When I was a child, adults in my life often snickered at my grandmother's frugal lifestyle. After all, if you ran out of something, a quick trip to the store was all it took to replace it. That's true, if you have money to purchase the needed item.
What they didn't think about was that she had lived through the Great Depression and due to the circumstances of her life, that depression lasted many, many more years than it did for the general public.
My mom tells stories of eating water biscuits with water gravy once a day and that was all there was to survive upon. The few pictures that were taken of my mother and her siblings when they were children give proof to that--scrawny, too thin children with haunted, hungry eyes. My grandfather worked every day, but could not make enough to better feed and house a family of seven during the depression.
Growing up, I watched my grandmother shop at rummage sales--not garage sales, though if they had been around then, she would have done so. Rummage sales were shops run by the community where clothes and shoes could be purchased for ten cents to three dollars an item, even nice business suits and formal dresses, on occasion.
The term rummage sale came from the piles of stuff you had to rummage through to find anything good. People in the community would bring in boxes of cast-offs and literally dump them on a table for the less fortunate to dig through.
Thanks to Grandmother's rummage sale purchases (two satin, full-length, gathered formal gowns reminiscent of dresses worn by Disney princesses) my sister and I could be princesses anytime we wished. It was one of the best Christmas presents a little girl could hope for.
Use It Up
I also watched the way she cooked. Her cats seldom had scraps to eat, because she seldom threw anything out. Only a spoonful of jelly left in the jar? Time to bake a cake and stir the jelly into the batter, along with anything else that was sweet and almost gone. Her delicious 'Grannie Cake' has never been duplicated, but somehow always tasted the same.
Just a couple slices of cornbread left? Time to make a stove top dressing recipe that was used for years before a commercially boxed version was available. In all the years I knew her, there was not one lunch or supper meal that did not include brown beans--sometimes that and cornbread were the meal. Bread going stale? Time to have cinnamon toast for breakfast, and if there was still stale bread left, she made bread pudding.
In other areas, she was frugal, as well. When someone gave one of her children an apple, she sliced it to share among all the children, then planted the seeds. That tree provided fruit for her family until her grandchildren were grown. She saved plastic bread bags, cut them up, then secured the plastic over bowls of leftovers with a rubber band. Old newspapers were used to make sewing patterns. Old jeans were cut into squares of fabric and made into very warm quilts. Old towels were cut into squares for cleaning rags.
Make It Last
Slivers of soap that most people toss were collected, then carefully melted and remolded using a tuna can as the mold--it didn't matter what kind of bar soap it was, it went into the melting pot with the rest. Every month, she had at least one extra bar of soap in this way, sometimes two. She would rinse soap slivers in boiling water to remove germs, then dice the soap slivers, add them to water, and shake or stir the mix until they dissolved to make a liquid soap. This could be used to wash hands or even dishes. It didn't suds much, but hands and dishes were clean.
Grandmother could not afford hair conditioner, so she used vinegar. A couple of tablespoons in a quart of water made hair soft and manageable with an excellent shine. She also used a cup of vinegar in the rinse water of her wringer-style washing machine. Clothes were softer and smelled fresh after being rinsed in vinegar water and hung on a line to dry. Vinegar was the cleaner of choice for her. A cup of vinegar in a gallon of water made a window and surface cleaner that cuts grease and doesn't cause breathing problems.
Concern for Future
I look back at the many ways my grandmother made her pennies last just a bit longer, and worry that in the days ahead many people will not be able to make it since many of them do not have her frugal example. I recently overheard a college student state that his mom knew better than to serve him ice cream that had begun to melt or food that had been on the table for a previous meal.
My thought at the time was that he was spoiled and would not be welcome in my home. My family and guests are thankful they have something to eat and are happy to eat what is put before them--or they do not eat that meal at my table. I, like my grandmother before me, have more to do than coddle picky eaters. Such unfortunate people will really suffer if the depression comes back with a vengeance--they won't be able to gracefully cope with life's inevitable reversals.
So, what are the main lessons in frugality I learned from my grandmother?
Make it yourself, use it up, make it last, stretch it out, find less expensive alternatives, and shop for bargains at community sales and garage sales.
This lifestyle provides what you need most of the time at an affordable price. The key word here is need. You may not have what you want or prefer, but you will have what you need to survive bad times more easily. And once in a while, you will find that perfect purchase. A beautiful satin play dress for the little princess in your life, a baking dish just the right size to cook your favorite casserole, a quality business suit to wear to work, or whatever you need to make your day just a bit brighter.
Frugal Living: How to Save Money and Live on a Budget Happily provides strategies for living a happy and frugal life.
Learn fiannacial independence, save money, live a stress-free life within your budget, and realize your goal of frugal living.