When Babci’s Frugalness Goes too Far

by Sandy L on June 14, 2011


I spent most of Sunday mudding my mom’s hallway and while I was there, it got me thinking nostalgically about all the hours I’ve spent doing this or that around here home.  Since our fixer is mostly fixed (knock on wood), the bulk of our home improvement efforts have been at Babci’s 120 year old home.   This got me thinking of  babci’s less glamorous side of her frugal craziness. I do often portray her as an eccentric frugal goddess extraordinaire, but today I’m going to share some of the more frustrating aspects of her quest to save a buck.


Pack ratting her way to Huge Trash Pickup Fees

The first and most obvious example was when we moved Babci to town with us. Not only was the process cumbersome, but I also moved her on my first son’s due date.  Yes, I was in my 40th week of pregnancy on the day of her move.  Pregnant people get crazy especially with their first child.  Nesting instincts are strong and part of my mental to do list was to move grandma to town. Moving day was nutty.  One of my friends was in charge of “fabric”.  She moved about 30 garbage bags of fabric. Luckily the house we bought came furnished so there wasn’t that much furniture we needed to move, but she still took a lot with her.  Then came the jars.  Surprisingly she was okay with ditching her particle board furniture, but we battled over the jars. She literally had over 500 jars of which she used about 30 on a regular basis.   I was okay moving the real ball mason jars, but how many mayonnaise jars does one really need?  Hint, it’s not 3 garbage bags worth. Finally just when I was about to concede, one of the bags I tried to move had a broken jar in it, and I cut my leg open.  I refused to take the bloody bag of mayo jars with us.  Into the trash pile it went.  Babci still talks about those stupid jars.  Is she ever short on jars?  Of course not. She’s garbage picked a whole new collection of jars that we’re tripping over in the basement all over again.

The move itself was tense, but the aftermath was even worse.  Next we scheduled her garden move which actually went very smoothly and was done in a day. I had some awesome friends who came out with me with their pickup and helped me dig it all out in a day.  The tough part was when it was time to sell her property 2 years later. The attic, basement and various sheds were stuffed to the gills.  I had already done one garbage pickup on moving day, but with the others, that packrattery  cost about $800 in trash pickup fees. It also took countless hours to remove these items from every nook and cranny of the house.  Since I lived 2 hours away, there were many many weekends I spent getting the house ready for sale.   It was so great when we finally  had that place sold and one less property to worry about.

Turning something useful into useless

Another time I was knee deep in some project at Babci’s house.  I was through the demo phase and I needed to clean up. Luckily a few weeks prior I decided to stock babci’s house with some basic things needed for home improvement.  Tools, those thick 3 mil contractor clean up bags, our shop vac, etc.   Anyway, I couldn’t find the garbage bags and I asked babci where they were.  “Oh, those. I fixed them for you, let me get them.”  Fixed them? Oh this can’t be good.   She comes back with a my bags, but she decided they were too big to be useful and that I would be much better off if she turned my 1 big bag into 3 little ones with a diameter of about a foot each.  Did she just do one bag? Oh no, she converted the whole pack into these pygmy sized useless bags.  ARRRRRGG!!! Do you know how  much construction debris you can fit into those tiny bags?  None.  Nothing ruffles my feathers more than a home depot trip that could have been avoided as it’s an automatic hour wasted for every trip.  That, plus the fact that contractor bags are WAY WAY more expensive than kitchen bags and now that’s the only thing they functioned as.   My blood pressure still rises about 10 points when I think of her attempt to “help” save some money by making my giant bags more functional.  To this day, she still can’t give me a good reason what possessed her to mess with those bags. It’s not like I deprive her of kitchen bags. She had a new pack of 80 kitchen bags still unopened in her cupboard.

Buying Perishable Food in Bulk

This one I just don’t get.  My uncle did it too. When fruit is on sale, she gets way more than she needs and she’s always trying to pass  rotten fruit  my way.  Babci, I don’t want your rotten fruit or the fruit flies buzzing around them.  Next time instead of buying 25 pears, just buy5. I’ve often told her.  For about 2 years when she moved here, she also had a habit of buying for her and for us, then trying to give me excess food.  I went shopping with her, she saw me buying bananas, so why did she buy extra for us?  She just wasn’t listening when I told her to only shop for her own needs and not ours.  Of course babci equates food with love, so she was always trying to gift us food, even though it was me that was paying for it at check out.   She refused to change her ways and I was sick of fighting every week about not taking her rotting food, so I finally asked her why she’s throwing so much money away.  She said she didn’t throw money away.   I handed her a $20 bill while we were driving rolled down the window and told her that if she likes wasting money so much, to save herself a step and just throw it out outright. I egged her on, DO it!  She refused and thought I was being crazy to throw money away.  I asked her how it was any different throwing food away every week? She finally got the point.  I told her it kills me to throw away food because it’s like throwing away money.  We go shopping every week. Even though she doesn’t drive, she has no need to stock up on things that go bad.

