The Game of Becoming Really, Really Frugal

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Frugality isn’t always the choice to not spend money. Sometimes, it means a greater expense initially. Spending more money than you’d like on the front end helps you save way more money than you’d otherwise have been able. I wrote specifically about grocery sales awhile ago, but the same concept applies to other areas of your household.

I’d like to live simply and self-sufficiently and never have to go shopping. But I live in a small house on a city-sized lot and I flat out can’t produce everything I need in my kitchen and backyard. Even homesteaders back in the day had to rely on the Sears and Roebuck catalog every once in a while. So I do what I can where I am in life.

Here are a few things to get your mind going in this direction. Some will be familiar, but maybe not all of them.

Cast Iron

Outside of the old Revereware saucepans that my mother-in-law gave to me, I cook almost exclusively with cast iron. I’ve used cast iron for so long I didn’t realize the savings until my husband’s friend noticed ours and asked about them. Apparently he and his wife were tired of buying new skillets every year and wondered if cast iron was worth the price and held up better than teflon skillets. Ummm…yes! (cooking with teflon….now that’s a whole other topic….) The cast iron muffin pan my husband found for me at an antique store was several times the price of an aluminum one, but I should never have to replace it.

Fabric “Paper” Products

In my mind, nothing is more adulting than spending real, actual money on disposable paper products. (Except toilet paper. I’m still a staunch consumer in that category.) Otherwise, I keep a roll of paper towels on hand (but hidden away) for those truly awful clean-up jobs, when I wouldn’t want a fabric rag to be in contact with my washer. Otherwise, I keep baskets of rags and old towels on hand–in the laundry room, bathroom, and kitchen that we use for cleaning and messes.

I have several sets of fabric napkins that I bought at garage sales and thrift stores for less than one package of paper napkins. I’m currently using a set of vintage embroidered white cotton napkins when I had the opportunity last year to “pick” a house before its contents were carted off to a dumpster. Never have I used white cloth napkins before, but when they inevitably become stained, I’ll tea-dye them so they’re an even shade of dingy, I mean, earthy brown, to give them a fresh life.

the chipper little fellow who minds my napkins

A funny note about fabric napkins… Guests inevitably look around and even occasionally ask for paper napkins so they don’t get the “good ones” dirty. Yay for the most frugal option also being the most elegant!

Hot Logic

This is one of my newest cost-saving strategies. This little food warmer costs about $40 plus we bought the power inverter for the car, so it was a chunk of money on the front end but….for us it’s a game changer. My husband works on-site at different jobs and has no access to a stove/microwave. This gadget allows him to warm up leftovers at work wherever he’s plugging in his power tools and have a hot lunch instead of a cold one every. single. day. Eating a lunch out is rare in the first place, but a hot, home-cooked meal on site takes away much of the temptation to hunt down a restaurant and is a definite morale booster on a cold dreary day. One man-sized lunch out is easily $10 and the $40 we spent on the Hot Logic means we’ve made up our money quickly. I use a glass dish with a locking lid instead of the flimsy plastic container that came with the heater.

Besides work, we’ve used it on road trips, in hotel rooms, and even on a train, traveling coach class. When traveling with more than one person, instead of a single meal, it’s the perfect way to heat up components of a meal, like already cooked bacon, hot dogs, mashed potatoes, or baked beans.

Wool Blankets

Another item that’s expensive on the front end that you’ll have for life. The warmth that wool provides can’t be duplicated by cheaper blankets. They never seem to show any wear and aren’t bulky when it comes to storage. Wool is a must for insulation for me whenever I’m doing any non-electric slow cooking. Keep them handy in the summer, too! Cover your cooler with a wool blanket and the ice will last 2 to 3 times longer. They work much better than insulated bags for groceries when shopping in the summer, too. We found all of our wool blankets at garage sales and military surplus stores.

A few more things that come to mind–

  • a drying rack
  • a retractable clothesline (much less invasive than a full, multi-line in-ground clothesline in our rental)
  • stainless steel French press (non-electric, needs no paper filters, no breakable glass carafe)


I think it’s important to weigh the options. In some situations, I will choose the disposable option. I can buy 46 sandwich bags for $1 at Dollar General, or I can buy a single silicone sandwich bag for $10. In spite of my best intentions, I am more likely to (A) accidentally put it on a hot burner (B) forget that I set it on top of the car before driving off into the sunset (C) just plain ruin it in a completely inexplicable way before I use 460 disposable bags, some of which I may reuse occasionally. And that’s just to recoup my cost, before I save any money. It just so happens that I found a couple of zippered fabric sandwich bags for a dollar or two at a salvage grocery store. That made it worth it to me to switch.

Similarly, I don’t believe that it’s wise to buy the top-of-the-line product every time. One bounce off the kitchen floor will destroy an expensive digital scale as quickly as it will a cheap, garage sale one.

Ultimately, the best strategy is to combine the two philosophies and this is where the game element of frugality comes in. Buy high quality, non-disposable products, but do your best to get them used, salvaged, bartered, etc. It’s often the long game that involves patience and steady hunting.

Next up for me….beeswax wraps. Someone who knows me well gave me this pack as a gift. I typically store leftovers in mason jars or use plates as covers for bowls of leftovers but I do keep plastic wrap on hand, too. I want to see if I like these. And if I do, instead of buying more, I’ll make my own.

As you’d expect.

Please, comment below with some of the ways you’ve spent money that has saved you much more in the long run…we can all use fresh ideas!

2 Replies on “The Game of Becoming Really, Really Frugal

  1. My grandmother was very frugal, because she had to be. When she started using rubber gloves and they got a hole she would cut them up for elastic bands. Our sandwiches where wrapped in fabric with an elastic band holding it all together.
    I love reading about how others practice frugality.

  2. Someone gave me a pack of Beeswax wrap, and it sat there for a couple years (I typically use jars and bowls with plates for storage as well). Finally I decided to open that beeswax and I have to say, I really do like it. I wrap cheese in it (but it takes a bit of time to get it air-tight). I bought the larger one for wrapping bread and it does keep it from going stale. Hope you enjoy it!

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