20 Signs That You Were Raised By TRUE Money-Savers

By Marla Walters on 8 December 2009 (Updated 31 May 2010) 131 comments
Photo: Ju-Lee

The United States Department of Agriculture predicts that in 2010, the prices of meat or poultry will increase by 1.5% to 2.5%. The prices of fresh fruits and vegetables will rise 3% to 4%, as will cereal and bakery products. Based on this outlook, I would say this is a good year to learn how to garden, if you have not already. It also looks like a good year to watch for sales on cereal and do your own baking. Signs such as these, as well as the current unemployment rate, and devaluation of the dollar, all seem to support the wisdom of previous generations’ more frugal ways.

While my family is conservative about how we eat because we feel it is the prudent thing to do, we remember that our parents, and their parents, stretched their food budgets because it was often a matter of complete necessity. Here are some signs that you were raised by serious savers, and what we can learn from them. While I plan to do even more gardening of fresh vegetables and fruits, and do even more of my own baking, I am drawing the line at saving bacon grease.

1. There was a can of saved bacon grease in a cabinet, which they used to fry other stuff.

2. They scoffed at the “best by” or “use by” dates.

3. You grew up thinking that already-hydrated milk tasted funny.

4. They taught you that a plate of mashed-up kidney beans was "just as good as pizza.”

5. The chest freezer contained a deer, but no one in the house held a hunting license.

6. Failed plum jelly became “plum runny” (actually quite good on pancakes).

7. Your parents made homemade wine from apples, pears, or plums.

8. Egg money bought entrance to the drive-in theatre for the entire family.

9. Liverwurst: the poor man’s pate.

10. You've eaten one of these delightful sandwiches: mayonnaise (that’s right, just mayonnaise) or sugar and butter.

11. Chicory, the coffee stretcher.

12. You heard stories that made your household sound wealthy, by comparison: “When I was a little girl, I had to stand in line to get bacon.”

13. Through osmosis, you know 97 different ways to make macaroni and cheese.

14. Anybody for “Helper”? That would be Hamburger Helper...without the Hamburger...

15. You were sent to the butcher’s, along with the dog, to ask for dog bones — which were actually for soup, not the dog.

16. You've heard, “Just put some ketchup on it.”

17. Your mom would make a pot of coffee, and reheat the leftovers in a saucepan — for DAYS.

18. A failed 4-H animal project ended up in the freezer, and your mother could identify “who” was for dinner. (Sorry, Rosie.)

19. You've heard the phrase, “A little mold won’t hurt you. Just cut that piece off.”

20. You were regularly admonished about food with gems like

  • “Waste not, want not.”
  • “There are starving children in China.”
  • “Finish that so you can belong to The Clean Plate Club.”

Any other practical suggestions may be made in the comments section, and will be much appreciated. Otherwise, just share your own signs that you were raised by frugal people.

Tagged: Lifestyle, parents
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Guest's picture
crashcourse3806

Well, I didn't read through all the comments on this page but a lot of people are making jabs at the poor. Yes, I guess I did grow up poor. A lot of us have, haven't we? And that's why we watch our finances now, so we don't HAVE to live like that. My parents had 6 children, my mom stayed at home and my dad worked at a low paying sawmill. I'm the youngest so by the time I came around I already had adult brothers. We lived in a very small town in the UP. My family immigrated from Germany. I did grow up poor, which I am grateful for. Of course I hated it when I was a teen but it taught me a LOT. I'm financially wise and stable now. I wish my parents were still alive so I could take care of them and return the favor :( Although I don't raise my daughters the way I was raised (because I don't have to) I teach them ways to save money every day.

