Finally, Frugal Rules


For most of my life, I felt slightly ashamed at my frugality. You know, if I held onto a piece of furniture that wasn't showroom-new, made a meal out of leftovers, or shopped for clothes at Goodwill, I was being "cheap" or "a packrat." I thought, this will do for now, but it's not as good as having everything brand new.

You've heard the comments. Most people don't brag about frugal acts, they confess them. "Sometimes I save tissue paper, iron it, and use it again," my aunt once said as she opened a gift bag. "Isn't that terrible?"

But glory hallelujah, in the last year or so we have this environmental surge that is bringing the sexy back to reusing stuff. Now when my husband throws out a bunch of clothes or coat hangers or whatnot and I rescue them from the trash, I can fall back on the Earth as an argument. As in, no, I'm not mentally ill, I just love the Earth! Don't you? Do you want Al Gore to be mad at you?

What used to be called being tight, a hoarder and a skinflint is now called reducing, recycling and reusing. And I love it.

I still hope I don't end up as one of those old ladies with plastic over every piece of furniture, keeping everything forever so I can be buried with all my money. But come on, washing out a few Ziploc bags is nothing compared to the life led by No Impact Man, who says he composts his own poop! And he's having a book published and a movie made about him.

Making stock out of that chicken carcass and a bunch of the tough ends of broccoli stalks? You thought that was penny-pinchy of me? Obviously you have not heard about the freegans who are out there Dumpster diving for their supper. That's right. Eating food out of the garbage is now cool in some circles. If only George Costanza could see us now.

Deep down in my soul, I know when I take a Little Tikes toy from my neighbors' trash, I'm not doing it out of true environmental concern. Yeah, that's a bonus, but I'm really doing it because

a) I'm cheap -- that is, I'm not willing to sink into the tar pit of consumer debt but I still want my kids to have a little fun.

b) I just hate to see anything wasted. It offends my sensibilities the way an unkempt front yard might bother other, classier people.

I'm not above letting others believe I'm garbage picking out of environmental concern. After all, hotels can do it: They're always claiming that conserving water is the reason they don't want to wash our towels and sheets every day. Maybe if I practice acting like it long enough, I'll actually grow the nobility needed to really do things to save the Earth. Or at least become more believable than those hotel bathroom signs.

In the meantime, I'm just glad I get to save a buck now and then without lurking in the shadows. Then again, staying in these shadows does save me money on sunscreen.

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Guest's picture

I always tease my boyfriend about these tendencies. He has enough stock to last us through Armageddon if need be.


... I found myself washing off the piece of foil we use over and over when broiling food instead of tossing it and grabbing a new one. He's definetly rubbing off on me.

Guest's picture

making your own chicken stock is not frugal. it's tasty.

Guest's picture

Yeah, I got crap about it from friends and family my whole life too. But, one can't help being the way one is. My husband and I were talking about it the other day. The way I see it is that stingy and frugal are two totally different things and people who criticize tend to get them confused. If you are still generous and helpful with other people, there's nothing bad about it as long as you aren't hurting anyone.

Guest's picture

I reuse plastic bags and Chinese takeout containers. It only makes sense because why buy new plastic goods from the supermarket when those were only used once?

Guest's picture

I think it depends on when you grew up, and what kind of family you have. I was raised in the 1970s with parents who had grown up at the tail end of and just after WWII. The lessons of the Oil Crisis remain with me: turn out lights, walk if you can. My father made his own granola and yogurt, and compared prices on everything. I love recycling stuff, refashioning it into other things. I make all of our meals from scratch. After 20 years of marriage, we just last month got our first microwave as part of a kitchen renovation-- until then I always said "if you aret oo busy to heat up a pot of food on the stove, then there is something wrong with your life" (Okay, I realize microwaves are good for other things, like defrosting). We have one credit card between us. My husband uses it for work lunches and gas, mostly. At present we have no debt beyond payments on our car, which finish in ten months. We paid cash for another car this summer when my 10 year old car died. We both work within a 20 minute walk to work. Oh, and we raised our daughter to be intelligent: she was awarded an academic scholarship to an exclusive private high school, worth $50,000. As she excels in math and science, we are shooting for a scholarship for university. We buy what we can afford, and don't buy what we can't afford.

Nora Dunn's picture

Personally, I've been on an increasing trend to save and reuse things for similar reasons to yourself. It's practical, frugal, and environmentally friendly.

Here in Hawaii (where I just arrived yesterday), I'm dabbling with a lifestyle not dissimilar to that of No Impact Man, except I won't be living in a city, and won't even have things like power or running water (at least, not on the grid). And yup - I too, will be composting poop. Yikes!

More to come on that. The intersting side-point to this lifestyle will be learning to generally live without money. Talk about frugal! 

I do believe that in general, most of us can't or won't change our lifestyles so drastically. But the environmental movement is afoot, and general awareness plus the little things we each can take on to do our part is a start.

Historically speaking, the industrial revolution is pretty new. We've done a lot of damage in a small period of time. The environmental revolution is just a babe. As long as we progress at a similar pace as the industrial revolution did, I have hope that this beautiful earth of ours will survive, as will our pocketbooks! 

Guest's picture

frugal rules since the beginning of time.. i am so happy to learn that the younger gereration has finally found the means to recycle and save money. the time to do so with a young family is to outfit the children in rummage and resale clothes and etc... this alone can save a budget from going under.. no need for labels at this age..actually my therory is when the manufactors put my name on the labels then i will buy them.. i don't feel like walking around advertising for the them. this is the first of many mistakes that young people do and why? at the high prices charged. its like sheep.. gotta to have what the next one has.. what happened to thinking for ones self and making your own deceisions.?. the saying is that clothes make the person and this may be true but remember we don't wear the labels on the ourside of our why pay the prices??.

Guest's picture

I have no qualms about calling myself cheap -- my friends try to correct me and say frugal -- whatever. Every chair in my house I got off the side of the road or at a yard sale. It helps that I have bent for all things retro and danish modern.

I live in an affluent area and am continually amazed at what people discard for landfills. Brand new sleds, Dining room tables, dressers, more little tykes that I care to recount etc. Things that aren't even broken. I guess it's too much work to call the Salvation Army or Goodwill to donate it so let's throw it out!

It's a sad mentality from an environmental point of view as well as a financial point of view. Everyone could use a tax deduction for charity goods...