unexpected repair or expense comes up, you have a little stash to use instead of a credit card." —Janet Sinclair, Boston, Massachusetts.

3. Drive a search engine. "I am very fond of Google's Froogle, which lets you sort the results from low price to high. And I have always saved a ton of money by buying on eBay." —Teri Beahm, Cypress, Texas

4. Send less down the drain. Low-volume showerheads aren't the only way to cut water bills. "My kids were always letting the faucets run when doing dishes, brushing teeth, and shaving. But underneath the sink is a shutoff valve that lets you reduce water flow." —David Rutter, Needham, Massachusetts

5. Split the bills. "My husband and I don't generate a lot of trash, so we split the garbage-collection bill with a neighbor." —Debra Larrison, South Bend, Indiana

6. Split the pills. "I have my doctor prescribe a double-strength dose of my pills, and then I cut them in half. That's one copay for twice the medicine." —Elmont Hollingsworth, Mount Pleasant, Iowa [Search "pill splitting" at for more details. —Ed.]

7. Put the work in workout. "I figure I save $40 a week by mowing my half-acre yard myself, $125 a week by cleaning house, and $175 a month grooming my four dogs. Plus, doing all these chores keeps me so active, there's no need to join a gym!" —Bev Nord, Round Rock, Texas

8. Hairdo it yourself. "Every month my husband colors my hair and I cut his, saving us $540 a year." —Sharon Wadel, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania

9. Cross the border for a doctor. "For major dental work I go to Costa Rica to an internationally known dental clinic and save thousands. All payments can be made on a major credit card, or you can pay cash for a 5 percent discount." —Jack Fennig, Dallas, Texas

10. Give yourself more than credit. "I use a cash-back credit card, and I don't carry a balance. I get 5 percent back on gasoline purchases!" —Jeff Roberts, Yorktown Heights, New York

11. Get free firewood. "Check with local tree services to see if you can come to a worksite and collect trimmed branches. You get free heat, and they save on hauling and dumping fees." —Patricia Hayward, Phoenix, Arizona

12. Shop consignment stores. "Most small towns have resale shops. I recently bought a wool winter coat, stylish and like new, for $7. And I pay around $4 for dresses and $2.50 for tops and skirts." —JoLynn Gates, Fairfield, Iowa.

13. Round up on the ledger. "When writing a check, I deduct to the next biggest $5, so a check for $11.87 would be entered as $15. When I get to $100 extra, I transfer it to savings."—Diane Guichard, Metairie, Louisiana

14. Hide your cola. "If you are retired, you get a cost-of-living adjustment every year from Social Security. Don't record the new amount in your checkbook—continue to use the old amount. You can always find out your exact balance by checking your bank statements."—James Hill, Olympia, Washington

15. Make saving your vice. I don't smoke but pretend I do by putting away $25 every two weeks for a 'carton.'"—Trisha Grether, Mason, Ohio

16. Rig a flush light. "Each night I have to make several trips to the bathroom. To save electricity, I bought a battery-powered push light for a dollar and used small screws to attach it to the bottom of the toilet seat. Now I just tap the light after raising the seat and whoop-ee!" —Joe Reber, Webster, New York

17. Postpone the "doughnut hole." "Don't include generic prescriptions in your Medicare Part D purchases. Pharmacies offer a wide range of generics (Walmart has them for $4), whereas most Part D plans claim the 'average retail price,' which is much higher." —Jim Rogers, Chelmsford, Massachusetts

18. Turn down one thermostat... "Keeping your water heater at 100 degrees Fahrenheit is adequate for most households, yet most settings are 125 degrees. I lowered mine, and I'm saving about $30 a month." —William [last name withheld], Highland Park, Iowa

19. …And raise another
. "My greatest money saver is keeping my air conditioner at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which has lowered my monthly electric bill from about $400 to $125." —Louise Daly, Boca Raton, Florida

20. Share the mower. "Never buy anything yourself that is used seasonally. Instead, form a co-op with friends to purchase a lawn mower and other equipment." —Charles [last name withheld], Lettsworth, Louisiana

