Five Budget-Friendly or DIY Substitutes for Day-to-Day Expenses

By Mike Peterson
In July 29, 2011

When you’re trying to save money, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly torn between needs and wants — or in some cases, needs or other needs.  And I think it’s this feeling more than anything else that keeps some people from sticking to a budget.

But frugal living isn’t just about going without.  It’s about getting creative and finding ways to live (comfortably) within your means.  It’s about finding good, wallet-friendly alternatives to the things you can’t or don’t want to live without.

Not sure where to get started?  Here are five cheap (or free!) alternatives to potentially costly day-to-day expenses:

Expense #1:  Minor car maintenance.

Okay, so you’re not a mechanic – but that doesn’t mean you should fork over half of your paycheck to your local auto repair shop.  You may not be able to rebuild your engine, but you can learn to change your car battery, replace your wiper blades, or change a burned-out brake light. You’ll probably pay less for the parts, and you won’t have to pay anyone for their time or labor.

Never changed a car battery or refilled windshield wiper fluid?  No worries.  Ask someone at your local auto parts shop, or look up how-to videos on the Internet.  You’ll probably be surprised by how easy most small repairs are.

Expense #2:  Cleaning products. 

There are literally hundreds of cleaning products out there:  Glass cleaner; countertop spray; furniture polish; foaming-action tub and tile cleaners; mops and dusters designed specifically for tile and hardwood floors.  There are products that claim to be better for the environment and products formulated to smell like flowers or cool ocean breezes.

Sure, flowers are nice. But common – and cheap – household products like vinegar and baking soda can do the job at a fraction of the cost. Mix vinegar with water and you’ve got an all-purpose cleaner that can clean almost anything in the house, from the countertops to the carpet.  Mix baking soda with a little water and you’ve got a super-tough stain remover.  Need a dust rag?  Repurpose a soft, old T-shirt.  Need something clingy to get pet hair off the hardwoods?  Repurpose an old fleece jacket or use a dryer sheet.  These homemade cleaners work just as well as the pricier store-bought versions – for a fraction of the price.

Expense #3:  DVDs, books, and video games. 

You’ve got a shelf stacked high with books you’ve already read and movies you’ve seen so many times that you know the dialogue by heart.  You’ve played through the latest “Call of Duty” on every difficulty level – twice.  You’re ready for something new, but you don’t want to blow your budget.  What do you do?

You swap with friends.  I’ve written about clothing swap parties before, but you can apply the same idea to almost anything you can think of, from juicy romance novels to first-person shooters.  Call a few friends and ask them to bring at least one movie, game, or book – then start trading.  It’s fun, it’s cheap, and it’s a great way to find a home for your unwanted items.

Expense 4:  A Haircut.

You’re tired of paying upwards of $50 for a haircut, and you’ve tried to trim your own hair – with less-than-positive results (ski hat in July, anyone?).  Even the strip-mall chains charge around $20 for a cut or a trim – and if your hair grows fast, that can add up pretty quickly.

Instead of heading to the mall for your next haircut, do a quick Google search for local cosmetology schools.  In many cases, you can get a decent haircut from a stylist-in-training for around $5 to $10.  The budding beauticians get to practice their craft, and you cut your hair care budget in half – it’s a win-win.

Expense 5:  Long distance phone calls.

Want to chat with your cousin in Ontario, your best friend in Seattle, and your grandmother in Miami – without paying hefty long distance fees?  Technology has made it possible to stay in touch on the cheap:  If you (and your cousin, grandma, or friend) have a reliable computer and a good Internet connection, you can chat it up on Skype.  And many cell phone carriers offer unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling, which can save money and cell phone minutes.

Want to go old-school?  Grab a pre-paid calling card – you can usually get more calling bang for your buck than you can with your phone company.

These few ideas are a great start to get you thinking in the “savings mode”.  Once you get started, you will be surprised how easy it is to come up with new ways to save.

Happy saving!

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.