"I have heard of some good old woman in a cottage, who had nothing but a piece of bread and a little water, and lifting up her hands, she said, as a blessing, “What! all this, and Christ too?”'
There is a lot going on in the world right now and I know that some of you find yourselves in reduced circumstances because of it. When I started this blog 10 years ago, I found ourselves living in lean times for a good solid six years. During that time period I wrote a lot about how we lived and got by but I don't think I went into detail about the financial struggles (for I wanted to encourage and not complain). I think that now may be the time to be more descriptive if it can help another family.
What made our situation unique is that we have tried to live without debt from the beginning of our marriage. My husband and I were both in agreement that if we could not afford something, we wouldn't buy it. We would live within our means. And to do that, it often takes sacrifice, lots of sacrifice! If there was no cash, there was no purchase. I know that financial stability is in the eye of the beholder, but to give you an idea, there were many months where a block of cheese had to be removed from the grocery list. It was a luxury. In order to make it affordable, it would need to be purchased in bulk. If it couldn't be purchased in bulk for the discount, then that month it just wouldn't be bought. Cheese was a luxury! (Later, our daughter started making cheese which was a game-changer - this is where skills come in to enhance your "lean" little life.)
There are many ways people adapt to their circumstances, but here is how we made it through those tight times (in our case, we were starting a new business from scratch which took every penny we saved to establish, this also meant living for a few years without a steady stream of income). There is a lot to cover in this and I am going to have to forego perfect editing and type in more of a conversational tone in order to get through everything we did to get by. And to be honest, some of this stuff is far from glamorous... In the past I have shared posts on living a Frugal but Fanciful Life, Our Shabby Chic Frugal Farm Lifestyle, and Lessons from the Great Depression. However, this series will take it to the lower level of thrift.
But before I begin, I feel the need to introduce myself more. I wasn't brought up on a farm milking a cow nor did I come from a real "earthy" family. I grew up in the suburbs, I went to a public school and I collected Vogue magazines as a teenager. My aspirations were to own a Chanel suit one day (so if you think I was brought up in this homesteading/from scratch life, that isn't the case at all - none of this came natural to me). Then I graduated, immediately got a job, loved to drink coffee and buy pretty things at Anthropologie. A few years later I fell in love and got married. Once I became pregnant, I stopped working outside the home and began my lifelong career as keeper of the home. I write this because, when you are about to read that I grabbed the leftover chicken carcasses from my family's leftover plates and made bone broth with them (I figured any germs would be boiled out), that this also didn't come naturally. What you see printed on this blog is years of life experiences that transformed my thinking and God -- who had other plans for me!
I know most of what I'm sharing isn't rocket science or revolutionary. I would think maybe it is more of a reminder of things and to encourage you that you are not alone in your journey. Many homemakers have been in your shoes before (and many are struggling right now in ways that we can and never will fathom!). This is just the story of one...
I think that pretty much sets the stage, shall we begin?
-- We had one vehicle (a farm truck with no a/c but it was paid for!). This meant I was home 95% of the time. This means everything you think it means. It also means one less car to insure, one less car to maintain, one less car to put gas in, etc. This is probably the biggest money saver as the lack of wheels for me meant I had to "spin my wheels" more in other areas and be creative in my surroundings and make do with what I had around me! I felt like a little huntress, always looking for an opportunity in the little things.
-- We never went anywhere (no vacations) (gas costed money) except for an occasional drive to the local river to fish and swim. I would pack a nice picnic meal and it was a lovely outing when it did happen. Besides all this, it was our weekly Sunday gathering which was our special event and how we looked forward to the fellowship!
-- For entertainment, we read lots of books together! Many during the day in the homeschool and many in the evening with my husband present as a family. We went on many adventures together that way and the bond from all those books is still strong today. So many good memories on the living room couches!
-- For entertainment we also played lots of board games! Those are free fun! We would bake some cookies and put out a piled-high platter and no-one feels the financial straits you are in. Everyone is happy around the kitchen table munching, yelling and screaming out answers!
--As a treat on the weekends we would watch a movie together on the computer (usually found at a thrift store or rented for free at the library -- when we lived near one). Add in some freshly popped corn and everyone feels content and cozy!
-- For entertainment we also made lots of frugal international meals for dinner as we studied countries in our homeschool. This was fun as we tried to dress according to the culture (based off what we had in our closets), ate as the culture ate (meaning on the floor in Indian-style if necessary) and spoke in proper accents all evening to further enhance the experience (English accents were most fun and got lots of giggles). These were the little joys in our life that costed little but added much.
