What did you do the last time you were frugal? Did you count toilet paper squares and limit yourself to just three or four? Did you refuse to print out any photos so you wouldn’t waste the ink (that was drying up in your printer) or the photo paper (that you had already bought) so no one got to see the adorable pictures of your babies until they were a year older than that? Did you buy canned goods by the case? Did you cook all your meals at home?
When I am being frugal, I do that last one more than anything else. In the autumn of 2011 my husband and I decided to really stock up and ended up with a pantry full of canned goods including a case of sliced, canned carrots. We had never bought canned carrots before. I didn’t have any recipes that called for canned carrots. Neither my husband nor I cared for the taste of canned carrots all by themselves on the plate. It is tough to be frugal cooking food that you don’t actually want to eat.
I had to become creatively frugal. If you’ve ever made five meals from one baked chicken, you know a thing or two about cooking in a creatively frugal manner. The first step was discovering that if we drained and rinsed the carrots several times we were happier with the taste. Then, we needed to experiment with recipes. My mother had taught me how to make hamburger stew many years ago but I always made it with fresh carrots and potatoes. If I was going to use canned carrots, I decided to try canned potatoes as well. Wow! I discovered that you can make a good hamburger stew in record time if you use canned (and rinsed) carrots, canned green beans, and canned potatoes mixed in with the browned ground beef. Chop in a few celery leaves and add a small can of tomato sauce and your usual herbs and seasonings (minced garlic, dried onions, Italian Seasoning mix, salt, pepper) and you have a very tasty meal in far less than half an hour. I also started using rinsed canned carrots in casseroles, soups, and my pasta-tuna salad. I’m thinking I may take it full-circle and make some gluten-free carrot cake using my rinsed canned carrots.
My frugal side always shows itself during the month or so before Christmas. I keep thinking that I should be able to make more of the Christmas gifts that we give. So I start knitting. Knitting would be fine if I didn’t get almost done with the project and run out of that color of yarn and have to go back to the store for another skein – so I can use 15 feet of that yarn and look at that left-over skein for a month or two, fretting because the project wasn’t truly frugal unless I can come up with another use for that yarn.
As it gets closer and closer to Christmas my brain gets an odd twist to it and I start remembering odd bits of Christmas ornaments and projects that we did when I was a child. I remember that we made bubble bath using Epsom salts and a little of our mother’s favorite perfume – but I can’t remember the exact formula. I know that you can either use a large can wrapped with yarn to hold Christmas cards or fold the pages of a Reader’s Digest and spray-paint it gold to make… something oddly shaped and golden.
With my brain twisting and straining to be ever more creative I begin eyeing the cardboard tubes from the center of my toilet paper, positive that with the right imaginative flare I could turn it into a very exciting gift. Note, I wrote ‘flare’ not ‘flair’ because by this time, my brain is burning some odd genetic fuel that got its start in the Great Depression and was preached to me by my maternal grandmother. I am fairly certain that if they had only had toilet paper back when she was young my grandmother would have invented 200 really amazing gift ideas to be made using those cardboard tubes.
I have actually, over the years used the center from rolls of toilet paper to make Little-Drummer-Boy drum ornaments for our tree. As you can see from the photo above, I have also placed a cardboard roll in a used knee-high nylon with some scented bath salts and hung it from our toilet paper holder as a cheap room-deodorizer. More recently I have filled a shoebox with these empty tubes all standing on end, stuffed them with rolled up papers (torn pages from catalogs or old word-search books), and then poured melted wax over them to make fire-starters for our wood-stove. A couple of years ago I used them for starting plants – put some newspaper in the bottom of a small box, fill the box with the empty tubes, pour potting soil into each tube, tuck a seed into the soil, water them, and keep them in a warm sunny place until you can plant your seedlings in the garden – empty paper cups from fast-food places works for this as well. I keep looking at that picture, wondering if I could paint those empty tubes that I have stacked on top of the toilet paper and make a cardboard cannon out of them – maybe for an Independence day decoration?
I have saved the little cardboard boxes that some of our Halloween candy comes in, turned the boxes inside out and glued them back together, and wrapped them in netting tied with a bow and called that a Christmas tree ornament. The Christmas we had a puppy and a kitten living at our house I even made all of our ornaments from felt because the tree kept getting knocked over and I didn’t want to keep cleaning up glass from broken “real” ornaments. First I made ornaments from homemade play-dough – they looked so nice the puppy ate them and then was sick all over the living room from the salt in the dough – then I made the ornaments out of felt because the dog wasn’t interested in eating felt and I was really tired of cleaning the floor.
That brings me to a thought that is perhaps the core of my personal frugality – laziness. I can be frugal as long as it is as easy as spending money. If my dinner can be on the table faster at home than if I were to go out – then I will make that hamburger stew with canned vegetables. If making my own unbreakable ornaments saves me from cleaning up (or stepping on) broken glass then hand me the felt, the scissors, and some glue! And sometimes what I am saved is the effort of guilt – I don’t have to feel as guilty for eating all those Milk Duds from the candy bowl if I used the boxes they came in to make Christmas ornaments!
So, what have your odd moments of frugality saved you? I do hope you will tell me. Maybe I will learn something.
Part Two – The Temporarily Frugal Life coming up next.