30 Signs That You Were Raised by Frugal Parents

by Kentin Waits on 20 August 2012 50 comments
Photo: GregYounger

Frugal folks come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were raised in typical American families with traditional buying and spending habits and came to embrace frugality much later in life. Others were raised by parents or grandparents who made simplicity part of everyday life — from the way they cooked and cleaned to the way they fixed their cars and celebrated holidays. For those of us in the latter group, we can spot another member a mile off. There’s a sort of unspoken but common shorthand that comes from years of shared experiences. What follows is my tongue-in-cheek way to tell if you were raised by frugal parents (or if you might be on the way to becoming one yourself). (See also: 7 Important Lessons Frugal Parents Teach Their Children)

1. You skip the headlines in the Sunday paper and head straight for the sales inserts.

2. You’ve washed (or seriously considered washing) tin foil to use it a second time.

3. You remember smuggling homemade snacks into the Saturday matinee.

4. You know how to buff your shoes to high shine by adding a bit of water or heat to the polish.

5. You’ll still stop to pick up a penny.

6. You ignore the suggested use or recommended quantity directions on most products.

7. There’s a coupon organizer in your purse or car (extra credit if it includes a calculator).

8. You save rubber bands or twist-ties.

9. The chocolate milk you were served as a kid was heavily diluted with regular milk.

10. You have a loyalty card to any thrift store chain.

11. You can sew a button, darn a sock, or repair a seam.

12. You firmly believe that vinegar and bleach are the only two household cleaning products anyone really needs.

13. Your family holds a contest to guess how much money is in the change jar every six months.

14. A little mold on bread or cheese doesn’t cause you to immediately toss it.

15. There’s an almanac somewhere in your home.

16. You know the technique for properly canning food.

17. You know what Green Stamps are.

18. Your medicine chest has at least two hotel soaps or bottles of shampoo in it.

19. You know how to change the oil in your car (even if you don’t always do it yourself).

20. The primary toys of your childhood were wooden blocks, the great outdoors, and a tire swing.

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21. You know the balance of your checking account (within $5.00) at all times and without looking.

22. Negotiating the price of a used car inspires a sense of adventure and thrill.

23. You know the secret magic that’s contained in every bottle of furniture scratch cover.

24. You have a secret stash of used, neatly folded gift wrap from previous holidays and birthdays.

25. You regard empty butter and yogurt containers as a reuse challenge, not trash.

26. At least three pieces of your household furniture were acquired through dumpster-diving, a yard sale, an estate sale, or thrift store.

27. You brag to friends about how much you saved instead of how much you spent.

28. You can calculate any product’s price-per-ounce in mere seconds.

29. Your dryer sheets have three times the life expectancy of other people’s.

30. You rinse out laundry detergent bottles and cut open toothpaste tubes to get at the last bit of product.

Though these signs are offered with a bit of humor, there’s a grain of wisdom that guides each. Our modern-day mantra of "reduce, reuse, recycle" is just a new spin on an old refrain. For many of our frugal mentors, there was simply no other way to live. The tips and tricks they taught us are recounted here with as much respect as comedy — and with a gratitude that comes from rediscovering best lessons of our childhood.

What other signs suggest that you might have been raised by frugal folks? What favorite or quirky saving technique have you unwittingly adopted and passed on to your own kids?

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Guest's picture
Guest

I cut the "empty" tube of hand lotion in half, and then just use a finger to get the lotion from the side of it. The cut part then fits over the other side. Over the course of the next weeks it gets shorter as it gets real empty.

Guest's picture
Christine

I do that with my lotions too! LOL.

Guest's picture
Beth

Ha! Cute! I am "guilty" of many of these!

My mother was/is the bread winner, but she was raised by very sensible people, (AKA my immigrant grandparents), and although she made a very comfortable living, it was mostly all about need vs. want. Needs always came first. She is now very comfortably retired and enjoying travel.

Guest's picture
Nancy

I score 23 out of 30, and thanks for a couple of new ideas.

Guest's picture

Another: You can distinctly remember your parents engaged in a serious discussion on the cost of juice boxes.

