"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.
-- 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!
|Here is a tasty and frugal cake recipe which doesn't require butter, eggs or milk!|
If you would like more ideas on frugal living, this blog is full of the projects we did during those years. I will also list some resources below for further inspiration.
Happy homemaking ladies!
Embracing Ma's Practical Pioneering Spirit During Lean Times
Doth $afely Trust in Her? ~ A True Story
Prepare Your Own Pantry Products Index
"He Praiseth Her" ~ The Contented Homemaker
8 Ways to Combat the No Spending Blues
The Blessings of Old Fashioned Work ~ Part 3
Overcoming Hard Times with Grace
What I learned about Homemaking Living Abroad ~ Part 1
Milk Glass, Thrift Shop Talk and the Great Depression Homemakers
Our Shabby Chic Frugal Farm Lifestyle
Lessons from the Great Depression
Wow, so very informative and much to think about. Thank you so much for putting this valuable information out there. BlessingsReplyDelete
This is such a timely and well written post, Jes - thank you for sharing your wisdom. Blessings to you, Marguerite.ReplyDelete
Oh girl, you brought up so many memories of our one income/sometimes no income homeschooling life. It was hard doing many of the same things you did, but it was worth it.ReplyDelete
Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage
Yes, yes, yes! I grew up that way so I just carried on after we got married.ReplyDelete
My husband and I married at 18. I remember those days, too. And I still live them. I save any coffee left in the pot in a canning jar in the refrigerator. My husband laughs at the tablespoon of something in a 1/2 pint jar on a shelf. My trick is I really do use all these leftover. It was hard.ReplyDelete
We lived in town and there was a lot of keeping up with the Jones going on. We bought a tiny little house when we were 19 and raised five children who shared bedrooms and the one family bathroom. And guess what, we all survived. Now those people who just couldn't believe we didn't move to a bigger house tell us, you were so smart to keep your one floor ranch now that you are older. Yep, that was the plan. A paid for forever home.
We splurged when we retired and bought a brand new car. And paid cash. We figured it will be our last car LOL. Never thought I would see that day when I was making two 9 x 13 casseroles with one pound of hamburger to feed five teenagers.
Thank you for sharing more of your personal story, Jes! I was always wishing you would do that. I enjoy your posts—the pictures, which are “real”, rather than something that looks unattainable, the ideas, and the glimpses of the life of a godly woman. We had some lean times, too (lots of soybeans, which were given to us, cooked many ways, including homemade tofu, when my husband was in seminary!), and homeschooled our children for 30 years.ReplyDelete
There is so much golden wisdom in this post. It is easy to become lackadaisical about things. (I haven't unplugged the computer for a while :-/ no excuse). I do enjoy as you do, not being bothered with things like paper towels, saran wrap etc. Thank you again for bringing to awareness little things that help save. :-)ReplyDelete
I just wanted to thank you so very much for this article. I had to leave my job last August and our income has been reduced by 50%. My husband is battling a rare disease and he needs me as a daily part of his care. I am struggling. Struggling to find the joy in our situation. Struggling to find the beauty in simple. Struggling with the loss of a job that I loved. Thank you for the article and reminding me that simple can be beautiful, too.ReplyDelete
Denise, just wanted you to know that you are not alone! God will bring joy and beauty into the darkest of situations. I have "just" been a homemaker for 33+ years now as I left my career as a nurse to stay home with our 6 children and homeschool them. This put the whole of our income on my husband's shoulders. He never complained or minded, as long as the children and I were happy. Three years ago he suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke, our income decreased by half, and I am now his caregiver as well as continuing homeschooling our last child and keeping it all running. Handling the bills and such was a steep learning curve for me as hubby and I shared responsibilities. But God has been so good! I still struggle with our budget and getting it "right." I miss the income, but I would miss my husband more if he was not here with us.Delete
Keep your hopes up, keep your faith strong. We, as Christians, already have the victory, so rejoice! The joy God gives us is our strength! Choose joy everyday, choose praise everyday, and the enemy won't know what to do with you. Praying for you, Denise.
