20 Signs That You Were Raised By TRUE Money-Savers


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

ewww sugar and butter sandwich? talk about a heart attackk! that is disgusting! has anyone ever done that?

Guest's picture

My brother used to make them when he was a teen. He also had a horrible temper which we attributed to his intake of sugar. I tried it a time or two. Tastes pretty good, but even at such a young (preteen) age I realized it was really bad for me.

Guest's picture

I have eaten several of these, along with the plain mayo one and even mayo with sliced onion.

Guest's picture

You can follow it up with some ice cream soup!

Guest's picture

No, not as a sandwich. It's what we put on pancakes because we couldn't afford syrup!

Guest's picture

White bread - and white sugar. The butter was the real McCoy. And it was really good. I never got it often enough to hurt my health.

Guest's picture

Yes and when you're on welfare between checks it's what feeds the kids for breakfast. Only sitting on you ass and no exercise would make eating butter give you a heart attack if you aren't already genetically prone to high fats deposits no matter what you do.

Guest's picture

My step dad used to make us sugar & butter bread with coffee drizzled on top. Yummmy!

Guest's picture

Absolutely! My mom used to bake our own bread....put on a little butter and sprinkled on some sugar. My kids love it too! She'd also shred carrots from the garden and sprinkle that with sugar. I remember that as a night time snack while watching television. I can relate to a LOT of these ways to save money on food! I grew up on deer, quail and smelt that my dad and brothers would hunt, and vegetables and fruit my grew in our garden. I personally don't live that way now, but my parents did what was necessary and I've learned a lot of money lessons from them!

Guest's picture

It is so weird, because when I was younger, I loved butter with sugar on white bread! I ask other people I know if they ever tried it and they have a putrid response also. Another thing that I remember my grandma doing is, after cooking bacon earlier, she would soak up a piece of bread with bacon grease and eat it...now THAT is disgusting. Also, we ate ALOT of macaroni, tomato, and hamburger stew. I think this was all part of being frugal and poor.

Guest's picture

Add milk, warm it up and you have "Bread and Milk" breakfast.

Guest's picture

How about bread with LARD and sugar! My Hubby worked with a man who carried that in his lunch pail to country school every day!

Guest's picture

Butter and sugar on bread is one of my preferred Mexican sweet breads. It's good. Cinnamon toast is the same thing, and that's good too.

Guest's picture

I had forgotten about warm milk with a peice of bread soaked in it, except my dad would put some cinnemon and sugar in it as well...that was breakfast! We had a dairy farm so we made homemade butter, better than anything you get in the store.

Guest's picture

my irish grandmom made them..called kippers. actually quite good...going into kitchen for one now

Guest's picture

Never tried mayo sandwiches or butter and sugar, but I have eaten many ketchup sandwiches and enjoyed every one.

Guest's picture
Thrifty Soul

My mother told of giving us kids butter and sugar in a plastic bag tied shut with a tiny hole in the corner as a substitute for...Mom...and she said it kept us happy for quite a long time.

As for mayo sandwiches, I enjoy a slice of bread with mayo once in a while, much like bread and butter.

I don't know that these are necessarily frugality tips; they are just family habits. Butter isn't cheap nowadays, nor is mayonnaise at about $5.00 a quart or bread at $3.00 and more! At least sugar seems to be reasonable, probably since it's such a dietary villain now.

Fun - and wise - article!

Guest's picture

We ate A-1 sandwiches and they tasted SO GOOD! :)

Guest's picture
Stephanie Hunter

more like poor parents than frugal ones...the list is misnamed.

Linsey Knerl's picture

While my parents didn't openly admit to so much of these, I can totally relate.  I think a lot of these were actually based in some cultural norms from when my grandparents were immigrants to this country.  Lard on toast wasn't unusual, so a lard sandwhich wouldn't be too weird (although you won't catch me eating this alive.)

The "Helper" thing is really funny.  We still do a version of this where we use two boxes of "Helper" and 1/2 pound of hamburger (we also add kidney beans for even more fabulous flavor. LOL)

Thanks for bringing back some memories that I've worked hard to try and forget :)  These are a riot!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I was amazed when I got to college and realized how much the "normal" kids eat takeout... We rarely went out to eat when I was a kid, or got takeout food. It was all groceries, coupons, leftovers. Since I took those attitudes with me to school, I ate a lot better than most college kids.

Guest's picture

Sorry, I thought I was replying to MrsCasanova. My comment was about sugar and butter sandwiches.

Guest's picture

I grew up in a very frugal household, my mom grew up in the Depression. She once made us kids sugar and butter sandwiches. There better than you would think they would be. Think of them as cinnamon toast without the cinnamon or the toasting.

Guest's picture

It's funny that most of the commenters have zeroed in on the sugar and butter sandwich, myself included. My first thing though was your comment in your post about not saving bacon grease. You truly don't know what you're missing. Fresh grown leaf lettuce in a bowl with hot bacon grease drizzled over it lightly....yummy, yummy, yummy. And man oh man, fried potatoes taste delicious cooked in it.