— I never went "shopping". Since we had no extra money, it didn’t make sense to ( and if I did have money, I would buy books, books and more books, added some large pantry jars to my collection or I extended our medicinal herb and/or essential oil collection). I remember a solid two years where I purchased nothing besides basic groceries.
-- While my husband had a normal cell phone plan for the family business, I used a prepaid cell phone card (I was able to stretch $5 into three months). We completely cancelled our home phone land line.
-- Obviously we had no cable or Netflix, etc. Our splurge was paying for the internet (which we would use as communication to far away family and so forth so we considered this our long distance calling plan too).
-- We made our own bread. And who doesn't feel rich and blessed as they eat a hot slice of homemade bread slathered in butter? And pizza dough and tortillas. This garlic cheese bread was a treat and a half!
-- Since flour, oats and sugar was affordable, we did lots of baking to put smiles on faces! Baking is a frugal way to bring joy into the home. It adds a secure aroma into the home which connects everyone to feelings of comfort, peace and plenty.
-- I made every single meal from scratch. This meant lots of beans, rice, soups, eggs (we had chickens) and potato dishes. We never went out to eat. This means lots of humble dishes from the garden (I will go into that more later).
-- We bought all our food in bulk which means planning to have enough funds to do that. To nickel and dime yourself on small portions may be tempting but is not a long term solution to bring you out of the lean times. Economy can eventually get you out of those rough patches if you preserver! Building up our pantry became a full-time hobby!
-- We made our own nut butters (and to be honest that meant peanut butter as the most affordable).
-- We made big batches of granola in a variety of ways depending on what we had at the time (we never bought cereals of any sort). The linked recipe is very flexible.
-- We began making simple cheeses to add variety to the meals (using our goats milk or the neighbors cow milk). We made fresh "vinegar" cheese, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese and then my daughter began dabbling into asiago and Parmesan. It was delightful.
-- Bulk bags of flour and oats were affordable so lot of muffins, popovers and quick bread rolls for breakfast/dinner fillers. We made our own flour tortillas which made the basic beans taste much more delicious. From-scratch cooking in general can transform the mundane into lovely dinner experiences. You will feel like you are eating like a king and yet be on a peasant wage.
-- For instance; beans with homemade cornbread (yum!), beans with handmade flour tortillas (amazing), beans over oven roasted potatoes (delicious!), hot stew and fresh popovers, warm soup and savory herb dinner muffins. These homemade combinations make frugal but fantastic meals!
-- We drank water (from our well) at every meal. The only time that changed was when we had harvested some kind of fruit from our farm for juice. Later on I learned of making kombucha and as it was somewhat affordable and very healthy, I began making that as well (however, I limited our intake to stretch it). During very lean times, I even reused tea bags in order to try and get just a bit more out of them!
-- After boiling the tea kettle, place the remaining hot water in a thermos for whoever else wants hot water that day (this saves energy).
-- In the mornings we did drink coffee but I learned how to brew just the right amount so that nothing would be leftover and go to waste. If I did happen to make extra, I put the leftover coffee in a jar in the fridge to make iced coffees in the afternoon or froze them in cubes for blended coffees as a treat.
-- We would freeze water bottles to fill up any part of our empty freezer as the fuller your freezer is with frozen items, the less energy it takes to run it. More reasons for that practice are shared here.
-- In the winter (we had no central heater), we would bundle up (fleece leggings under our skirts and down vests for warmth and mobility) and be slightly freezing for the parts of the day when housework had to be done and meals needed to be prepared in the cold brick kitchen. I couldn't wait to turn on the oven for warmth! However, in the evenings or during the school hour we would huddle around the wood stove or fireplace and enjoy the luxurious heat. I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes it isn't perfect and you have to be a bit uncomfortable (we weren't always warm -- that is the truth of it -- but we did our best).
-- In the summer (we had no central A/C), we would sweat. The humidity was unbelievable. It was like hot lava on the skin but it was life. After a long day, we would draw water from the cool well and soak our feet in it underneath a shady tree. This was our relief. As summer was also full of food preservation, it was very challenging. The summers I dreaded most of all but I tried to never say anything to bring down the family but the exhaustion knew no bounds. I write this not to complain but to help other women understand that life isn't all glamorous but we do need to make the most of it. Every moment and mood impacts our families. We are adding to the family memory banks each day.
-- During the day, we would open the curtains to let in natural light (and saved the electric lights for the evening).
