Thursday, February 26, 2015

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make it Do or Do Without

For most of my life I have been financially conservative. I grew up believing that one only goes into debt for a home, your health, and an education. My goals were always to be able to pay my bills and educate my kids.

The few times I fell off the rails (think 5200 sq. ft. house with 5 fireplaces and a living room the size of a skating rink) have not had happy endings.  Those non ideal endings led to even more financial conservatism to keep our heads above water.  Eventually, being financially conservative (or frugal, or a tightwad or cheap, pick your term) became a life habit.

Oh, and each successive house since that one has been smaller and smaller.  And now, we are living in 242 square feet of space, about 20% of the space of that way too big house.  Much better for sleeping at night.

When there is a need for something (a need, not a want), I always try to think of how we can obtain what we need without breaking the bank.  This has, I admit, led to some "interesting" ways to solve problems.

Once, we had a baby blue carpet in our very large dining room (see above) that was stained and dirty looking no matter how many times it was cleaned.  After paying the heating bill for the house ($3600/year about 30 years ago) there wasn't enough wiggle room in the budget to pay for new carpet. (who am I kidding, there wasn't ANY wiggle room.)  So, I got creative with navy blue liquid dye and a toothbrush.  Many evenings and many hours later, after working the full strength dye into the fibers of the carpet with a toothbrush, we had a much better looking carpet that stood up to five years of use until we could finally put in a new floor.

Or, there was the small eating area off the kitchen of our Syracuse, NY house.  The linoleum floor was old, worn and ugly.  But we were poor grad students and replacing the floor was a no go.  Enter wood grained contact paper, scissors and a ruler to measure and work out air bubbles.  That "laminate" floor was washed many, many times over the next three years (we had two kids, ages 1 and 3 when we moved in, who ate in that room) and was just starting to fade when we moved out.

When we were first married and Mike was stationed in Spain I couldn't find a shower curtain that I liked and was willing to pay the cost for.  So, I bought several matching window valances (on clearance) and sewed them together to create a tiered shower curtain.  Unique at the time and nice if I do say so myself.

Over our almost 40 years of marriage Mike and I have lived in 9 houses.  In all of those houses I have bought flat sheets and transformed them into curtains for the windows in each room.  The only "store bought" curtains I have had were lace curtains for the living room of the above mentioned huge house that my Mom found for me on sale  ($100 for 8 pairs).  Those sale curtains moved with us to the next 2 houses and hung on my windows for over 13 years until they fell apart in the washer.  I think we got our money's worth.

When we were in grad school, both of us at the same time, our food budget was SMALL.  We did a happy dance when we discovered you could buy cracked eggs by the case at the local farmer's market for a much reduced price.  We would come home, take them out of the shell, mix the yolk and white with a fork and freeze in quantities of 2 or 4 egg equivalents.  Unless you were hungry for an egg sunny side up we were all set. Cheap protein.

We also ate a lot of potatoes (bought 50 pounds at a time from a potato farmer that lived in the same town as Mike's aunt), pasta, rice, and beans.  Produce was bought during the summer for rock bottom prices and canned and frozen for meals later in the year.  I also honed my bread baking skills since flour in 25 pound bags was much cheaper than bread in the store and my family liked it much more, too.

We didn't eat a vegetarian diet but I did develop quite a repertoire of low meat recipes and some non meat, too.  Most of them my family ate without complaint but not all.  Just ask them about my lentil burgers.  I still like them but I am a minority of one in my house.

To this day, I find it a fun challenge to see how low I can keep my food budget and still provide healthy and tasty meals.  I can still put three meals a day for two people on the table for about $50 a month and that includes healthier options like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, olive oil and such.  I love beating the system.

The joy of beating the system is also why I like shopping at thrift, charity and consignment shops.  I can afford better quality clothes, the classic clothes I favor, save lots of money and keep items out of the landfill all at the same time.  Recently I bought 2 skirts, 10 new tops (I am prone to stains that appear as a result of my less than neat cooking) and a sweater for under $25.  Love it!

We have only purchased one new car in our almost 40 years of marriage.  And, that car was the only lemon we have ever owned.  We set a limit and shop until we find a good one in our price range.  I have even been known to walk away from vehicles we loved when the salesman did not seem to understand that our limit was actually a limit.

One of the best things I ever learned going way back into the early 1990's, is that frugality and environmental issues overlap by about 90%.  That just reinforced (to DD1 and DD2's chagrin) my already fairly well honed frugal tendencies.  I could save money and save the planet at the same time.  Sweet!

I am afraid that my habits and my outlook are now so firmly entrenched that I couldn't live differently if I wanted to do so.  It's a game for me now.  And, even after all these years I still enjoy reading books, e books and blogs looking for new ideas or to be reminded of ideas that I once knew but had forgotten.  My thought is that Abe Lincoln is so tall since I keep stretching all those pennies his face is on.

But, don't fear.  I am not always so frugal.  What comes to mind are prom gowns, class rings, yearbooks, trips, swim teams, sailing lessons, tennis lessons, etc. all paid for without a qualm. Oh, and college educations for both daughters so they could start life without student loans.

Because you see, by penny pinching in other places there are dollars available to do things and buy things to make life more enjoyable and to create memories.  Yeah, all in all, I wouldn't change a thing.