Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Living in Lean Times ~ The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ~ Part 2

"He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand:
but the hand of the diligent maketh rich."
~ Proverbs 10:4

This is a continuation of the article "Living in Lean Times ~ The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ~ Part 1. I hope you can glean something from this! I will redo the introduction below in case you missed the last post... while I did receive some criticism for some of the frugal concepts I shared last time, thankfully I am not the younger version of myself who would have shrank from presenting part two... I have developed a bit of a thicker skin in my old age 😉 ...

"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 LifeOur Shabby Chic Frugal Farm Lifestyle, and Lessons from the Great Depression which you also may enjoy.

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 part 2? "

— Food would last long in our refrigerator. By this I mean, I used to live with a relative who survived the Great Depression. What I saw in that kitchen! It truly mortified me at how long things were kept. But what it did do was embolden me a bit as I saw she lived to tell the story. I see cookbooks where is says 3 - 4 days for leftovers (specifically meat). I think that is ridiculous and wasteful when you have proper refrigeration. I would keep our food for at least 7 days with no issues and that was ample time to finish everything up. Obviously any visual mold was a sign to remove the item altogether.

-- I would cut our kitchen sponges in half to double it's use (save the other half for when the first one is worn out).

-- We repurposed all our jars and prepared much of our pantry, spice cabinet and home apothecary with them. I would paint the lids to have them match as I still liked things to be pretty! In fact I will add that my splurge would be printer ink as I printed out many labels to beautify and organize my home.

-- Coming up with clever ways to use my free resources became a homemaking hobby! Here is how I made pretty apothecary jars with old hardware I found in the garage.

— We made up lots of bouquets around the house, but always picked from our home. You can still bring beauty into your home without money! This pretty display was created from our potted roses in the front yard. Whatever you have growing around can somehow be harnessed into loveliness! If you live in a forest, you can put out a display of pretty pinecones. Look around with a keen eye, there is usually something from nature that can be displayed to bring beauty into your home.

-- To create a frugal flower garden, I would use cuttings to to expand my lavender garden and dry flower seeds for the following year.

-- There was no hot water plumbed to our kitchen sink for the first year. That meant heating up water in a kettle to hand wash dishes. I include this because sometimes you have to do without until you can afford something. I know this is an old way of thinking with the invention of credit cards but in order to survive lean times (and live debt free if that is your desire), you must often go without for the time being.

-- My kitchen sink was also 6 inches lower than standard sinks and I am a taller woman (this made it hard on my back when doing longer kitchen projects). Four years later we were able to redo it ourselves and oh what joy it brought!  I write this because we can easily get caught up in the comparison trap on Pinterest and Instagram. My goodness people have beautiful homes! (It is even more heartbreaking when you see a million dollar kitchen remodel and then the owner of the house gleefully brags that she doesn't even cook!) You can easily feel sorry for yourself that you are the only ONE who doesn't have all their heart desires. But that is simply not true. Most of us live in the real world and with a real budget and we just don't post those practical types of pictures of women hunched over sinks! 

-- One thing I began to do was collect frugal recipes. I touched on that in the first segment also. For instance, these crazy cakes don't require butter, milk or eggs making them very affordable to bake and they are shockingly delicious. For some recipes featuring PANTRY ONLY/SEASONAL ingredients, you may  be interested in our Zucchini Crazy Cake, Chocolate Banana Crazy Cake, Banana Crazy Cake, Carrot Crazy Cake, Lemon Crazy Cake and our Old Fashioned Pie Crust. These economical recipes are a treasure to collect. I am currently preparing a separate frugal cookbook for our household as a back up during any lean times (and I'm making a copy for my daughter's hope chest). Many are foods from the garden or ones using simple pantry ingredients, but either way, a collection of these are priceless for the homemaker. Here is our recipe index which share many frugal dishes. Perhaps I will also share our frugal cookbook when it is completed.

-- I mowed our acre of "backyard" grass with a push mower. I guess the purpose of including this is to say that hiring people for services isn’t an option. Lean times are do-it-yourself times 😉 

-- We grew huge gardens in the summer and autumn. We preserved all the extra by canning, dehydrating, fermenting and freezing.