Guest's picture
frugalbaby

If your parents were involved in discussing juice boxes at all, they weren't that frugal - as we all know, if you have to buy juice, big bottles are the way to go. And much more environmentally conscious.

Guest's picture
Jojo

Juice boxes? Ha! If we had juice it was always watered down. The same with Koolaid...less sugar used obviously!

Guest's picture
Guest

You forgot buying two-ply TP and re-rolling one ply to make another roll! :)

Meg Favreau's picture

And I thought my parents were frugal for always buying the "cheap" toilet paper (personally, I think the super-fluffy stuff feels weird). This is the next level!

Guest's picture
Lisa

No ordering pop or alcohol at a restaurant - only water, please!

Kentin Waits's picture

Lisa -- I discovered this one myself recently. Definitely saves on the final bill -- soda and alcohol are the primary profit centers at most restaurants. Thanks for sharing.

Guest's picture
komalle

Absolutely! My teens told me they also do this out with friends, to stretch their allowance a lot further.

Guest's picture
Ladyin

I do that too! Water is much more healthy and refreshes you unlike fountain drinks or alcohol would :)

Guest's picture
Scoutmaster

leftovers were ALWAYS saved...scraps of meat went into a canning jar in the freezer to flavor gravys later on......even 5 peas were saved in the veggie jar in the freezer for soups etc..
Potatoes were reserved as hash, mashed or potatoe pancakes
leftover pancakes had pb&j on them, rolled up, sprinkled with powered sugar for afterschool snacks.

Guest's picture
Guest

I remember my grandmother save the little jelly containers from McDonald's- she worked there. One day I opened her fridge and there was the little jelly container with about a teaspoon of corn in it! We used that little bit in some soup. My grandparents were Italian and they made soup called "Jump in the Boat" and it literally was a clean out the fridge kind of soup. My grandparents didn't throw anything away. So the soup would have veggies, leftover meat, tomato base, and we ate it with hearty crusty bread. I make it sometimes and the family thinks we're eating gourmet!

Guest's picture

Honestly, I'd say I still do about 70% of these! Haha, and what's funny is that I didn't know that some people don't! For exmaple, bringing snacks to the movie theater -- who doesn't do that??? It makes sense!

Guest's picture
Guest

It would make alot of sense to bring snacks to the movie, everything is ridiculously costly at the movie, but if you get caught, they will through you out of the movie. Make sure you hide your food if you eat it while the lights are still on. ;-)

Guest's picture
Guest

sounds like a list if you grew up poor, not just frugal

Guest's picture
Computer Geek

Consuming all leftovers religiously until they are gone.

Going on a trip to Hawaii and immediately going to a local grocery store to buy cereal, milk, plastic spoons and plastic bowls, bread and lunchmeats for lunches to keep in the hotel mini-fridge so that the trip is much cheaper than eating every meal at the hotel restaurant (I didn't go there to eat and it saved about $500 off the trip over a week - I could have afforded the extra but why?).

Guest's picture
Guest

To save even more $$$, you should stay in a condo, particularly on the "outer islands" [Maui, Kauai & the Big Island].

You'll get more room for the price and be able to cook occasionally -- although don't deprive yourself of some really good foods here, esp. fresh pineapple & other tropical fruits.

And several islands have Costco.

Guest's picture
Someone in NYC

RE: 3. You remember smuggling homemade snacks into the Saturday matinee.
We did not go to any matinees. I went to the movies twice in my childhood and we didn't get snacks nor bring snacks.

RE: Your medicine chest has at least two hotel soaps or bottles of shampoo in it
We didn't stay in hotels. There were a few nights, that the family slept in the car... this was in the 1970's.

RE: 21. You know the balance of your checking account (within $5.00) at all times and without looking.
My parents were VERY frugal and good with money. I on the other hand, have not balanced a checkbook in 20 years and write down about 5% of the checks' amounts and dates.

RE: 26. At least three pieces of your household furniture were acquired through dumpster-diving, a yard sale, an estate sale, or thrift store.
My parents were very proud people. They would not do any of these, and probably never even thought of doing any of them.

RE: 29. Your dryer sheets have three times the life expectancy of other people’s.
We did not have a clothes dryer. Mom brought wet loads of laundry up from the basement, to hang outside on a clothesline.