Guest's picture
Guest

also... I make my own mayonnaise fresh when I want some for sandwiches or salad dressings. i never buy that stuff. and i can afford it. Its cheaper and tastes much better but you have to make small amounts to use it all up right away. Helps to have a big family. All you need is some ingenuity and an open mind and planning and possibly a library card where they have great cook books. Many of the farming communities have cookbooks that tell you how to make anything from pasta to bread to making tough cuts of meat or wild critters edible. A packet of seeds is a darn sight cheaper than 20 lbs. of carrots and 2 bushels of tomatoes. if you have a back yard and a neighbor that is willing to help share you can get a lot done to make your diet very healthy and enjoyable on very little money. Just takes mostly hard labor and thought and the right frame of mind. one that takes challenges and figures it out instead of looking to the government. our grandparents didn't get handouts because there was no such thing back then. we really do ourselves a big disservice to turn our noses up to the wisdom of the past. If you don’t use it to enrich your lives you are doomed to reinventing the wheel when you end up in hard times later on and will feel very lost and helpless and sorry for yourself instead of being flexible and finding joy in the little things that make life bearable. like having a few drops of bacon grease to flavor that boiled potato. :)or a bowl of lentils and home made vinaigrette. you can even make your own vinegar lol, again cheaper than store bought. life is a roller coaster and if we don’t pass the knowledge on to our children or accept what has been passed down to us by our elders, we through away the most critical part of their legacies to us. How to survive in style and our history or memories and experiences ... our family identities and roots. Roots make our lives mean more and food is a giant part of that .its not just physical food its emotional food too.

Guest's picture
Chiara

My Mom and I grew up in Indonesia (she still lives there) and every morning, until this day, she still eats a slice of toast, spreads butter all even (yup, even to the itty bitty corners) and a light sprinkling of sugar on top! My grandpa used to raise cows so I'm sure when she was little, they had really fresh butter... Now that she's her own boss, she gets "fancy" butter but still eats the same thing every morning :) When I miss home, I make myself butter and sugar toast and it'll feel like I'm having breakfast with my Mom :)

My husband and I live in a small condo in Orange County, CA. I know that sounds quite fancy but believe me when I say, we got here by being frugal :P Since we got married 3 years ago, I learned so much from other frugal bloggers! I save bacon grease now (and I only buy bacon ends from the market, unless there's a great coupon) and use it to make eggs... yummms! Bread ends get thrown into the freezer and gets added to casseroles or made into some sort of bread pudding. I have my own sourdough starter in the fridge... I make my own granola... brew my own coffee (unless the hubby comes home with a Starbucks gift card as an appreciation gift from his company). Around here, it's really hard to eat out without spending tons, so I make him lunches everyday. I try to cook about 2-3 times per week and make enough for more than 2 meals.

It's kinda nice to be able to not freak out when the recession hits. I'm grateful that I learned a lot and get support from the husband to be more frugal :)

Guest's picture
middle child

We often had bread with butter & sugar, but open-face and it wasn't a sandwich, it was dessert! Often salad was a hunk of iceberg with Miracle Whip (mayo was for the rich). This was often in place of a sandwich when there was no bread or meat available. We also had tomato sandwiches with tomatoes shared from someone's garden (free) and frequently ate sandwiches with peanut butter & syrup mixed together to make it go further. Sometimes Karo syrup, sometimes just pancake syrup. We would also eat leftover rice as cereal, just heat it up with a little milk or water and add sugar or brown sugar.

Guest's picture
Guest

Funny that people think bread, butter ansd sugar is so bad for you - but toast it and add fuit juice (i.e. jelly) and it becomes entirely normal!

Guest's picture
Vegihiker32

I would say if you were truly the chlid of a dedicated saver - you ate everything from scratch (including noodles) ... I didn't know "box dinner" existed until I was babysitting in highschool.
Add to that: You didn't know that there were people who didn't garden; you were told "hot lunch is for the poor/children whose parents don't love them" etc.; the only time we got to eat out was when we did major extra chores ... like holding a successful garage sale; as soon as you were old enough to peer over the counter - the lesson waiting for you to behold was "how to stretch the roast" ...
That all said though - my parents put a 50% deposit on their first house - with 7 in the family and one steady income.

I love Wisebread because it gets you thinking about 21st cent. versions of old ways to save!

Marla Walters's picture

Tx for your comment, Vegihiker 32!

I, too, was under the impression that "cafeteria lunches" were just for the poor kids until I went to high school and realized you could actually just buy them. My dad made me a baloney sandwich every day. I actually still like baloney. :-)

I love WiseBread for that reason, too (your final paragraph).