-- Barter services. We had a large garden and our friend in the city made sourdough products. When the produce season came, we traded our homegrown vegetables for sourdough pizza dough. It was a win-win as they lived in a duplex with no yard and it freed me up for a free Friday night pizza!

-- No seasonal fruit was wasted. For instance, when we had an abundance of lemons, we canned the juicefroze the juice, made "French" style lemon syrup, lemon pepper and prepared lemon based medicinals and beauty products with the peel. Nothing was wasted. The same went for oranges and fruit scraps in general.

-- Our meals were based around our garden. We ate lots of squash dishes during the summer (as the main course) as it was prolific and lots of veggie soups in the winter. This stretched our resources significantly. Here is a frugal recipe, to be made in a big pot to last all week - End of the Garden Soup.

-- Excess veggies from the garden and undesirable produce like broccoli stumps were shredded and frozen for future meal endeavors (for soups, sauces and casseroles). Again, nothing was wasted. 

-- Learning new skills was one way we survived! If you wanted something, many times you simply needed to learn how to make it and suddenly it is affordable. Finding beauty in simple ordinary things becomes a happy homemaking hobby! For example, as citrus fruits were in abundance, I gleaned everything I could from them.

-- This gave birth to a new way to reduce, reuse and recycle! This is how our ebook 100+ DIY Projects to Make with Fruit Scraps was born. Through creativity powered by lean times!

— We made our own pantry mixes and seasoning mixes.

— Double bake items. If you are going to bake one cake, while the oven is on, make a second and freeze for later. The same goes for casseroles, etc.

-- Scrape the jar. The spatula is a beautiful invention as you always get a bit more!

-- The end of my honey jar is always made into tea (all the goodness left on the sides mustn't go to waste). I would boil the water, add the tea bags to the jar and brew it inside the "empty" honey jar. Add some lemons and you have a nice healthy sweet tea!

-- We did all our own slaughtering and processing of meat. If we didn't raise it, we didn't eat it (or buy it).

-- We would use all we could when butchering. I am sorry to say that even the chickens feet were boiled for the gelatin/glucosamine it provided (we couldn't afford the supplements so we had to make them).

-- We made nourishing broths as bases for soups and rice from the leftover meat bones. (I'll admit to taking the bones from the plates after our meals since they were going to be boiled!!!). I also made second stock which is basically a reboil of the original bones (with added veggie scraps) to get a bit more broth out of it. There is such a thing 😊  I would either freeze or pressure can it.

-- My daughter even tanned the hides and made rugs from them for her bedroom.

-- We rendered tallow and I made pretty (emergency) candles with the tallow. I have to say they didn't smell as nice as I had hoped but they were still useful for power outages and quite decorative. I never did publish that post but here are the candles. I made them in recycled tin cans that I covered in pretty scrapbook paper. 

-- The excess parts of the animal that we didn't consume was buried in our orchard as fertilizer for our trees.

-- Buy secondhand. I did this recently with a vacuum cleaner (shared story below). Something wonderful often happens in the thrifting world right after you realize you have a need for something... oftentimes you find it that very next trip!

This is true of our vacuum cleaner. After purchasing an area rug, I discussed the need for a vacuum cleaner with my daughter... buying new from Amazon wasn’t sitting well with me though I did have one in the famous “cart”.

The very next day I found an Oreck (the VERY brand I was looking for) in the thrift store and for $6! I plugged it in and it was in working condition. The reason I wanted an Oreck was because it is lightweight for my back and I know how to maintenance it. Many moons ago as a newlywed I was constantly burning out my vacuum and would take it to the local repair shop... the owner must have been done with my naive self and told me it was my long hair which was causing all the problems... and so he taught me how to maintain it myself. This was the beginning of self sufficiency for me 😉 

He taught me to remove the hair from the roller every week using a dental kit for the operation. I went rogue and use a seam ripper to remove it all. This single step has kept my vacuum running ever since (but then I moved and couldn’t bring it along).