Additionally, through the late 1980's, the house phone was a rotary phone, because maybe the 'push button' type was too expensive.

Guest's picture
Guest

you win! You're more frugal than anyone I know

Guest's picture
Kindra

Well said Kentin! These are a great list and I do know how to can. In fact, I wish I had some canning buddies so we could share the labor (and fun).

Guest's picture
Guest

When I had kids I discovered seasonal children's consignment sales - and then started one of my own! Not only do I get to shop first for what my kids need, but I get 40% back into the business!

Guest's picture
Jayanta

I think Kentin Waits missed the most important sign:

1) Your car has not been repossessed and your house is not in foreclosure.

Guest's picture

Haha some of these are pretty funny. I think I had one of each. My Dad was all about using our funds to live life to the fullest, where my mom would be the one stuffing her purse with snacks from home to go see a movie! I think when I have kids I'll try to teach them to find a balance. Be frugal for most of the time, but don't give up life's little pleasures by worrying about money too much-its not like you can bring it with you in the ground!

Guest's picture
Guest

Holy smokes! You've been spying on my family! The dryer sheet and toothpaste tube comments were spot-on! Our mantra- USE STUFF UP!

Guest's picture
Guest

Its funny your mocked for years living this way by others or relatives who buy for themselves nor care how much it is and they end up asking you for money..

Guest's picture
Guest

If you still use stick margarine, you save the wrapper to grease a pan, etc before throwing the wrapper away. We rarely went on vacation when I was a child, but when we did visit relatives/go to an amusement park, etc., we ALWAYS packed sandwiches and snacks rather than eat out. Even now, when we go on vacation, we bring food and supplies with us from home that we have accumulated from sales/coupons during the months before so we don't eat out as often, and spend less. You forgot to mention coupon clipping! My dad had a job as a traveling salesman when I was growing up so we did have hotel soaps, routinely used as hand soap before the onslaught of liquid soaps. We still have hotel hand soaps available in the bathroom and kitchen. I buy large containers of mouthwash, shampoo, etc., and transfer them to smaller bottles that I use over and over. Environmentally more friendly too!

Guest's picture
WendyB

One of my friend's moms used to gather all the soap slivers and turn them into liquid soap.

Guest's picture
Michael in MO

I come in at around 80% of these! Fun to read.

In addition to the hidden stash of gift wrap, I have an entire section of the garage filled with bubble wrap. I can't bring myself to throw the stuff away. It gets reused, and if the pile gets too big, I donate it to a local gift shop, who are thrilled to receive it.

Guest's picture
Guest

That's a great idea! I have garbage bags full of packing peanuts and bubble wrap that I can't bear to throw away!

Guest's picture
Guest

You had chocolate milk? We traveled almost exclusively to relatives for vacations. No dryer sheets. I remember when they came out with teflon pans, and permanent press. You only got a toy at Christmas or your birthday. We used the clothesline a lot, and really didn't have snacks. Once in a while, mother would make cookies. Desserts were for holidays, and when company came for dinner.
There was no furniture scratch cover. We had hard rock maple, and you better not do anything to the furniture. Plus, you played outside all day. We did not have air fresheners. You opened the windows for fresh air. Plus, the mattresses, and foundations got a good sunning twice a year. The pillows got it at least 4 times a year.

Guest's picture
Mama

You save the empty plastic bags from diapers, toilet paper bundles, feminine products, and produce to use as wastebasket liners!

Guest's picture
Guest

Do forget the taxes needs to make a purchase. America's taxation levels are creeping ever higher. For every dollar you would like to use to purchase something it takes you two dollars of income(I'm talking all taxes, fed income-state income-state sales-gas-misc this & that-the taxes to corps that get passed to the cost of your item of desire). For every dollar you don't spend you save two. Simple enough. So if you don't spend 20k a year on extra things you REALLY DON'T NEED, you are 40k better off. Do that every year and you will never be the one in need....

Guest's picture
lynn

So true! I'm really working on that. We buy many items at resale shops and on clearance.