Guest's picture
Kitty

Were Happy Meals expensive back in the mid 80's? My friend and I used to load up our (combined) three toddlers into the back seat - car seats were expensive and not required! - and take them to McDonalds. We didn't buy the Happy Meal because it was more expensive with the toy and bright box. Instead we bought one little hamburger and one little fries and the kids all shared it in the back seat while we drove and talked. She would get a coffee and I would get a Coke. That was a big day out!

Some of my best memories as a child in the 1960's were that my Grandma would cut up brown paper bags and cover her dining room table each time we stayed with her. Then we would draw and color the paper and also do food making activities with her. Her kitchen was always shut off from the rest of the house with no heat so she would bring the potatoes or whatever to the dining room table and we would help - the exact opposite of my parents brand new house with a narrow galley kitchen where kids were not allowed!

Guest's picture
Guest

When receiving gifts, my family would very carefully open them and smooth out the wrapping paper to use it again, as well as keep any bows or ribbons.

Guest's picture
Guest

We Never ate chili out of a can without watering it down. For a really luxurious snack, there was peanut butter on crackers with a marshmallow on top, toasted in the oven. At the end of the month, there was "goulash," which in my mother's version was macaroni mixed with canned diced tomatoes and a little sauteed bacon. We didn't have things like Hamburger Helper, because the price was so much higher than just buying the pasta and making it yourself. That went for any processed foods like mixes--didn't eat them, which has turned out to be fortunate, based on what's in them. My mother cooked from scratch (and yes, she worked outside the home)because it tasted better and saved money.

Guest's picture

I also believe that being a wise on money is something we learn at home. Our initial learning is based on our daily routines that eventually brings out our personality. If we are raised on an environment where money is treated valuable, then it will be our foremost desire to spend it very wisely as we give importance to it. Home is indeed our training ground on everything.

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh, heck, yes!! Other people grew up like me! :) My parents always had a huge garden, and my mom canned and cooked from scratch. We lived so far out in the country that driving to Arby's and using a coupon for the whole family was a *huge* treat. My mom sewed our clothes and my dad took us horseback riding and fishing for entertainment (and in the case of fishing, dinner). We received and passed on hand-me-downs. It was so exciting to open up that giant trash bag of hand-me-downs from my older cousin.
My mom could cook anything, and she always made the cheapest stuff sound like the most desireable thing. It was a treat to get fried bologna and sandwiches made with toasted hamburger buns instead of bread. My dad's boss would bring us a dozen glazed donuts out from town, and we would eat the stale ones sliced in half and toasted with butter. I recently mentioned what a happy memory those were, and my mom laughed and said she was trying to get more mileage out of free food! It was a powerful lesson to me--it was my parent's attitude about things. I never heard that *we* were poor, or couldn't afford things, or didn't have the money. My parents just scoffed at things we didn't need and suggested frugal alternatives. We always had a home, shoes, clothes, food, and love. I thought we were rich.

(Did anyone else get boosted into a dumpster behind the Wal-Mart to grab discards? Now it's called dumpster diving, but then it was just humiliation...)

Guest's picture
Guest

I think I grew up with about all on the list, except the deer. I biggest think that stands out was my grandfathers clean out the fridge fish soup. He would make this after catching fish ( anykind) and it contained anything almost used up or going bad in the fridge with a ketchup base. As you can expect it varied widely. I can remember it being very good sometimes but usually pretty pretty bad. We had to eat it all though. Oh and I do remember my grandmother who is Polish always making duck soup I think she called it Chanina?? Who knows where that duck came from!

Guest's picture
Guest

this is exactly how i was raised and how i raised my kids. my favorite memory of dad is late night snacks like butter & onion on home made bread, or potted meat on cracked. mom even canned the bony fish for patties. we were told to put a pototo in every empty spot when moving, cause they make good padding & you will always have something to eat even if you run out of money.