Not using something to make it last longer

I know for sure that Babci isn’t the only old person guilty of this. My aunt and  my great in laws all had items that they didn’t want to use because they didn’t want to wear them out. As a result, when they passed, there were all kinds of items still in their boxes, unused like new.   There were couches that were never sat on, dishes that never got eaten on, comforters that were never slept on.  If you have stuff, use it.  There is no point in having fancy dishes if you’re too afraid to break one during the holidays.   I personally never got china because I break stuff like crazy, so I just have everyday dishes. I know I’d be that person that felt bad for breaking that $25 dish.

Taking Something Just because it’s FREE

Since frequenting yard sales is a favorite summer past time for Babci and I, this problem crops up on a regular basis.  Not only does babci go through people’s trash on trash day, but she can’t resist the free piles at yard sales.  She often takes home things that she has absolutely no use for.   One time, she came to the car with a 5 gallon bucket full of rusty files.  “Don’t you have wood files at home? ” “Yes, but these were FREE”  “Yes, but why do you need 50 more of them?”  Those ended up in the $800 trash heap.  I suppose I could have sold them for scrap metal, but that house was 2 hours away, I was a new mom and in those days, my time was extremely limited, so off to the trash they went.

Not using the Correct Products on Something

Babci is rough on her stuff.  I’ve had the same circulon non-stick pots and pans in my kitchen for the last 15 years.  They still look like new.   A couple of years ago, I decided that I had too many of them, so I gave a couple to babci.  I warned her to only use wood or plastic on the frying pans so she doesn’t damage the finish.  At first, she loved those pans and gave me nothing but praise, but after 3 months, she told me that the pans were poisoning her and she threw them out.  The finish was flaking off and she chucked them.  Well, scrambling eggs in the pan with her shiv isn’t exactly what I’d call using according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Using something in a way it was not supposed to be used

Babci’s 5 year old lawnmower broke this year. It’s engine cracked. Lawnmowers are meant to last a lot longer than that.  She’s always breaking lawnmowers and frustratingly declaring them all as JUNK!  We couldn’t figure it out until one day, my husband and I happen upon babci while she was using her “JUNK lawnmower”.  She was in the middle of her garden with a dust cloud all around her.  Upon closer inspection, we realized she was using her lawnmower as a wood chipper.  She had a big pile of debris that she was running over multiple times to mulch it up into a form she could bury in her garden. Me thinks this is definitely not what the manufacturers had in mind when they described this unit as a mulching mower.   Mystery solved. No wonder it’s always breaking. It’s meant to cut grass, not brambles.  On a similar note, not performing maintenance on those items like changing the oil also plays a role in their early demise.

Well, those are the main examples I could think of today.   So remember, in your quest for frugal living.  Don’t take it so far that you end up costing yourself more money in the long run. Take care of your stuff, take home only what you need and enjoy life.

Do you or someone you know have a bad case of misguided frugal tendencies that end up costing you more in the end? If you have stories to share, I’d love to hear them.





{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole June 14, 2011 at 7:31 AM

Again, your mom reminds me of my dad.


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Nicole – I’m glad that they both do this nutty stuff in a loveable and laughable way.


Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom June 14, 2011 at 7:42 AM

My grandmother was the same way. It’s a Great Depression mentality and it is very very sad. She had a bottle of pop that she kept in her fridge for almost 20 YEARS (right in the front too, what a waste of fridge real estate). We would get ice cream at her house only when it had gone all gummy and we had to clean her freezer out every couple of years and throw 75% of it out because we were afraid she would poison herself with what was in there. The dogs were happy to get all that freezer burned meat but she would go to her room and cry for days.

Fortunately she never really left the house so couldn’t accumulate much beyond food but man, cleaning out her house when my grandfather died? It was like an episode of Hoarders. Besides the agoraphobia and hoarding though, she was an awesome grandma.

