Extreme Frugalism – How many have you tried?

by Sandy L on August 10, 2010

King Boletus Harvest

The other day, I was commenting on an interesting post about shameless frugality over at Squirrelers.  Mr. Squirreler himself expressed an interest in hearing about some of Babci’s money saving  undertakings that would make even the frugalest of frugalites cringe.

So by popular demand, here is a list of actual things that either my mother or uncle have done in the interest of saving a few bucks. Remember, Babci made minimum wage, had no debt, and bought her house with cash. I’m pretty sure my uncle bought his home with cash too.

Personal Hygiene/Cleaning

  1. Not bathing every day
  2. When bathing, sharing the same tub water with multiple family members.
  3. When doing laundry, manually stopping the washer during the wash cycle to switch loads, so that you can utilize the same water and soap for multiple loads of laundry.
  4. Ditto on the rinse cycle.
  5. Line drying clothes, and in the winter, using a line that runs across your kitchen.
  6. Cutting your own hair and your kid’s hair.
  7. Using naptha bar soap to wash your hair instead of shampoo.
  8. Conditioner? What’s that?
  9. Using Urine as a disinfectant for cuts and wounds.
  10. Not flushing the toilet unless it’s #2. (I really hated this one and broke this rule a lot.)
  11. Using cold water to wash your dishes.
  12. Using rags instead of paper towels.
  13. Using only 3 cleaning products: vinegar, bleach or ammonia.
  14. Using newspaper to clean your windows.

Home Improvement

  1. Saving and re-using nails and screws.
  2. Re-Using Wood, molding, hinges, just about anything.
  3. Getting Wood or Metal from the dump or Salvage Yards
  4. Utilizing Yard Sales for misc needs.


  1. Going to the dump looking for hardwood scrap, brush and logs for the wood burning stove.
  2. Driving around after a storm looking for down trees.
  3. Using pallets for kindling
  4. Only heating one room in your house.
  5. Never ever using air conditioning.
  6. Putting plastic on the windows in the winter and reusing it the following year.


  1. Picking Wild Mushrooms (One of my favorite childhood activities)
  2. Picking Wild Berries
  3. Fishing
  4. Hunting
  5. Eating Squirrel
  6. Eating Roadkill (deer specifically)
  7. Having a Garden
  8. Going into overpass tunnels and shoveling pigeon dung to use as garden manure. (The city dweller option. The downside is all the broken glass that inevitably got mixed in with it).
  9. Collecting Rainwater.
  10. Never buying or using pesticides.
  11. Rubbing lime on tree trunks to prevent insects from crawling up them.
  12. Pulling stuff out of people’s trash and/or dumpsters.


  1. Making noodles from scratch
  2. Canning
  3. Using expired foods or very very old canned goods
  4. Buying from the old pile in the grocery store and/or bakery.
  5. Using your oven pilot light to dehydrate foods.
  6. Using bones for soup.
  7. Any meat would always start or end in a soup.
  8. Watering down juice
  9. Reusing tea bags
  10. Using pickle water or hot dog water to make soup. (Can you tell we ate a lot of soup?)
  11. Making your own yeast (sourdough starter).
  12. Fermenting your own wine.
  13. Drinking the tuna water from a can instead of pouring it down the sink.
  14. Using curdled milk for some old timey polish recipe that  I wanted nothing to do with.
  15. Using stale bread for breadcrumbs.
  16. Cutting the mold or rotten bits off food and eating the rest.
  17. Using a variety of odd home remedies to cure sickness. I still prefer chicken soup and hot tea the best.


  1. Sewing your own clothes
  2. Buying the rest from thrift stores (shoes/belts, etc)
  3. Buying men’s underwear because they are cheaper than women’s..and fit your rotund figure better.
  4. Re-soling your shoes with old rubber tire scraps.
  5. Cutting zippers and buttons off of old clothes and re-using them for other items.
  6. Cutting collars off old shirts and sewing them into v-neck sweaters.
  7. Using Urine to help stretch out leather shoes. (Urine used to be used in the leather tanning process).


  1. Going to the utility company to pay a bill instead of mailing them because you don’t want to buy the stamp and you don’t have a checking account.
  2. Never making long distance calls.
  3. Not owning a car. (We weren’t car free always..just for a few years)
  4. Not having pets because they cost money.
  5. Not having a cell phone or the internet.
  6. Using a push mower instead of a gas mower.
  7. Using very low wattage light bulbs (like 7 and 15 watts before the days of cfl’s) to reduce electricity consumption.
  8. Living on the top floor of her apartment building because heat rises and it was warmer in the winter.
  9. Reusing any and all containers, bread bags, etc until they were  beyond repair.

I am so thankful that even Babci doesn’t do a lot of these things anymore now that we don’t have to. If anything is a motivator to get college educated and make a living wage, it’s knowing that I won’t be tortmented by such draconian efforts anymore.

The ones that scarred me for life were any activities involving  urine, home remedies, bad haircuts and questionable food.  I flat out refused to participate in some of these activities as a kid.  On the other hand, I love foraging, gardening, recycling,  buying used, and cooking from scratch..so some of her frugal ways did rub off on me.

