50 Lessons Learned From My Depression-Era Parents

Children of the Great Depression never heard of "reduce, reuse and recycle," much less frugal living. The mantra of the 1930s and 1940s was "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!"

The thrift borne of those years left it's stamp on my parents and grandparents...and perhaps yours. I remember Grandma finishing discarded bread crusts and Mom carefully unwrapping gifts, smoothing the paper and setting it aside for future use. With eight mouths to feed, my parents always lived as inexpensively as possible. They passed down a way of life that has allowed me to earn a living writing about frugal living and free shipping.

I've spent a lifetime adding to the solutions learned from their example and have combined them into a blog post detailing the top 50 lessons. Please note these are not your usual run-of-the-mill tips. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

lipstick ad

1. Good To The Last Drop
Women of the Great Depression wouldn't think of throwing away a lipstick tube until they dug out the last bit of tint with a toothpick. How often do we toss the last bit of soap, make-up or whatever because it's inconvenient to use until gone?

Living in Europe for several years, my favorite personal-care products weren't available at the store down the street. So I learned to squeeze every last bit out of my travel containers. It's a practice I continued after returning to the States, although now I craft my own health and beauty products and make dang sure every last drop gets used up. Read more in my post, "How to Make Your Own Organic Beauty Supplies."

2. Herb Is The Word
Frugalistats like to talk these days a lot about gardening but some of us don't live in the proper climates, have a yard or knees capable of real gardening. Just two or three potted herbs can make a real difference. Dad always had chives and mint on hand but my favorites are basil and rosemary. You can use them in so many different recipes, including basil and rosemary pestos. (That's right, rosemary pesto: It's delicious with fish.)

If you don't like pesto and can't use the herbs quickly enough, freeze them on a flat surface and store them in an airtight container.

fine print

3. I've Got An Offer You Can't Refuse
Dad used to send credit card contracts back with portions of the contracts crossed out and a letter saying that, if they issued him a credit card, they agreed to his revisions. Sure enough, they'd send a credit card and he'd call them on some point and win. (Of course, he also made out his income tax forms one year in Roman numerals and the IRS accepted it.)

I doubt that would work today with Our Lord and Master Bank of America, but it worked with my health club. I read their contract, crossed off several items with which I took issue and the manager agreed.

4. Electric Blankets Totally Rule
Every winter evening, I thank the inventor of this high-powered bed Snuggie as I scooch down into my pre-warmed sheets. Men, with their inner high thermometers, may not appreciate this tip as much. But women know why God made separate controls on electric blankets.

I asked an alternative engineer once to compute the cost difference between keeping warm at night with a gas furnace, space heater or electric blanket. Not surprising, the electric blanket won by a mile. The perfect combination is to heat the bedroom up with the space heater with the door closed then turn on the electric blanket. Program the space heater (I highly recommend the Delonghi oil-filled space heaters as the greenest available, and their available with Amazon free shipping.

5. Cleanliness Is Not Next To Godliness (Sorry Mom)
Being a housewife used to equal housecleaning. Gaaah! In my book, keeping things neat above board is far more important than running dust-bunny patrols under every bed. It's cheaper, too, because superficial cleanliness requires fewer products and allows you to focus on truly frugal practices. Unless you really enjoy housecleaning, keep it hygienic and allow the dust to fall where it may. When you need impetus to do some brute cleaning, have a few guests over or throw a party.

But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. (Sorry again, Mom.)

clean house

7. On The Other Hand, Cleaning Is Cheaper Than A Health Club
On the other hand, if you're shelling out big bucks for a health club, just cleaning your kitchen and bathroom is major exercise and sweat isn't your only reward. My cleaning products are pretty basic and often homemade, which helps keep the cost down.

8. When Stuck, Clean Houses For Money
Don't stick your nose in the air. Whether you're a man, a woman, a kid or an adult: Go out and buy a bucket, some sponges, gloves, and a few other basic products. (Use cleaning supplies free shipping codes so you don't spend more than you make.)

Place a free ad on Craigslist under "services" and "household" and email your friends. If you need references, do a few jobs for free and you should be in business. (Also keep an eye out for jobs on Craigslist "domestic" list under "gigs.")

