Extreme Frugal Living Tips From My Grandmother
My grandmother was a master of frugal living. She could pinch a penny hard enough to flatten it. She took saving money and cutting corners to a dangerous extreme sometimes.
Perhaps that is why whenever I see articles on living frugally, I break out in a nervous sweat. After all, her methods created all sorts of havoc throughout the years. In this generation she could have been an instant celebrity, the star of a reality show titled " Extreme Frugal Living" or something similar.
I give advance warning here: None of this is exaggerated. I am presenting it in a humorous format, but in truth, some of her ideas were not very funny. Different people have different ideals and standards, so if any of these appeal to you (and some are very practical in theory) then by all means, use them seriously. Do use common sense though before trying some of these at home!
How to Score Freebies
My grandmother loved receiving free stuff. In fact, I think she had a closet addiction to scoring a free item or two. It didn't matter to her if it was new or used, useful or pointless, awesome or atrocious. Here are some of her top methods for acquiring freebies:
- Prizes and Incentives Remember when products used to come with promotional trinkets? At one time, all of her dishes and towels came from laundry soap boxes. And she kept the toys out of cereal boxes.
- Salvage If someone wasn't using something, she had to have it. Even if she didn't need it. No sense in letting it "go to waste".
- Beg I don't mean standing on street corners, but if someone had something she wanted or needed, she didn't hesitate to ask for it. Better, she would launch into a dialogue about how poor she was and how much she would love to have just one of whatever it was.
Repurposing and Upcycling
When we think of repurposing a piece of clothing by turning it into a decorative pillow, or perhaps upcycling a jar into a pincushion, don't we all envision something cute and clean? Something we can share on Pinterest or create a tutorial with?
My grandmother had slightly different ideas about re-using items.
- Wash and save bread wrappers (never use them again, just save them).
- Wash and reuse plastic storage bags, even if they had spoiled food or raw poultry in them.
- Use butter bowls instead of the hundreds of Tupperware bowls she stored under the bed.
- Turn tin cans into drinking glasses to save the "good glasses".
Now, before you start tsk-tsking me and saying that "this is how some old people are," do let me say that she was like this by habit from an early age. The family photo album tells a lot.
How Grandma Saved Money on Utilities
Grandma had unique ways to cut back on the use of electricity, water. and gas. Even when she was not paying these bills herself, the rules were firm.
- Only one lamp on after dark.
- Wash laundry only once a month
- Food should never bake more than two hours.
My grandmother was convinced that the more food you put in the fridge, the more electricity it used. No amount of lecturing would change her mind. No number of warnings would deter her from putting stuff that "wouldn't spoil fast" on the counters, tables, or the porch outside.
- Flush toilets once a day, regardless of contents.
- Bathe once a month.
- Wash hair in bath water.
- Run one dishpan of water per week. Add bleach. Use this to wash and rinse dishes all week.
- Share baths. Not romantically. This means that one person takes a clean bath, then everyone else bathes, one by one, in the same water.
- Re-use "slightly" dirty dishes, such as glasses and silverware. Three uses at least before they need washing.
- Re-wear outfits for three weeks before laundering.
How to Save Money on Food
Like many people who "survived hard times," my grandmother had an obsession with hoarding food. Wasting food was a hanging offense. According to all sources, she was never at a risk for starving. Maybe for a few days in the 1940s.
Did I mention not wasting food? When I say not wasting, what I mean is "nothing gets thrown away. It had better be eaten."
This included any food that had expired, curdled, soured, or started singing opera when you opened the fridge door. It isn't merely worry about doing without.
Grandma loves food. A lot. She used to call her friends and ask what they were eating for dinner. If you went to visit her, she told you what everyone had cooked over the last week:
"Patty made a peach cobbler. I sure hope she ate it. I hate to think she mighta thrown it out. Oh! And Lurlene made a Tex-Mex scramble on Thursday. She called and told me it was really good. I sure wish she had brought me some. I know she won't eat leftovers."
Want to cut your food budget? Try some of these ideas:
- Keep expired food.
- Carefully removed discolored particles from leftovers to revitalize them.
- Don't forget to beg for food from friends and neighbors. Never use your sugar when you can borrow a cup!
- Use coupons to buy food you don't like. You might need whatever it is, someday.
- Weevils? Sift them out.
Frugal Use of Disposable Items
Sure. I bargain shop for deals on paper towels and toilet paper. And when feasible (and sanitary) I use rags rather than paper for clean-up. However, I think there is a distinct line between being frugal, and depriving oneself of basic comforts.
Grandma would disagree:
- Two sheets of toilet paper. ALWAYS.
- A paper towel should be re-used until it falls apart (regardless of what it was used for).
- Kleenex can be used more than two or three times.
- One teaspoon of dish soap regardless of load size or type of cooking mess.
- Plain water is all you need to clean counters, sinks, appliances, etc.
- A bar of soap should last a year. Any less and you were using too much.
- Gargle and then spit the mouthwash back in the bottle. It's your spit! It won't hurt you!
Creating A Frugal Image
My grandmother enjoys appearing much poorer than she actually is. At the moment, she is being cared for by her daughter and son-in-law, who try to see to it that all of her needs are well met. Most people who struggled through hard times would probably love to have this opportunity, but it irks my grandmother's sense of style.
I'm not sure if there is a mental illness that specifically addresses this issue. We simply think of it as her "poor" look. An example of this;
When she first moved in with my mother, she was in possession of a bedspread so old and torn and filthy that it was a health hazard. She had twenty sets of new linens that she had received for holidays that she refused to use. Still, my parents were not about to let her continue sleeping under something that was growing mildew!
And honestly, the spread would not have survived a washing. So they bought her a brand new bedding set. They made her bed with it, and when they took her in there to show her the surprise her response, in typical grandma fashion was:
"At least let me cover that up with an old quilt. If anyone saw that they would think I had money."
I am sure this links into her bad begging habit that I mentioned above. She was notorious for hiding all of her new dishtowels and matching flatware in a cupboard.
When visitors would comment on her worn towels or mismatched, thrift-store spoons, she would lament that it was the best she could manage. Inevitably, a new set would appear shortly after. After a few days of being displayed, these too would vanish into the bowels of her house.
Lesson learned: if you present yourself as impoverished, eventually people will take pity on you and donate items. You will score many cool items. And here and there, even at great personal risk, you will save that penny.
Moral of the story: Frugal living isn't always a good thing!
Which of these frugal living tips are LEAST anxious to try?
Practical Frugality Tips
Okay, so we have gone through some of the wildest and scariest methods of saving money. How about some practical advice? I won't claim to be an expert, but after years of being around grandma I do know that sometimes the don'ts are just as important as the do's.
- If you don't need it, there is no reason to save it. As in, if you have Tupperware, there is no need to use butter bowls. At least not in the kitchen!
- Don't risk your health to save a few cents! A $5,000 hospital bill is worse than losing a tablespoon of green beans!
- Do repurpose when practical. Use those plastic bowls and bags, but only if it is sanitary. Don't save more than you can use in a lifetime!
- NEVER reuse mouthwash!
- Don't sacrifice hygiene to save soap!
- Do save energy by turning off unused appliances and light fixtures.
Now. Go forth and find more ways to save money. Just remember to use some common sense!