Denise homeschooled her 4 children and has stories. She provided art lessons for many children in the homeschool community for many years.
My mother was quite the pioneer, making things out of nothing and providing clothes and food sometimes as if by magic. I learned a lot of things from her. Some of these things have gone the way of the dinosaur from lack of popularity, but I still believe that the old methods of saving are the best. Here are a few of the homemaker’s arts we used to save money.
Sewing is easier than you think. To me, this is elementary. My mom taught me to sew when I was a pre-teen. However, over the years, I have met many who weren’t as fortunate as I was.
If you don’t know how to operate a sewing machine, you should learn. It really is easy. And sewing and mending your own clothes and children’s clothes can save you a bundle. YouTube has many free tutorial lessons that can help you get started. Also. for a small monthly fee, you can get a subscription to Skillshare, which has many sewing classes for the beginner and beyond.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
— Will Durant
Fabric isn’t as cheap as it used to be, but many times you can find excellent used clothes at swap meets, thrift stores, and second-hand stores as well as yard, garage, and estate sales. Sometimes, all these clothes need is hemming or simple mending. You don’t need to know how to alter patterns or create costumes to handle mending. You may even be able to find a nice second-hand sewing machine there if you don’t already have one.
Often, someone will buy nice/expensive fabric and patterns but get discouraged by the process and donate all of it to a thrift store. I’ve gotten the best fabric for dresses that way. You just have to keep your eyes open.
Gleaning The Fields
This is very Biblical and still happens today. If you live in a rural farming community or near one, you may know a few farmers. They should know where and when to glean. I have found that often small local gas stations have information on where to go to glean from May through September. Biblically speaking, gleaning is picking up what the harvesters left behind. In today’s farms, many crops are only picked to a point and then left to rot. Here in California tomato fields are treated that way because it is only profitable to pay the pickers three or four times. After that, the tomatoes are allowed to rot and then plowed back into the ground as a “manure crop” to return nutrients to the earth.
For about two weeks, there are acres of tomatoes ripe for the picking. Farmers usually do not begrudge those who come and glean enough to feed their families. What makes them jaundiced is when they discover the same family selling the tomatoes or other gleaned crops on the side of the road. This is stealing, not gleaning.
So, to properly glean, you need to know where to go and get permission from the owner of the field. You must also promise you are going to use the produce yourself and not sell it later. For many years, my children and I would take boxes and bags to the tomato, onion, pepper, and beans fields (and sometimes the peach orchards) and pick enough to cook and can tomato sauce for the winter.
“The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”
— Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Ronald Dahl
One dairy farmer told me that field corn (a crop fed to the cows) doesn’t pollinate properly without some sweet corn planted near it. He planted about 10 rows a mile long of sweet corn in the middle of the field corn and invited church families and friends to come to pick it before he brought the harvester in to chop it all up for the cows. I was amazed at how few families came out to pick free corn. The people kept asking for the farmer to pick it for them. Our freezer was full of corn for months. And it was so good. It's good to know farmers.
Fruits and Nuts
Also, I found by asking around that there are often private families who have fruit and nut trees they don’t feel up to managing. They will often give away as many fruits and nuts as you can carry. One elderly lady we knew from our church called us every year to come to get the English Walnuts from under her tree. The tree produced boxes and boxes of nuts each year, and she just couldn’t give them away fast enough. All we had to do was pick them up for her.
Many years before the housing boom, an orchard of plums was torn out and houses built there in our town. Later, there were many wild plums coming up near the creek. Those wild plums were tart and small but made the best plum jam we ever tasted. All the recipes we got from the local Agricultural Extension Office. I bet there are free recipes on the Internet these days as well.
Canning is a very old process of preserving food. It makes sense to preserve the extra in the summer to last through the winter. Some things must be pressure canned because they don’t have the acidity to keep out bacteria. Tomatoes and tomato sauce do not need to be pressure canned but they do need to be heated to a boil to kill bacteria before being sealed. Most cookbooks contain instructions for canning. If you haven’t done it before, you may want to freeze any extra you have picked or gleaned. However, most people only have so much freezer space.
Get a book on canning. You have only have to buy the canning jars (upfront expense) and follow directions. The jars can be used over and over again for years to come (savings). My husband still complains when we run out of the home-canned tomato sauce for spaghetti, and we have to buy store spaghetti sauce.
Another gleaning source is canal banks and riverbanks. Like I stated before, these are places that have wild blackberries and plums for the picking. Beware, because blackberries have a mean thorn and usually wasps love to nest in the brambles. I have been stung on more than one occasion but discovered that if you smash a ripe berry into the sting, it takes away some of the pain.
Blackberries and wild plums make the best jams. Wash them, pit them and boil until the juice begins to thicken. Pectin from the store will make this process faster, and also comes with recipes. I find pectin to be a little too pricy when times are tight, so it can be replaced with a cup of apple juice and longer cooking time. Also, you will need sugar according to the recipe and your taste.
There’s nothing like home preserves. There is something really rich about the flavor. The ooh’s and aww’s you get from the family will be well worth the effort. The plus is that it saves money as well.
These are only a few of the ways I have saved money over the years. I sewed all my children’s clothes, canned fruits and vegetables we picked ourselves, cooked meals without prepackaged helpers, and stuffed the freezer full of corn and other vegetables gleaned from fields. If you have thoughts or suggestions please leave them in the comments below.
Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 27, 2019:
I know many people think that gathering free food is only something that happened in pioneer days but even today there are wild areas where food is there for the gathering if only you look for it or know where to look. Thanks for commenting.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2019:
I love your tips for gathering free food. The one about collecting wild blackberries certainly applies to my part of the world. A lot of fruit can be gathered by someone determined to pick it.