Back to the thrifted vacuum... I brought it home, wiped it all down with a Castile soap and water solution. I removed the plate from the bottom and cleaned out the roller with said seam ripper. I wiped down the roller with the cleaning solution. I checked the belt which was brittle and ordered a fresh set for the future. I removed any lint from inside the machine with an old toothbrush and put it all back together. I let all the individual parts and vacuum sit in the sun to further sanitize it for the day while I ordered a set of fresh bags for the unit.

With all the maintenance done, the complete machine with refurbishment and fresh supplies cost a little over $20 and it works beautifully to this day🤎

-- Maintain (and repair what you own). Do you notice the wire repair in this cheap plastic strainer (It could easily have been tossed and replaced)? I think this picture says it all! I was about to 86 it when hubby caught wind of it and the rest is history.

-- In general, we tried to be creative and utilize every single thing we had on our land (you will be surprised what you can find in a city yard as well if you put on your detective glasses).

My daughter made this Bible cover for me with fabric scraps.

-- There is even the blessing of learning how to transform fabric remnants into lovely things. My daughter had mastered this skill! Every time a gift was needed, she somehow managed to contrive something with leftover material (or reusing old clothing fabric as I mentioned before) and yarn. She taught herself to crochet and knit (by the time she was 10) and used these skills for all sorts of beautiful and frugal projects.

-- Remnant fabrics (outgrown clothing) can be transformed into jar toppers for the pantry, ferment covers, sachets and strips of ribbon for gift wrapping.

-- During these tight years, I also hosted a baby shower with a "Little House on the Prairie" theme. And of course, I had to do this frugally! I made it a potluck lunch and everyone brought either a side dish or pie (no dessert was purchased). I prepared potato cheese soup and bread as the main course (both very economical to make). We played games like an egg toss, 3-legged race and a "Little House on the Prairie" fill in the facts sheet. The "prizes" for these games were displayed on a bookcase which I made to look like an old fashioned Mercantile (I simply made a sign that said "Mercantile"). I told the ladies who won the games to pick something from the "store". This included a variety of my home-canned goods, prairie-style decorative clothespins and other items we made from home with a country theme (so the gifts were pretty much pennies). The bouquets on the tables were from foraged flowers and I used real dishes which seemed luxurious but was actually frugal. The whole day was lovely and I barely spent a dime. For the baby shower gift, I had made up some herbal baby ointments and essential oil blends for baby so even that was economical. Basically, you can still do lovely things for people and with people. You just need to exert some creativity and a bit of time!

-- The secret to lovely "lean" living in a decorative sense is to use all of your treasures! This makes you feel like a queen. If you have a beautiful teapot from grandmother, use it every day! If you have inherited great aunt's dishes, use them every day. If you have mother's vintage tablecloth, place it on your table! Use all the pretty things each day in a normal way and the daily rituals of life take on a whole new luxorious level.

— Eventually we would save up enough money for long-term saving goals. We put up a solar water heating system so that our showers, laundry and dishwashing would be heated for free. This paid off in the long run! So, in order to save money, sometimes you need to spend it.

I'm not going to lie, it was hard work. But it’s the most important work you can do, to keep the family together, to keep the family circle strong, to keep peace and harmony during stressful times, to survive! The big blessing that came from this is contentment and gratefulness. For example, every night I sleep under a heavy feather blanket I appreciate the luxury of that warmth.

Also, there is beauty to glean in these lean times. You find friends such as resourcefulness which leads you to new experiences such as foraging, creativity and innovation. When going out of doors, you are constantly hunting for resources which will glorify your life just a bit more. Perhaps it is a sprig of lavender to tuck under your pillow, a wild berry tree which can be transformed into jams, a patch of wildflowers which will become beautiful bouquets. Like they say "necessity is the mother of invention".

During the lean times is where I thought up re-covering our old ugly potholders.

I think that pretty much concludes this series. If I think of anything else, I will insert it into the article. 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... in the good and lean times!

Related Articles:

Living in Lean Times ~ The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Part One)

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

Prudent Pantry Ideas

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

A Frugal but Fanciful Life

Our Shabby Chic Frugal Farm Lifestyle

Lessons from the Great Depression


  1. I can't tell you how inspiring this is. I did not have a low sink but did live with no counter tops for several years. It's amazing how we can improvise. This is a great list and series. There certainly are so many things we take for granted. I am continually working on identifying those things and being grateful (just a personal goal).

