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How to be thrifty

By Staff | Jun 5, 2015

When my husband and I got married, everything we owned fit in a Ford Pinto. We had no furniture, no bed. For a month, we slept on the floor. Our spines were never so healthy.

My husband was a student and worked only summers. Our first year together, our annual income didn’t reach $10,000. I learned thrift.

“There was a time when you could’ve made a casserole out of that,” my husband jokes today, when he sees me tearing bread heels into pieces for the birds.

We nearly had a business underway when his grad-school buddies eyed the simple PB&J sandwiches I’d pack for him each day and asked if I’d make them brown-bag lunches, for a fee. I didn’t do it, but probably should have. White bread and generic jelly were cheap. I could have made a profit on every lunch. Years later, I nearly choked when I learned that food diva Paula Deen founded her empire on a lunch delivery business.

Even as we’ve had more means, I’ve remained thrifty. I’ve never owned a new car. I shop at thrift stores. I’m extremely good at mending clothes.

Here are some ideas on how to do it yourself:

o Fool your children. Buy a single box of expensive, brand-name breakfast cereal, then save the box when it’s empty. Fill it with cheaper, generic versions of the same cereal and your kids won’t know the difference.

o Buy cheese in bulk and butter on sale. Slice or grate the cheese into portions you will use later, then freeze. It won’t deteriorate in quality or taste. You can freeze butter, too.

o Shop the walls. The perimeter of the supermarket is where you’ll find the fresh vegetables, meats and dairy. The inner aisles are where the packaged foods are shelved. These items are not only more expensive, they’re more processed and you’re also paying for fancy packaging you’ll throw away.

o Save rainwater in a clean plastic trash can. Use the collected water for plants, flowers, vegetables and washing your vehicle.

o Store drinking water in gallon jugs in the refrigerator instead of running the tap each time you want a drink. You’d be surprised how much water goes down the drain when you fill a glass. And you can refill those water jugs with the water that would otherwise go down the drain while you’re waiting for the tap to run hot.

o For gardeners, free bark mulch may be available. Check with the public works department and companies that clear limbs around power lines. Sometimes they offer chipped wood for free rather than paying for disposal.

Financial advisors offer some more tips:

o Pay cash. The theory is you’ll feel more connected to the actual cost of items if you’re peeling twenties out of your wallet instead of swiping a credit card.

o Pay in advance. Some services will offer a substantial discount to clients who pay up front.

o Pay directly. Use direct withdrawal on every bill possible, including such monthly expenses as electricity and water, but also things such as insurance. A typical household can save over $40 annually on postage stamps.

o Do the math. Before making credit-card purchases, calculate how many hours of work it will take to pay for them.

I no longer contemplate making casseroles from bread heels. Instead, I grind them in the food processor and use the crumbs in meatloaf. I’ve been known to grind stale corn chips, fancy crackers and even wafer cookies to make flavorful crumbs for a variety of dishes. I invented a dessert recipe based on ground cookies that has become my signature hostess gift.