Some of the best frugal living tips have been handed down from generation to generation. I love a bit of old fashioned frugality because it saves me loads of money to spend on things that make me happy! Like days out, experiences and holidays, for example.
This approach to life also has huge benefits to the environment.
Too much stuff
I’m not interested in filling our house full of things just for the sake of it, although I don’t claim to be a minimalist. We also aim to buy second hand where ever possible, as I explained in this post.
However, good old fashioned frugality seems to have skipped a generation. Many people nowadays seem to accumulate stuff and gadgets with no thought to the environment or the effect on their longer term finances. We think nothing of discarding the old and buying the new when something loses its sheen. It may be perfectly good and usable; we are simply always in a rush to get the the next shiny new thing and keep up with everything else.
I come across lots of folk who happily live in a sea of debt because they know they can make the monthly repayments. But what happens if something changes? No one’s job is 100% safe these days and no one is immune to illness or misfortune. This is why you should have an emergency fund. Practising some old fashioned frugality will help you save for one!
Do it for the planet
As someone who has been banging on about this stuff for many years, I am heartened to see that there is finally an awareness growing about the need to change our consumerist lifestyle.
Our great grandparents would have been amazed at our wasteful lifestyles. They wouldn’t have known what a single use item was – everything was used again and again because they had much less and placed more value on what they owned. They didn’t waste stuff – because they couldn’t afford to.
If we could mentally step back into their shoes we could go a long way to resolving our current climate crisis and the mess we have made of the environment. Old fashioned frugality would mean we would baulk at single use plastics and never dream of wasting food. We would wear our clothes until they either didn’t fit or fell apart, at which point they would be passed on or turned into something else. Fuel wouldn’t be wasted – we would make our transport and our homes as energy efficient as possible to keep our bills low.
How to practice old fashioned frugality
Cooking and eating
Cooking skills are no longer taught in our schools. Many families live off takeaways and convenience foods. However, your kitchen is the first place to go if you want to go back to some old fashioned frugality.
Learning to cook from scratch is an essential life skill. Knowing that you can confidently throw the ingredients you have to hand together to make a basic meal will save so much money. I am not talking Cordon Bleu here. Just knowing how to make a pasta sauce, a casserole, a pie or even bangers and mash will mean you can cut some of your ‘ping’ meals off the shopping list.
Our grandparents knew how to stretch meals when they had to, chucking ingredients like beans and lentils, oatmeal and potatoes into stews to eek out the meat. Filling up on food stuffs like bread, potatoes and dumplings to stop you snacking on crisps, biscuits and chocolate is healthier as well as cheaper.
Avoid food waste and learn to use leftovers. I love it when I don’t have to make lunch because there is some of the previous evening’s meal in the fridge for me. For more on food waste and how to avoid it, read this post.
During the second world war, the UK population was encouraged to ‘dig for victory’. Every bit of garden and common land was cultivated to make sure people were fed as it became too risky to import food.
If you have a little bit of garden, you could grow a few tomatoes, courgettes, herbs and potatoes. Even if you only have a patio, it is possible to grow a little of your own food. It is incredibly cheap to turn a pack of seeds into food for your family. It will also have far fewer, if any chemicals, and no food miles!
If you can’t grow your own, you can still go foraging. Even if you live in the city, it is possible to find food for free. I read an article in the Evening Standard recently about John the Poacher who says, ‘You can actually live off the land in London – mushrooms, berries, salads, it’s all here. And trapping the odd rabbit on Hackney Marshes, of course’.
Even if the idea of trapping your own rabbits is a little extreme, you can always find some blackberries! You can see what John’s foraging adventures on Instagram.
Preserving the harvest
Whatever you grow or forage, learning some simple preserving skills is essential.
The internet is awash with recipes for jams and pickles (including my own one for redcurrant jelly here). A freezer is essential if you grow your own, which is something our great grandparents would have been delighted by. How about filling yours with home grown bounty rather than oven chips and pizzas? You can also dry fruit, herbs and vegetables or even learn the old fashioned art of canning.