    1. That is a beautiful personal goal! I think when we share these things with each other, it makes us feel we are not alone in our "make do" circumstances... and we also get some good ideas! :)

  2. I enjoyed part 1 very much and was so excited to read part 2!

    "Coming up with clever ways to use my free resources became a homemaking hobby!"

    This part really resonated with me....it describes me perfectly!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Jenny! It's nice to hear from kindred spirits ❤️

  3. Thanks so much for writing this, and everything you do. You are a blessing!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to encourage here Marcie ❤️

  4. This reminds me of the early years of our marriage. Two of my adult children have come down with Celiac. I am so thankful I did not have to try to be GF in those early years. Wheat is such a cheap filler. We did the same with bath towels but I would hang them in the sunshine after baths to keep them fresh.
    My husband and I have many conversations about current events. We still live frugally and on a cash basis. Thankfully our 3 children are debt free and know how to live bare bones if need be.
    One of my daughters mentioned how I would use a cream soup to cook meat and after I cooked it, I would save the leftover soup. Pop it in freezer for next roast and I would get two uses instead of one. I would cut my SOS pads in quarters. Stretch and reuses everything. Thanks for a great post! Happy Thrifting.

    1. Such great tips! Also, learning how to live frugally is a skill that blesses the next generation as you have shown... I feel this with my daughter... I am content that one day she can run a household on pennies if need be ❤️

  5. Thank you so much - I am in the middle of my citrus harvest and the ideas here are invaluable!

    1. A citrus harvest! How wonderful ❤️ You have definitely come to the right place! I think I have dozens of posts for creating with oranges and lemons!

  6. I can relate to so much in the series and appreciate your willingness to share and inspire and help others! Living with your means is hard and stressful, but doable and a blessing. Your blog has certainly helped and inspired me in my daily life, more times than I can count!
    I can definitely relate to the bone broth method you site here! I've been making and canning bone broth for a few years now and I remember when I noticed that after making a batch with a bunch of bones, the bones still looked "good." And I thought, "why not?" So I reboiled them, adding a bunch of garlic and herb to help the weakened flavor. And you know what? (I know you do!) It was great! So I always double boil my bones to get to get at least 2 batches, depending on how many bones I start with. You can get at least 3 batches out of a turkey. I cook those bones down till theres nothing but sediment left, and then the barn cats finish off whats left. I think making bone broth is one of the best things a homemaker can do, for its healthy, frugal and will always be used.
    Thanks again for your blog/website and its help and inspiration!

    1. So true... the health benefits of bone broth is numerous and it also adds a wonderful flavor to basic foods at the same time. A win-win ❤️❤️

  7. It seems incomprehensible that anyone would criticize any of the wonderful frugal concepts you've offered, JES. We all understand that living frugally is a very common need, in many different times and places, so learning more ways to do so is highly valuable. Thank you so much for not being dissuaded by those who criticize, and for continuing to provide information that many of us are very grateful to receive. Blessings, Nancy

    1. Thank you for your encouragement Nancy ❤️I think the area that was bothersome was in the area of re-using bath towels/pajamas... but if you ever lived on a farm with a well that has run dry, I think perhaps views would change. Water conservation was dire for us. Our well ran dry twice... we were not in a position to dig deeper and it was difficult to get through...

  8. Jes ~ you inspire me. I love to read about the things you are working on, and to see the finished work in your lovely photos. Thank you for all the great ideas, not only in this series, but in all that you write about. You are such a blessing!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words today Candis ❤️❤️❤️

  9. I am really enjoying this series. I would never have thought to re-cover my old pot holders- what a creative way to extend their life and use up scrap fabric. Thank you for that idea. One thing I do that people will find very weird is that I use my vehicle as a dehydrator. I put my sheets of parsley or whatever on my dash board and park my vehicle in the sun. There is room for 3 large sheets and they dry very quickly and take no electricity. Sure my car smells for a bit but I just leave the windows down for a couple hours and the smell is gone. I would not do this with onion or garlic but herbs work great.
    Thanks Again for the great series!

