With food inflation up more than 8 percent for the year and gas hovering near $4 a gallon, some consumers are going to extreme measures to stay within their budgets. While some ideas might sound crazy—car engine fried eggs, anyone?—others contain clever solutions to the everyday challenge of stretching a dollar. Here are nine of the best extreme-saving techniques, culled from some of the top minds on the Web:
1) Bake cookies in your car. Nicole Weston of Baking Bites has developed a method of baking chocolate cookies with the heat that collects inside cars on steamy days. She suggests parking in the sun, using a thermometer to help monitor the temperature, and protecting your dashboard by putting a barrier between it and the baking sheet. She says it needs to be at least 95 degrees outside for this to work, and the cookies take about two and a half hours to cook. Savings: Lowering your utility bill because you don't need to turn on your oven. Plus, you save on air-conditioning because you don't need to counteract the effects of a hot oven.
2) Reuse plastic sandwich bags. Sandwich bags can be easily rinsed out and dried and used again the next day. As long as the bags didn't touch raw meat, it's hygienic—and environmentally friendly. Savings: With a pack of 100 bags going for around $3, a family of four can save about $30 a year.
3) Turn your car off—while it's still moving. While the American Automobile Association warns against this technique, some bloggers are promoting it as a way of saving gas. By using the car's momentum to glide into parking spaces or move downhill, you can get where you're trying to go without burning any fuel. Just make sure you practice driving without power steering and power brakes in an open space before experimenting near other cars—or people. And never try this at high speeds, even though some blogs recommend it—it's too dangerous. Savings: You can shave a few dollars off your gas bill each month.
4) Stop saving money. All personal finance experts harp on the need to create an emergency fund and funnel money away for retirement, but sometimes saving just isn't possible. In fact, it may make sense to forget about one or all of your savings accounts in order to meet your other responsibilities while avoiding credit card debt. If you suddenly have an added expense, such as a new child, then 401(k) contributions may need to temporarily go on hold.
5) Make your own cleaning supplies. Martha Stewart has long recommended vinegar and lemons as kitchen cleaners. To absorb unpleasant smells, leave vinegar in a shallow bowl on a kitchen counter. To deodorize a garbage disposal, squeeze lemon juice down it. Savings: Up to $10 a month on cleaning supplies.
6) Stop drinking soda (or another beverage of choice). Tricia at Blogging Away Debt recently tried giving up soda as a way of cutting back on grocery costs. She estimates that if both she and her husband are successful in giving up fizzy drinks, then they'll save about $50 a month. Going cold turkey with other drinks, from lattes to bottled water, can produce similar effects. Savings: If you're used to two or three sodas a day, the change could save you upwards of $30 a month.
7) Move back home with your parents, at any age. When writer Nan Mooney became a single mom in her 30s, she moved in with her parents, who also provide some child care. The arrangement allows her to afford motherhood, she says. Other grown kids say they also enjoy the arrangement, even if it means giving up some privacy. Parents can benefit, too—they get free pet sitters and help reducing their own costs. Savings: Up to $3,000 a month in avoided housing costs.
8) Get rid of your carpet. The blogger at Clever Dude points out that having and caring for a carpet requires regular shampooing and steaming, electricity to vacuum, and even medical costs from embedded allergens such as pet dander and molds. Savings: Around $200 a year.
9) Hold a no-spend month. That's what Rachel at the Small Notebook blog did. Her family of three made it a goal to live on $250 or less for the entire month. That included gas, entertainment, food, and other everyday expenses. She says it helped make her more aware of the unnecessary items she had been buying. Savings: As much as $1,000 a month, depending on your spending habits.