Guest's picture

My mom always called this wilted lettuce.
Dad grew leaf lettuce in the garden for just this purpose. Mom would fry up little bits of bacon (the cheapest, fattiest bacon she could find) and then add a bit of vinegar and sugar to the grease (after removing the bacon). Then the bacon and bacon grease went on top of the lettuce.
Even enduring the task of cleaning the lettuce (being especially careful to pull out all of the slugs) was worth having wilted lettuce with dinner.

Guest's picture

My mom kept a grease pot on the stove. She would clean it out and start over about once a month. And on leaf lettuce warm bacon grease YUMMM! I have not had it in years. She sometimes would put some hardboiled egg in it also! YOu are right about the fried spuds also.

The ketchup sandwich made me laugh-----I thought my Dad was the only one to do this. Us kids never had it though!

The sugar/butter and bread I have not had, but we had a family of Norwegians next door to us and I grew up with their homemade Lefsa which you put butter and sugar or brown sugar on. I still get some at the holidays, and it is pure heaven! Fattening? Sure, but you don't put the butter on an inch thick. It is a light smear of butter and a sprinkle of sugar.

Guest's picture

I heard things such as "just put on another layer" and "there's still have a tissue left there! Save it until you need to blow your nose again". I grew up in Wisconsin, and the house was set at 63 degrees in the dead of winter. We didn't freeze to death, but some days it felt like we would.

I have: grown, peeled, and canned nearly every veg and fruit known to man; eaten squirrel and rabbit that my father shot or trapped; been forced into trespassing to harvest wild fruit; learned to cook myself when I was 7 rather than be forced into eating cold cabbage again (it was on my plate, and I had to eat every scrap. To this day, 25 years later, cabbage still makes me want to throw up).

I think I can could on one hand the amount of times we ate out growing up. We never, ever took a vacation. Ever.

Even when my parents got more on their feet financially, they kept to their thrifty ways. I guess that's probably why they own their home and business outright, have never had a credit card (nor needed one), and have toys like ATVs and Harleys that they paid for in cash.

Guest's picture

1. When we had chili, we added extra tomato sauce (homegrown) and beans to the can of chili to make it stretch.

2. Macaroni and egg

3. Bread and milk

4. Fruit & veggies: cut the worms out and bruises off, it's just as good. Leftovers and non-bad cuttings (leaves of celery, etc) go in the freezer to make stock or smoothies.

5. Bacon grease goes in the fridge so it doesn't go rancid. It is excellent to fry eggs in or onions, mushrooms, put a little in potato soup, etc.

6. A dozen different ways to use potatoes. Or various grains.

7. Proficiency at finding out where you can glean fields.

8. Not afraid to ask strangers if you can pick from their fruit trees when you notice nobody has picked anything and fruit is dropping to the ground.

I think a big problem with many of the things listed in the article is that the diet isn't very healthy. It's more about getting cheap calories than about what should really be going in the body. It is perfectly simple and reasonable to eat healthy whole foods frugally, people just need to learn how to do it.

Guest's picture

aymen to that! People just dont know how to conserve these days. So damned waistful. My parents weren't poor but my dad didn't ever want to pay to get anything on the house fixed so my mom would save up her grocery money to do odd fixes around the house. But having grown up in the grocery business and being a child of immigrents she knew how to cook real food with real nutrition without buying a bunch of preprossessed junk with all the nasty chemicals in it and it was good gourmet tasting stuff that cost almost nothing. Practically everything was scratch. except cakes. lol Those were Betty Crocker for some reasn, but she did do her own icing. No "helper" just a cheap bag of egg noodles, and yes there was a can of bacon grease, and used vegi oil more than once for frying and cleaned it with potatoe peals in between, and there was always a big garden for tomatoes and other vegitables to can all summer. and yes the apple trees made wormy apples lol cut those suckers out. and squirl stew is great called it brundage stew, rabbit, and venison all with licences though.

Guest's picture

Boy, does this list bring back memories!
Guess old habits die hard.
I keep the thermostat at 54 degrees, just turning it up if I'm not feeling well--but I have NEVER pushed it above 60 degrees.
How 'bout those extra layer, eh?

Guest's picture

I usually keep the temp down around 62 in the winter but I can't put i any lower than that without hurting my fish and making myself miserable.

Guest's picture

Yes, old habits do die hard. Heck, I didn't even know that this kind of behavior is not normal until I went away for college! I still keep the thermostat as low as possible without the dog shivering and recycle foil, Saran wrap, food containers, etc. I feel guilty if I don't finish everything on my plate.

Guest's picture

My parents were raised by parents who grew up in the depression and a lot of the frugal habits that allowed my grandparents to survive (and survive well for the most part) were passed to my parents and were then, to some extent, passed to me (and my sister, although my sister hasn't embraced them nearly as much as I have).

I was a proud member of the Clean Plate Club when I was a kid.

I've eaten butter and sugar sandwiches (although they taste better toasted and with brown sugar. And it's more of a dessert for me than a main dish.).

I've put BBQ sauce on many things to make them taste better (I don't do ketchup, but BBQ on rice isn't half bad.).

