Thrifty Thursday: No Hot Water, No Problem

Last week, we introduced a new reader-inspired series called Thrifty Thursdays. We want to hear your most ingenious buck-stretching strategies, stories about your famously frugal family and friends, or embarrassing tales of taking thrifty too far.

Send your stories to, and we may mention you in an upcoming Thrifty Thursday post. Each week, we’ll select our favorite entry, and the winner will receive a $25 gift card.

This Week’s Winner: The Hot-Water Workout

There’s no question that dialing down your water heater saves money. And, this far into our New Year’s resolutions, we all know it can be difficult to get your money’s worth from a gym membership.

What does one have to do with the other? Well, Sabine has found a clever way to motivate herself to get to the gym every day — and lower her hot-water bill at the same time. She writes:

“I have a gym membership for $19.99/month. I’m a teacher and stressed out by the end of the day, so there’s now way I’m going to the gym after a long day ‘in the trenches.’ In the morning, it would be so much nicer to stay in bed than drag myself to the gym. So… I switched off the water heater. Only ice-cold water. Always. 24/7.

“If I want to take a shower in the morning (and I HAVE to in order to look presentable), I HAVE to go to the gym. I am too embarrassed to walk in just to shower, so I work out. Every morning at 4:30 a.m. Turns out that my switched-off water heater saves me exactly the monthly gym membership fee, too. Weekends, same thing. I want to shower, I have to go and work out. Want to shower in the evening? Go work out first.”

Honorable Mentions

Sabine’s not the only one tampering with her water heater to save money. Erik says, “When not in use, I like to turn off the breaker to the hot water heater, so you’re not using electricity to heat water when no one is home using it. The catch is, you have to remember to turn the hot water back on a few hours prior to taking a shower. More than once, we have taken a cold shower after forgetting to turn it back on.”

Jimena says her family did the same thing: “We ALWAYS did this in my house growing up, and while it saved a lot of money, there was a LOT of grief over who forgot to turn the breaker off… A couple of years ago I bought a specialized timer and installed it, and the improvement in quality of life is truly amazing.”

Sarah tries to limit her hot water use, too — as well as the electric water pump: “I take Navy showers — wash off, turn off the water, soap, rinse. I’ve realized our water pump consumes a lot of energy, so the savings isn’t just with hot water, but also for the electric pump.” That’s not her only ultra-frugal practice. She adds, “We stopped using a garbage pick-up service, and we’re back to biweekly trips to the dump. It uses a lot of time, and the savings after buying dump coupons is only about $170 a year, but every little bit helps in my tight budget.”

Speaking of the dump, Margaret from North Georgia says she used to make extra money turning one person’s trash into another person’s treasure: “I’m the old gal who, prior to $3 gas, drove all over town on garbage day, and sifted out the big piles for usable goodies. I carried my loot to the flea market on weekends and used the sale money to buy gas and groceries for the next week.  Embarrassing? Maybe not: I had a competitor and we often bought each other’s stuff. A coworker’s husband taught me this trick and swore that he sold old Coke bottles for as much as $5 each.”

Commenter AlwaysConservative says: “My brother and I always used to say my mom would squeeze a nickel until the buffalo bled! Although I did learn to be thrifty from her, I always felt she went a little overboard. Aluminum foil was smoothed out and reused. Holiday wrapping paper was carefully folded and even ironed to be used again. No Tupperware for Mom: Cool Whip containers were re-used, as were margarine containers, etc…. But the one I remember most is when someone dropped a cigarette and burned a whole in her carpet, she clipped carpet fibers from an unobtrusive section and glued those fibers onto the burnt spot! I can’t come close to matching that.”

That rang a bell with fellow commenter Cary_W, who says: “I don’t think I ever once got a gift from Grandma that wasn’t wrapped in the Sunday comics! We loved it, though; she lived in another state so the comics were sometimes these weird, mysterious ones that we didn’t get in our local paper. And I have to admit, I’ve wrapped a few gifts for my kids in Sunday comics, too, usually only when we’re out of other wrapping paper.”

Finally, Nikki on Facebook says she tears tissues in half to stretch her supply: “Really bad I know… I tear Kleenexes in half for my little toddler’s nose. Box goes twice as far.” Bonnie uses a similar trick in the laundry room: “I cut my chemical-free fabric softener sheets in half, and it works the same as one sheet in the dryer. Double your money, cut them in half!”

Now It’s Your Turn

Got a great money-saving technique you want to share, or a funny story about ultra-frugal living? What about some thrifty-but-romantic Valentine’s Day gifts or memories? Tell us about it in the comments, through social media using the hashtag #ThriftyThursday, or send an email to, for a chance to be included in next week’s post. And remember, one winner each week will receive a $25 gift card!

Jon Gorey

Contributing Editor

A former personal finance reporter at TheStreet and columnist for MarketWatch, Jason Notte’s work has appeared in many other outlets, including The Newark Star-Ledger, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and The Boston Globe. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S. and the layout editor for Boston Now, among other roles at various publications. Notte earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 1998.