My Frugal Life - Getting By

My frugal life began when I married young against my parent's wishes. I dropped out of high school and made my way in life without a lot of help from anyone so learning to do without or making it myself became a life-long thing. When I think back to the things I learned most during the toughest financial times in my life, it was not about saving as in a Savings account, it was about going from paycheck to paycheck. I have 5 children and getting by was rather difficult at some times. My main challenge was raising five children and giving them some of what they wanted but also to teach them to be self sufficient.


But I made it through and you can too. Some of my best tips I learned by accident, some by necessity. Sad as it may seem, this is a disposable society and I have learned to take advantage of that. Being dirt poor, and I mean only being able to afford the basic necessities, are a reality for many in this country. I always worked and sometimes worked 3 jobs in one day and had a husband who worked also but we could barely make it above the poverty line. That's my story and now on to how to get by.

First off, I learned to be a lifetime learner. Not having an education set me back many a time. Even though I knew I could do the job, without that piece of paper saying I could and could show, no employer would take me seriously. Now there were some people who let me show them but it was a rarity. So I learned how to crochet to make extra money. I took free classes at the library on everything from preserving food to home economy. I checked out books on saving money and how to weather proof my home to bring down the utility bills and how to do various jobs.


The library and its resources became my best friend. Now we have the internet and what a wonderful resource it can be for learning. I have learned so much from just reading ThriftyFun on other people's ways of saving money. I also learned from many elderly folks who lived through the Depression, learning can be as simple as listening.

I also let it be known that if someone in my family or my friends had a bunch of junk they wanted to get rid of, I would take it. I never turned anything down so that people would be willing to give me what ever they had to get rid of. Once I took a whole box of bedspreads that someone had gotten from a dormitory, I made curtains out of some of them and swapped some of them and gave the rest to charity. I have also taken that junk and gone to the flea market and sold their stuff and made a little money that way.


Second, I learned to barter, whether it be for babysitting or for groceries. I would trade cleaning someone's house for babysitting or typing someone's report for groceries. I learned there were a lot of jobs out there that people hated to do and while they might not pay someone else to do them for them they often would be willing to barter that job. I bartered pre-school for my youngest daughter at the time by working in the home run pre-school. The teacher needed help and my daughter needed an education so it worked out well for all of us. I have bartered personal shopping, dog dropping pickup, typing services, working for a day as a receptionist answering phones, and swimming lessons for the things I needed. I have bartered car repairs with a backyard mechanic for cooking some meals for him. Try it, you will see that it works.


Third, I learned to be a trader. When one of my friends were getting rid of something I needed, most of the time I could trade for something that they needed. I started a clothes swapping group when my children were younger. I also used to trade food that I had bought on sale and in bulk for other things I needed like cigarettes (nasty habit, I know) and for other things that were needed. I knew many single mothers who were given clothes by friends that do not fit or were not their style, so we would get together and swap the leftovers. A church in our community also had what they called the Clothes Closet, and many of us would go there to get clothes for ourselves and our families. The cost was free, of course, and was fueled by donations but most of us donated clothes and household items to it when we could, so I consider that trading.


Fourth, I learned to dumpster dive. Now, don't turn up your nose, I have found everything from a classical guitar to a bed that I needed or could be fixed up a little to be traded for something else. People throw away things all the time that are still useful. Think about some of the things that have made it into your trash recently. Not good enough for a charity but really not bad enough to throw away.

I save buttons from junked clothing and nice lace for craft projects. Hand knitted sweaters from the thrift store get unraveled to make new things from the yarn. Recycled glass jars get made into candy jars at Christmas. These are easy things you can do to have the things you want. I take my friends leftover craft supplies and make things to sell at craft shows or the flea market it keeps my costs down. I love to read so I have always done book swaps with friends for myself and my children.


I buy in bulk and break up big packages into smaller ones. This saves me a lot on my meat purchases. I save jars and other packaging to repackage things such as macaroni and beans. I have found that in the Hispanic food section, I can buy alphabet noodles and stars and other specialty shapes for like .23 cents a package and I bring them home and dump them into one of my jars and use them for soup. I try and stretch every meal I have to make two, if not three, meals from any meat dish. I freeze my leftovers so we don't eat the same things too often and to save me time.

