Are TV's Extreme Cheapskates Going Too Far?


There's a new show on TV causing quite a lot of buzz amongst frugally minded people like myself. It's called "Extreme Cheapskates," and just like a similar show called "Extreme Couponing," it tells the stories of people who go above and beyond to save money. (See also: Crazy Frugality Schemes That Just Might Work)

Now, I have done a few things in my time that crossed the line from frugal to cheap. I'm sure many of you have, at some point, done the same. But the people featured in this show don't just cross that line; they race over it into the realms of downright insanity. The question is, which of these money-saving methods do you think go too far, and which could you see yourself doing? In other words, which of these are "too extreme" and which are "frugally fine?"

1. Doing Your Laundry While You Shower

Several people featured on the show seem to think this is a perfectly acceptable way to save money. Some will wash the clothes as they wear them in the shower, others will use the leftover shower water. And they do it using free samples of laundry detergent or good old-fashioned soap.

Verdict: Too Extreme!

While it's fair to save water from your shower for other uses (watering plants perhaps), or sharing a shower with your partner, doing laundry with your dirty shower water is just nasty.

2. Getting Food From Dumpsters

Would you eat a meal that was made with food from a dumpster? Well, quite a few of the extreme cheapskates get their food from the dumpsters outside of grocery stores and high-end delis. Some of the food, including fruit and vegetables, is perfectly fine to eat; it may not be beautifully cosmetic though. Other food has gone past its sell-by-date, either by a day or by much longer. (See also: Dumpster Diving 101)

Verdict: Frugally Fine

Dumpster diving for food is not new, and it's not gross if it's done right. Expiration dates are guidelines, but grocery stores will dump on, or just before, a sell-by-date. There are many ways to be "freegan," and it's a great way to save money and stop good food going to waste. (See also: Quick Guide to Expiration Dates and Food Safety)

3. Taking Leftovers From Other Diners' Plates

Perhaps one of the most bizarre money-saving tips came from a guy called Roy, one of the biggest cheapskates I've ever seen. This is a man who reuses paper towels and tea bags, many times, and gets all of his ketchup free from fast food establishments. But he takes it to another level when, after finishing his meal at a restaurant, he walks around asking people for their leftovers, and scraping it into take-out containers.

Verdict: Too Extreme!

Look, it's not great to waste food; we all know that. But this is one of those times when you have to consider how far is too far. You may not feel bad asking for leftovers, but the people with you, and the diners in the restaurant, do not expect this kind of behavior when dining out. It's one thing to give leftovers away, perhaps to someone homeless. It's something else entirely to petition the diners as they're chewing on their last bite. And let's not get into the hygiene issues. Yikes.

4. One Family: The Same Bath Water for All

Imagine standing in line to take a bath, and when you get to the front you find out it's the same bath water for everyone. That's the bizarre twist in one cheapskate's tale. Her whole family takes a bath every day, each taking turns with the bathwater; yes, the same bath water. If you think "it'll be cold after a while," then don't worry. They don't ever use hot water. (See also: How to Shower Less and Still Feel Clean)

Verdict: Too Extreme

Is this one even up for debate? Sure, if you're first into the bath you get clean water. Go second, it's going to be dirty. By the time you're the poor kid at the end of the line, you're bathing in the dirt and scum from a whole family! This is not hygienic, it's not good for a young boy's self esteem, and it's just way beyond the realms of normalcy. The water is the color of a cappuccino by the time the last kid gets out! This family also sleeps together in one bed, and never uses their electricity. This is not even cheap; we need a new word.

5. Peeing in Jars to Avoid Flushing

The strangest part of this story wasn't the act of peeing in the jar, or pouring it onto the garden to help it grow. No, the weird part is that this was done by a millionaire to save $2 per month in "wasteful" flushing.

Verdict: Too Extreme!

If it were saving a lot more money, I could see this being something worth trying. But for $2 a month, peeing into jars and storing them by the side of the toilet is just plain insanity! And forcing your boyfriend to do it too? That's even worse.

6. Using a Bicycle to Go Everywhere

A chap called Jeff Yeager, author of a bestselling cheapskate's book, takes his bicycle everywhere he goes. He's not an overweight man, as you probably guessed, and says he has saved over $50,000 by using a bike instead of having a car or taking public transportation. (See also: How to Become a Part-Time Bicycle Commuter)

Verdict: Frugally Fine

This is not a cheapskate thing to do at all; it has so many benefits to yourself and the environment. Jeff is staying in great shape, reducing his carbon footprint, and saving a ton of money. This is a no-brainer. Good on you, Jeff.

7. Getting Vitamins and Medicines From the Garbage

A pregnant and exceptionally cheap young lady did not want to pay for vitamins and medicines during her pregnancy. So, armed with a litter picker, she goes diving through dumpsters and garbage shaking everything until she hears the rattle of a pill bottle. Then, whether it's expired or not, she takes them home and stocks her medicine cabinet.

Verdict: Way Too Extreme!