"Use by" and "expiration" dates are really just suggestions to me (although if it's changed color, texture, smell or taste, it's thrown out rather than eaten). I've only sick off bad leftovers once (and that's not confirmed) and that was because I violated the previously state rule.

I did the math and know the break even point where powered milk is cheaper than "real" milk. When liquid milk hits that point,

I use powdered for cooking, baking and sometimes to drink
(although that's more rare).

I have a little contest with myself to see how long I can go before turning on the heat and air conditioning each year and how soon I can turn it off.

Black beans, brown rice and leftover meat and vegetables make up a reasonable portion of my diet (and I'm happy about it because it tastes good. Especially with a bit of cheap salsa to bind it all together. Maybe topped with some cheese. Mmmmmm....)

Mac and Cheese with just a pinch of cayenne pepper (or a packet of red peppers leftover from the pizza that was ordered at the youth event from which I got to bring home the leftovers) is just amazing.

And people wonder why I'm 10 years ahead on my mortgage, pay cash for my vehicles and support a whole lot of missionaries.

Guest's picture

* lard sandwiches
* ham on hand sandwich (no bread)
* kerosene heaters
* spaghetti for most dinners
* any request met with "we have oodles of them"
* hand me downs
* getting "dressed up" to go to a cheap restaurant

perhaps i'm reading into things here but there is a difference in the comments between people who are frugal by choice and have just maintained frugal habits from their childhood. the frugal by choice folks can't imagine doing some of these things and those habituated to thrift remember these things with a bit of nostalgia.

Guest's picture

I forgot about kerosene heaters. We live in Florida so we didn't use it THAT much. I hated that heater so much. I'm glad it kept us warm but the stench. Yuck! The smell of kerosene still makes my head hurt and kinda makes me gag with nostalgia

Guest's picture

LOL, these were great!

my mom only bought groceries once a month, so at month's end, when food was getting low, sugar and butter sammiches were a mainstay. as was, milk toast.

i remember thinking that a hamburger with a quarter lb of meat on it was SERIOUSLY over the top - mom made all casseroles with one quarter lb of hamburger... for a family of four :o

Guest's picture

I'm a little disappointed by this list because I can't relate to anything on it. A lot of these things are unhealthy, and my mom managed to feed us well without breaking the budget.

Signs that my parents really were savers:

1) I didn't know there was such a thing as credit card debt until I hit university. (My parents only used a credit card when the money was already in the bank).

2) "Homemade" was a regular feature -- including food (including preserves and baked goods), furniture, toys and clothing.

3) My first savings account coincided with my first allowance.

4) When I got my first "real jobs" (baby-sitting and paper route), I also got my first savings bonds to save for university.

5) There was seldom panic when something major broke. If the fridge died, it was an inconvenience but not a financial crisis.

6) Eating out or ordering in was a huge treat.

7) "Vacations" never involved airplanes or long distance travel.

8) Cars seemed to stay around forever.

I vaguely remember things like my mother saving the ends of soap bars to make hand soap for camping, but that's nothing compared to years of being trained to "save for a rainy day" and set financial priorities.

Guest's picture
Not poor, and not snotty

If you are "disappointed" in this list simply because you can't relate to it, I suggest you expand your horizons or stop being so snotty.

Just because some people grew up doing things you didn't have to doesn't mean they are inferior to you. From some of your posts, it's obvious that you feel that way, and it's obvious to me that you shouldn't.

Perhaps you missed out on the part of growing up that included the "do unto others" lesson. My parents may have grown up dirt poor during the Great Depression, but they were the best quality people on earth, and they taught me well, including not to look down on others in lesser circumstances.

For those of you who think that the habits in this article are just for the poor, they aren't. They are also for those who don't want to carry a balance on credit cards, who don't want to depend on anyone or anything but themselves when they need something (like a car or a fridge or a house - all of which we bought outright, by the way). Perhaps you'd like to retire early instead of having to work until your last 5-10 years, like the Social Security system will have you do if you'll use that as your primary source of income?

No, these are but a few older ideas used by those in the saving mode, but they are not just something for the snobbier of you to hook into and complain about. If that's your thing, go read something else. Maybe there is a blog somewhere for People Lifting Noses.

I've said my piece.

Guest's picture

Beth: This list came out of the Great Depression. It's not a modern one, so if you're above a certain age group, no, it probably wouldn't apply to you. I'm pretty darn poor and my friends are too, and we're all frugal by force, and a lot of the list doesn't apply to us either, simply because of the modern times.

Guest's picture

My mom would make us onion and mayo sandwiches, sugar toast, and lots and lots of cooked pinto beans. My father would boil zuchinni from the garden until it was slimy - then made us eat it. If we didn't eat it for dinner - we had to eat it cold for breakfast. Still can't even look at a zuchinni!!

Guest's picture

I'm so sorry! Courgettes (zuchinnis as you call them) are definitely the worlds nicest vegetable!! It's so rubbish that it's been spoint for you...
You should make fritters with them by dipping slices in batter and frying them, or just fry them off with some garlic and loads of salt until they go brown and crispy. So delicious! Please don't be put off courgettes, my heart breaks to think of anyone not liking them!!

