My Favorite Guides to Frugal Living Are Not Guides to Frugal Living

By Carrie Kirby on 13 November 2008 14 comments
Photo: Carrie Kirby

There are plenty of worthy books on living cheaply . I must confess that I have not read a single one of them. I glean all the advice saving money that I need from a few volumes that are not technically frugal how-to guides. What I like about these books is that they are works that most people can relate to, even if they don't see themselves as hard-care frugalists. Therefore, they're good "gateways" for people who are interested in cutting back but don't want to see themselves as full-on misers. Know people who are afraid of the frugal lifestyle? You might want to get them one of these books for Christmas (Psst: Since they're all back catalog titles, they're widely available in resale.)

This guide to making your own pureed vegetables and home-fortified porridge for infants comes with much, much more. It's like a resourceful hippie housewife's life's work, with an index. There are recipes in here for homemade bubble solution, yogurt, fruit leather (ok that one bombed in my kitchen), advice for easy homespun birthday parties and just about every piece of timeless advice you could want for frugal parenting.

Most parents, I suspect, use Yaron's book for everything but the one thing she's proudest of -- that homemade porridge. Too labor intensive, too yucky to anyone but a clueless 6-month-old, in my experience.

When I first picked up this book in the early 1990s, when it could not have been more out of style. Now that the Atkins obsession has run its course and people are not only more price sensitive than ever but becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and cruelty cost of eating meat, I hope this book makes a comeback. I'm not a vegetarian and this isn't a vegetarian book. It is, however, a great resource for using less meat -- it has lots of recipes packed with healthy grains and vegetables that use meat more as a flavor than a mainstay. And there are also lots of vegetarian and egg recipes.

  • Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two-Income Economy by Jonni McCoy

I picked this paperback up at a local parenting center's library, and it had a big influence on me and my eventual decision to stay home with my children. While it's close to being a frugal living guide, it's really targeted more at the parenting audience. It introduced me to the concept of aggressive grocery shopping, something I never would have read up on had the information not come in a parenting-related package.

Whaaa? A children's fictionalized autobiography? Well, I have gotten lots of frugal ideas from the Ingalls family. OK, many of them are not practical in our time since we have a different economy and diferent scarcities than they did. For example, Ma and Laura would tear their worn sheets down the middle, turn the edges toward the outside and sew them back together to get more use out of the cloth. Nowadays, manufactured cloth is cheap and sewing skill and time are dear, so most people wouldn't bother.

And yet. I guess what I get from reading and rereading the Little House Series is encouragement toward frugal, simple living in the form of reminders of how luxurious my life truly is, even if I give up a few little niceties. I especially love reading about the Ingalls' Christmas mornings, and how excited and grateful little girls could be over a couple sticks of candy and some hand-knit mittens. Puts into pretty stark contrast the expectations of the modern American child, and provides me with plenty of incentive to keep our own holidays simple and joyful while my kids are still young enough to follow my lead.

This little book has saved me tons of money, as saved tons of meals to boot. With this handbook, I don't have to go buy heavy cream if I already have evaporated milk, and to top it off I also know that one large marshmallow equals 6 miniatures. I'm sure there are places to look this stuff up online, but I have never had as good results Googling for substitute ingredients as I get by picking up this book.

Tagged: Frugal Living, books
No votes yet
Your rating: None

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Guest's picture

Those books are certainly good reads. My early child rearing years were times with limited income but what we lacked in income we made up for in wonderful memories!

Guest's picture

The internet cannot fully replace good books.

Guest's picture

I couldn't agree more about your comment about the Little House Books. I recently reread them and was reminded how the simple things in life mattered most--it's not about what you can buy. Love them and and they are a great reminder to not get bogged down in THINGS.

Guest's picture

I nice idea. I'd rather give a person a book on how to make money or improve marketable skills than how to be frugal.


Guest's picture

I own 2 books by Jonni McCoy, including the one you mentioned. Love 'em. I'm going to check for the Jane Brody book and the Substituting Ingredients book at my local library. I absolutely love books and in my opnion, the internet will never be able to replace the value of books in a home.

Guest's picture

Another good book to read to inspire frugality is 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn', I can't remember the author. I have found that my spending is influenced by what I'm reading. I constanly wanted to go shopping while reading the shopaholic books.

Guest's picture

Hey Carrie,

Thanks for the article. I think NYC makes a good point, too. I wonder if anybody still goes to the library? If they haven't considered it in a while, I'm sure they are now.

I also think you and your readers will enjoy

I'm off to visit your blogs. Oh, and "Rich Dad Poor Dad" makes a pretty good gift, Stoked.

Carrie Kirby's picture

Have you read "Joy in the Morning"? That is actually my favorite, although lessl-well-known book, by Betty Smith. Also about scraping by, this time as a young college couple, and I think of it often as I'm budgeting my groceries.

I blog at

Guest's picture

Another gem would be Dolly Freed 1978 POSSUM LIVING

Guest's picture

I cringe when I see people filling their shopping baskets with jars of baby foods. They are really expensive items. Baby food is "so easy" to make with a blender and has the benefit of being addictive free.

Guest's picture

... is my favourite - because it focuses on your values, and building a life worth meaning. It shows how to intertwine what you want to give back to the world, get out of life, and teaches you to honor and respect the true value of your hard work and earning potential, not to mention calculate your true wage. It also has a wonderful chapter on frugal tips.

David DeFranza's picture

My favorite book about frugality is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.

Don't let the title fool you: it has nothing to do with Zen and everything to do with diy and being thrifty.

Guest's picture

If you haven't read "Cheaper by the Dozen"(a great read, not much resemblance to the movies), I highly recommend it!

Guest's picture


Count me as another big fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I didn't read them as a kid, but my wife and I have been taking turns reading them out loud to our children. I love them!

She can really convey the richness and delight the Ingalls family took in simple pleasures. And yes, the Christmas gifts really do throw our current consumerism into relief...