Start by charging $15 to $20 per hour and do a really good job. Download a bunch of tunes, books or radio programs to your iPod and just dig in. It's hard work, but it's honest work, and there's always someone willing to pay someone else to clean.

I did housecleaning for several years while building up a marketing agency, ending with three employees and finally selling the business to one of them. I charged $20 ($25 is the going rate here-bouts) and paid my employees $15, which is $6.05 more per hour than they would have received elsewhere.

Unfortunately, professional housecleaners have to deep clean their own homes to serve as demo models; but once you have enough business you can go back to being superficial.

family interaction

9. Turn Off the TV
Dad had a great way of limiting our television time. He controlled the television (including a homemade mute button) and liked to watch a LOT of World War II documentaries. You've never seen a room clear out so fast as when he'd turn on those old PBS black-and-white specials. Perhaps that's why I picked up this nasty reading habit and watch so little TV now.

In modern terms, there are lots of benefits to reducing TV time:
    • Cheaper electrical bills, particularly if you turn off the entire system.
    • Less exposure to advertising that makes you want to buy, buy, buy!
    • Time to focus on more useful stuff, like exercise, books and family activities.
    • You'll sleep better. (Studies show two hours or more of TV per day can cause significant sleep problems.)

10. Buy Online When It Saves You Money...
Our family spent summers on a remote island where shopping meant fudge or tourist knick-knacks. Mainland prices weren't much better. If only we'd had the Internet!

Small-town residents often don't have lots of choices. While it seems Walmarts have populated every nook and cranny of America, not everyone wants to shop at a big box store and "Always Low Prices" is a matter of interpretation. Big-city denizens also face unique obstacles.

For these and many other reasons, online shopping has become a shining monetary beacon in an unhappy retail market. In fact, J. Crew just announced it will soon offer its outlet stores on the Internet. That means you'll be able to combine the company's famous 30-percent off outlet deals with J. Crew free shipping codes, without driving umpteen miles to some pseudo-village in the middle of nowhere.

The Wall Street Journal predicts other merchants will soon follow, making it even cheaper to buy online.

11. ...But Be Cool
The key, as with any shopping, is to maintain control over your spending.

One sure method is to make all purchases with gift cards, so you can only spend a set amount. (Buy budget gift cards online and you'll save even more, anyway.) Using gift cards also means your credit or debit card information isn't registered with a merchant, so it's not as easy to just click and buy.

Craigslist ad

12. Mom Would Have Adored Craig
Yes, there really is a Craig of Craigslist.com. I met him at an Oakland fundraiser in the late 1990s, when his free website for classified ads was just getting started. Craig looked just like Silent Bob from the movie "Clerks," complete with trench coat and taciturn manner. But I digress.

Craigslist has entirely displaced the newspaper classifieds, the most important part of the newspaper during the Depression. That's where people found jobs, second-hand furniture, cars, rentals, just about everything they needed. Come to think of it, times haven't changed much, except we now find all those things online.

My point is -- and I do have one -- many people still don't know about Craigslist, or that there's no charge to advertise just about anything. Other free, online classifieds include Freecycle, USFreeAds and BuyMyStuff.

There are rules and you have to be an informed consumer, but isn't that true for everything these days? Before you get started on Craiglist, read "avoid  fraud" and "personal safety tips."

13. Libraries -- I Swear!
Weekly visits to the library were a big event when I was a kid. The Carnegie Public Library was my favorite, with the lemon scent of its ancient wood floors and regal stone lions surmounting the entrance.

My co-workers laugh at me, but your local library offers so much free entertainment, education and useful information if you're willing to walk through those doors. Hell, you don't even have to go to a library building anymore to reap the benefits.

