12 secrets of the ultra cheap

Don't be afraid to embrace your inner cheapskate. With some restraint and creativity, you can have it all.

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  • It's fun being cheap. Don't think for a minute that by being a conscientious consumer you're missing out on life's luxuries; cheap isn't all sackcloth and ashes. You can sneakily purchase the same great brands as your trendy neighbor, enjoy movies and restaurants, and decorate — all on a cheapskate's budget.

  • How can one do it all on the cheap?

  • 1. Head to the back of the store

  • Upon entering any clothing store, put your blinders on and make a beeline for the back corner. Search for those blessed signs that say "clearance" or "sale," and let the search begin. Sometimes your clothing finds may be a season off, but that's OK. Shopping for end of the season deals can yield some great finds to be stowed away for next year.

  • 2. Never pay shipping costs

  • Maybe you've sighted an amazing online deal, like a $3 shirt, only to be discouraged by the $7 shipping fee. If you can't pass up the deal, consider splitting the shipping cost with a like-minded friend or neighbor.

  • Or before you browse online, check the date. Many websites offer free shipping around Christmas, and even the obscure holidays like St. Patrick's Day.

  • Shop retailers that offer free shipping all of the time without a minimum purchase, like Nordstrom or L.L. Bean. Amazon sells everything under the sun, usually at discounted prices, but you have to spend $35 to score free shipping unless you sign up for Amazon Prime.

  • 3. Secondhand stuff is great

  • If the dining set looks new, who cares if it was previously used? Furniture, clothing and many other items are easily sanitized. Check Craigslist, and don't be afraid to barter a little. Most venders post items expecting to get a little less than the asking price.

  • Also consider shopping at the trendy, secondhand clothing stores that are becoming more popular. Many stores allow you to bring in your gently-used clothes to sell or trade.

  • My daughter found several pair of used, name-brand jeans for bargain prices, and they look new. I couldn't believe how little I paid for her back-to-school jeans.

  • 4. Use up the food in your fridge

  • It takes some organization, but keep track of what's going on in your fridge. Don't let perishables get ignored, and plan meals around what needs to be used.

  • 5. Cut your kids' hair

  • Most young kids really don't care what they look like. Invest in a set of clippers and become your family's barber. You'll probably improve your hair-cutting skills as your kids grow, so by the time they do care about their looks you'll be a pro.

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  • 6. Order water at restaurants

  • If you like to eat out or stop for fast food, bypass the soda. Soda and other specialty drinks only add sugar, calories and dollars to your bill. Don't give in to your kids' pleas, either.

  • 7. Take advantage of discount movie nights

  • If your local theater offers discount nights, plan your date nights accordingly. Similarly, check online for free or discounted admission days at the museums or amusement parks near your home.

  • 8. Think Christmas in June

  • When you're out and about or shopping online (on free shipping days, of course), keep an eye out for potential Christmas or birthday gifts. Keep a bin supplied with your finds and you'll have a go-to spot for presents for your family and your kids' friends.

  • Recently, I was checking the clearance section of a beauty supply store. I found a stack of beautiful, $40 quilted purses marked down to 97 cents. Those types of finds make my day. And as my sisters will probably be the recipients of those new purses, hopefully they aren't reading this article.

  • 9. Clean with vinegar

  • Don't waste your money on pricey, name-brand cleaning supplies. Those cleaning aisles are overwhelming, anyway. Use vinegar and baking soda to neutralize odors and scrub your kitchen and bathrooms.

  • 10. Trade services

  • A friend and her teen daughters cut a deal with their orthodontist to clean his office for several years in exchange for orthodontic treatment.

  • When your family wants or needs something that doesn't seem affordable, whether braces or piano lessons, offer to trade services. You never know.

  • 11. Don't toss what isn't used up

  • When your lotion stops pumping, turn your bottle upside down and dig the stuff out with your fingers. Add a bit of water to make your liquid soap go further. I get a weird delight out of using the last, tiny drops of certain products.

  • 12. Splurge on occasion

  • Sometimes you may not feel like taking it easy on the wallet. And it's good for your kids to be treated every now and then. Whether it's a surprise milkshake or a week at Disneyland, when the occasions are few, they become the special childhood memories your kids will cherish.

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Megan Gladwell, a freelance writer and sometimes teacher, lives in beautiful Northern California with her husband and four children.

Website: http://www.bookclub41.blogspot.com

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