-- For temperature control, we learned the art of opening and closing windows and shades to stabilize the climate in the home (usually have everything open in the early day and then close down the windows/shades when the sun makes its appearance to lock the morning coolness).
— I learned about herbs and home remedies and we treated almost all sickness ourselves (books that I referenced often are linked at the bottom of the post). We had one situation that was out of our league that we sought out a doctor. Other than that, our home apothecary was our health care provider. This included the use of essential oils.
-- We would re-use our bath towels for the whole week. We each had an area for our individual towels and kept them there until Saturday where we would replace them with a fresh one (electricity was expensive and water was a valuable resource on the farm - not to mention this saved on detergent).
-- We never bought paper towels and/or napkins. We would use cloth at every meal and I sewed un-paper towels for clean ups, etc. I would turn our cloth napkins inside out and re-use them for the next meal. There is a way to refold them and get a fresh side. I usually could stretch them for a whole day of meals.
-- We didn't buy Kleenex, we washed and used real handkerchiefs over and over again.
-- We would make all our own very basic skin care products as frugally as possible (we used oats for gentle face cleansing and made up creams/salves/balms for moisturizing). No fancy products, just the cheapest shampoos, conditioners and bar soap. But we did have fun making body scrubs!
-- We would wash our hair twice a week to minimize the use of the shampoos/conditioners. Incidentally, I did hear that that was actually a good thing for your hair. This was good news! (And I would try and focus on those types of things to encourage me.)
-- We cut our own hair.
— As a treat for one another, my daughter and I would do spa days for each other. Mostly it was herbal pedicures (such as soaking our feet in homemade bath salts and foraged flowers, scrub them down with our homemade orange peel sugar scrub and massage them with our lavender infused medicinal oil) but sometimes it was homemade face masks and such for some added fun.
-- Use old newspapers, recycled papers and brown bags for gift wrapping. Save all ribbons for decorating gifts. Reuse the nicer store bags with handles as gift bags. You can paste a pretty picture or paint over the logo to make it pretty. Cut out pretty pictures from lovely magazines and/or cards you receive and use those images to decorate gifts and handmade notecards. Use outside nature or dried citrus for decorating as well.
-- Cut or tear strips of old cotton shirts and sheets to make rustic ribbon for gift wrapping.
-- Remove buttons from all discarded clothing and use for craft projects, scrapbooking, homeschool projects, embellishing gifts, embellishing homemade cards, decorating plain clothing and/or replacing missing buttons.
-- All our clothing was from thrift stores and most shoes also. When clothes started falling apart they would either be mended, transitioned into the pajama world or turned into rags. If the fabric was nice we would put that aside for little sewing projects like herbal sachets, etc.
-- Soles that separated from the shoes were re-glued back into place many times over. How many times I would see a shoe placed under a kitchen chair to hold the glue in place for 24 hours. This was my hubby's specialty.
-- We wore our clothes for 2-3 days in a row (providing it wasn't in the worst of the summer where that wasn't feasible). Again, water was a precious resource for us on the farm and we could not afford to drill deeper to have a more abundant reserve.
-- We wore the same pair of pajamas all week (we were clean when we went to bed -- remember that :)
-- We washed all our clothes in cold water to reduce the energy bill.
-- We hung all our laundry on the clothes-line to dry.
-- I would unplug our computer, internet, and other small appliances when we weren't using them to reduce the energy bill (this was a nightly routine). Even though you aren't using something, items still suck electricity simply by being plugged into a socket.
-- We made all our own cleaning products. I eventually tried to make them more fancy by infusing them with lavender in the spring/summer and citrus in the autumn/winter (both which were available to me on our property). Seasonal homemaking is fun and frugal!
-- We made our own laundry detergent and fabric softener.
-- We didn't go through much consumables in the kitchen as most of my leftover containers had lids as well as my bakeware (these are my casserole dishes which come with convenient lids - affiliate link but you can find them less expensively in thrift shops and/or discount retail stores). This was a bit of an investment in the beginning but it paid off in probably a year as I never needed plastic wrap, etc. And yes, I purposely tried to find matching lids for everything (meaning all white to make is more cohesive). Frugal doesn't mean you have to lose your "fashion" sense 😉
-- When we did use plastic baggies, we would wash them, dry them and reuse them (except if meat or something of that nature was inside).
-- When I did use foil over a casserole, if the piece was still intact (and nothing was melted to it), I would fold it up in four and pop it into the freezer and reuse that foil on another casserole dish (once it tore I would throw it away).
PART 2 is shared HERE!