As the economy continues to effect our houshold budgets, I thought I might share some of the 'tricks; I used years ago when our budget was very challenged, and is headed that way again. I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that you try any of this. I just thought it would be fun to let you know what I did when financial times were tough. If you're a cook or chef, you'll probably want to turn your eyes away because some of the things I did will make you cringe. We've all heard the stories of how our parents or grandparents made the ketchup stretch by adding water to the half empty bottle, right? Guilty! I still do it! Here are a few other tricks I used.
- Cook your pasta a couple of minutes longer than you normally would. It puffs it up (and yes, it is a little softer but my family never noticed) and stretches farther. Al dente wasn't a phrase I even knew about back then.
- We ate alot of 'mixed-up' dishes. A favorite was what we called 'goulash'. It probably is not what a chef would call it, but it's what we did. It consisted of elbow macaroni, browned ground beef, the cheapest jar/can of speghetti sauce you can find, a little sugar to tame down the acidity, some 'shakey' cheese (parmesean for those of you without kids) if you can afford it. This was and still is one of my family's favorites. You could substitute ground turkey or gound venison instead of ground beef.
- Another favorite was 'Cheesy Beef Casserole'. We actually had this for dinner one night at a friend's home and really loved it. Again, it starts with cooked elbow mac, and browned ground beef. Instead of speghetti sauce, it uses a can of cheddar cheese soup. Added to that is a can of drained whole kernal corn. After all that is mixed up and dumped in a casserole dish, you make a top crust of pop-open biscuits. You can always make your own biscuits or change it up with crumbled saltines. This one was saved for special occasions because of the cost of a can of cheddar cheese soup, but it can be stretched by adding a little milk and extra corn.
- Probably you all know about how to stretch your ground meat by making meat loaf and the added fillers. My usual go-to filler is a bunch of crushed up saltines. I just add a few extra. You can also add torn up peices of bread, stale bread works best and is a great way to use up what might otherwise be thrown out. I've also used oatmeal.
- Baking soda is not just for baking! I always bought the cheapest laundry detergent the store had. In those days, they had 'no-name' products. A shake or two of baking soda in the wash helps the detergent work better and always, always, always do a full load. It's also great scouring product and if you have sensitive surfaces where you can't use a sctubber, it works great. It's also a good, although not very tastey, toothpaste substitute. Have you got little ones that sometimes have an (opps) accident while they're sleeping? Come on!! If you're got or had kids, that happened. Don't even try to tell me it didn't! A dusting of baking soda left for a few hours then vacuumed up helps freshen that up.
- Speaking of vacuum cleaners....years ago, my mother gifted me with her old vacuum. It was one of the first vacuums made with the power, brush roller. I used that vacuum for almost 20 years. It was also before the invention of the bagless cleaner. Since those bags were somewhat expensive, and there were times I either couldn't afford them or forgot to buy them, I had to get creative. Here's what I did. I carefully opened up the bottom of the bag and emptied it into the trash. Carefully! It did make a bit of dust but that was easily cleaned up.Then I grabbed my stapler and stapled it shut, finished with alot of tape to make sure it was sealed, and voila ! pracitcally a new bag! I actually still have that cleaner, it has been replaced by a newer version of the same maker, but it is still working! I replaced it mainly because the hose needed to be replaced and because it was so old and the bags were getting hard to find (the store clerk told me he had worked for 13 years and has never had anyone request those bags), we decided to relegate it to the 'upstairs' cleaner. I had promised myself that when the entire hose was covered with tape, I would get a new one.
See the tape? My motto is fix it and make do.
There was ALOT of making do in those days.
- I used to use old T shirts to patch up our 'everyday' underwear. Yep, we had sets for good and everyday. The ones no one but us would ever see. TMI??? Sorry.
- We also had play clothes, school clothes and church clothes. As the school clothes got 'too worn' for school anymore, they got relegated to play clothes. I also made most of my kids clothes often from discount fabric or thrift store clothes refashioned. Hand-me-downs were the norm, at least until our son came along. He has 4 older sisters, and objected to wearing their dresses. Just kidding! He ended up with more new clothes than his sister's had unless we received some from friends with older boys. I still have painting and outside messy clothes, inside cleaning and everyday clothes, shopping and errand clothes, suitable for church clothes and three or four dressey dressey outfits (mainly worn at my children's weddings.
- I used powdered milk in recipes that called for milk and sometimes mixed it with whole milk to make it go farther. My kids never knew that until a few years ago.
- I also used to wash aluminum foil and reuse it. I will admit, I still do sometimes, especially if it's the heavy duty kind. Zip lock bags got rinsed and reused. I would be careful using them for food again, but they work great for other things that need to be bagged. It goes without saying that anything that touched raw meat went right in the trash - never reuse that!
- I used the cheapest muffin mixes in the store and just replaced some of the liquid with applesauce. It makes them moist and added fruit, and back in the day when I packed lunches for my kids, they most always had one in their lunch box.
- My kids shoes always got handed down. I know! Podiatrists look away!
- My children will tell you that I have trouble throwing things away. It never fails that when I get rid of something, I end up thinking later that it would have been good to have it. Our garage is full of, "I might need it someday" stuff. All that baby furniture and toys I held on to? One word---grandchildren! Of course, I could always sell some stuff and make some extra money, but, at the risk of repeating myself, I know I'd "end up thinking later that it would have been good to have it."
- I used old socks, old towels, old t-shirts, etc as cleaning cloths. I will admit to having in my cleaning supplies, some of the disposable cleaning wipes. I especially like the disinfectant ones. But for real scouring power, you still can't beat good old cleanser powder and an old cloth. When it comes time for washing my throw rugs I just toss the cloths in with them. I will also admit to owning a disposable mopper. It's not my favorite and I don't think it will ever do as good a job as a bucket of hot soapy water and good sponge mop. When I use it, I use washable pads that I crochet from cotton yarn. I sell the pattern and the pads on my Etsy site.
- Crumpled newpaper and a white vinegar and water mixture makes a good substitute for window cleaner.
I'm sure there were other things I did 'back then' to stretch our dollars but that's all that comes to mind right now. As I said before, my purpose for this post is not to suggest that you try any of these shortcuts, but maybe after reading this you can come up with ways to stretch your own dollars. I'd LOVE to hear about them. There are so many current ways beyond couponing and home gardening. One of the ways that I currently employ is writing book reviews. I get to pick interesting books to read and I get them for FREE, all for writing my honest opinion of them. This saves me tons of money at the bookstore!
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