Sense & Centsibility Blog

Three Frugal Tips From a Lover of Frugality

family of four

I'm a frugal person. My friends will tease me about the extreme measures I take. I like to think they are teasing with love and admiration. (Or maybe I'm headed to be featured on a new reality show.)

I'm the child of depression-era parents. Nothing that could be reused was thrown away in our house. Not a single piece of scrap lumber or old clothes. Both of my parents experienced financially difficult childhoods. My mother's family were farmers during the dust bowl years. They moved from farm to farm on the prairie in western Minnesota, battling the dust and wind, always trying to make a go of it. I still have a "lap blanket" my maternal grandmother made out of my grandfather's worn out farmer overalls for the cold hours on a tractor. My father's family were miners on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota, living in "location" housing. Locations were temporary communities built to house miners and their families. When the mines encroached on location areas, families were uprooted and moved to another area.

We recently came across a letter my paternal grandfather wrote to his life insurance company asking to cash in his $212 policy. He wrote he had 2 crippled children (polio), the mines only paid $40/month with $30 of it going to rent and coal. Life was hard on the prairie and the Range. There weren’t options besides saving and reusing. So, frugality is in my blood.

Here are three of my favorite frugal tips:


I cut up old cotton t-shirts into paper towel-sized pieces to use instead of disposable paper towels with plastic packaging. I toss the rags in a bucket until I have a critical mass to wash. If I am cleaning up something particularly nasty (think cat puke) I will throw it away with only a little guilt. Savings is variable—depending on family size and how much your cat pukes. Old t-shirts are free but there is water, detergent, and electricity involved with washing the rags. Even if the numbers aren’t impressive, I do feel good about reusing, and not adding to the waste stream.


I buy yogurt in the large 32 oz. size instead of individual serving size, to save money and reduce waste. I save those plastic containers for reuse (some of that teasing mentioned above comes when a friend opens a certain kitchen cabinet). I use them to freeze leftovers for lunches and quick dinners, and to freeze garden vegetables for the winter. (Tip: just cut up fresh tomatoes and pack into containers for soups, sauces, and stews. Bonus tip: Shred overgrown zucchini and pack into containers to add vitamins and fiber to soups and stews.) I further reuse the yogurt containers in the early spring when I am starting new plants for the garden (see the blog about starting your own seedlings) or to gift black gold to friends (see the blog about raising your own fertilizer.) How much do I save? The cheap plastic food storage tubs of comparable size are roughly 55¢ each. Add in the environmental costs of manufacturing and disposal, and the savings is considerably greater.


Speaking of freezing leftovers, I rarely buy stock for my soups or stews. I save the cooking water from vegetables (excluding the cabbage family because of the strong flavors) and save it in the aforementioned yogurt containers. With my empty nest I cook less now, but in the past I also saved vegetable scraps to make additional stock. And I save the cooking water from various dried beans to add to bean soups for a richer, thicker base. Thirty-two ounces of organic vegetable stock is $4 to $5, so the savings is significant. Added benefit: I get to control the salt and can ensure no added artificial flavorings or coloring.

These are just the “tip” of my frugal iceberg. No single effort amounts to a lot of money, but a lifestyle of reusing and making your own does. And, we reduce the burden on our planet. Besides, it’s in my blood—I can’t be any other way.

When a client comes to LSS for a counseling session we look at many things but we focus on ways to cut expenses and increase income. Balancing the budget is key. Visit our website to learn more. We'd love to hear from you. Appointments are free, safe and confidential.

Author Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Financial Counselor at LSS Financial Counseling and has a passion for frugality.