Quick poll.. How many of these items have you done and how many would you never do? Are you EXTREME enough to  to stand up to the Babcinator? Are there things you do that didn’t make the list? (Home made detergent comes to mind.)

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole August 10, 2010 at 8:54 PM

Ha… memories of my father (also an immigrant) in that list. Of course, he was married to my boomer mom, so things evened out.

Yeah, no on the urine.


Squirrelers August 10, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Wow, what a great post!

I figured that there were some good examples that you must have had, but this is quite a list. I instantly respect them for their resourcefulness, knowledge, and determination.

Of course, given that my blog is called Squirrelers, I’ll have to look past the eating squirrels part:)

Thank you for sharing this list.


ST August 10, 2010 at 11:59 PM

M’s grandmother never owned a car. Worked as a domestic and got to bring home left overs and cast offs. Her furniture lasted 60 years because it was covered in plastic and most socializing was in the kitchen. Gifts were never bought, they were home made wine, grapa or sauce or baked goods. In addition to the garden and foraging, she also raised rabbits for meat and would walk to a farm to buy the old chickens because they were cheap. The chickens and rabbits met the same fate in her basement! finally there was the beer. Once I was old enough, I’d be sent out under cover of darkness to buy the cheapest beer available. Usually either Falstaff or Red White and Blue. You could usually get one or the other on sale for about $4 a case in the 70’s.


Everyday Tips August 11, 2010 at 10:59 AM

That list is amazing. I think cleaning newspapers is recommended to reduce streaks, so they were ahead of their time.

Whereas many things on the list seem extreme, they got by and it worked for them. Reading about curdled milk made me laugh. It reminded me of my grandma that use to talk about using ‘clabber’, which I learned to be curdled milk. I didn’t know it had a name!


Wendy August 11, 2010 at 2:12 PM

Growing up in a different country I recognize many of the items, in fact the reusing rinse-cycle (or “grey”) water, and rainwater catchment are growing practices in Australia due to the increasingly severe water restrictions. Similarly, with so much sunshine, line-drying clothes was the norm in Australia and the Hills Hoist was invented in my hometown: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hills_Hoist (as kids we also occasionally used the hoist as a toy and would spin each other around and around)

Newspaper cleaning – check
Haircuts – check
No a/c (until my teens) – check
Canning – check
Several clothing tips (home knitting, making, reuse buttons etc.) – absolutely

Urine …umm, nope, but a dab of spit on a mosquito bite helps it stop itching 🙂


Suba @ Wealth Informatics August 11, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Similar to Wendy, I grew up in a different country, a third world country too. Except personal hygiene & foraging parts, a lot of this is very familiar. Back home, a lot of these are not by choice. Though India has developed a LOT now. My mother still washes all the clothes by hand… Just due to habit I do a lot of these too… So I guess I am an “extremist” 🙂


Sandy L August 11, 2010 at 5:06 PM

I love hearing all these family stories.

LOL about the squirrel comment.


Cass August 11, 2010 at 5:20 PM

I’m first generation Canadian, my mom came to Canada with $20 in her pocket on a boat with her 2 sisters in the 70’s. One of her first jobs in Canada was working in a chicken factory, gutting and de-feathering. She often took home scraps that were not “suitable” for consumption and confesses to living on mostly chicken bits for a long period of time. We grew up keeping everything, from bread clips to twist ties. She encouraged us to “take home” toilet paper from school, napkins, condiments and sugar from resteraunts. God only knows how much stuff she “borrowed” from work places/neighbours/resteraunts. We grew up using baking soda mixed with water as shampoo and all ails could be fixed with a table spoon of home make wine. Thank god she never heard anything about urine being used in place of peroxide. Loved the post!! Totally brought me back!


lindsay August 24, 2010 at 10:06 PM

Drinking the tuna water from a can instead of pouring it down the sink

i may be soft, but is the the one that really got me…..no no no no no nooooooo.


The Lost Goat August 27, 2010 at 2:19 AM

I make my own detergent … but that’s not even in the same ballpark as disinfecting scrapes with urine. I do, however, have it on good authority that urine does not relieve the itching from poison ivy.


Mama Squirrel August 30, 2010 at 1:54 PM

From another frugal squirrel: well, we’ve never done anything along the pigeon-droppings line or anything like that. Relatives of my husband did obtain and eat small-to-medium-sized local wildlife up through the 1970’s; species will remain nameless.

I’m going to write my own blog post about this, and link to yours.


Sandy L August 31, 2010 at 4:47 AM

Mama Squirrel. Cool. Can’t wait to read your follow up post.
I also fixed your website link, so that should be all set.


Mama Squirrel August 31, 2010 at 7:38 AM

Here you go–I linked directly to the post.


BioRed February 28, 2011 at 4:40 PM

Love this post!

I am first generation american (on my mother’s side), and my grandparents (on my father’s), grew up in such solid Polish communities, that despite being born here, they didn’t speak english almost at all in their every day lives until they got married, and moved away when the mills declinded, in western PA (they could speak it, of course, just didn’t need to).