Guest's picture

My goodness.

My family have probably done most everything on that list, including the bacon grease, and that sugar and butter sandwiches.

I still scoffed at the “best by” or “use by” dates, so long as it's just a few months apart. I drew the line when my mum passed me a bottle of baking soda that had expired 3 years back. LOL

And yes, she constantly bugged me to eat everything on my plate, up to the very last morsel or else I'd end up marrying a man with lots of acne on his face, but I did ..... end up marrying a guy with acne scars on his lovable face ....

Guest's picture

I was just thrilled last night to fry up some bacon for dinner so we could put the leftover grease in my special container in the fridge -- we were out! And now I know why my dad puts ketchup on EVERYTHING.

A meal that still makes me cringe is my dad's old "john-ben-getti." (No, I have no idea what that means.) We wouldn't BUY Hamburger Helper - way too pricey! Just throw together some ground beef, spaghetti, ketchup and frozen peas & corn and you got yourself a meal.

My favorite stylish sweater in 3rd grade (ca. 1980) was one of those off white, button-front fake Irish sweaters with a sailor-type collar. Mom and Dad wouldn't buy me one. But luckily, Grandpa, with his eagle eyes, pulled over on the side of the highway and dashed across three lanes of traffic to retrieve the sweater someone had lost from the inside shoulder. A wash and it was good as new! And luckily, Grandpa survived.

Hey, I come by it honestly.

Guest's picture

I have a Southern Living Cookbook from the 1960's, which consists of recipes mailed in from readers. There are several variations on 'Johhny Marzetti'. I don't know where that name came from either, but the basic casserole seems to be hamburger, tomato product (anything from ketchup through sauce and on to stewed), and noodles/spaghetti.

Guest's picture

My grandmother used to make something similar. She called it American Chop-suey. Ground beef, onions, a can of Campbell's tomato soup mixed with a 1/2 can of milk and spaghetti. My father said it was a special occasion meal during the Depression & the 1930s.

Guest's picture
Amy K.

When I was in full day kindergarten (1983) we had afternoon snacks, and my favorite was the butter sandwiches on soft white bread.

Guest's picture
Jen B

My mom just spent the night at the hospital for some tests. When they brought her one of her meals there was a very thick, plush disposable napkin on the tray. She said "put that in your purse and take it home. It would be perfect for use in the kitchen. Don't waste it as a dinner napkin!" Then she made me get up and get a paper towel from the restroom for her to use as her napkin.

Gotta love it!

Guest's picture

That is too funny! It's almost kind of loveable how pathologically non-wasteful some of my older relatives can be. It doesn't bother me at all, just gives me a chuckle.

Guest's picture

Ahh the memories :)
I remember how it snowed almost all winter long in my home town but the heat was never turned on in the house – except on holidays. We used electric place heaters and the fireplace. Other than that we had plenty of blankets and thick PJs. Before going to bed (bedrooms had no heat) we’d stand beside the fireplace until we felt the ‘burn’ and ran to our beds before our clothes cooled down.
Things, financially, are a lot better now but the heat never ever goes over 68 degrees. Old habits die hard, I guess…
As for “A little mold won’t hurt you. Just cut that piece off.” Well my parents would tell us the story about how mold is really penicillin and that it’s really good for you… so eat it up kiddo, you should be thankful you got that piece
If we left some food in our plate, it was saved to be eaten next meal or we were told horror stories about how people in other parts of the world are dying of hunger and that God is looking down on us all disappointed
We of course planted enough vegetables and fruits to make jam, vinegar, frozen vegetables and dried vegetables to last us most of the year. It made me appreciate earth, Mother Nature, and the joy of planting and picking my own food. I live in apartment now and I truly miss the joy of having a sunny yard.

Guest's picture
Mr. Guest

Great story! I especially love the penicillin part, makes me wonder if you ever got sick as a child--I doubt it;)--But I do wonder how you make vinegar from your garden produce? Anyway, thanks for the great post, def made my day!

Guest's picture

I can only relate to #10 Sugar and butter do taste good together, gosh I'm craving one of those right now... I'm off to make on xD

Guest's picture

I'm right there with you. I can't relate to any of these except for cut the mold off the cheese (unless it was REALLY moldy, then we threw it away).

My parents didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up but my mom was VERY health conscious. We ate a lot of tofu and brown rice, spaghetti with homemade vegetable sauce (from the Moosewood cookbook) and not a lot of meat and very little processed foods if any. My mom sewed all my prom dresses (man I wish I still had those), made all our bread, bought food from a food co-op, etc. Now I do the exact same things (except the sewing) and it's because it's a better way to live. The idea of eating hamburger helper is repulsive - you can make a delicious meal that doesn't involve processed foods and is much much better for you. I'm thankful I didn't grow up eating things out of a can or a box.

Guest's picture

I can relate to many things on this list, the deer one really had me laughing because my dad once hit one with a car he just bought and it didn't go to waste.

But I don't know what they have to do with saving, seems like its just poor as Beth and Stephanie have pointed out. I don't know why people have such a hard time coming to terms with it, but being poor was pretty common especially in the depression and for a long time in America. Still a lot of poor people.