(You’ve reminded me that I have to start eating down / emptying the fridge before our trip…) 😉


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:30 PM

Jacq – a few years ago, I started dating every bit of food that comes into the house. It makes an amazing difference when you look down at a canned good and see that it’s over a year old already. I’ve gotten much better on food rotation. Babci had some wild blueberries in her freezer that were so old they were just a dried up husk…no juicyness whatsoever. I like my freezer purges I do. It gets the creative side going. I still have some chorizo that I haven’t gotten around to cooking yet. It always sounds so good when you buy it, until you realize your kids don’t eat spicy food and then it sits uneaten for months.


Niki June 14, 2011 at 8:52 AM

I couldn’t help but laugh at almost every point. This is definitely a case of taking frugal too far.

Both my grandparents have these tendencies, especially the lawnmower and buying fruit in bulk for the two of them. My grandfather went through so many lawnmowers claiming, “They don’t make things like they used to,” but would never get all the rocks and branches out of their yard.


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Niki – who knew lawnmower abuse was such a common thing among old people. I definitely learned something today.


Everyday Tips June 14, 2011 at 9:32 AM

I can totally envision each of the scenarios described. She probably thinks of your nice pots and pans all being built of cast iron, so she treats them as such.

I can also see why she buys you food. You guys do so much for her, and maybe that is the only way she can think of to repay you.

The mayo jars- can’t defend that one! She does seem to have some hoarding instincts…


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Everyday Tips – She definitely treats her cookware as a disposable item. I think it’s because there are always loads of pots and pans to be had at tag sales, so she doesn’t treat them gently. Easy come, easy go.


Rachael June 14, 2011 at 10:09 AM

This is makes me think instantly of someone in my family. She hoards toys, and has adult children, NO young children staying in the home. Every room is filled with doll houses, and the basement is filled to the gills with bins of more toys of every type. I am always shocked, and claustrophobic when I visit. I have 3 kids, and I don’t have half the amount of stuff/toys that are in this home.


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:34 PM

Rachael – sounds kind of creepy actually. I just imagine some of these dolls coming to life at night and running around the place.


Crystal June 14, 2011 at 10:14 AM

OMG, I saw my grandpa running over a tree stump over and over again with his riding mower a couple of years ago and nearly cried (I just paid to have that fixed for his darn birthday as a surprise!!!). He thought it was the perfect way to break down the stump…needless to say, I do not fix his stuff anymore. I buy him new, cheaper crap that I don’t mind watching be abused…


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:37 PM

Crystal – it’s a good policy to keep gifts on the simple side for folks who don’t have the desire to take extra care of their things.


Kellen June 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM

I’ve seen my dad literally lifting our push mower and mowing vertically to mow the ivy growing up the side of a tree.
People have commented that the non-stick stuff in my apartment is the least abused non-stick pans they’ve ever seen, because all of us roommates are super careful about using non-stick implements with them. I think the ruining non-stick pans this is a fairly common issue ;).


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Kellen – more mower abuse..who knew it was so rampant. That is too funny though..mowing trees. WRT non stick pans, I just thought I just bought really good quality stuff, but really it’s just the care that makes them last. Initial quality does play a small role, but not as much as keeping the metal out of the pans.


Squirrelers June 14, 2011 at 7:26 PM

This reminds me of someone I know, an older person who immigrated here years back but is supposed to be kind of a hoarder of things because she thinks there might be some use for those items someday. She supposedly refuses to change, is set in her ways, despite her adult kids strongly encouraging her to approach things different. I think these habits are what they are.

What’s interesting is that my daughter won’t throw away her stuff. At all. Now, I’m sentimental and do want to keep pictures, drawings, art projects, etc of hers -but not all toys and clothing. If outgrown, they should be gone. Hopefully we can succeed in getting her to toss some of the stuff.


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:43 PM

Squirreler – well with a father who nicknames himself the squirreler, who would expect anything different from his offspring…just kidding. I outgrew my attachment to stuff phase. I specifically remember when I was younger, that I didn’t have much stuff, so when my mom asked me to part with my things, I thought it was really mean that she didn’t part with her own instead. After all, her stuff took up most of the house and my stuff only took up my room. Most people do get to the point where they have too much and then start purging. Worst case, when she gets her first apartment you can tell her to come pick up her stuff or it’s going to goodwill.