Thank you Jes for this wealth of information and links. What a blessing you are to share all that you do here on this blog. My husband was raised by his grandparents and said they were poor but he didn't realize it. He has lots of stories about his boyhood where he knew he was loved, fed, and wanted. He is a wonderful humble man of God and a pastor of a small church because of the nurture and prayers of these dear people.ReplyDelete
Jes, so many good tips there. We have always lived very frugally. Being born just after WW2 probably helped as many people had to be frugal as they got back on their feet. Nothing was wasted and I don't think it bothered us one little bit as we didn't know anything different. I am sure your blog post will help lots of families who are really struggling at present.ReplyDelete
I love this post- the information is so helpful to me as a fellow homemaker. I have a few to try there. Thank you. Your blog is such a blessing to me. Love, Lily (from Bluebirds are Nesting)ReplyDelete
Loved this! I was raised like you, in the suburbs, and I tried to be the 'normal' person (I say this with tongue in cheek) that my mother wanted me to be. However, I was never happy with that type of life. Then 24 years ago, I became a divorced single mother, who didn't have a clue how to live without spending money to make me 'happy'. All that changed over the years, as I rededicated my life to Christ, and learned how to live well without a lot of money. I do spend a little more these days, but I still keep a tight rein on my purse strings!ReplyDelete
Lovely piece, I grew up this way. My parents had just built a new house after saving for years and years and with loans from family members and that was to be our transition from frugal living. Shortly after the recession hit, my father lost his job, we lived way out in the country, there was NO work to be had. We grew and made everything, I re-made "dead people clothes" given to me from family and neighbors. I learned so much that I still use today. I also have some difficult memories from that time in case anyone things there is some glamour element. I shoveled barns, did baby sitting and ironing for neighbors. I was 10 years old when this started and it lasted my entire life. I appreciate what I have now and often thank God that I learned these lessons so young because they have served me well. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
Jes, There's lots of food for thought in this post, I love it! Thank you for sharing, the world needs this type of teaching now more than ever.ReplyDelete
Jes, such a great post! Since every penny going in and out is now my responsibility, I realize what tremendous pressure my husband was under! But, we are happy and getting healthy and enjoy simple things so much more: the resident cardinals who visit every morning; playing new card games with our 2 children we still have at home (and the laughter that ensues!) And so much more. We are blessed in every way and I praise God that He lights my path, even if it is just 1 step at a time.ReplyDelete
Looking forward to Part 2!
When I was married my life was very frugal. While the children were at school and my ex was at work all the power was off. In Queensland, Australia this was huge. I was so very hot and miserable. Now I have solar panels that cover almost all of the power bills. I am so grateful that I do not have to exist in a puddle of humid summer misery or be cold in winter. Our homes are built to be cooler and leak heat. I still hang the wash. I look forward to learning more about.ReplyDelete
Jes, I love posts such as these. We have lived in a similar way and done some of the same things as mentioned in this post for some years now. We don't even realize it's different. I always wanted my children to learn contentment and frugality, as well as good stewardship, even if not out of necessity. Now I have some new things to try from your list here. I would like to see how much we would save by unplugging every appliance in the house at night, for one thing.ReplyDelete
Thank you for sharing all of this with us! I am inspired at new! God bless you and yours.💗
dear Jess I have always lived your blog and missed when you were gone. I enjoyed this post. I don't check me by as often as I would like. I would love for you to come over and link your posts at my blog. Your wisdom is worthy of sharing!ReplyDelete
JES, this just makes my heart sing to read about your experience! This has been my experience too. Some years were leaner than others, but the joy I had with my daughter finding new ways to be frugal and thrifty! We had so much fun together! New recipes, new skills, thrifty shopping, handmade gifts, etc. It’s hard to think about living in leaner times when there was homemade bread, cookies and popcorn coming from the kitchen.ReplyDelete
Presently, in light of current events, I’m being reminded once again to really take control of my household and to carefully focus on being a good steward with the resources that God has provided me.
Thank you so much for being willing to share your experiences! This has encouraged me and a great way to go into my homemaking week! God bless you, JES!