Guest's picture
Raymond T

When I was a teenager, an elderly lady lived in the house next to the apartment building I lived in. Her twin sister lived in the house next to hers. Myrtle and Mabel. Myrtle would give me $2 every week to take the trash out for her and her sister. I mentioned to Mabel that it wasn't necessary for her sister to give me money, I was happy to help. Mabel would just smile and say "Shutup kid, and take the money!" The sisters (both widows) often dined together. Myrtle would make dresses for her and her sister. The kitchen looked like something out of a 1930's Norman Rockwell painting. She saved EVERYTHING. Jelly jars were drinking glasses. She washed and reused aluminum foil and plastic wrap. If there was a way to save, she was an expert! Myrtle never had any children. She worked all her life. When she passed away in 1978, she left her relatives an estate valued at 25 Million dollars. Sadly, she might have been an expert at saving money, she was not able to learn how to enjoy her money.

Guest's picture
nicole

Im 22 now and I remember my mother making to much for food stamps, but bearly scraping by for bills, food ect... I remember eating.

1. Butter Sandwiches
2. Lettuce and relish salad--my own invention I still eat to this day.
3. Spaghetti(no meat) 3 times a week.
4.Bread and katsup "pizza"
5.Always saved bacon grease, or any grease for that matter.
6.Koolaid Galore
7.Spam
many more disgusting things, that I can't think of right now.

We never had any room to garden anything living in tiny apartments,and fresh fruits and vegies were and still are so expensive.

It wasn't about wanting to be frugal in my house but having no choice.Now that I have a family of my own I do everything opposite, while I am still thrifty and always looking for a deal I don't substitute savings for health. Although I do still save bacon grease, it just taste so darn good, MMMM POTATOES!!!

Guest's picture
Guest

I remember breakfast teabags were saved on a plate in the cupboard and reused at lunch.

Guest's picture
Guest

Weevils in the flour? My mom insisted they were just extra protein.

Guest's picture
Renae

Yrs ago an old friend used the line, "There are starving children in China". His 5 yr old daughter's response was, "Name two". She didn't have to finish her dinner that night while her parents stared at her in disbelief.

Guest's picture
Marla

Renae, I am still laughing at that story. Thanks for the hilarious comment!

Guest's picture
TRM

My dad used to offer us a "Jam sandwich- 2 pieces of bread jammed together" !

Guest's picture
Guest

Warning to those of us with allergies. This article described my mom well. Bacon grease can check... also left in cast iron pan in the oven too. We also had fried bread that you fry in bacon fat or fry in "drippings" from cooking steaks. Anyways the allergy warning is cutting off mold wont fix it. The item is still contaminated even if the "blue" is only on the surface. So below that there is still the bacterium. So if you have allergies to mold cutting it off only spares a higher/more concentrated dose of mold but doesn't stop you from still eating or touching contaminated food. You can still get ill. People with penicillin allergies (two of the drugs can kill me) mean people shouldn't eat melon(cantaloupe is the worst), banana, citrus(orange and grapefruit are particularly bad) or bread if moldy. If your allergic to them unmoldy and also mold it will definitely make you ill with flu like to leathal symptoms by trying to just cut off the item or toss out the one while keeping the good looking one to still try to eat later(ie sometimes fruit goes bad but you toss the bad one and keep the rest).

Also add you know your dealing with more than frugal if they refuse you dessert if you don't eat all the items or threaten to ground you while guilt tripping you. I was allergic to some of the items and they knew that but they still hassled me to eat them. Eventually they stopped and gave me things I reacted less to but still hassled me if I didn't eat them. Finally older they left it alone.

Guest's picture

I remember eating oven a friend's house, and when his mom pulled a meatloaf out of the oven I had no idea what it was. See, my mom's meatloaf was basically a beef donut that was cooked on a plate in the microwave. I guess that was more of a time-saver than anything else. And as mentioned in the list, expiration dates meant nothing.

It's all worth it for the stories though. Sha la la laaaaa.

Guest's picture
Guest

People say this list came out of the Depression, but it didn't. I was born in 1980 and I have done all of the above and more.

Once a year I got school clothes from money I earned myself. They were always used, and that was it. If they didn't fit, I stopped eating til they did. That's harsh it seems, but that is the truth.

At 10 I learned to hand mow a lawn, with a push mower. That's when I started to earn money. Even though my parents got plenty of monetary aid from the government, they never had enough for clothes, shoes, field trips, or even school pictures. My money went to that.