There are plenty of good foods that were darn cheap. Take rice for instance, you can't get much cheaper than rice especially in 10 to 50 lb bags. I think we had rice nearly every day growing up. Sure we had things like the bacon grease container, but my mom made some pretty cheap meals that were still healthy for us and she had a ridiculously small budget.

Signs of savers:
1) My parents were mortgage free on our house before I got to high school
2) My dad ran his cars into the ground before he bought a new one
3) Virtually nothing was wasted in my mom's kitchen
4) I don't remember a single vacation where we stayed in anything more than a 2 star hotel, but we had some great vacations. Most of the time we spent in an old camper.
5) My mom opened a savings account for us before I got to first grade
6) We ate out maybe once a month, maybe less and it was a big treat. My dad always paid in cash.
7) We never hired anything out although we could have: no gardeners, housekeepers, snow removal - - that's what kids were for

Guest's picture
Charter member, clean plate club

In college years, I used to like macaroni and cheese with a can of tomato soup added - good, cheap stretcher, but I don't know 96 other ways! I also ate a lot of cheap, packaged ramen noodles. And for a long time, I couldn't even think about Huevos Rancheros, I had eaten it so often in college - beans, lettuce and eggs were cheap, at the time.

I was a member of the Clean Plate Club, too, but not by choice! My parents used the, "starving children in China," line to coerce me into cleaning my plate.

When I was a little kid, I accidentally coined my own word to describe powdered milk. When my mom "hydrated" it, she used the blender, which would make the milk all frothy. I saw her making it one day, and I said, "Mmmmm. I like this kind of milk."

My mother, surprised, said "You do? Why?"

Transposing sounds in the word, "fuzzy," I said, referring to the frothy bubbles on top, "Because it's 'suvvy.'" Powdered milk was thereafter known as "suvvy" milk in my house.

Great list!

Guest's picture

Not to all, but to a lot, the mold, about a dozen ways to eat mac and cheese, the deer.... It wasn't about growing up poor though, that is a misconception. Frugal people may seem like poor people in some regards, but it is often a choice so they can use their money to pursue other things.

Guest's picture


Spam the processed psuedo-meat product, that is.
Fried potatoes with everything.
2 pieces of bacon for each person.
Splitting a bottle of soda pop between 2 or 3 kids.
Meatloaf that was more loaf than meat.
Moldy cheese - after all, that's how you make cheese!

and, finally, a good one:
Homemade pickles!

Guest's picture

Homemade pickles went on the mayo sandwiches. Got a whipping if I was caught with the sugar and butter.
Nobody mentioned macaroni and home-canned tomato goulash. Can't even stand the idea now.
Pinto beans one day, white beans the next, always with fried taters. Fried bologna sandwiches. In good times, hamburger on Sat night or a roast on Sun.
One 6-oz bottle of coke, once a week. Now that I've seen so many people with their front teeth rotted out from cola, that might not have been such a bad idea.
Frayed adult skirts resewn into children's clothes.
No car, and always rent near down(small)town.
And do ascertain that the property is truly vacant before picking that "abandoned" fruit. I once faced a shotgun over ripe figs.

Guest's picture
Thrifty Soul

Who says these are old-fashioned - YUM! <:-)

Guest's picture

Was my family the only one to have corn syrup sandwiches? Sort of like pancakes to go, but on cheap bread and corn syrup was cheaper than the other kind. They were a little sticky unless you squished all the edges closed.

Guest's picture

I remember my Dad saying they had corn syrup on pancakes when he was a kid. That was the only kind he knew about until he went into the army.

Guest's picture

The first time I read the list I agreed with Stephanie. But the second time, I had to admit that my mother, who wasn't poor at the time I was growing up, did many of those things including reheating coffee (but not for days), cutting off mold, and getting free soup bones from the butcher. She never pretended they were for the dog.
The thing about the mayonnaise, hamburger helper or buttter/sugar sandwiches would never have happened in my house. The food was always good quality, it was just never thrown out.
Most people wouldn't serve mayo or sugar/butter sandwiches just to save money on a regular basis. Only if they couldn't afford nutritious food.

Guest's picture

Growing up in the 60's and 70', my dad was a business manager for our school district, and made very good money. The reason he ate ketchup sandwiches for example is for him it reminded him of his youth. It brought back fond memories. My mom had the grease pot because that bacon grease added so much more flavor to the food. I guess your parents did not grow up during the depression when ketchup was used to even make gravy. So, even tho they were hard time for my parents as kids, the food that came from that era brought back memories for them. And I can tell you I never ate Hamburger Helper, my mom did not get free soup bones, she used the bones that came from our roast dinner the night before. SO, do not be snobby until you have tried some of these things. And do not make fun of people who do enjoy them!

Guest's picture

Thanks for your reply so I can clarify what I meant. I wasn't making fun of anyone, nor criticizing parents who have to get by in that way.