I keep a gift closet so I am prepared for most birthdays and holidays. By spreading out the cost of these over the whole year, I save a lot of money. I buy things at yard sales and thrift stores to make gift baskets. The dollar store is also one of my favorites for gift giving.

I shop thrift stores, garage sales, and church rummage sales for the things I need even now that I have a good job and my husband's business is going strong. I rarely even now feel the need to buy something new because I know I can usually find it for free (Freecycle) or I can find what I need in a thrift store.

If I could have one wish, it would be to have the resources to start another clothes closet for needy women and their kids. It would sure help those who need it, would teach the world about recycling the things we don't use and maybe this idea could spread.

That's my story and I hope it helps one of you out there.

Debra Frick from Colorado Springs, Colorado

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By Celia Browne-Wanat (Guest Post)
December 29, 20060 found this helpful

Good for you, Debra! Keep up the good work and making the best of what you've got. You will be a happier and richer person for the life that you've lived!



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December 29, 20060 found this helpful

What an awesome inspiration you are, Debra! God Bless you for all the tips you've shared, all the efforts you've made to make your life (and your family's lives) better and for your generous spirit!

Be Blessed!
Sheila in Titusville, Florida

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By jojo (Guest Post)
December 29, 20060 found this helpful

Simply inspiring!

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December 30, 20060 found this helpful

You are an inspiration to us all! I enjoyed reading your story,

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By Lynda (Guest Post)
December 31, 20060 found this helpful

Look how many ways God has helped us to help ourselves! He's so very GOOD, ALL THE TIME. Seek Him for His very BEST blessings and favor, as you serve His purpose for your being alive. : )

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By Liz (Guest Post)
March 14, 20070 found this helpful


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September 12, 20070 found this helpful

Thank you for your inspirational story!

May God Bless You!

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June 7, 20080 found this helpful

I really enjoyed your very interesting message. Being a "child of the 2nd world war" myself, I know how my own mother struggled to feed us children (usually whilst giving herself only a jam (jelly) sandwich) and took on the scrubbing of other people's floors, etc to bring in a little extra money when our father deserted us and left her to bring us up alone. Still, she got us all through the bad times and lived a happier life until she died at the age of 82 in 2001. I owe her so much and still miss her company every day.

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By Helene (Guest Post)
February 11, 20090 found this helpful

What a most interesting story you told us about your life and getting by so well in spite of hard times. Thanks for sharing!

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June 15, 20090 found this helpful

I am always pleased to read these stories, I do a lot of the same types of things.
Sometimes pride puts us in the position to want new things or not put ourselves out there, but you should be so proud of yourself for all the good you've done for yourself and those around you. Thanks for sharing.

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March 18, 20100 found this helpful

This is great, I use all the time but I have never thought of bartering before! Love it!
Blessings, Robyn

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April 22, 20100 found this helpful

I'm sure your children watched every move and what a wonderful message you have taught them. God Bless!

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July 14, 20100 found this helpful

For someone who dropped out of school, your spelling, grammar, and writing skills are quite impressive. I have a pet peeve about the current and on-going decline in education in this country as evidenced by the on-line comments you read everyday. Our college educated and "highly educated" commentators display an appalling lack of basic skills as well as a lack of basic knowledge. You are obviously very bright and have acquired a good deal of knowledge from reading. If it is possible, you should get your GED and go back to school. Have you though about writing a book? There are many jobs I'm sure would interest you. It will be difficult, but go for it.

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August 18, 20100 found this helpful

Your story reminded me of times in the past when we didn't have money but had 4 kids to feed and clothe. I remember I never bought luxuries like paper towels. I cut up old socks and bleached them and hung them in the sun and used them. I had a huge "rag bag". I used cloth diapers for my babies, I hung my clothes in the house in the winter time,upstairs on rope strung across the rooms and down in the basement also. I hung them outside in the summertime. My husband and I hunted and fished a lot and I learned to cook the meat in appetizing ways. I made homemade chili, taco soup, burritos, soups and lots of other things with the wild meat.