Here's a brief rundown of services offered by my local library:
Ebook downloads
    • Free movies, CDs, video games, books on CD and MP3s
    • Computer labs and classes (for all age levels)
    • Internet access with giant banks of computers
    • Interlibrary loans (from 25 libraries) delivered to my branch (includes movies, video games, books on CD, magazines and out-of-print books)
    • An endless variety of events for children, teens, adults and seniors
    • Teen movie and games room
    • Title searches and holds processed from any computer. Notification of availability and due date to my email.
    • Homework assistance
    • A business and non-profit center
    • Genealogy and family history center
    • Local history library
    • Free access to online databases for auto diagnostics and repairs; biological sciences; and applied and general science journals.

early computer

14. Buy a Refurbished Computer
Do you geek out when Steve Jobs tweets? Then ignore this advice. For the rest of us, a refurbished computer will do quite nicely, thank you. I was so thrilled when $300 bought me a flat-screen computer with far superior drive than my old work horse. It was pretty cool, too, that the Best Buy Geek Squad recycled my old tube screen and wiped hard-drive box thingy for $25.

The refurbish came with the full Bill Gates workout, too. Not that I love Bill, but I still need Word for a few things. Word up, anyone? More importantly, the geek who sold me the set loaded me up with Photoshop. That's one piece of software I can't live without.

15. Downsize Your Garbage Bill
Trash Engineer Specialists that offer recycling often have another unadvertised service for clients who don't need weekly pick-up of nonrecyclables. In our area, you can buy a set of tags for $1 each that you attach to the garbage can, signifying you've paid for the service that day. Between recycling and composting, it usually takes me a month to fill one bin. That's a savings of over $100 per year.

Granted, not every trash service offers such a deal, but I've also combined garbage with a neighbor and taken our recyclables to a free service center.

grocery store

16. Shop Small Food Markets
Big-box supermarkets are a comparatively recent innovation and their massive mounds of merchandise make me uncomfortable. Perhaps that's why I tend to patronize two local markets, where the prices are really quite good, the food is much fresher and the service is great. They even take coupons.

I only bring in two canvas shopping bags for smaller trips and, once those bags are filled, I can't buy more. This obviously limits any unnecessary purchases. Since I only buy fresh food, I avoid buying produce that will turn brown in the drawers.

You can expand this principle to suit the size of your family, say to four bags or one cart, but it's clearly easier to follow when you're only shopping for one or two people.

17. Thrift Stores Are Multi-Purpose
You've heard lots of uses for Goodwill, ARC, Salvation Army and Friends, but here are some off-the-wall ideas for standard thrift-store items I bet you haven't thought about:

    • Cut slab foam rubber pieces into smaller blocks for cleaning. They absorb cleaning solutions and water like mad and don't leave little bits behind like sponges.
    • Encyclopedia pages, maps and other outdated paper products make great wrapping paper for all occasions. They also make pretty cool wallpaper.
    • Mis-matched napkins are a thrift-shop staple. Baste stitch them onto wine bottles as an attractive bib and you have an upcycled hostess present.
    • Ugly old sweaters don't look so ugly in a different context. Wash them in hot water, cut into mitten or hot pad shapes and sew up the edges. (Even my black-needle thumb can handle this one.)

antique telephone

18. Ditch the Land Line
Many of us hang onto our home phones because we fear losing the 911 function, but the fact is most of us still reach for our cell phones in an emergency. Of course, if there are little ones around the house a home phone is still a good idea.

According to the Federal Communication System, all wireless providers must transmit 911 calls to a Public Safety Answering Point and include location information, accurate within 50 to 300 meters. By 2012, the FCC will require providers to include even more specific location information.

19. Upcycle Dryer Sheets
A lot of tipsters recommend making your own recyclable dryer balls but, after a couple uses, I follow my mother's example and toss old dryer sheets into the toes of shoes. With three stinky-footed sons, Mother had more shoes than dryer sheets.

Since nobody else sees my dresser drawers, I also like to create less-than-adorable sachets by stuffing them with lavender and turning the sheet into a ball with a twist tie.


20. Fake Flowers Never Fade
Real, silk or synthetic, flowers make some of the cheapest and, when used properly, most attractive home decorations. Happily, I inherited some of my mother's beautiful cut-glass vases, which she inherited from her mother-in-law. Other vases I've collected at garage sales and from thoughtful gift givers.

The flowers came from a variety of sources. Good roses (not the cheap kind that droop too early) I bind together with a rubber band and ribbon then hang them upside down until dry. Silk or synthetic flowers I find at garage sales and thrift stores. My favorite find was 40 wood roses for $10 at a street fair. I mixed the wood roses with some cheap, synthetic blush roses in a matching vase and people ask me about them constantly.

