Four Frugal Suggestions From Yesteryear

This following is a guest post by Abby.

As everyone knows, money is tight these days. My husband and I are lucky: we haven’t lost our jobs, don’t own a house to lose, and generally manage to make ends meet, but we’ve still been pinching pennies so that I can work part time, and stay home with our daughter.  With the forecast for raises looking bleak for the foreseeable future, we’ve had to work extra hard to hold on to more of what we already make.

Since we were already practicing frugality in the commonly suggested ways (conserving electricity, cloth diapering, clipping coupons), I’ve had to look more deeply to spot our remaining hidden money leaks.  Perhaps what has helped the most is to look back to my parents’ and grandparents’ way of life, to see where we might be wasting money in unnecessary ways, on items that they would have “used up, worn out, made do, or done without,” as the old adage goes.  In light of that idea, here are four penny pinching options of yesteryear to consider (note that all cost and savings estimates are highly approximate, based on my own local prices and usage):

1) Switch your guy to the safety razor:

Classic safety razorModern cartridge razors make a killing using a wildy succesful pricing strategy: the head is sold at or below cost, because once you’re hooked, you’ll readily swallow the annually increasing price of the disposable blades.  In contrast, an old-fashioned safety razor headpiece costs about $30, but lasts a lifetime, and the blades cost less than 50 cents apiece.   The bonus: according to my husband, after a steep initial learning curve, the safety razor paired with a shaving brush and soap easily outperforms any multi-bladed cartridge.

Cost: a five pack of blades ($2.50) lasts my husband a month.  $80 investment in the first year; $30/year after that.  Cartridge razors: $12/20/2 months, cost $120 in the first year alone.

  • Savings? $40-$90 annually.

2) Ditch the disposables (paper towels, that is):

washclothI’ll admit that it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to my paper towels: they were so clean, and so ready at hand when I needed them, but since my ancestors did without, I decided that I could too.  The key to my success: a reusable alternative that is just as effective and accessible, but which ends up in the wash rather than the trash.  For a “towel” that will outperform paper any day, cut a double layer of flannel (dark colors are best!) into baby wipe size and zigzag stitch around the edges.  Forty is plenty, if you throw the soiled ones in whenever you do a regular load of wash; you’ll also want to weed and replenish your stock periodically.   Store them in the same place where your paper towels would go (a make-shift “hammock” rigged into the previous paper towel dispenser works great).

Cost:  Flannel fabric on sale is as little as $2/yard; 4 yards yield at least 48 squares for $8.   A three-pack of paper towel rolls every two weeks was costing us $104/year.

  • Savings? Nearly $100 annually.

3) Opt for the comfort of cloth:

This suggestion only applies to those nursing moms out there doomed to wear nursing pads for years on end.  After a year of leaking, and kicking myself for not buying stock in a certain disposable nursing pad company, I finally sought out a reusable option.  It took a little bit of searching, but I found a washable nursing pad that I absolutely love.  Forget frugality: think of no more crinkly, sticky uncomfortableness!  Like their disposable counterparts, modern cloth nursing pads have a waterproof backing and moisture-wicking linings; I’m so comfortable I’m actually thinking about switching to cloth for all my womanly needs.  Best of all, I’ll never have to deal with the disaster of a disposable nursing pad sneaking into the washer again.  Like the cloth towels, these wash up nicely in your regular laundry.  They will wear out eventually, but even replenishing once a year equates to big savings.

Cost: $72 for 12 pairs of reusable pads.  Disposables were costing $20/month (=$240/year)

  • Savings? over $160 annually.

4.  Cut the cable, stop the satellite:

above us only skyYes, I’m going to suggest the unthinkable (at least for some of you): it is possible to exist without cable/satellite TV.  In fact, my husband and I have done so for years.  No, we aren’t anti-technology, or living in the dark ages; we regularly enjoy movies and shows, but we do so at very low cost.  We subscribe to a well-known subscription DVD rental service, and access shows online (a day late) on most major network channels; a DVI plug easily connects our laptop to the TV set. It’s a win-win situation: the cost is minimal, and we watch only what we actually want to watch, because there’s no temptation to just “surf” the channels.  We catch up on news via the Internet, and, like my grandparents, listen to a lot of (free!) radio.  As a huge bonus, we spend less in other areas, because we aren’t bombarded with commercials all the time.