I knew how many home made pizzas I could make for the kids lunches. I made them "personal pizzas" that they could have all their own. I baked my own bread, canned hundreds of quarts of vegetables and pickles. One Christmas, I took 2 old dolls my girls had before and made new clothes for them from used clothing I had, made blankets and such also, washed their hair and curled them in old Permanent curlers. My girls thought they were "new" dolls from Santa. My husband and I made a "barbie" house from wood and decorated it. My kids thought they had the best of everything. Every year we went to garage sales to buy "new" clothes for the kids. We taught them to look for the things they liked as well. My oldest daughter said her friends thought she was a "clothes horse" because she had so many clothes.

My children never went without and they still ask for those homemade recipes that I used to make to feed them on what we had. I sewed most of the clothes they wore and also my husband's shirts. We went to buy a shirt for him and had a hard time figuring out what size he wore! I still like to go on a "grocery store diet" by using only what we have in the pantry. We read to our kids a lot and because we lived in the country we didn't go to parties. Instead we had our own. We would save our 4th of July fireworks and wait until New Years day. We would go ice skating with friends and neighbors. Everyone brought food and drink. We would shovel the ice off, start a bonfire and skate all day. At night, we set out lanterns on the ice and skated by lantern light. At midnight we would set off the fireworks and sparklers. Then we would all trudge home after wishing everyone a "happy new year".

Saving money doesn't have to be a chore. We can take the opportunity to make "happy memories" for our loved ones.

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November 22, 20100 found this helpful

Wonderful story. I can relate to a lot of those things. We have dumpster dived and found lots of usable things. We hit thrift stores all the time for things we need. Most of my clothes come from eBAy or thrift stores. We had a veggie garden for a while until I got sick. I learned how to stretch chicken and hamburger for many meals. I have raised Cairn Terriers, did pottery, sold on eBay, anything to make some money. It is getting harder with the economy but you can still do it. People will always buy homemade things. Very inspiring story.

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November 27, 20100 found this helpful

Your story is very eloquent and informative of what the majority of us go through everyday. May you keep along your path of providing for those you love as your works show you do. God bless.

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January 16, 20110 found this helpful

Yes, I agree, good for you for "getting by". But how about telling our audience, especially young people, do not drop out of school, do not marry young against your parents' wishes, don't have five children that you can barely support. Encourage your children to get an education, do not get married or have children until you can afford to do so without having to "dumpster dive". Please. I don't get why this is so wonderful. I have been poor, but I worked hard to get where I am today and I have a college degree. Do not denigrate an education. That is so wrong.

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April 25, 20110 found this helpful

It is funny how differently people read the same article. In no way did she even hint that going the route she did was the best but that once she did she made the best from it. I am very proud of her and her husband who stayed because I was 30 and when the children came along he left and I raised mine like she did but without a father. Nobody recommends being poor but if you are then make the best of it and dumpster diving is profitable and fun. Being grateful is what most children who don't suffer some will never understand.

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December 14, 20110 found this helpful

I'm amazed at how this young woman managed as she did. Thank you for the insiration and ideas you spoke about. It even encouraged some fresh idas of my own. I would love to read a book about your experiences maybe you should write a book. It might just be a best seller, especially in this economy!

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March 12, 20120 found this helpful

I loved the story about the girl who had to quit school. That was me also I was 17 going on 18 held back a couple times, but not because of being dumb as they say. I moved a lot as a youngster and that didn't help at all. I was pregnant with my first child at 18. Always told my kids stay in one place when you have kids because its hard to catchup when you are in school.

I have 6 other siblings and we had 3 separate families almost. My oldest brothers and 2 sisters were 10 to 8 years older than me. So hand me downs and other things were far between so made some of my clothes by sewing. At a young age. My other brother is 2 years older, and then I have a younger brother who is 8 years younger than me.

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March 12, 20120 found this helpful

Forgot to mention am 61 years old now, a widow, and mother of 3 grown sons. I try my hardest to remember the good old days.

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