The trick is to keep these fake flowers clean or they stop looking real. I haven't learned how to dust dried flowers, so I just encourage gentlemen to keep them coming. Fake flowers are simple to dust, however. Put about 1/2 cup kosher salt in a plastic bag and place the flowers head-down in the bag. Shake briskly while standing outside and remove the flowers from the bag. Shake the flowers to dislodge any remaining salt flakes and voila! This rarely disturbs smaller arrangements and the salt can be reused for many cleaning sessions.

21. Use FSAs for Medical/Child-Care Bills
I obviously didn't learn about Flexible Spending Accounts at Mother's knee, since the total hospital bill for my birth in 1956 came to $26.40. But health expenses aren't what they used to be so we have to deal with them in a modern way.

For those with enough income and a considerate employer, an FSA is the best way to cover medical, dental and child-care expenses using pre-tax dollars. You're just wasting money if you're not taking advantage of these accounts. Meet now with your HR department about establishing an account for next year.

drug store

22. Buy Generic Over-the-Counter Drugs
Look at the name-brand label. Now back at the generic.

Now back at the name-brand label. Now back at the generic.

See the difference in the ingredients? You don't? Sadly, that's because they're exactly the same (unlike your man and the Old Spice guy).

Now buy the generic. (It's not on a horse.)

23. Use Open Source Software
Dad was a creative guy who freely shared because that's just what you did. He would have loved open source software and frowned on blood suckers like Bill Gates.

Mozilla Firefox is far superior to Internet Explorer any day of the week. Photoshop is great if you're a professional, but GIMP is just fine if you're editing photos for family albums and Facebook.

Thankfully, there are many people like my dad. For a fairly comprehensive list, check out the Wikipedia entry for "Open Source" and check out the "Lists" entry. Your mind will boggle.

Dab will do you

24. A Dab Will Do You
This one comes from my brother James: "Mother was big on 'one drop of dish soap in a small amount of water.' Once, at my friend Ken's house, we were getting ready to do dishes and I filled the sink with a bit of water and added the one drop. Ken teased me like crazy for being so dumb. He took the bottle and put in a HUGE squirt of soap. His mom saw it, yelled at him, asked why he did that and he told her about me and my 'little drop of soap.' His mom said, 'That's called economizing Kenny...James' mother is smart ... it saves money!'"

Brother John weighs in with a memory of Mom using the soapy dregs to clean out kitchen window wells. "Waste not, want not."

The truth is, a modern dishwasher is more economical overall, but not all of us have these new-fangled machines, so a little dab will still have to do us.

25. Toothpaste and Vinegar Clean Nearly Everything
Cheap toothpaste: Whitens piano keys; unscuffs linoleum; removes yucky junk from steam irons; lifts stains out of carpet; whitens the rubber of tennis shoes; polishes leather shoes and chrome; lifts crayon off of walls; removes water rings from coffee tables and lipstick from fabric; fills nail holes in walls; cleans the sour smell from baby bottles; and shines diamonds.

White vinegar: Cleans coffeemakers, floors, drains, glassware, countertops, garbage disposals, microwaves, refrigerators, tea kettles, laundry, paint brushes, steam irons, windows, showerheads, dishwashers, metal, mini blinds, plastic food containers, tarnished brass, copper and pewter, and the mold off walls.

Pant, pant, pant. Obviously, I could go on and on but I'll save it for another blog post.

10 Second Rule

26. Give It 10 Seconds
This is the short version of the previous rule. I used to watch Mom stop for 10 seconds and think before popping something into her grocery cart that wasn't on her list. Ask yourself why are you buying this item? Do you really need it? If not, put it back.

27. Sit On It
Did your parents ever make you save up for a purchase? The anticipation sometimes proved to be better than the actual buy. You also occasionally realized you'd rather spend your money on something else.

When considering a major purchase -- anything over $100 -- I sit on the decision for a time period that varies depending on the amount of the purchase. Sometimes I've changed my mind by the time I get home.

Some call this the 30-day rule, but waiting 30 days often means that car, house or other major purchase won't be waiting for you at the end of a month. These major decisions can wait long enough for me to sit down with paper and pen to consider the pros and cons before saying yeah or nay.