21. Seal in freshness.
"I have used a $25 vacuum-packing 'food saver' system for ten years; it maintains the freshness of meats, breads, vegetables, and more, saving about $1,000 a year by taking advantage of 'Buy one, get one free' deals and 'family packs,' and eliminating waste and freezer burn. Also, a full freezer uses less energy." —Rick Meiers, Bradenton, Florida

22. Freeze your assets. "I put money into a plastic container with water and freeze it. When I see something I want, I know that by the time the money is defrosted, I won't want that item anymore." —James Kipp, Tonawanda, New York

23. Tap the tap.
"You don't need to buy bottled water; just turn on the faucet." —Mike Shipplett, Sierra Vista, Arizona

24. Make the oven multitask.
"By cooking smarter, I have saved on propane gas and groceries. When I heat up the oven, I fill it completely with meat entrées, cookies, cakes, and biscuits, then freeze some for later use." —Angela Braun, Jackson, Michigan

25. Sweat the small stuff
. "I save money by keeping track of everything I buy. I keep an envelope in my purse for receipts. At the end of the day I see where it's all gone. It's amazing how much you can spend without realizing it." —Pat Roesch, Weston, Connecticut

26. Trim your premium..."Taking an inexpensive refresher course in driving safety earned me a 5 percent discount on my car insurance." —Robert DeBellis, Aventura, Florida [For a course near you, go to —Ed.]

27. ...Or comparison-shop it. "I had been with my auto-insurance company for 13 years and had no tickets or accidents. But when I went on the insurer's website as a new customer, the quote came back for $250 below my current rate. I was so mad I went with another company and saved $600!" —Joy Dove, West Jefferson, North Carolina

28. Clean with shampoo."I use an inexpensive brand for scrubbing tubs and tiles. It's nontoxic, smells good, and costs a lot less than cleansers." —Lourdes Cortez, Staten Island, New York

29. Clean with vinegar. "Forget about expensive name-brand cleaning products. You can do a lot with white vinegar and salt, and they are not toxic." —Heidi Ross, Centennial, Colorado

30. Get a radio discount. "Some stations have coupons worth 30 to 75 percent off the regular price for dining, lodging, massages, and getaways." —Dorothy Baker, Boyne Falls, Michigan

31. Get a loyalty discount. "I register as a frequent diner with various restaurants to receive coupons and unadvertised specials." —Linda Granzow, Mesa, Arizona

32. Get the "I asked" discount. "Always ask if an establishment has a discount for people over 50. Many do, but they won't offer it unless you ask." —Cliff Johnston, China Spring, Texas

33. Print your own greeting cards. "I use the computer." —Beatrice O'Kelly, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

34. Save on sirloin."Ask your supermarket manager which day is best for discounts on meat. I have purchased beautiful cuts for about one-fourth the original price, and I have never gotten spoiled meat." —Barbara Stanley, Blairsville, Georgia

35. Dust off the pressure cooker."Its speed saves energy, and, to my surprise, some dishes even taste better, like the lentil soup I make with a quick ham-hock broth." —Beverly Wilson, Lincoln, New Mexico

36. Set a budget.

37. Clip coupons.

38. Buy in bulk.

39. Take the bus.

40. Avoid moochers.

41. Grow your food.

42. String a clothesline.

43. Swap stuff.

44. Always pay cash.

45. Us it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!

46. Bank online."I have my paycheck direct-deposited and save on driving." —Sue Hibler, Angola, Indiana

47. Think "junk.""I have had enough yard sales, and made enough Goodwill donations, to know that many things aren't really necessary or are impulse purchases that will sit on a shelf. So I generally do not buy anything without then giving two items to Goodwill." —Shelley Edmondson, Sedona, Arizona

48. Procrastinate."Whenever I'm tempted to buy an unplanned item I see at the store, I delay getting it until my next shopping trip. I usually don't buy it then, either." —Donald Clement, Frankford, Delaware

49. Learn a skill."Rather than hire a plumber, I go to the library to research a problem so I can do the repair myself. With a computer and Internet access, it's easy to get an answer to any question." —Hubert Neubauer, Los Angeles, California

50. Muzzle the media."I mute the television during commercials and seldom read magazines, thereby avoiding ads and articles that encourage consumerism." —Diana Joubert, Florence, Alabama [Glad AARP The Magazine is the exception! —Ed.]

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.