How to live cheap for a day

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Best deals cheap day

One Money editor’s pursuit of ultralow prices and cheap deals yields big savings and a mild case of indigestion.

My Best Deals mission: Spend one day trying to cut every expense I encounter.

While this would be (heavily discounted) cake for more frugal folk, when I am asked to choose between convenience and savings, I confess to having an unfortunate tendency to go with the former. Time to toe a more price-conscious line.

As a single New Yorker, I do have some idiosyncratic expenses. Still, plenty of what I discovered could apply to most people’s daily routines. Here, a day in the life of a cheapskate-in-training:

8:40 a.m.

The usual: Buy oatmeal, $2.05
Today: Make oatmeal, 28¢
Cooking is an obvious way to trim your budget, but I tend to either forget or run out of time. But dump oatmeal and water into a pot? That I can do. This is gonna be a breeze!
Savings: $1.77

9:17

The usual: Subway, $2.50 each way
Today: Bike, free
Wait, where’s my bike lock?

9:38

FOUND IT! Too bad I’m now 21 minutes behind schedule.
Savings: $5.00

Related: City trips for less

10:16

The usual: Starbucks, $2.01
Today: Coffee cart, $1
Staffing firm Accounting Principals reports that workers spend more than $20 a week on coffee, on average. MONEY has a coffeemaker, but while I applaud the idea of free office java, I can’t bear to choke down the reality.

The carts around our building hawk cups of joe for $1.25, but I can do better. I keep walking until I spot a cart on a residential street. Medium coffee, $1. Take-away? Sellers on prime real estate can charge more. Go a few minutes out of your way to save.
Savings: $1.01

1:05 p.m.

The usual: Salad, about $8

Today: Pizza, $1
If, like me, you’re too forgetful or lazy to brown-bag it, you may be doing real damage: The typical employee spends $36 a week on lunch. Finding cheap food by the office is no problem, says Chris Willets of freebie site The Skint, provided you meet one criterion: “No regard for health whatsoever.”

My poison is the $1-a-slice joint.
Savings: $7

Related: Best deals on food drink

1:20

The usual: Grocery store, $12.99
Today: Produce market, $7.93
Score! I pick up apples, squash, and other fresh produce for $1 a pound.
Savings: $5.06

1:45

The usual: Drugstore, $33
Today: Discount store, $8.97
Searching for cheap staples, I venture into Jack’s World, a discount store. Normally the mishmash of products — faux-fur jackets! nose-hair trimmers! — would scare me away, but now I’m on mission.

My best find: a $5 moisturizer that’s selling at The Body Shop for $20. High on my bargain-hunting prowess, I splurge on a 99¢ box of graham crackers (vs. $6) — but only after checking the expiration date.
Savings: $24.03

3:12

The usual: Afternoon treat, $1.50
Today: Free Pinkberry yogurt
Well, almost. I’m excited when Laura Zanzal of discount blog 89thandBroke.com directs me to a free-yogurt coupon. The problem I discover when I arrive: The offer’s valid only until 2 p.m. Oops. Next time I’ll read the fine print!

6:18

The usual: Dinner out, $40
Today: Half-price happy hour, $14.70
To socialize on a budget, Irene S. Levine, author of TheFriendshipBlog.com, suggests taking the initiative so that you can choose an affordable place. I find a cheap spot near my dinner companion’s home. Half-price Pinot Grigio takes the edge off the effects of the day — an aura of road grit and pizza grease — and my discounted appetizer is massive, easily filling in for dinner.
Savings: $25.30

9:35

The usual: Dry cleaner, $29
Today: Dryel, $10.24
Sacrificing clean clothing is not an option after a day of biking, so I give this dry-cleaning alternative a shot. Are my clothes really clean? Honestly, I can’t tell. But they do smell nice and look sharp — which is more than I can say for their owner.
Savings: $18.76

TOTAL SAVINGS: $87.93

WHAT I LEARNED

Map a path to savings

Commuting by bike got me to work only 10 minutes later than usual. (I did, however, have a bad case of helmet hair.) Up for a cycling commute? Most city websites include bike routes, and Google Maps offers bike-specific directions.

Practice loyalty

Some bargains may not be worth it. I save by eating at a $1 pizza joint, but the grease factor makes me miss my usual overpriced salad. My vow: Stick to places with a frequent-diner card. Used consistently, I’ll get a free lunch every two weeks.

Check the label

Thanks to Andrew Schrage of Moneycrashers.com, I avoid dollar-store traps: smaller-size bottles of popular brands and food past the sell-by date.

Beware of loopholes

Nabbing discounts by following brands you like on Facebook and Twitter can be tricky. Watch out for narrow windows and other restrictions.

Best Deals on Everything:

Best deals on food drink

Best deals on tech

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