Cost: we pay $8/month to rent one DVD at a time, which also provides unlimited instant watching; everything else is free; annual cost = $96.  Cable/satellite: at an estimated $40 month (fill in your own cost) = $480 per year.  We were also previously renting 3-4 movies from the video store per month, at an additional cost of $150 annually.

  • Savings?  Well over $500/year.

I’m sure our relatives from the past could offer up many more great suggestions like these, and hoping some of you will share, too.

What’s your great frugality idea from yesteryear?

Photo credits to bendeming, mthomps00, Minimal Stuff, Abigail Badillo, and kevinzim.
Angie Kauffman
Angie, a domestically challenged nerd and mom of three very fun kids, is the founder of Real Life at Home.  Angie also listens to music every chance she gets, writes eBookspodcastsloves Pinterestdocuments the little moments in life on Instagram, and occasionally sleeps.


  1. says

    Be sure that you aren’t paying an arm and a leg for things like spices and yeast as well. Most natural food stores have bulk sections where you can buy sometimes as much as 5 times the amount of herbs and spices as you’d pay for those dinky little jars in the supermarket. The same is true for bulk yeast. I can buy enough yeast for 20 sessions of bread baking for about the same price as one of those 2 packs of yeast at the supermarket (which are good for one session). Our local mom and pop store has started repackaging spices and herbs. It’s not quite as cheap as the co-op, but it’s still far less expensive than the small jars.

    Always remember that convenience tends to cost. Buying things in small sizes (like 5 lb bags of flour) is nearly always more expensive than buying in bulk. I usually buy my flour in 20 lb bags and store it in a metal can that my mother got back in the 1960’s. She got the can for free because frozen bulk blueberrries from Agway came in it. I’ve been using it for flour since the 1970’s and it’s still working just fine. It’s not beautiful, and it’s pretty dinged up now, but it still serves it’s function. Keep your eye out for similar cans. The ones you can buy for popcorn at the dollar store are smaller, but a couple of those would probably work as well as my freebie.

    Avoid fast food restaurants. A bag of bagels and a tub of cream cheese will provide bagels and cream cheese for the family for little more than the cost of one bagel and cream cheese at the fast food place. It may seem like you’re saving time, but really once you’ve factored in stopping at the restaurant, did you really save time over quickly making a bagel at home? Save those fast food excursions for when you’re on the road for real.

    Try to avoid throwing food away. For example, our leftover mashed potatoes from Sunday (my husband is notorious for making too many mashed potatoes) turned into the topping for Shepherd’s Pie on Tuesday. Dribs and drabs of vegetables can go into a container and then get thrown into a pot with a chicken carcass to flavor the broth.

    Avoid extra trips to the store. Not only does it use up more gasoline and more of your time, but you will almost certainly end up buying something that isn’t on your list.

    Be careful with coupons. Don’t buy something you wouldn’t ordinarily get just because there’s a coupon for it.

    Those combined hints come from watching both my mother and my mother-in-law.

    Oh, and remember there are some things it’s truly worth paying more for. Eggs from pasture raised chickens, locally grown produce, real maple syrup being a few of them.

  2. Krista says

    As Liz said, there’s always the food costs – simply don’t eat out much at all – view it as a “special treat” once in a while/once a week. Don’t buy coffee out, either – that’s a killer! Turn off lights when not in a room or have lights on a timer if not home (seems obvious, but many people do this) and watch the gas costs for driving. Plan your route so that fewer miles get driven or in the warmer months, if you can, walk more, if places are close enough and you don’t need to haul a lot home. Keep in mind that washing cloths costs a lot, too – or it can if you’re not careful – and drying, too! If you can (and believe me, I know how hard that is having a young child!) try and minimize laundry as much as possible. Along with that, little things like turing off the faucet while brushing teeth or doing dishes (if by hand) will cut down water costs. Also, if possible, turn down the heat a degree and wear an extra layer – but with little ones, that’s not always an option. And yes, be ware of coupons, because many of them are for name brands that cost more to begin with – opt for the store brand if possible – many are just as good or better, depending on the product – or at least buy some store brand products. And of course all those things that are actually “luxury items” that you just like, want or can’t live without – evaluate what you really CAN live without and what you actually can afford for a little “pleasure” in your life……

    Last but not least – always reuse as much as you can that is reasonable, especially when it comes to kids’ clothing, toys, stuff…..