Some people like catsup sandwiches. There all kinds of reasons to serve catsup sandwiches. But serving them just for the sake of saving money would not be one of them. I don't believe many parents would serve catsup sandwiches, as a main course, on a regular basis, *if they had a choice.*

There is a difference between making a frugal choice on principle, so as not to waste things, and not being able to afford a meal with protein. I would like to think that most parents want basic nutrition for their kids and make it a priority according to their means. It doesn't mean never serving mayonnaise, butter or bacon fat.
Frugality can be an ideal. Eating like some people did during the depression is not.

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I can relate to a lot of these as a child who grew up with a father who couldn't hold a job. We had every color of day-glo mac and cheese the food bank offered, the moldy cheese, a can of bacon grease to eat with our soup beans and on special Sundays, a slice of Spam to go with our beans. Food bank food wasn't (and probably still isn't) healthy. I'm surprised our arteries didn't revolt.

Now that I'm grown, I'm working AND frugal rather but eating much healthier. But I still can't look at mac and cheese without vurping a little.

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I can't help but find it funny when someone discusses how unhealthy or nasty these things are, how their parents were "frugal", and in the same breath mentions family vacations. I guess that point may be the same that others are making. Some of you had parents that were frugal by choice, others of us had parents who were frugal because they couldn't make it any other way.

My family went camping once, when I was 14. That was the only vacation we ever had.

As far as food is concerned, I still clean my plate. I enjoy food, and never put something on my plate that I won't eat. I also try everything at least once.

I saved bacon grease for the first time in years, just last week. I had forgotten how good it is to flavor certain foods.

Gardens, hunting, and fishing provided alot of food for our table. Outside of that, we ate alot of cheap meals, almost always accompanied with slaw, and biscuits. Both of which were cheap. My family ate though 60-70 quarts of canned green beans each year, which came from my grandfathers garden.

Our heat was always on 65, and AC never happened.

While I am now frugal by choice, and have a much easier life then my very hardworking parents did at my age, I do still enjoy many of these same things. I eat much healthier than I did as a kid, but anytime food can be acquired from a garden, farmers market, or from the wild, I'm all for it. (All healthy ways)

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These things have absolutely nothing to do with being poor. It was what you had to do to get by in a circumstance and that way of living was passed down through generations. You as a person either chose to use the same methods or go your own way.
I am not poor. I live in a 2000 sq ft brand new condo. We have 2 new vehicles. Brand new furniture. Flat screens hanging on the wall in 3 rooms. We take vacations. And are raising 2 children.

But i still...
-Only use a half pound hamburger in meals even if it calls for more. I will add rice to taco meat, oatmeal and such to meatloaf.
-I save uneaten snacks that my kids will finish off later when they are hungry again.
-Serve spaghetti once or twice a week. Sometimes with no meat.
-Keep heat to a minimum and use layers and blankets
-Anything that is not used on a daily basis stays unplugged until needed.
-Hang laundry to air dry
-Wash and reuse plastic zip loc bags that have not had raw meat in them
-Tend to a garden for almost free fruits and veggies
-Plan my trips accordingly to save gas
-Use coupons and rebates

And many many many many more things. I do this to not waste as so many others do. It also cuts the costs to a minimum and allows us to have the nice things we wish to have without breaking the bank. And all while showing our children that choices have to made and hard work is involved with every aspect of life. It's all about choices. Not if you are poor or not.

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OP--Congratulations, your family out-frugled mine! I didn't think that was possible. It sounds as if you grew up in a farm family, or at least in a farm community, because many of the things you did were foreign to us (egg money and the 4H club).

That being said, some of the frugal things we did growing up did have an impact. Now when we make french fries, we save the vegetable oil for the next time we make french fries. It takes a lot of oil to make french fries, and oil isn't cheap, so we figure it isn't a problem to reuse it for the same function. Not about the bacon grease thing...no way, sorry!

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Having been raised by frugal parents, this is a list I can definitely relate to. Excellent job!

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I still ignore expiration dates, because 1. They are probably sooner than they should be to avoid legal entanglements, and 2. There is only one person in the world with enough information to decide if the carton of milk in my hand has gone bad, and that person is me, not some robot box-stamper three weeks ago.

Also, it might interest people to know this: The Food Bank in my area keeps cans that are 7 years past the date (they don't keep them that long, but some people donate expired stuff) but if soup or sauce in one of those tetra boxes is past the date, they toss it right away. (They're not heat-sealed)

So remember that when you're donating old food or cleaning out your own pantry.

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Bacon grease! That's seasoning, it makes everything taste better. I still do that today, not to be fugal -- it's a good thing (Channeling Martha). LOL

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

I remember butter and sugar sandwiches for breakfast.  Mmm, very tasty.

And saving bacon grease is a foodie's secret weapon -- not just a frugal tactic.  Great for cooking up scrambled eggs!  Mmm, tasty.

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Did anyone else eat peanut butter, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiches? My dad would also make some sort of casserole out of whatever that week's leftovers had been...and it wasn't always things that should have gone together! My

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I'm enjoying a lot of these comments :)

I should add that we ate a lot of "clean out the fridge or freezer" meals. I still eat a lot of "throw everything in" salads and stir fried vegetables :)

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> I should add that we ate a lot of "clean out the fridge or freezer" meals.