Beautiful home

28. Rent The Home You Need, Not The House You Want
Our eyes tend to get bigger than our wallets when we look for a new home. Mine did. The last time I went shopping my boss had just projected a solid fiscal year ahead and I walked into a stunning house that was double my intended price. No problem, I'd find a roommate. Turns out that's not so easy when the economy falls into a pit, you're over 50, live in a college town and your boss suddenly shutters the business.

It took me a year to get out from under that lease, but my present home costs less than I can afford and still suits me just fine. Sure, it's not as beautiful, the doors don't close perfectly and I can't run the clothes washer and space heater at the same time, but I never worry about paying the rent.

29. Cook For An Army
Whether cooking for a singleton or family of five, I highly recommend quadrupling casseroles or large dishes. Since not everyone is willing to eat red beans and rice for a week straight like I am, use freezable containers to store the leftovers. Plop them in the microwave or oven next time you need a quick meal.

This method also saves because you can buy the ingredients in bulk, making each dish cheaper than it ordinarily would be. Better still, the same amount of effort goes into several meals -- for all us lazy cooks.

30. Freeze Your Credit/Debit Cards
The Greatest Generation lived without credit cards. We can go without them for a day or two. So the next time you feel the urge for some shopping therapy, follow this process:
    • Take out a set amount of cash from the bank (only what you can afford, be it $5 or $100.)
    • Put your cards into a Ziplock baggie with water and a coin.
    • Stick it in the freezer until frozen.
    • (The coin will keep you from trying to quick melt the card in the microwave.)
    • Go shopping and spend the pre-set amount of cash.

cooking spray

31. Forget Pam (The Cooking Spray. Not Your BFF)
How could I forget this one, since I still use it? Brother Karl (I have a lot of siblings) recalled how Mother used to save the wrapping from margarine sticks to grease baking pans and muffin tins. (Butter was not a luxury seen on our dinner table.)

32. Never Pass Up a Chance To Earn Extra Money
Dad was an incessant freelancer. Of course, he had eight mouths to feed. As a professional photo journalist (among other things), he never let an opportunity go by to sell a photo to one of the wire services. Even at their cheap payment rates ($5 per photo or less), it added up over time.

For many years, even though gainfully employed, I wrote freelance editorial columns, theater reviews, entertainment columns -- you name it, I wrote it (except sports). When times got thin, editors remembered the breadth of my experience and hired me for innumerable freelance gigs, ultimately resulting in this full-time gig.

33. Wash Your Hands
You hear this one a lot in terms of health, but imagine how much your family would save on medical bills, medications and work-time lost if you could avoid whatever is going around. You don't have to use all the fancy anti-bacterial soaps. Just wash thoroughly and dry your hands on something other than your pants.

darning socks

34. Darn Those Socks
Find a darning egg (or lightbulb--not a CFL), a large-holed needle and some darning thread or embroidery floss. Next, learn how to weave darns without pricking your fingers and saying damn. It's surprisingly rewarding to make something new again with so little effort. Besides, darning eggs are just so darned adorable.

35. But Don't Forget the Fourth "R"
Reduce, reuse, recycle and REPAIR!

Two captains chairs saw constant use in our kitchen for more than 30 years, requiring endless repairs. By the time they were retired from service, there may not have been an original piece left on their sagging wooden bodies, but they were still handsome rogues. With the abundance of hardware free shipping codes, repair parts are readily available, so there's no excuse.

Recycling has made us less of a disposable society, but we're so used to not being able to fix stuff anymore that we tend to think first of replacing. (I'm looking at you, Steve Jobs, and your uncrackable iPhones.)

36. Learn to Mend
While it's true the last two items are all based on the theme of repairing, there are subtle differences.

Along with fireside chats and rocking-chair grandmas, mending torn and tattered clothes seems to have fallen by the wayside. It's hugely mystifying why people will pay what Grandma would have called "good money" for clothing that looks totally trashed but object to wearing a mended outfit.

Cut large swaths of fabric from discarded clothes to use as clothing patches or -- should you ever become so handy -- quilt pieces.

Oh, and save those buttons. I found several giant cookie tins filled with buttons after my mother passed away. One had every gold and silver button from our many uniforms, blazers, etc., and they made the loveliest jewelry. Even if you never find a use for them, your kith and kin might.