    1. That is a great idea actually! Thank you for sharing ❤️❤️❤️

  10. Thank you for sharing! I lived without hot water in my house for 16 years! Showers, a flushing toilet, and a sprayer at the kitchen sink are all luxuries! Lord bless you as you continue to appreciate all God has given you: talents, a good attitude towards hard work, and a godly family.

    1. Dear Leslie, you are so true! We have luxuries galore when we have these things! And when a blessing does come, we sure know how to appreciate it, isn't that right? ❤️❤️❤️

  11. Thank you so much, I've been married 46 years and did just about all these things. Some i still use, thank you.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Sherry! And I love that you have a 46 year marriage ❤️❤️❤️ it's beautiful!

  12. Wonderful article, as usual! I know exactly what you mean about using up everything--I have been told that I can use up every part of the chicken but the cluck! I help in the church kitchen on 'Grub Sundays' once a month, and I often am given all the leftovers from everyone's potluck dishes. I bring along salvaged plastic containers to carry it all home. During the holidays, when the church smokes or deep fries a couple of turkeys, after the meat is removed for the serving platters, I take the carcass home and plop it in my crockpot with water. I let it simmer all night, then strain off the rich seasoned broth the next morning. Any meat on the carcass is removed and given to the feral cats outdoors. I burn up the rest of the bones and scatter the ash around the pastures. When you mentioned no hot water in the kitchen, I laughed, since when we lived in the mountains, we had no running water or sink! I hauled rain water in and heated it up in a big brass kettle for everything from washing dishes to bathing. We learn to do what we need to do!

    Love from another 'raised in the suburbs girl'

    1. Isn't that the truth! Thank you so much for sharing your similar experiences!!! :)

  13. I really enjoy both parts of your series Jes. There is so much we can do. We live on rain water and well water. So we conserve water too. We have lived without electricity and I feel that was a good experience to learn how to go without it. Everything is a learning opportunity!

    1. Oh yes, conserving water is an excellent addition! We also collected it from our roof and used it in our garden... I should add that in... And you are right, it is all a learning opportunity ♥️

  14. I love this ❤ I appreciate you sharing some of your story.

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement Amanda ❤ ❤ ❤

  15. I enjoyed your series about surviving in hard times, JES. I've often reflected that difficult times bring about the most special memories for us, and how we adapt and make do, with joy. I do so much to stretch the budget dollars as well, including growing our own food, making bone broth with leftover bones, homemade sourdough bread, and using what is in my pantry before running to the grocery store. It's a blessing that the Lord has given us, and I'm so grateful that especially in the hard times, we can see the provision and hand of the Lord. May the blessings of the Lord be with you and your family :) Thank you for sharing your ideas, experiences; I know this is such a blessing to many who visit your site!

    1. So very true Marilyn ❤ ❤ ❤ Thank you so much for taking the time to share! ❤

  16. JES, I am late commenting on this post but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I do most of these things, and I too always take the chicken bones off our plates to make broth - how else does anybody make chicken soup? After boiling the bones once to make soup (usually I use two meals' worth of bones for this), I boil them again to make a weaker broth which is still high in nutrients. I use this second batch of broth to cook rice - since my family refuses to eat brown rice, and I refuse to cook plain white rice, a compromise is that I cook white rice in broth to increase the nutrition. :)

    Like you, sometimes I feel unhappy looking at the photos of beautiful homes on Pinterest, but generally I am very happy living frugally as it allows me to stay home with our children and educate them myself, which has been a real joy.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Laura Jeanne! "and I refuse to cook plain white rice, a compromise is that I cook white rice in broth to increase the nutrition. :) " And I had to laugh at your comment as that is how I compromise too! :)

  17. You are so inspiring! I’ve only been married for a year and some months now. I hope to be as great as you in my future as a wife and mother.

    1. I'm so glad you found us!!! You are ahead of the game already -- seeking out all this homemaking knowledge so young in your marriage! May God bless your efforts abundantly ♥️


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