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Crawling in under the tent


My Uncle Toby grew up as one of nine children during the Great Depression of the 1930's. Any clothes he got had first been handed down from his brother Don to his brother Dick, then from Dick down to Toby. Just like about everybody else at the time, the family had next to nothing. But Toby liked to have a good time and usually figured out how to do it on the cheap. When a circus came to the area, Toby always went to the circus, but he had to crawl in under the tent. He went to ballgames, too, where they charged admission by talking his way in.


Toby's mother, my Grandmother Florence, knew how to get by too. She sewed and patched clothes and darned socks. She knew how to feed nine hungry kids, herself and a hardworking carpenter, my Grandpa Joe, with beans, potatoes, love and determination. My mother, the oldest in the family, knew all the same tricks and a few of her own, although she had only six to feed.

In today's economy, folks are squeezing and pinching to save pennies, but times have changed since my grandmother and mom were raising their families and some of the old tricks have been forgotten. But a few new ones are just getting invented. Frugality is cool these days. I have been scouting around and here are just a few gimmicks people are discovering and rediscovering in the pursuit of survival in hard times:

• Use tea bags two or three times.

• Return to the lunch bucket. Pack your lunch at home rather than buying at noon.

• Straighten the silver foil used to wrap sandwiches and use it again and again.

• Turn off the lights every time you leave a room.

Here's one grandma didn't use:

• Turn off all electronics, like computers and TVs when you're not using them. They're still using juice when they are idle.

• Clip grocery coupons and use them.

• Buy your groceries from the bottom shelf, below eye level, where the prices are cheaper.

• Don't buy anything that isn't on sale -- by at least 20 percent.

Here's one of my favorites:

• When you are finished doing the dishes, save the dish water to wash the car.

• Save kitchen scraps to feed the pigs. If you don't have pigs, compost the scraps.

• Paint a line around the bathtub five inches from the bottom and never fill above that line.

• Shower with a friend.

• Use a debit card rather than a credit card. You can't spend what you don't have.

• Never wash a half load of anything.

• Wash all your clothes in cold water.

• Hang them out to dry or use your dryer for only 15 minutes so that when you hang them out they won't get stiff.

• Close vents in unused rooms.

• Never buy bottled water. Drink from the tap. It's just as pure, just as good.

• Shave your own head.

• Stop smoking and save thousands each year.

• Walk, don't drive short distances.

• Grow your own vegetables.

• Don't use prepared foods, cook from scratch.

• Don't buy books, check them out from the library.

• Do what Angelina Jolie did -- she bought a $26 dress to attend the New York City premier of A Mighty Heart.

• Do what the old guys do -- use cloth handkerchiefs rather than paper tissue.

• Don't make mistakes when you write. You're just using up erasers.

• Crawl under the tent, then be very generous later as my Uncle Toby was.