Ps-I should mention that many of your past blog posts were sooo helpful to me during our lean times!💕💕
My college roommate still jokes that if I can be frugal, anyone can! I was the clothing queen in college. Spiegel deliveries were constant to my dorm mail box. I bought Godiva chocolate by the pound as a study snack. Dad foot the bills and I had a credit card (his) if I had an emergency. This could mean a car repair (also paid for by him) or a new pair of Bass to wear with the new sundress! You get the picture.ReplyDelete
Flash forward 10 yrs and I carried my Tightwad Gazette everywhere!! I was newly married and trying to afford a
home in Los Angeles!!
This is why I have little patience for women that whine that they could never live like that lol. It wasn't as much a matter of giving things up as it was a matter of changing priorities. Instead of texting my friends pics of my darling new Dooney, I text them pics of the darling desk I found at a garage sale, painted, and turned into my new sewing machine table!
JES, I must sincerely thank you for this post. I read it as soon as you posted it, but I actually felt so emotional about it that I wasn't able to comment just at first. Now I am back to tell you how much this post meant to me. We have lived very "leanly" throughout our entire 20 years of marriage. I have done virtually all the things you mentioned; I even do reuse tea bags to stretch them farther. I make homemade hankies (I find flannel makes the softest ones). And for my entire adult life, probably 90% of my clothing was from a second hand store, so I have to be careful about washing it too often as it is already somewhat worn when I get it. That means that I usually wear the same outfit for 3-4 days before washing it. And also, most of my shoes have been glued back together a few times too! I guess I must look a bit raggedy to some, but I've just learned to accept that I'm never going to be one of the fancy ones.ReplyDelete
It meant so much to me to hear of the extreme frugality you too have exercised over the years. Sometimes I feel alone in this, and it brings a feeling akin to embarrassment or maybe even shame. My two sisters, for example, are always very well dressed and get their nails done, etc, and I feel like such a straggly, worn out old country mouse next to them...just hearing you say that you would wear clothes several days in a row to save on water gave me such a feeling of relief that I am not the only one in that situation.
Sorry if I'm rambling on...as perhaps you can tell this post made me feel very emotional. Thank you so much for sharing more personal details about your life this time, it really touched me and encouraged me.
JES, your blog was always my favourite and I'm so happy you're posting again! I can't wait to see the next post in this series. You are such a blessing to so many. <3
This is encouraging. We do/did most of the things mentioned here. Now days because it is second nature and then because it was needed while growing a big family. This is a good series you are sharing.ReplyDelete
Thank you Jes for making it real and sharing what things can be really like when things are hard :).ReplyDelete
Having been though lean times on many occasions I do agree that you can make the simple things more pleasurable without spending a great deal.
Some of these are very good cost saving tips, but Jesus Christ all mighty using the same towel for a whole week and wearing the same pajamas for a week is just unsanitary. My family lives on one income but we like to be cleanReplyDelete
Hi there, well... the article said living in "lean" times... Lean is different for many people. But in our situation, we had our well run dry twice. Once while we had a family living with us. Water was a very precious resource, especially considering we couldn't afford to have it drilled deeper at the time. It may seem outrageous in today's day but many in our grandparents generation did just that with the towels, etc. (being you are clean when you come out of the shower, and clean when you go to bed). I did say that summer with more sweating was a different story. But to live on a farm with no water is a desperate situation. In better times, you can make for generous adjustments. Unfortunately, I am sharing "lean" times. I have done plenty of regular frugal tips along the wayhere but to be fair, I did say this was "the good, the bad, and the ugly". Survival isn't always pretty. We are doing okay now but those first 5 years were tight and we didn't rely on government support, etc., when we were both hard working and healthy. Perhaps you can see the beauty in that ♥️ I hope some of the other ideas were helpful to you... Take care! With love, JESDelete
Really??? You're clean after your shower and thus clean when you go to bed, so totally sanitary. And what does our Lord Jesus have to do with it?Delete
Thank you Candi May ❤ ❤ ❤Delete
Use the same towel for a week? Of course we do. Isn’t that what everyone does?Delete
No, most people I know do not do that. In fact, someone commented that they felt the practice was unsanitary. But to each his own I guess ☺️Delete
I cannot tell you how happy I am to find this article and your blog! Truly a blessing and thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for taking the time to share! It is good to encourage one another and I hope some of this helps! ❤️Delete