37. Make Your Debt Visual
Get those debts off your conscious and down on paper. Create a giant progress bar and, each time you pay down a little bit of debt, fill in a little more of that progress bar. Keep your eyes on the prize as your debt shrinks to zilch.

Tupperware party

38. Reuse Every Container That Comes Into the House
Everything comes in reusable containers these days. My nails, screws, etc. are stored in repurposed jars, just like Dad's. My freezer is now lined with repurposed spaghetti jars filled with the previously mentioned pesto (ready for Christmas giving.) And the Tupperware in my cupboards is actually old yogurt and cottage cheese containers. (Tossing plastic unrecyclable plastic is a physical impossibility.)

39. Tea Leaves and Coffee Grounds Make Great Plant Fertilizer
An entire china industry grew up around little bowls for used tea bags, so grandma could dunk, dunk and dunk again. I'm willing to use a tea bag twice, but then the leaves go straight into planters as fertilizer. Same with coffee grounds. (I understand some coffee filters can be composted, but I drink espresso and don't need filters.)

40. Use Powdered Milk
Maybe not for drinking, but powdered milk (reconstituted with water) works well in many recipes. You can also use half real milk and half powdered. (BTW: Our dad once made the kids drink starch water, thinking it was pre-mixed powdered milk? Yes, we were scarred for life.)


41. Beans Are More Than A Musical Fruit
The more you eat, the more you save. Beans are a great source of protein and can streeeeeeeetch a budget like you wouldn't believe. Buy them now at farmers' markets, while they're still nice and soft, rather than in their dessicated, dusty form at the supermarket. Pop them in the crock pot for soups, side dishes, main meals, even deserts. Which brings us to...

42. Buy a Crockpot
A crock pot is perhaps the best deal on earth for reducing cooking costs. Just dump in your ingredients before work, put it on simmer, and dinner is done when you get home. There are so many recipes for basic to complex meals it's just not funny. Use cookware coupons to find just the right crockpot for your needs.

Too bad all Mother had was a pressure cooker.

front lawn with family

43. Eat Your Lawn
Whatever happened to dandelion soup and pansy salads? As Eull Gibbons used to famously say in his Grape Nuts commercials, "Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible."

If you're determined to decorate your lawn with Kentucky Bluegrass and traditional trimmings, you can at least make use of it's natural bounty. You'll find plenty of recipes on the Internet. The best come from Clara Cannucciari of Clara's Kitchen, who dispenses Great Depression wisdom with a crackling wit on YouTube.

44. Replant Your Seeds
You can keep your garden going all summer by removing the seeds from some vegetables, drying them out and replanting. Continuing this cycle within the same summer depends upon the length of your growing season, but you can save the best seeds for next year.

Christmas morning

45. Re-Gift Gift Wrap
Girlfriend Cathy's family re-used birthday paper wrapping until the "givers" became the "recipients" within an embarrassingly short period of time and commented on how familiar the wrapping looked.

I do recycle particularly pretty wrapping paper, but "wrap" the majority of presents in Dollar Store gift bags. Still, you have to use tissue paper to pretty up these bags, so I flatten out old tissue paper from store purchases and previous gifts.

46. Spend Evenings Together
Not only can you shut off electricity and heat in other rooms but you'll increase that oh-so-important family bonding time. Play cards, discover the new world of innovative board games, mend clothes, build something or just talk.

The time I treasure the most from my childhood years is the time we spent together, just being a family. Video games, Facebook and soccer tournaments can't replace that interaction.

paper doll

47. Make Your Own Paper Dolls
Barbie is a Teutonic twit with extremely expensive tastes. As children, we had Betsy McCall paper dolls from McCall's magazine -- all properly sized. And it's still possible to make paper dolls from catalogs.

Help your child cut out a kid or adult model standing in a common (non-sexy) pose and attach the paper to cardboard cutouts. They can then clip, mix and match outfits from other models. For accessories, cut out furniture, cars, etc. and mount them on cardboard to create an un-Barbie Dreamhouse.