This is bonkers. Sure, some vitamins will be OK to take after they expire, but old medicines can be dangerous, and have unpredictable side effects. There's also a reason every vitamin and medicine you buy comes sealed with tamper-proof packaging. This is your health; you cannot risk this kind of behavior. (See also: How to Get Free Medication)

8. Reusable Toilet Paper

You know, as a frugal man with 39 years under my belt, I thought I'd seen it all. Then, I saw something stomach-churningly bizarre. A family that refuses to buy toilet paper uses scraps of fabric from old clothing. Mom takes these squares and places them in a pile in the bathroom. You take a square, wipe, and put this dirty square into an open trash can in the bathroom. When the trashcan is full, you put it in the laundry.

Verdict: Borderline Extreme

I have used washable diapers on my kids. The diapers are washed several times, and until laundry day they are stored in a sealed bag. If it's acceptable for a baby, it's certainly acceptable for adults. However, I question the storage methods, and also forcing this upon houseguests. Would you wipe your butt with something that's stained, and has clearly wiped someone else's butt before? Me neither.

9. Refusing to Spend More Than 99 Cents Per Pound on Meat

Our cyclist Jeff is just as thrifty in the kitchen. In several instances, he goes shopping for meat and fish and usually ends up with the kind of cuts most of us would throw away…or throw up! He's made fish head soup and cooked goat's heads for dinner. He's quite fond of the eyes.

Verdict: Frugally Fine

If you have the stomach for it. Personally, I just couldn't eat a goat's eyeball, although I have it on good authority that cheek meat is very delicious. Fish head soup, I could easily eat that; it's more about flavor anyway. But be respectful of guests. Inviting them over for a chunk of goat head may not serve you well.

10. Eating Rice Thrown at Wedding Ceremonies

If you need to read that one again, go ahead. It's real, and it's bizarre. Our friend Roy (the plate scraper from #3) has been known to collect handfuls of rice that have been thrown at weddings. He'll scrape this up from the ground, pocket it, and use it in a meal later.

Verdict: Too Extreme to the Max!

Seriously, it's not only unhygienic, it smacks of bad taste and would take hours to collect enough to make one plate of rice. Considering you can buy a whole bag for a buck, this is a waste of time and not worth the effort. Yuck.

That's my top ten list. Did you see something even worse when watching the show? Does your opinion of these extreme money-saving ideas differ from mine. Chime in below.

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Guest's picture

I cannot believe that some of these are actually practiced! The pregnant woman fishing for vitamins puts me over the edge too, wow. Logically, I understand why some folks don't want to be wasteful but some of these are just too bizarre and disgusting for my liking.

Guest's picture

Some extremes become normal in different circumstances. For example, when I was living aboard a sailboat in the Caribbean Sea, reusing water was mandatory. If it didn't rain (and we had a very dry month), you had to reuse water laundry or you'd run out of drinking water.

Guest's picture

While it would definitely gross me out to reuse someone's bath water, it does bring me back to how most of our grandparents and great-grandparents did things. And they turned out fine. I think a lot of it comes down to what you are used to, and what your options are.

My husband and I have gone back to using handkerchiefs (except when we are sick and can't wash them fast enough, or when we have company) and try to use rags instead of paper towels in the kitchen most of the time. These things aren't a big deal to us and definitely save us money and are better for the environment. Our friends and family think we're a little crazy.

Some of those practices make sense in, say, rural Africa than they do in the U.S.
Don't get me wrong, some of those ideas you mentioned are disgusting and unsanitary, but I can't say I would never do them in really extreme situations. Praying that day doesn't ever come though, especially the peeing in a jar! :)

Guest's picture

Here in the UK, extreme frugality seems to revolve around hot drinks: pegging your used teabags to a piece of string above the sink, to dry out and reuse. Or reheating your cold tea in the microwave. (BLEUUUGH!) I don't think anybody would consider rummaging through trash for pharmaceuticals and vitamins though - the take-up here is a fraction of what it is in the USA. Interesting how even within the extreme frugality niche, the norms vary country to country.

Guest's picture

When someone takes a shower every day, how "dirty" can his water be?
Soapy: yes - but dirty?
So why not use the soapy water to soak some laundry. You would probably even add some more soap = washing powder.
And then rinse the laundry with fresh water.
You will find it perfectly clean.

Guest's picture

I thought I'd try the reusable toilet papercloths after reading about the family doing it. I'm the only one that does this in our home and our toilet paper use has gone way down. I knew I used the most! I actually prefer the texture and dislike using paper when I'm away from home.

Guest's picture

You have to remember who supports television shows (besides the cable bill you pay). It's the advertisers. They do not want us to stop shopping. Making frugal people look extreme and/or stupid is one way to that goal.

Guest's picture

I watched all the episodes that Netflix currently has. My husband tried to watch an episode with me. It grossed him out and he had to leave the room. He refused to re-enter until the episode was over.

I say to each his own. If we were living in the era of the great depression, I don't think some of these practices would be considered too extreme.

Guest's picture

Agreed on all of the above. Although in some places (Japan comes to mind), they share bathwater with family, but clean their bodies before getting intp the water, so it stays much cleaner. But the idea of lining a bunch of muddy kids up to use the same bathwater is pretty icky.

Guest's picture

Using cloth instead of paper for napkins, kitchen clean-up and toilet wipes makes sense, although I draw the line arbitrarily at using cloth for No. 2 toilet use. But making sure to change out kitchen towels daily and soaking in a bit of bleach water before washing also makes sense (unless you're air drying in the sunshine, which decontaminates just as well).