Use What You Have and Be Happy

 Posted by on February 18, 2015  Add comments  Tagged with: , ,
Feb 182015
make do

Photo courtesy of I enjoy Calli’s site, and I LOVE this!

During the Great Depression, this was a household motto because at that time frugality was considered to be a great virtue. Did you know that the word frugal actually originates from the Latin word frugalis, which means virtuous?

During the Depression, nothing was wasted. Chicken or turkey carcasses were never discarded until every last bit of meat had been removed, and soup had been made from the bones. Clothing was mended – never discarded. String, rags, nails, wrapping paper…everything was saved. An orange in a Christmas stocking was a treasured gift.

Most of us have never known the kind of hardship faced by those who survived the depression, and it shows in the attitudes so many have about money and possessions. Americans are wasteful. We buy things we don’t need, spend more than we earn, and throw away good and useful things because they aren’t trendy enough. People tear out nice, nearly-new kitchens simply because the cabinets aren’t the lastest trend, and oh no! What about granite and stainless?! (I refuse to watch House Hunters, or any HGTV programming because the people fill me with rage). In 2012 (the most recent data available) Americans threw out 35 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 3 times more than was discarded in 1960. With so many people in the world dying from famine, we should be ashamed. This level of waste is simply despicable.

Last week at dance class, I overheard a woman complaining that because of her recent divorce, she had to downgrade to basic cable, and she won’t be able to upgrade her cell phone this year as planned. Also, her son (who was sitting nearby, completely engrossed in some bleeping electronic thing) couldn’t get an iPhone for his birthday (the poor, poor boy. How WILL he survive?) She was bemoaning these “sacrifices” as though they were a true hardship, while her children were eating a dinner consisting entirely of expensive packaged foods – Little Debbie cakes, pepperoni and cheese snacks, Cheetos, and pudding cups. My husband saw the look on my face, and he leaned over to stroke my neck, as if I were a spooked racehorse that needed to be calmed so that I wouldn’t trample everyone.

Every year at Christmas, our school sponsors “needy” local families, and my children bring home lists of what these people “need.” Most of the items on the list are not needs, but wants. I strongly object to being asked to buy Nintendo PS3 games (something my own children do not own) because how does this fill a “need?” In my experience, the people who own the most electronic gadgets are also the people buried in the most debt, and perhaps they would not be so “needy” if they spent their money on things they actually need. It infuriates me!

In October, when my husband left the appraisal business, the most common reaction from people was, “What are you going to do now?!” As in “How are you going to pay your bills?” We received our last paycheck for appraisal work on December 5th, and have had no income since then. We made it through the holidays, and 4 family birthdays, and aside from a complete lack of restaurant meals (I mean NONE. We do not eat out. At all. Ever) our daily life has changed very little. We paid cash for ALL the shop renovations, and we haven’t even touched our actual emergency fund yet because last year, though we made 25% less than the year before, I still managed to save money.

How did I do it?

Well, it helped that 2014 was the first year I didn’t have to shell out $700 a month for health insurance. That was a biggie. It also helps that I’ve been trying to live by that good old Great Depression mantra, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Or, as I like to say, “Use what you have and be happy.”

When I’m facing a money challenge, the first thing I do is clean my house. This might sound odd, because what does cleaning have to do with money? Well…a lot, actually. Most middle class families have far more than they need to get through daily life. They just don’t know it because so many of them live in chaos. My husband saw this all the time when he was an appraiser. Houses filled to the absolute bursting, sometimes with entire rooms closed off because they can no longer be accessed, yet the owners need to refinance their mortgage yet again to pay their credit card bills. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?

A clean, organized house creates peace, and most people are extremely tense and anxious when money is tight. They need peace. This is why, when my husband made the decision to leave appraisal, and we were facing a complete overhaul of our life (again), we decided to first take advantage of the luxury of time and make over our bedroom. We had put this project on the back burner for a decade, so we decided to finally invest a little bit in ourselves. Believe it or not, the changes in this room have made a noticeable difference in our lives. It’s spacious, uncluttered, and clean. The wall color is peaceful. The wood floors are easy to keep clean, so I’m not up half the night coughing (carpet and asthma – they do not mix). We both sleep better, which makes it easier to cope with the challenges life throws at us.

I believe that organization is beneficial in every aspect of life, but especially in your financial life. When your house is organized you can actually use what you already have, instead of spending unnecessarily. So, when I say I clean, I mean I clean EVERYTHING. Every cabinet and drawer is emptied, wiped down, and organized, like with like. All the food storage spaces, including the laundry room cabinets, and the chest freezer:


all the personal care supplies:


and all the office and craft supplies.