Guest's picture

This and the follow-on post were great. Glad that I hit at least half of them. I'd have to turn in my Mighty Bargain Hunter card if I didn't! :D

Guest's picture
Guest

In the summer, I put the teensy soap slivers in an old sock and hang it from the hose bib for after gardening washups. Just rub the sock around on your wet hands. I got this idea from Mother Earth News in about 1977, I did not think of it myself.

Guest's picture
CheapChick

Number 8 also needs to add BREAD TAGS.

Guest's picture
Sue

I am definitely frugal by this list. But I don't know the secret magic in a bottle of furniture scratch cover. Please share! I'm dying tks know! Lol.

Guest's picture
Jamie

I remember my mom griping at my brother repeatedly over how much hershey syrup he used when he made his chocolate milk. We also deer hunted and raised a few cows as our method of buying meat in bulk. Not sure if the overall cost actually evened out, but compared to the cost of buying from ethical farms you KNOW you can trust, it was probably close enough. We also bought raw milk from a local farm at $1.25/gallon (even at the time it was cheaper than store-bought), and separated the cream to make our own butter, whipped cream, cheese, and ice cream.

And can you really omit gardening from this list? In addition to growing and canning a ton of vegetables, we would buy bushels of fresh corn from the farm that surrounded our land, and I would help my mom blanch, shock, cut and freeze it for the year.

Or am I the only one who grew up country?

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@isaacyourbro

this was a really cool way to package a "savings tips" article, kudos!

Guest's picture
Guest

I hang my clothes out to dry between April and November.

I use a small window air conditioner to cool just one room on really hot days instead of using my central A/C system to cool the entire house.

I don't park at meters. I park wherever there is free parking and walk to where I'm going.

I just had the collars turned on two of my old shirts. They're in great shape except the collars were a bit frayed.

Guest's picture
frugalgal

Here's two more frugal tips to save resources and money:
1. Cut the end off your used (filled) paper vacuum bags, empty the contents, fold the cut end over, sew or staple the end to secure & use it again.
2. Save used greeting cards and gift wrap. Gift wrap can be pressed (ironed, silk setting) and used again. Cut away back of card. Use front as Post Card with name & address & your personal birthday or holiday wishes on reverse side. You save the cost of new cards and postage too. you can also create gift tags from old cards. Use fancy edge scissors.

Guest's picture
Guest

So fun to remember some of this. My parents stretched every penny, and our summer 'vacation' was usually a long day at the Michigan Dunes, a 3 hour drive from home. When I would wake to the smell of frying chicken and a spice cake baking, I knew it was a "Dunes Day", because we never ate carryout or fast food, my mother always cooked a meal in the morning to take for a picnic. The big extravagence was a tin of round hard candies. It probably cost $1.00 but we only had that candy on Dunes Days--and the tin, of course, was saved and used to collect spare change on our desks. Can you imagine that being the high point of any kid's summer now? But it was the great outdoors and a day climbing the dunes for the thrill of running down them at top speed over and over, rolling in the sand, and then swimming in Lake Michigan left us limp with the best kind of exhaustion. I do remember my dad having to fill the gas tank on the way there and the way home and feeling like they were spending a lot of money on us for that one day.

Guest's picture

I love this! I guilty of 98% of these. I grew up shopping at thrift stores and to this day a great percentage of my clothing is purchased at thrift stores. Another thing we do is dilute dish soap and hand soap with water to make it last longer. We also wask dishes and clothes with the same soap. :)

Guest's picture

Haha. Very funny (and very true) stuff!! Great list.

Guest's picture

Heh heh, my kid is picking up pennies now.

Guest's picture

My parents instilled many of these tactics in me at a young age. I still change my own oil, even though with a coupon I could probably have it done for the same cost. I recently negotiated a great deal on a used Prius and couldn't have been more exited, my wife was confused why this made me so happy.

Great post! Brought back some good memories.

Guest's picture
Angie

Use a tiny lipstick brush or equivalent to use the lipstick inside tube when you get to the end of the case/stick - must be 1/3 of the lipstick still inside the ruddy tube. I could almost say yes to all 30 quirks. I'm proud to be cheap "frugal"!! laughing all the way to the bank.