Friday, May 21, 2010

A Note on Frugal Living

In general, I don't consider myself to be a very frugal person. Not that I'm a spendthrift either, I just tend not to worry too much about what I buy in relation to my overall budget.

The pay cheque comes in, I pay the bills. I try to set aside some savings for future goals- hubby's week off for hunting, repairs for the big truck, retirement, etc. Then I spend what's left over between groceries, gas, clothes, farm needs & wants, household needs, etc. The pay cheque varies all the time, which makes real budgeting next to impossible. I just do the best I can with what I have.

I've been reading a number of other blogs recently. I haven't been looking for blogs on frugal living, but rather one blog tends to lead to another. A lot of them do seem to follow a theme, or sometimes several themes, and frugal living seems to be a common one.

Most of the tips and tricks that people list in their efforts don't strike me as frugal living. Not that they aren't frugal- it just seems odd to me that people are making such a conscious effort to be frugal, when most of the time what they're talking about is just a natural part of my ordinary life. So here are a few common themes in frugal living that I just wanted to comment on.

Gardening- of course I grow a garden. As did my parents, and all of my ancestors. How else could we eat the way we do?

Preserving- well, naturally, if you're growing a garden, you need to preserve your produce. That is the point, isn't it?

Foraging- I may be a little extreme in the foraging department. It's normal here to run across tons of other people in the woods during blueberry season, but I think I'm one of the few out gathering dandelions, puffballs, elderberries, choke cherries, ferns and cattails. I also attempted birch sap this year, but with our wonky weather that didn't work out.

Clotheslines- Ok, I admit, I'm a hermit in the winter. But spring through fall- why on earth would I want that extra heat in my house?

Buying used- Thrift stores, garage sales, pawn shops, etc- Why buy new when you can get more for your dollar used? Especially for the kids? I'd much rather buy used toys that have been loved and tested by others than cheap Chinese plastic that falls apart in days or weeks. Clothes that they'll outgrow in less than a season? Bring on the hand me downs!

Cooking- I know there's a big push for fresh local foods, but in Northern Ontario that pretty much means malnutrition and scurvy. Or pine needles. For 9 months of the year there is no such thing as fresh and local. The other three months, it still means limited variety and expensive. Of course I cook. I couldn't afford not to. I use a lot of preserves and staples. Preprocessed foods simply cost too much.

Leftovers- I cook them on purpose. Cooking enough for two meals means I don't have to cook tomorrow. Some things, like chili, soups and stews, don't even taste good until the second or third day. What little there is left after that usually gets eaten for lunch, or packed in the freezer for hubby to take to work. The rare bits and pieces still in the fridge get thrown into doggie stew. More often than not I'm debating whether I can call something old enough to warrant it going into doggie stew. Then there are all the other critters that will beg for fruit & veggie scraps. Nothing gets wasted.

Grocery shopping- I don't know whether it's a Canadian thing, or just Ontario, but we don't get free or nearly free toiletries around here. Or any of the other great deals I hear about on the other side of the river. Coupons are practically unheard of in my neck of the woods. Occasionally I'll find a manufacturer's coupon in a product/magazine/store aisle- but generally it's still cheaper to buy the store brand. I have a huge cold room & pantry. I check the grocery store flyers. I buy on sale and stock up. I buy in bulk when available.

Firewood- it's our heat source. We do have oil back up, but we keep it set at 15°C, the lowest setting on our thermostat. Just to keep the pipes from freezing on those nights when it's -40°C. We cut our own wood, from dead fall in the woods.

Combining errands- It's an hour drive to anywhere from here. I go to town once a week or less if I can avoid it. The only reason I go that often, is to keep the boys in Sea Cadets. It's their social activity, as well as a wonderful instructional experience- and FREE! Anything that needs to be done in town gets done on those trips. If I run out of time, so be it. There's always next week.

Cleaning supplies- The kids were utterly shocked last week when I used bleach for the first time in years. The layer of dust on the bottle was pretty astounding. Not for the laundry either- I had a clogged drain and baking soda and vinegar weren't cutting it. Bleach is a carcinogen- why would I want that on my clothes, touching my skin?

I don't use any of those spray cleaners. I don't even make my own vinegar & water mixes. I use a dish cloth, or a cleaning cloth, and I wipe things down. Nope, I'm not killing 99.9% of germs. That frightens me. I don't want to live in a lysol house and have my immune system panic when I walk outside. I use dish detergent. Usually sunlight, although I do ocassionally grab a larger bottle of a knock off brand in a store I don't frequent often. It seems to work pretty well.

I use cheap store brand laundry powder. Less than $4/box. I use about a tenth of what they recommend. I did splurge on my washing machine. Heavy duty agitator. Agitation cleans your clothes, not lots of detergent. Yes we do have clothes with stains. We call them farm clothes. Or play clothes. Paint doesn't wash out anyway, and it seems there's always something that needs painting. And I could buy a new wardrobe at the thrift store for less than what it would cost for stain removers to keep everything looking pretty. No fabric softener. I avoid materials subject to static cling, and dryer balls in the winter.

I use vinegar in the toilet and dishwasher. Comet on the bath tub. Some sort of dishwasher liquid- store brand. That's pretty much it. I see commercials for all sorts of cleaners and smelly things. Febreze, scented candles, glade. I wonder why. If you don't like the way your house smells, stop making those smells. Seems simple enough to me.

I'm sure there are other things. I just never considered them 'frugal'. Simply doing what needs to be done.

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