I organized every one of these drawers.


This exercise serves a great purpose – it shows you exactly how much you have, and usually you find that it’s plenty. My husband has every tool, nail, screw, nut, and bolt known to man out in his shop (and he can find them now because everything is orderly!), and I found that we have enough pens/pencils, markers, crayons, paper, batteries, cleaning supplies, lightbulbs, craft materials, soap, shampoo, Tylenol, etc. to last us a good long while. Now, when I go to the store on Grocery Day, I buy only what we need….because I know exactly what that is. I also found some things that I didn’t really need, and could either return (this is where having an organized filing system is important – I knew exactly where my receipts were), sell on eBay, or consign.

Saving money also requires a change in thinking. I challenge myself every day – except on Grocery Day – to spend no money, and to waste nothing. So far, I’ve been extremely successful, and here are some examples of how I do it. All of these are from today alone:

-A small amount of leftover pot roast and gravy, and some brown rice from the night before, became lunchtime vegetable soup for my husband, DJ, and me.


I added water, a can of stewed tomatoes and a half package of frozen mixed vegetables, plus some beef broth powder and seasonings. It was tasty and filling.


-Today was Grocery Day, and it’s also the day I clean out my fridge. In doing so, I found a few pieces of citrus fruit nearing the end of their useful life.


Rather than allowing them to spoil, I froze their zest and juice flat, in a Ziplock freezer bag. When I need citrus, such as in Asian dishes, I can just break off a small piece of the frozen juice/zest block and add it to my recipe. I’ve done this successfully for years.


-I sold a CD on eBay, and needed a bubble mailer to prevent the case from getting cracked in shipping. I only had extra-large mailers from when I used to sell a lot of books. Rather than buying a small, CD-sized mailer, or wasting a large one on a small item, I just tore it in half. This left me with two sheets of bubble-lined manila paper, like this:


I wrapped one around the CD, and sealed it with clear packing tape. It worked great, and I’ll use the other sheet the next time I need to ship something small.

-The basket I use to store the kids’ markers cracked, and all the markers kept falling out the side. I didn’t want to buy another basket, so I soaked the label off this pretzel container I found in the recycling bin.


-I use Aquaphor a lot during the winter because I have terrible eczema. It was recommended by my dermatologist because it’s super-greasy and doesn’t wash off immediately. I was almost out, but when I priced Aquaphor at Wal-Mart today, I was put off by the $7 price tag for a 3.5-ounce jar. I didn’t buy it because when I read the ingredient list I found that Aquaphor is nothing more than glorified petroleum jelly (DUH). I knew from my cleaning/organizing frenzy that I had a partial container of Vaseline and a half tube of generic A&D ointment at home, leftover from when DJ was still in diapers. Both are petroleum jelly-based. So I went home, found a container (I save jars and containers that I think might be useful), and combined the remainder of the Aquaphor, the Vaseline, and the A&D. I stirred them together well and made my own “healing ointment.” I spent NO money, and used up two products that have been sitting around, unused, for years.


I tried this on my elbows. The A&D ointment makes it thicker and creamier than Aquaphor, and I think it works better! Also, the smell reminds me of when my kids were babies *sniffle*

This reminds me of another instance where I saved money by reading labels. Because of my terrible menstrual issues, I’ve tried every OTC menstrual pain reliever on the market. The one that worked best for me was a product called Pamprin Max, but I only bought it once when I was desperate, because it was so terribly expensive – $5.73 for 20 capsules, or 23.9 cents EACH. Last summer, I was standing in the store aisle during that dreaded time, debating about whether I should fork over the money again, and I decided to read the label. The active ingredients are:

Acetaminophen 250 mg
Aspirin 250 mg
Caffeine 65 mg

I read this and thought, “Hmmm….this sounds very familiar to me.” I walked over, picked up a box of Excedrin Extra-Strength, which we’ve used for years because it works so well for headaches, and read the label.

The ingredients are identical, right down to the quantities, only Excedrin costs $14.98 for 200 capsules, or approximately 7.5 cents each. So, if you buy Pamprin you’re basically paying 3 times more for the pretty pink capsules and weirdly luxurious name. Because Pamprin pampers you….or something. *snort*

Please learn from my mistake, and do not be so foolish. One of the best ways to save money is to be a smart and discerning consumer.


  12 Responses to “Use What You Have and Be Happy”

  1. These are great ideas! I am going to start my clean up tomorrow! Thanks for this.

  2. Love this post Heather! Thank you for the tips

  3. you always inspire me to save Heather, from the very start when I discover your blog. Thanks! I really really want to save because I am an impulse buyer that’s why I hang around here in your blog often.