I still do this. I eat like a dog in a dumpster. Whatever's oldest in the fridge, I eat it. If there's any food at all in the fridge -- I'm talking ANY food... a bag of flour, old beans, aging canned food... -- I'll mix up something out of that rather than go shopping. If I lived alone, I'd eat like that until I literally ran out of food.

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I still save real bacon grease in the freezer. I use it for flavor in dishes-in little bits. Delicious! We eat real bacon so rarely we love to have the flavor in foods. turkey bacon just doesn't cut it for flavor!
My husband's family grew up during the Depression and those habits got ingrained into him. He and now my 23 & 27 year old sons have a habit I just shudder at- when dinner is done and there is extra gravy, they put a slice of bread on the plate and cover it with gravy. They call it either 'quick stuffing' or 'bread gravy'. Bleah. I make delicious gravy (and stuffing, for that matter) but I am not a bread eater.
My family when I was growing up grew every vegetable known to man in our little back yard. I didn't know that salad wasn't a dessert until I got a job in a restaurant when I was 18 and 'salad' was always the first course:) In my house salad was the reward for eating everything on your plate. We ate a lot of pasta primavera (spaghetti with whatever vegetable was in season in the garden and olive oil). Since we lived in Southern California, it was served several times a week year round. We also ate a lot of baked potatoes stuffed with vegetables and topped with homemade cheese sauce. You don't need a lot of cheese,and more flour and oil stretches the roux :) We ate meat when it was inexpensive- like giant pack of chicken legs.

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This is going to make me sound rich, but the first time I had bread with sugar butter was a few years back. I paid 35 cents for a piece, at a Mexican bakery. It's called mantequilla, and is one of the popular sweet breads (pan dulce). Delicious!

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I got a good chuckle out of this article. It brought back memories of eating home-canned fruits and vegetables, checking the jars for mold first, catching the pigs/rabbits/chickens when they escaped, joking with each other over breakfast sausage "Which pig do you this is we're eating? The delicious one." We composted, spread manure, weeded, hunted, shot firecrackers at coyotes, picked vegetables and berries, and burned wood when the power went out. Our water came from a well, so it tasted extremely chalky. There were calcium deposits all over the showers and sinks. And it was quiet. Stone cold quiet. Strange times, though good for the most part.

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I think my mother's most extreme behavior was saving the wine left on the table after the Passover seder, to cook with. But only from family members, not guests. I wrote up her 20 most extreme frugal behaviors and will post first thing Thursday. (I post recipes on Wednesday and haven't gotten one up yet.)

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I grew up eating gravy on bread, beans and puffed wheat cereal. That cereal usually came in big plastic bags. Once in a blue moon, I was fed puffed rice cereal.

We never ate out. When we visted relatives up north, my parents would stop at the local butcher shop and usually bought sausage to bring to their homes.

My mom would only buy clothes off the clearance rack. When I grew out of my clothes, she would mail them to my cousins up north on a farm.

We always had a garden and my parents always canned or froze food. If I was hungry between meal, I was told to have crackers or bread with butter.

I still can't stand the sight of puffed wheat cereal. My kids wanted that sugar bear cereal that looks like puffed wheat cereal. I wouldn't buy it no matter how much it was on sale. I won't let that nasty stuff anywhere near my house.

Sometimes we would go to a drive in movie and my parents always brought their own popcorn.

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Cat food comes in a can? Who knew.

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The "barbecue sauce sandwich" - one of my favorites.

Or, Arby's Soup - Made with packets of Arby's sauce and hot water.

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Oh, the 'cut that bit off/mold' comment certainly rings a bell, so too the tub of meat fat (it was called 'dripping' in our household.)

Other frugal practices that seems now to have come from the ancient past involve stale bread. Not bread that has gone green, but a loaf or the ends of loaves that have gone hard. That kind of stale bread can be used to make:
1. Summer Pudding
2. Bread Pudding
3. Bread Sauce
4. Bread Crumbs
5. Croutons

Now I'm hankering after a Summer Pudding! This reminiscing isn't good for my waistline.

Yours hungrily,

Mrs Miser

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Johnny marzetti - et. al. My step-monster called this American Chop Suey.

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It's interesting that you can tell which generation posters above grew up in by their frugal food choices.

I was the child of hippies, growing up in the 70s, so I identify with the "brown rice" school of frugality.

For my grandparents, the ultimate was getting convenience foods on sale with double coupon. The "Helper" meal is one that would have appealed to them.

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I keep my bacon grease in the fridge (in Tupperware). That way it doesn't go rancid. I also save tallow (beef fat), shmaltz (chicken fat) and any other fat that comes out of an animal. I cook with them all the time, using them as additives in the foods I'm making (though usually I combine them w/ vegetable oil, using the animal fats for flavouring).

I never had a butter or mayo sandwich, but I do still eat peanut butter and butter sandwiches from time to time.

Plus, I save all the trimmings from veggies in the freezer from which I make stock.

And I never turn on my heater, even when it's below freezing.

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I forgot to mention surprise eggs. They'd take out the center of the slice of bread (which we then balled up so we could eat our bread marbles). Butter or mayonnaise would be melted in the pan, then the bread went down and an egg was cracked into the hole of the egg. Fry both sides, serve. Yum. We ate these all the time when we were kids.