    Good luck!!!

  3. says

    my only warning on the breast pads is the YEAST Monster other wise known as Thrush. Also if you stop wearing the pads, your breasts can learn to not leak. :)

    • Abby says

      Thanks for that warning! I know that thrush can be a problem, although I haven’t run into it. I do make sure to change the pads frequently whenever they become damp, and use oxygen bleach in the wash, because they can develop a bit of an odor otherwise (and therefore, I wouldn’t trust them to be clean). If yeast does crop up, using vinegar or even diluted real bleach is supposed to kill it in the cloth, and like with a baby in cloth diapers, you can always switch to disposables until it is cleared up.

      You’ve actually been able to teach your breasts not to leak? I’ve had no luck in that department. It’s like the elephant in the room: the more I think about not leaking, the more likely I am to leak. However, I’m apparently a mega-milk producer. In the beginning, I could easily soak two or more sets of the really high quality disposable nursing pads per night; if I went without, everything – blankets, sheets, my shirt, the baby’s shirt, etc – would be soaked by morning.

      • says

        Anyone who has been through the Thrush monster knows it’s VERY hard to get rid of, it’s like Lice. you never know when it will still be in some stuffed animal/shirt/sheet whatever. Microwaving bras and boiling bras in vinegar because Bras are too expensive to be disposable. LOL
        As for the leaking thing, take inside of your wrist and just hold your breast in, after a while it will know not to leak. Another trick is not to wear the pads or bras to bed, extra fabric brushing against your nipple can trigger a spring quicker then you think. I remember waking up in a puddle the first night my oldest slept through the night. Ah but no more puddles here hehehe :)
        funny how I manage to get myself into these conversations. It’s been 3.5yrs since I’ve nursed anyone.

  4. Abby says

    One of my readers pointed out to me that I promised five frugal suggestions, and only delivered four. I could say that I was practicing frugality with my words, or subtly hinting to always read labels, but really, I have to admit that I originally wrote five suggestions, and then trimmed it down to four for length. Thanks, kind reader, for discretely pointing out my error, and my apologies to all! My originally intended fifth suggestion (so I can make good on my title) was along the lines of Krista’s last one: to find little ways to “splurge” that are worth every penny of the enjoyment that comes out of them. When I was nine months pregnant with my daughter (or when I had a four-week-old), something as small as a stopping to buy a drink and a treat with my husband was worth far more than an entire dinner out would have been; at this time of year, my favorite small splurges are potted flowers/houseplants. They are like green gold to us soon to be housebound northeastern folks.

    • says

      YES!!! with Christmas coming we have a “budget” here for gifts. Mom and Dad are included and we give each other six 20.00 gift cards each. That’s 12″dates” a year. If we get some to the same place we can use them at the same time. It’s less dates but it’s time to be and talk and enjoy ourselves. Now if only Babysitters liked gift cards as payment I could cash in some of my frequent buyer cards hehehe

  5. says

    I also wanted to comment on the lack of Cable/Satellite. We stopped paying that bill 3yrs ago now and we don’t have more then 1 station. When the Olympics were in Vancouver everyone was complaining about no snow? Well that’s the only station that came in and we saw plenty of snow. You get used to it. Come I think Feb of next year all stations will be digital up here and we will need a digital tuner to receive any stations. I guess that’s progress? but you should see homework here, and A Wii is an excellent investment for kids, they aren’t just sitting there the majority of games we play are active. Now if I could only get them to go outside more and use those second hand bikes we got them.

  6. says

    I started drying our laundry on the line and it saved us $40 a month. And planning out our weekly menus saved another $20-40 a week in groceries. We also use cloth diapers and that saves $80 a month, since we have two kids in diapers.

  7. says

    I totally agree. Getting rid of your cable/satellite has many benefits beyond just the monthly bill. You’ll actually save $1000’s in things you automatically buy from just watching commercials! It’s a proven fact that people who watch broadcast tv want more things.

    I would just add to the list: shop thrift stores! Fun and economical.