Sewing is another life skill our schools no longer have time to teach. I am no seamstress, but I know how to repair a hem, sew on a button, patch a torn knee and mend a hole. This is a good bit of old fashioned frugality worth learning if you want to make your clothes last longer.
Get your older relatives to show you how – or look it up on You Tube.
Make do and mend
This make do and mend attitude can extend to every aspect of your life. Fortunately for me, Mr Shoestring is very good at repairing stuff! He won’t give in easily if something stops working and can often get them going again. Above is his transformation of a bench that was on its way to the tip.
Learning basic DIY and repair skills can save loads of money and extend the life of your belongings. Again, You Tube is a superb resource if you don’t have a grandparent or great grandparent to hand!
We spend millions on chemical laden cleaning products as a nation. The clever marketers have convinced us that we need to kill every germ (you would think we didn’t have an immune system – how did the human race get this far?). We are told that we need a different spray for each room in the house.
It all comes in plastic bottles, that might or might not be recycled.
But what if there was a simple, cheaper and less chemically invasive way to clean your house? There is! Our grandparents knew how to clean efficiently using basic products such as soda crystals, soap flakes, white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.
If you want to inhale fewer nasties in your home, check out this post about cleaning naturally and without plastic.
Saving energy and water
This could be a blog post in itself! When you had to collect and chop firewood to heat your house, you didn’t waste the fuel. You wouldn’t heat the whole house when you were all sitting in one room, for example.
Our great grandparents knew that thick curtains and draught excluders kept the warmth in, and put on another layer or two when they were cold. They didn’t have the benefit of our modern day heating systems.
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate my boiler. However, we have still insulated the loft, filled the wall cavities and fitted good curtains at the windows. Some good old fashioned frugality will save you money on your energy bills.
Likewise, you can be savvy with the amount of water you use. You wouldn’t leave the tap running whilst you cleaned your teeth or have the deepest bath every day if you had to collect the water first. I love a hot bath when it’s cold and I am achy and tired. But most of the time a quick shower suffices.
Buy well and look after your stuff
Another reason I like to buy second hand is that it generally means I can buy better quality at a low price. We have all bought cheap and regretted it. When you need something new and can’t find it second hand, be it a pair of shoes or a washing machine, try to buy the best quality you can afford.
Look after what you have. I remember our shoes lasting for ages as kids, because my dad would clean and polish them all once a week. We also paid to get them resoled and reheeled if they needed it. They were good quality leather shoes and we made them last.
Invest in a clothes brush and a debobbler/fabric shaver too. I have found these so helpful to liven an old jumper or piece of clothing up. This Philips fabric shaver is the best one I have ever found. Yes, I bought cheap before and my debobbler broke within a couple of months. This one seems to be made of stronger stuff.
Buy some shoe polish and shoe brushes. Get bees wax or linseed for your wooden furniture.
This article on the Dri-Pack website is rammed full of information about how to clean your washing machine and iron, how to remove stains, get rid of musty smells, etc using their natural, inexpensive cleaning products. Check it out as it’s a great resource.
Change your mindset
Good old fashioned frugality is about looking after what you have and valuing it, becoming more resourceful and doing stuff for yourself and, above all, not wasting anything.
Once you get into the mindset of stopping waste and saving money it becomes second nature. For example, when I open a letter I place the empty envelope with my collection of scrap paper, to be used for writing notes and shopping lists. I keep old margarine and large yogurt pots for storage. When we have leftovers we store them in these pots in the fridge or freezer as ready meals.
I make stock from bones and vegetable peelings. Most meals are cooked from scratch (not all, I am not a frugal saint!). It is second nature to use food up rather than throw it away, or at least freeze it for later.
If food arrives from the supermarket in plastic bags, I put them aside for reuse as they come in handy. Jiffy and other mailing bags get used again, as do small cardboard boxes. The washing machine and dishwasher rarely go on unless they are full. Clothes are dried on the line.
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