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I almost forgot about "bread marbles".

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I remember the weekly stew or boiled dinner. We lived out of the best invention ever made ... the Crock Pot. Left overs were never thrown or even given a chance to be thrown out. They would go into the soups, stews and chli.

Ahh ... ketchup sandwiches

Thanks for the article, made me laugh.

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It seems most of these posts are all about the past. Where are today's poor people posting how they get by?

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Really poor people don't post--they don't have a computer and for sure don't have internet.

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The Arabic Student wrote: "It seems most of these posts are all about the past. Where are today's poor people posting how they get by?"
Plenty of people are writing about it, including the author of this post. But old-fashioned techniques work best. I've seen people bragging about how much they are saving with coupons, but they come out of the store with bags of junk like sugary cereals and other highly processed foods. You don't find too many coupons for apples or lentils.

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I'm only 31 but I can relate to 1/2 these including no. 18 :( I forgot about how poor we were and how much my mother tried to make things work for us. I guess I know where my frugailty comes from and why I am content with just enough vs a consumerist mindthought of more, better, more, better.

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My grandmother used to make me ketchup soup. It's a bowl of hot water and you put ketchup in it and stir. She used to take me to the Horn and Hardart in Manhattan - it was the old automat - and we'd buy a bowl of hot water (I think it cost a nickel) and then take the ketchup that was on the table (for free) and made "soup". This was in the early/mid 60s. We weren't the only ones doing this, obviously, which is why they sold the bowls of hot water.

Now that I think about it, she also put ketchup on pasta, which I liked.

We always cut mold off cheese, bread and other stuff too. No big deal unless it was totally moldy. My mother also told me the "pennicillin" excuse too.

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Growing up we used to hang all our clothes out to dry on the tree in our backyard. Using the dryer ran up the gas bill I guess. I still use a clothesline to this day... even though I could afford to use my dryer, I can't see spending the money on it.

And now that I'm a grown up, I make my own "candy" by blending sugar and butter. Brown sugar almost makes butterscotch. Yummy and cheap!

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Here in Hawaii electricity is about four times as expensivde as the mainland. We hang up our clothes, too. I love sheets dried outside.

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However I do have others. My mom and both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were able to cook quite well on a budget. They brought in bulk alot. They shopped at discounted grocery stores like Audi's. I hardly remember having brand named cereal, my mom always brought the sore brand, or that knockoff brand that came in the bag. We also ate beans alot. Most of my clothes came from the clearance rack or discount stores.

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Sandy L

Snack food:
Bread and Butter

Junk food:
Bread, butter and honey or
raw egg beaten with sugar (Ice cream without the ice or cream)

Health food:
Eating so much fruit out of the garden that you can't look at another pear or peach til the following summer.

Guest's picture

Boy, do these comments bring back memories. Both my parents were adults during the Great Depression (I was a late in life baby) and both knew how bad things could be. Our house was the one my Dad grew up in and was totally debt free. My mom was a stay at home homemaker (and that is exactly what her job was -- making a home for Dad and me). We always had a large garden (a half acre) We dug dandoline greens in nearby cow pastures and picked crab apples from wild trees. We had a camp (and it really was a camp not a cottage) and we spent the summer fishing (and digging the free worms to use as bait!) most of which we froze for the winter. We picked wild berries by the gallon and froze those too. I hated the garden because it was my job to pick the green beans every morning after the dew had dried up. I think we ate beans every meal (besides the ones we froze). Sundays we always had a "big" dinner after church and supper was always bread and milk or St.Johnsbury crakers and milk. We ate gravy on our bread but usually the gravy wasn't thickened. Once a week we had American chop suey made with a box of macaroni, a can of tomato soup, onions, and hamburg (the cheap kind). One of my favorite meals was Salmon P. Wiggle over toast. The can of bacon grease was always in the frig along with a slab of salt pork that was usd to flavor everything. My mom made the best oorn chowder with browned bits of salt pork and onion. I sure miss those days!! Maybe, corn chowder for supper.......

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My mother-in-law recently told me what a bunch of sissies her kids had become crying about this 'horrible' recession and how hard things are now. She continued her reality check with us by reminding my husband and I that in the early 1980s, her husband lost his job as a West Virginia coal miner, forcing the family to uproot from their home (purchased with a 20 year mortgage and paid off in 10) and move to Virginia to find jobs in the textile mills. When those closed too, they were left to feed a family of 5 on a single income of about $7 an hour. Guess how...

She learned to garden, can, preserve, bake, sew, raise chickens and rabbits, and get creative about dinner which was frequently a modestly sized pot of beans simmered all day with some fatback and a couple chunks of cornbread. Hamburger Helper was too expensive, and turning lettuce was a delicacy when it was "kilt" with bacon fat and milk in a skillet.

Culturally speaking, as kitschy or charming as these stories may sound to us now, these things are at the heart of keeping it simple. And if we could all remember how to do that maybe these hard times would be taken with a little less weight and little more ingenuity. Great article!