Children learn dexterity using the scissors (keep tape on hand for small slips) and to appreciate creating their own dolls instead of the gimme-gimme of Barbie's World. If your child is old enough, incorporate another thrift lesson by establishing an imaginary budget for clothes, furniture and other items.

matchy matchy kitchen

48. Not Everything Has to Match
Pots and pans from grandma are likely more durable than those you can afford today. I still use my Mother's utensils and copper-bottomed pans. (One still has the wood handle Dad created to replace the melted original.)

Styles come and go, but quality kitchen supplies are worth holding on to. Don't ditch the good stuff just because you want to be matchy matchy.

49. Oil and Water Do Mix
If you run out of oil or want to make it stretch, add a little water to your pan. It'll keep food from sticking and it doesn't cost a cent.


50. Bread Is The Magic Filler
Some families go through bread like a knife through I Think It's Not Butter. Others end up using half a loaf and tossing the rest. Before the yeast hits the garbage can, try working bread crumbs into your casseroles, stuffings, as breading (duh) and in other recipes. Likewise with soggy graham crackers or old potato chips, reborn as a chicken coating, pie crusts and the like.


computer punch cards

1. IBM Punch Cards as Toys
Dad brought home boxes and boxes of IBM punch cards one day and we promptly filled our playroom with row upon row of card houses. What's the modern equivalent? iPads just don't stack as well.

2. Newspapers As Insulation
Newspapers? What are those?

3. Brown Paper Bags as a Baking Supply
An eagerly anticipated tradition was Mom's meringue Easter Bunny baked on a cookie sheet covered with a brown-paper grocery bag. We argued over who got to scrape the sweet remnants off the brown paper. Somehow I don't think this would work with a grocery bag made from recycled plastic bottles.

4. Cooking With Bacon Grease
Remember Grandma saving the bacon grease in a coffee tin, which she stored on the back of the stove? Let's not even think about the diseases involved. Instead, we'll focus on how she used all that grease to cook our eggs in the morning. Dang they were good, but high cholesterol count, here we come.

plastic-covered couch

5. Protecting Furniture With Plastic
Raise your hand if you never sat on Grandma's actual sofa. The plastic only came off for very, very, very special occasions, and that didn't include you and your sticky fingers.

6. Matches as Makeup
A friend said her grandmother told of burning matches to use as eye liner and eyebrow pencil. And you stop using the eyeliner pencil when it gets too short?

7. Taking In Ironing for Cash
We don't use the term permanent press anymore, but most of us shun clothing that requires ironing. With casual Fridays that stretch throughout the week, nobody needs ironed sweatpants, anyway.


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This is a great post! Thank you!
Posted by DEE
Grandma is styling in her black go go boots! :) My grandma had those too. Those and gold slippers.
Posted by angela wilder

Thank you for sharing this its great news.

