TV show highlights cheapskates' drastic measures but trimming spending sensibly makes sense financially, writes Diana Clement.
I put my keyboard through the dishwasher a couple of months ago. All in the name of saving money.
Several of the keys on the 15-year-old keyboard had stopped working and putting it through the dishwasher was my last ditch attempt to avoid buying a new one. For the record, keyboards are cheap. But this is a top-of-the-range ergonomic Microsoft Natural Keyboard that costs a bit more than small change.
When a few of the keys seized up, I googled how to fix a keyboard and discovered that people actually dishwash their keyboards to give them a new lease of life.
My 14-year-old daughter, who watches the American reality TV series Extreme Cheapskates on YouTube, recounts money-saving stories way more extreme than dishwashing a keyboard.
She points out, however, that many of the things she sees on Extreme Cheapskates we do at home. One example she gave had been forced upon me by her and her brother, who had seen a friend cutting toothpaste tubes in half to scrape out the last of the paste.
Another sneaky money saver that is my doing is giving my children home-popped bags of corn and bottles of fizz, to take to the cinema. At $1 a bag and 50c a drink, it saves a lot of money. I also can't stomach cinema popcorn, thanks to a friend of mine who saw rat droppings in the popcorn she sold at a now defunct cinema complex in Auckland's Queen St.
One Extreme Cheapskates episode took saving money on cinema treats a big leap over the line of acceptability. The interviewee got his wife free popcorn and Coca-Cola by extracting used containers from the rubbish bin at the cinema and presenting them at the counter for free top-ups. That's disgusting.
This programme appeals to American audiences so much that it has run to three seasons and includes a lot of things we certainly don't do in my house, such as kitty litter facials, using lint from the dryer instead of cotton swabs and washing clothing and one's own body in the spa pool to save water and electricity.
Fortunately, the opening credits of the show come with a disclaimer: "Some of the money-saving methods depicted in this programme are extreme and are not necessarily intended to be imitated."
That's good because one interviewee explained how she puts her human waste on the compost to save on flushing the toilet. A second family substitutes home-made reusable wipes for toilet paper - despite being financially well off.
This show is compelling viewing for people who like to save money or are shocked by the extremes some people go to. In one episode, Apple Melecio admits that when her breast milk dried up she got friends to express theirs for her daughter. She picks the bags up from her yoga teacher and others and reckons that she saves $1000 a year by not buying artificial toddler milk.
If readers want to see the highlights of this programme, search for the "Most extreme moments" episodes on YouTube to see Americans who extract their own teeth, take flasks of hot water home from work to make tea, or dumpster dive for vitamins and food.
I'm surprised there isn't a similar programme in New Zealand, knowing how much Kiwis love to save money. I'd be the ideal host for such a show.
Having said that, the money-saving tales in our house pale into insignificance compared with the households highlighted on the show.
I love to beat my chest with a money-saving conquest. But I couldn't go to the shocking extremes of some people. Ours are quite tame in comparison.
One money-saver I was highly chuffed about was the kids' school uniforms. A friend's son and my daughter were leaving the same school and the younger siblings of the other gender were starting the following February. We swapped uniforms and spent nothing at all.
A slightly unusual money-saver in our house is on guinea pig food. To give the piggies a bit of freedom I cut a hole in the end of the cage. It wasn't done to save money, but I haven't had to buy guinea pig food since. Now our furry friends forage in the garden for all their food and are super healthy for it. Local cats would love to eat our free-range guinea pigs, but none has ever succeeded in catching one.
Another not-so-common money-saver we employ is home haircuts. I did a six-week hairdressing night course when my children were very young. Both have asked to have their hair cut once each at the hairdressers over the years, but decided they preferred their home cuts. I reckon it saves at least $100 each year.
In our house the most effective money-saving we do is by delaying purchases. The delay often makes the "need" go away. In the case of a big-ticket item such as a kitchen, bathroom or carpets, a year or two's delay gives you thousands of dollars of extra use out of the existing one.
The problem with the extreme cheapskate approach is that it's easy to lose sight of reality. Many cheapskates might be better off financially by channelling that energy into getting a pay rise, running a business or investing in a property.
One thing I noticed about Extreme Cheapskates is that many of the interviewees are well off and don't need to be so over the top in their money saving. What's more, articles such as this are usually jumped on by readers who say there is no spare cash in people's budgets for savings.
However, North Shore Budgeting Services adviser Brian Pethybridge has seen beneficiaries save up and go on overseas trips by taking money saving seriously. "One person on a tight budget decided to cut back on food and general living and another on power by going to the library each day to stay warm, read and meet friends. The expectation was that they wouldn't get any help other than by helping themselves." It took a few years of saving $10 each week to afford the trip, but it happened.
Sensible savings can benefit most Kiwi households.
I sought some second opinions on ways to make sensible savings - other than by dishwashing a keyboard. Mortgage broker Peter Norris, at Aspire Advisors, recommends:
• Every year review your landline, mobile phone, internet, electricity, mortgage and insurance costs.
• Compare supermarkets for everyday items.
• Grow your own fruit and vegetables and keep chickens.
• Cycle/walk/run/bus/train to work a couple of days a week to save on parking, petrol and vehicle upkeep.
• Drink water.
• Wear more clothes instead of turning on heating.
• Use a hot water bottle rather than an electric blanket.
• Reuse gift wrapping and make your own cards.
• Wash your own car.
• Use the library instead of buying books.
• Pay your credit card in full every month.
• Cancel pay TV.
• Fix rather than replace broken items.
• Set up a babysitting pod.
• Never pay full price for anything.
If you can tick off some of that list you'll probably have far fewer financial problems than friends on a similar income.
And if you do most of them you've learned to think before you spend and separate needs from wants. Readers are invited to share their money saving tips online at nzherald.co.nz/money.