Kevin June 15, 2011 at 9:42 AM

I loved the stories. My grandmother is also an immigrant and while I haven’t seen any excessive hoarding like with the mayo jars, she has her idiosyncracies too. She’s still an awesome grandmother. You know, Babci is really lucky to have you. It’s sad, but too many young people these days just go “fvck it” because it’s too much work for them.


Sandy L June 15, 2011 at 6:46 PM

Kevin – nah, she’d do the same for me. Many of my friends have great relationship with their parents. It’s sad that we’re such a mobile society though because most folks don’t have the luxury of living close to their parents when they need each other most. I’m glad she agreed to move where my work was. Doing the little things I do is the least I can do for all the happiness she brings to the rest of the family.


101 Centavos June 16, 2011 at 7:16 AM

My Mom is an immigrant and child of the tail end of the Depression year (born in 1937), and so has certain packratty tendencies. Some areas of the basement are stuffed to the rafters, or rather, floor joists. Luckily she’s been into “shedding” lately, giving the stuff away. A couple years ago when I visisted by driving my truck instead of flying, I left with a full load! Great post, always enjoy the Babci stories.


Sandy L June 17, 2011 at 6:01 AM

101- my mom actually has no problem giving away her excess stuff to friends/family, which I guess is a little less like hoarding. If someone she knew really needed 100 mayo jars, she’d have no problem giving them away. But throwing something out or donating it is killer for her.


Money Reasons June 18, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Ah yes, many of those wasteful frugal habits I had to unlearn from my family. Luckily the kids did that for me.

For a while, I wanted the minivan we own to be in new shape (like my single day cars were when I was growing up). Well after a few yelling at the kids for scratches, I finally realize that it’s a depreciating to zero asset and it doesn’t matter. Of course looking in the basement, I found boxes of unused things too that I was “Saving”…

The Darkside of Babci, all great points on being too frugal!


Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:07 AM

MR – I also tend to save stuff too long but now that I have children and there is a massive inflow of stuff all the time, it makes me want to purge more often.


Lindy Mint June 18, 2011 at 1:35 PM

That lawnmower trick is too funny. Maybe they should make lawnmowers that work as wood chippers.
My grandmother was the same way about packing her refrigerator, and freezer, and deep freeze. Though I believe it was just because they retired so early, and it became her pastime to go get groceries every day.

I have to admit that I’ve become something of a jar hoarder lately. But I feel better knowing that I don’t have three garbage bags worth.


Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:09 AM

Linda – well if they can turn cellphones into multifunctional devices, why not lawnmowers right? We just came up with the next million dollar idea . LOL. I have a love hate relationship with my freezer. On the one hand, I hate it because it seems to never have room for stuff I want to put in there, but on the other hand, things don’t get lost and I rotate my food pretty regularly.


Laura June 19, 2011 at 7:17 AM

I love reading your Babci stories! You have such an awesome blog:)


Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:10 AM

Laura – thanks. she provides plenty of material.


laura|move to portugal June 20, 2011 at 6:12 AM

I loved all these stories. I can certainly relate to buying too much produce, only for it too spoil, and to keeping stuff ‘for best’.


Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:12 AM

Laura – pull out that fine china! I remember having some nice blouses that I didn’t want to wear because I hated ironing. What a waste. They sat in my closet unworn til they went out of style. At least now, they sit in the ironing pile.


Yes, I Am Cheap June 21, 2011 at 11:07 PM

Jesus, my mother and the fruit. My brother and I are CONSTANTLY and secretly throwing away food when we go to her house because it’s old, smells, or have a colony of fruit flies celebrating the great-grandchildren’s christening. I swear to you, I know she will poison herself with either buying too much or getting free stuff and keeping them until the mold grows fur coats. I mean, I’m cheap, but not THAT cheap.


Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:13 AM

Sandy – You should have seen my mom’s hallway when we had the big pear and peach trees in her yard and she was still working full time. I’ve never seen so many bugs in one place in my life. Now I understand how hard it must have been to make time to can but those memories are still very vivid to me.


Acorn June 27, 2011 at 7:13 AM

Lol! Our mothers are interchangeable. The jars, what is it with the jars?


Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:15 AM

Acorn – you can never have too many jars. Just yesterday she was telling me again, to not throw away jars and to give them to her instead. I particularly hate the pickle jars because everything she puts in it has a distinct pickle odor. Sometimes she uses them as water bottles and I hate drinking pickle water.


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