Posted by beverly
I am 39 yrs old. Great list. Just when I thought I knew every frugal tip out there. We have fun finding ways to be cheap. Watching money stay in our bank account makes it even more fun. I'll be putting many of these new tips to great use ASAP. Thank you
Posted by Amy
I too am 56, my papa was 90 when he passed away, he was born in 1922. I cannot tell you how much I miss him. Out of respect and my love for him, I try to incorporate his teachings into daily life. Thanks to him, I can squeeze a dime/dollar along w/ the best of em and I am proud of it! Thank you for your honoring those before us and all of the wonderful things they taught us!
Posted by Rita
This list is incredible! I was researching some tips to flesh out a future post of mine on frugality, but I think I'm just going to direct them here. I really enjoyed your tips! Thanks for sharing!
Posted by Melissa B
I have really enjoyed reading all your tips...thank you
Posted by valerie
We use reuse our clothes washing grey water and shower grey water to water our landscaping plants and trees. This is hundreds of gallons of water that would go down the sewer otherwise and it gives us a big savings on our water bill besides making the plants flourish!
Posted by Julie R.
We love our parents and I feel for any who have lost both their parents. I however have no lost my mom. She is 90 years old and just as frugal today! Mom has lost 70% of her eyesight and 50% of her hearing. She could no longer drive so she gave the car away to a brother. Today she lives with us. I di9da $10,000 addition to the house and said move in mother! She saves $200 in utlities by living with us rather than on her own so she grudgingly pays us $200 a month. She calls upon us to take her to the pharmacy or the doctor or wherever and we are happy to do so. What gets my goat is that we eat out oncea day and while we are out weexercise by walking up and down aisles. We also meet with family andfriends at thier homes or at a resturant. I tell mom that being active iskeeping her mentally sharp and more healthy physically as well. Mom is complaing that she is spending $200 a month eating out! Here checking account is not losing money ($6,000) and she has investments. If she was to go into a nursing homeshe would be broke in less than a year. I have tried to get her to understand that at age 90 she must now think first about herself, her needs and fullfill them. Her sons and daughters will recieve little benefit from any disbursement of dollars after her deathand since she is able to get around reasonably well she should enjoy spending time with her children and not hoard more money to give her children when she is only shortening her life by staying home and not getting out to exercise or visit family and friends. The time for frugalty is over. Enjoy your children, family and friends and stay active and healthy as much as possible. If you huddle up in the chair in order to conserve money and eat the wrong foods or no foods (she ate a moonpie for lunch rather than spend $2.00 on a good bowl 0f soup at the resturant) she is shortening her life by putting her brain in neutral and her body in shock for lack of proper nourishment! Whatever time mom has left let her live life as fully as she can and not as frugally as she has! I love you mom!!!
Posted by Phil Wellington
I'm a little embarrased to admit I had plastic covers on my couch and matching chair until my 3 children were past the messy age. They gave us many years of use and still looked nice when replaced, because the insides which my husband had repaired, finally gave out.
Posted by Carole Nussmeyer
I can't stop laughing at the plastic furniture. I remember feeling stuck to my grandpa's couch one summer day.
Posted by Brian
Wow! Wonderful post!!!! It makes me a bit melancholic to think about those little treasures we have put aside to give space to newer, fancier items, food, etc. I have to say that I still do many of those "Parents -era" things. We use the crock pot but the thing is that sometimes, the food tastes always the same... doesn't matter of it is chicken or pork! :)
Posted by Gabriela
Raising my hand here! My grandmother NEVER let us sit on her furniture! She even had plastic put on the seats of their car...lol....
Posted by Tina
I disagree with mending socks because if you mend them on the heel where they usually wear through then you get a blister from the mending. I know because I used to mend my hisband's wool, cold weather socks and he alwlys got a blister where the mending met the good part of the sock. I don't throw the socks away but I cut them and wear them from my wrist up the arm to keep warm and I also put the wool ones in my cats house to keep them warm.
Posted by Julie
I always read articles purporting to save money, make me more frugal, etc. Rarely, very rarely, do I learn anything I can use. Either the suggestions do not apply to my life as it is now, or I have been saving money in all those ways and dozens more, all my long life. For example, would I use the last shards of potato chips to top a casserole? Never. Potato chips are a ridiculous luxury which I have bought only once in 25 years (as a non-treat treat on a long auto trip). And so on.
Posted by Jane Morrison
I love some of these ideas and suggestions. Problem is, if I sent them to my kids, they would think that I am "cheap", "frugal", "getting old" etc.
Posted by Philip Villi
After the horrible events of today, I stumbled upon you post and it made me feel so much better. The ideas here are to be treasured. Thank you ever so much for all you do. You help keep our heads up during these economic times.
Posted by CCBelle
Don't use Pam or any cooking spray; instead, get a mister or a spray bottle, and use instead! Or an oil brush, and use GOOD oil like olive! Stay healthy and wealthy!
Posted by katrina
I know how hard times were for us when I was growing up. You made use of everything you got your hands on. I have had to eat beans in some form for more than a whole month. Biscuits were reused in some form by my grandmother. One was her bread pudding. What a treat!!! I know where you are coming from because I have been there and done most of that.
Posted by George Lee Gibbs, Sr.
I still have the container of bacon grease. I just keep it in the fridge these days. Nothing makes eggs and potatoes taste better.
Posted by onyx
This is a fabulous post. You're right it's not what you normally see written anywhere else. Love the ideas... may even use one or two. :-) I reuse mostly every container, jar, basket and the like. I actually was doing well with recycling, but had to take a vacation from it. (Uh, don't ask!) An-t-way, love the post!
Posted by Petula