  4. My goodness, every time I’m getting in a slump, I come to your blog and read an awesome post that makes me feel like organizing something!! This was such a great post and it reminds me of why your blog is the one I read first before all others!! I’m telling you…I’m moving next door to you!!! xo

  5. Thanks for this post, it was great! I too have been trying to waste nothing and this past month I can see that it has made a difference on our budget. That’s a terrific tip to clean everything, I’m going to definitely do this with my freezer and pantry and stretch my next big grocery trip out for a few days. Please blog more on this topic and your progress, your ideas and tips are really helpful.

  6. Great post! I too agree that materialism has taken over. Many people do not realize how blessed they are. And thanks for tip on the Aquaphor I have to use it also!

  7. I love this post, Heather! I feel the exact same way about using what you have, making do, and not being a typical consumer! My daughter is in gymnastics (she wears her regular clothes. We do not buy her sparkly outfits to get sweaty in, and I bring my refillable jar of water and a small snack for her for afterwards from home). Two weeks ago I looked around the area where the parents sit to wait/watch their kids and ALL OF THEM are on cell phones. Texting, talking, playing games. Younger siblings were on various electronic devices watching movies or playing games. The class is only 45 minutes long for pete’s sake! I felt weird because I had a book with me. I spent a good portion of my time actually watching and enjoying my daughter doing her “kinactics” as she calls it (she’s 4) . It is so upsetting to me how “electronic” our society has become, and how wasteful. I have been eliminating waste from our lives for about a year. My husband is supportive for the most part, but doesn’t have the drive that I do. We also live very frugally and always have. The people we know think we are “weird” and will make comments like ” Oh I couldn’t be bothered to….” or “Why don’t you just go to the store and buy..(insert fake, chemically laden food/toxic cleaning products, etc here). I constantly get teased at work because my drinking vessel of choice is a mason jar with an eco jarz lid (I refuse to use plastic if I can help it) and because I bring my food in glass jars or pyrex containers. My coworkers order lunch in at least three days a week and it is extremely rare I order something. They usually don’t even ask me anymore.
    This post is so inspiring and makes me feel like I’m not alone! Thank you Heather!

    • Come live near me! We could hang out together 🙂 I feel the same way as you about the other mothers at dance class, with their faces constantly glued to their phones. They just ignore their children, and guess where their kids often end up? With me. Because I’ll talk to them, and they’re starved for attention! It makes me so sad.

      And I don’t use plastic either! I threw it all out years ago, and we only use glass food storage. If I saw you drinking from a mason jar, I would think, “Ah…a kindred spirit.”

    • I also get made fun of for my mason jars! You are not alone!

  8. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and ideas, Heather. Very motivating!! I am going to start being more mindful of what I spend and what I throw out and donate! 🙂 Do you have a previous post on how you menu plan– do you go through what you have and plan for the week or do you make it up as you go? I know getting more organized and aware of our food on hand I could save tons of our grocery money.

  9. Heather, I so agree with you on HGTV. I start feeling uneasy watching all those shows and think maybe my house is not good enough because I have oak cabinets. I think about your post Overcoming Home Envy and realize I know better than to feel that way. My house is awesome, well built (by my husband), and paid for. People are so greedy! Also, I have experience the dance situation too and it was brutal. The parents were horrible, kids acting out because they want attention. I loved this post and agree we need to stop being so wasteful.

  10. Yeah, that’s the good stuff!!! These are my favorite kinds of posts – the ones that inspire me to do a lot with a little, and make do with what I have. I so admire your ability to do that.

    I totally understand your frustration with listening to people who complain about their finances while their priorities are messed up. I have a close friend who is very envious of what we’ve achieved through hard work and saving, yet she refuses to give up cable tv or expensive cell phones. I have little sympathy for those who have financial struggles while also paying big money for those things that they mistakenly assume are necessities. People always seem to find money for the things they want – just goes to show what’s truly important to them! We all have priorities – I personally would rather spend any extra money on enriching experiences for my kids and a lovely home for our family, rather than cable and cell phones.

  11. Thank you for the reminder! I love your honesty and all the great tips.

  12. Great Post!

  13. I really enjoyed this Use What You Have post. Very inspiring with good specific examples of how you put the philosophy into action. I hope you will feature more of this type of article.

  14. For the Excedrin get the store brand and save even more! I never buy the brand name and it works just the same.

  15. So many great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I am with you on the clean house, we find so many useful things when we tidy up and rearrange things… and it’s good to know that there is so much excess already in our lives so not to go crazy and bring more into our homes!!

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