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For nearly 40 years, my Dad drove a Brinks truck around suburban Toronto. As part of our family’s financial plan, I used to joke that he should bring the company car home one night… Instead, he’d keep the salt and pepper packets from his fast-food lunches and occasionally sit at our kitchen table and emptied them into our salt and pepper shakers.

But that wasn’t even the oddest thing he collected. The canvas bags of coins he delivered too and from the banks were sealed shut with lead slugs about the size of a Bazooka Joe bubble gum. He’d collect these lead pellets, lug them home, and then periodically cash them it at a scrapyard. Drove my mother nuts. He passed away a few years ago, but I’m sure there are still a few bags of lead hidden away somewhere in my parents’ house.

Here are some of the more extreme ways people try to save money. No word on whether or not they’re making their spouses crazy.

Condiment Collectors

Turns out my Dad wasn’t the only one. Google, “hoard ketchup packets” and you’ll get more than a quarter-million results. One decidedly un-modest blogger (she calls herself Hot Mama) states “Like most families, we hoard the packets of ketchup at restaurants.” Another site for campers (, lists potential locations to score, gratis, an entire pantry’s worth of single-serve condiments, from butter, jam, and honey for breakfast, burger and taco toppings.

Dumpster diving

Apparently it’s not just for the homeless anymore. My good friend Google helped me find:

  • A craft hobbyist who found “artificial flowers and miscellaneous decorations left behind” in the trash bins at cemeteries.
  • A computer programmer and father of three, who’s cut his grocery bill in half, in part thanks to the help of his 14-year-old son who accompanies him most nights.
  • A post on the All Things Frugal site recognizes that “dumpster diving is not for everyone. However, dumpster diving has become very popular, and is considered a great resource by many people” to find everything from food to computers, TVs, and tools. Though they do warn you should have a first-aid kit and some anti-bacterial lotion handy.
  • At least one guy’s even written a book on the subject, Dumpster Diving Secrets, by Joe T. Rutney, a self-proclaimed “dumpster diver extraordinaire.” If you’re interested, a copy’s waiting for you for the low, low price of $14.97. Or try and find a free copy in the bin behind your nearest bookstore.

Some less-crazy ideas

Dumpster diving and ketchup hoarding a little too extreme for your tastes? How about these money-saving tips?

  • A coupon clipping mother of three from Simcoe, Ontario was so inspired by watching the Extreme Couponing TV show that she got so good at her money-saving hobby, she was able to donate more than $2,000 worth of toiletries and other households items to her local Salvation Army that’s she’d purchased for a mere $74.69 (plus coupons).
  • A 30-something father of two from Regina who plans to retire at 45. He makes about $80,000 a year and his wife’s a stay-at-home Mom. How will they do it? By living frugally in a modest house – though not as Spartan an existence as you might think – aggressively paying down his mortgage, and putting money into a mix of taxable and tax-free investments.
  • Renovate your house. Sure you’ll have to spend some money upfront, but if you undertake some energy-conserving reno projects (say, adding insulation to the attic, installing new windows, or replacing old appliances with energy-conserving ones), you’ll experience long-term savings on your utility bills. And you may also qualify for grants or rebates like the recently (though temporarily) reintroduced federal EcoEnergy Retrofit program.
  • Shower every other day, and have a “navy shower” (i.e. turn the water off while you lather up) when you do.
  • Save money on food and drinks by brewing your own coffee at home for your commute, use a refillable water bottle instead of buying disposable ones, and eat out less (or not at all).
  • Get a roommate – or take in a boarder – to reduce your housing costs.
  • Finally, don’t forget that bit of energy (and money) saving advice that Dad always harped on about: turn the lights off when you leave a room. Even if they are equipped with CFL bulbs.

One more kinda crazy idea for all those crazy cat ladies (and lads) out there: Save money on kitty litter by toilet-training your cat.

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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