In the winter time I had no income, so at 10, I woke up at 5 am to shovel snow from the side walks in front of servicemen's homes. They were often grateful for the morning help. I made from 50 cents to a dollar a sidewalk. This often got me new socks, boots, or undies. (I never bought those used)

When I couldn't rustle up enough money for hair ties, I used any fabric I could tied neatly around my head. I called it my head band.

Before I learned to sew I used safety pins and clear finger nail polish fished from dumpsters to fix my clothing. The nail polish fixed any hose, the safety pin most small snags. From 11 to 22, I kept 1 flannel shirt, by effectively sewing it together with safety pins. Every seam was held together by various safety pins I had found and salvaged over the years. My new husband bought me a new one, on the condition I toss out the old one. It was hard to part with it.

At 14 I was given a pair of jungle boots. I kept them until I was 29. They were still in good condition when I gave them to a boy that had messed up sneakers. The insides were awful on your feet if you wore socks, so I ran around sock-less in them.

My awful childhood prepared me well for poverty in adulthood. To make ends meet, I have had to do a lot of strange things.

I have sewn by hand clothing, from adult clothes. I even patched together blankets, to make a sort of crazy quilt.

I have sewn leather shoes back together, oiled, and re-buckled them. They looked brand new after.

I learned to bulk buy food, OTC, toilet paper, trash bags, shampoo, etc... as a matter of survival.

We glean trees from our yard and our neighbors yard. There are some beautiful plums around here. I did plan to preserve them but, the children got to them too fast.

We garden every year. We save seeds. We raise chickens. We compost. We catch rain water. We are looking at going into solar.

I mend all the children's clothes, with most garment outlasting my children and being able to be passed on to cousins. I usually have to mend a garment once a year.

We save bacon grease if we can afford bacon.

Our diet consists of a lot of homemade food.

I can make muffins about 20 different ways, with or without eggs or milk. The same could be said about spaghetti, and soup.

We don't do the mayo sandwich with a family our size and finance level, it's too expensive. Usually our brad is biscuits, that cost about 5 cents each as compared to the 8 cent piece of cheap bread.

We don't even have a phone hook up, we use google voice.

Also, we use a wood stove. Can't beat free fuel. Yes, my kids get...put another layer on, alot.

Guest's picture
Marla

Guest, thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciated the thought you put into it and really admire your frugality. I just finished up a post about line-drying and wonder why more people don't do it. You could teach a lot of people a lot about how to save money. Thank you! -Marla

Guest's picture
Guest

My dad still remembers going to the butchers for dog bones, only to have his mum toss them in the soup pot! They also grew a lot of things, and my Oma (dads mum) could knit practically anything. Their toys were knit by her, along with their sweaters and socks. If anything had a hole in it, it was darned until it was more darned holes than clothing!

Guest's picture
Duane

What's wrong with saving bacon grease? I live with and was raised by my grandma who did that all the time and as long as you don't keep it for too long it's actually tastes pretty good when you use it to fry other stuff

Guest's picture
Guest

The "clean plate" club is an eating disorder just waiting to happen. Listen to your body, it will tell you when it's full.

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Guest

I was looking to see if anyone had rice cooked in milk using the double boiler! and served with cinnamon, sugar and butter. One of my favorite comfort foods!

Guest's picture
MicheleInAlabama

Cute article! My mom (now 63) still loves plain mayo sandwiches. I can't go that far, but I do love a sandwich with fresh white bread, mayo, and homegrown tomatoes....YUM.

I prefer my butter and sugar on white bread broiled open-face in the oven. It's surprisingly tasty! Sometimes I add cinnamon on top.

I just put up fig preserves a few months ago, and we also canned the unused sugar water -- we call it "fig syrup" -- EXCELLENT on pancakes and waffles, just like "plum runny." haha

I grew up eating a lot of fish because PaPaw had 2 stocked ponds -- many a day I've literally caught my dinner......I still do it at 40 years old. :-)

My mom is well-off, but still saves tin foil and Ziploc bags.....old habits die hard.

Guest's picture
Ina

In addition to making her own elderberry wine, canning the cherries from the tree in the back yard, and gathering nuts from the tree down the street (for free!), my mom saved money by making her own sauerkraut. And it was good!