I’ve seen my grandmother (Babcia (we add the “a”)), do about 75% of the above lists, and talk about doing the rest. I do at least half, and then some. In fact, I didn’t know that EVERYONE didn’t do them until I met my fiance (now husband), and started interacting more in his family’s life. They thought I was NUTS when I would use stale bread for breadcrumbs, or save bread bags, or complain about how difficult it is to find a good soup bone now that there are so few real butchers, and you can only buy your meat (and bones), pre-cut and processed from the meat counter at the supermarket. I remember making Kluski noodles with her, and learning to can, and bake bread. Making 2 pounds of meat into hearty soup to feed 20 (yes, that’ts right, 20!). Even now in our apartment I open drying racks and hang as much of my laundry as possible. (this has the added plus of humidifying the air, which helps cut back on sinus infections!).

I wash everything in cold water, and that really saves money! bought this meter as part of our energy conservation crusade (aka: budget trimming crusade!): http://www.amazon.com/Black-Decker-EM100B-Energy-Monitor/dp/tags-on-product/B001ELJKLE

I didn’t see homemade laundry soap in your lists! i do that, and make all my own household cleaners (accept dishwasher detergent). takes 5 minutes to whip them up, and they last a long time, month actually.

My husband flipped when I insisted on repairing a favored (and less than 6month old) pair of shoes, instead of buying new ones. Why buy new ones?! they weren’t riddled with holes or anything, the sole pulled away! Just needed a little glue. Told him to put that money into our house fund, or vacation fund. Or we could splurge on dinner one night. I’ll even wear the shoes!

I wish I could live without a car, but we just can’t. my drive to work is an hour long, and my husbands is 45 minutes (in the oposite direction). to save here, i carpool with 2 other coworkers.

And I know that all of these things sound like they are huge investments in time, but they are not!!!! when these things are habits, they are just part of your life! I’m a full-time research scientist, and part time graduate student. I spend 2 hours a day commuting, and 15+ hour a week on my studies. Most of my weekends are spent either working or fullfulling other obligations, or just plain having fun! I do not have time to spend on efforts that don’t give me calculable, worthwhile returns. With our household at $130,000+ a year, it would be easy to slack off and say it doesn’t matter, but it does!! we work hard for that money. why would I throw away any of our hard earned $$$? all of my little tweaks add up to hundreds a month! which i can either save, invest, or spend on a memorable experience!


Sandy L February 28, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Bio Red – Thank you so much for sharing your story. Regarding your laundry detergent question, my mom used baking soda and naphtha soap. She would wet the clothes and wash the dirty bits with soap and then stick it in the washing machine. Later on she switched to wisk..now Babci uses Tide. She’s almost 80, so this is one of her conveniences that she’s grown to enjoy..not hand washing clothes anymore. We also live way below our means and I like it that way, although most of the extra has gone to mortgage. I’m always worried about rainy days. Even if you get paid well now, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way. You never know if you’ll get sick or forced out of work for one reason or another. It’s best to live frugally.


BioRed March 1, 2011 at 12:18 PM

My Babcia also loves her Tide, and her washing machine! Though she still hangs at least half of her cloths out on the line that run all over their basement. “Keeps them lasting longer!” she always says. Though she still tells stories about “chip soap” and baking soda for washing clothes. And using a ringer to get the water out.

With a divorce in my husband’s family, and cancer in mine, all in a 4 year period, and while our younger siblings were trying to make it through college, we learned fast how to live below our means to make every penny count. Even though we were fresh out of the gate (so-to-speak) ourselves, having just finished college and gotten our fist real jobs, we were the most stable and together people of our families. We delayed our own wedding for years (we’ve been together for about a decade, and married 6 month!!!), to be able to save for a rainy day, and be a safety net for our families, should the need arise. Being able to step in with cash to fix a problem that only $$ can fix (like a sibling’s tuition, or a mother’s car repair bill, or paying for prescriptions when you know your Dad doesn’t have it, and should be more worried about getting better then bills), have returns that far exceed the dollars put into them. Those years taught us many things:

(1) Save for a rainy day, because it WILL rain, and it doesn’t rain, but pours!
(2) When its pouring, having the money to deal with the cost that WILL arise, buys you peace of mind to some degree, making everything else more manageable.
(3) Good times will NOT last forever. Take advantage of them while they are here to put into place things that will help you when they end.
(4) As your income increases, your opportunity to save and invest increases! Don’t automatically inflate your lifestyle, we don’t!
(5) Life can be short and oh so unpredictable. Make time for lots of fun, but don’t spend a fortune on it! There is ALWAYS a deal to be had. Slight up-grades to those “deals” always = big bucks, and are seldom worth it. And there is so much fun to be had for next to nothing, and less! Don’t always turn to your wallet to entertain yourself. Ever heard of “geocaching”? Sooo much fun.
(6) Value “experiences” over “things”. My memories have always out lasted any item or “thing” I’ve bought, and are more cherished.

Living frugally IS better. Plus, “frugal” often means “clever”, and “clever” is just more fun! 🙂

Thank you for your blog! I’m having a great time looking through all your posts!


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