30 Signs You Grew Up In A Frugal Family

Did you grow up in a frugal family?  Not necessarily poor, but able to stretch a dollar until it cried for mercy?  People who were raised by frugal parents can spot each other a mile away.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the quirky habits and experiences I grew up with – and some I continue to this day.  I’m not the only one; I know there are others out there.

Related: 35 Ways I Save Money

Do you remember some of these frugal tricks?

1.  Smuggling snacks into the Saturday matinee?

2.  Having a “clean out the fridge” meal once a week to use up all the leftovers?

3.  Being a member of the “Clean Plate Club” because you didn’t want to feel guilty about all the starving children in Africa?

4.  Your mother mixing powdered milk with fresh milk and swearing you couldn’t tell the difference?

5.  Having a garden and picking, and then canning or freezing bushels of vegetables each fall?

Related: Organic Food Gardening

6.  Having a huge freezer stocked with the above-mentioned produce, as well as 20 chickens and a side of beef from the local Hutterite farm?

7.  Buying clothes at least one size too big, – “You’ll grow into it in no time!”  And then wearing them until the seams started splitting, – “I can’t believe how fast you’ve grown!”?  If shoes were too big you were told to put on an extra pair of socks.

8.  Let down hems, patches sewn on the knees of your jeans and darned socks?

9.  Being told to put on a sweater if you were cold instead of being allowed to turn up the thermostat in the winter?

10.  Hand-me-down clothes passed down not only from older siblings, but cousins, other relatives and children of friends?

Related: Could You Have A Frugal February?

11.  Hanging wet laundry on the outside clothesline – even in the dead of winter and bringing in the clothes frozen solid – because they smell fresher than being tossed in the dryer?

12.  Having a fridge or cupboard full of little packets of ketchup, soy sauce, sugar, jam and peanut butter?

13.  The can or jar of saved bacon grease in the kitchen cabinet that was used to fry other stuff?

14.  Your mom making every meal from scratch and your dad knowing how to fix almost anything in the house?

15.  Almost never going out to eat in a restaurant or getting takeout?

Related: Tips To Save Money – Meal Planning

Do you still to this day?

16.  Wash and re-use tin foil, plastic wrap and Ziploc bags?

17.  Save elastic bands and twist ties?

18.  Consider empty plastic margarine and yogurt containers for storage rather than trash recycling?

19.  Rinse out shampoo and detergent bottles and cut open toothpaste tubes to suck out the last bit of product?

20.  Have a stash of used, neatly folded gift-wrap and bags, and bits of ribbon and bows from previous presents?

21.  Know how to change the oil in your car (even if you don’t do it yourself)?

Related: How Often Should You Service Your Vehicle?

22.  Have at least a couple of hotel soaps and bottles of shampoo in your bathroom?

23.  Use much less than the recommended quantity of most products?

24.  Consider that a little mold on cheese won’t make you immediately think about tossing it out.  “It won’t hurt you.  Just cut that piece off.”

25.  Collect slivers of soap in a jar of water to meld them together into a new bar or to fill the liquid soap dispenser?

26.  Whenever you want to make a purchase, you wait for a sale – or at least a coupon?

27.  When going on a road trip, pack sandwiches and snacks to take with you?

Related: 20 Ways To Save Money On Gas

28.  Think that the terms “use by” and “best before” stickers are really just suggestions?  You use the sniff test.

29.  Spit on a tissue to wipe your child’s dirty face?  Who needs expensive wipes?

30.  Find it amazing that people actually pay for water?

Frugal lessons from mom and dad

Some people who were raised by frugal parents ended up rebelling throughout the rest of their lives – spending lavishly, getting into credit card debt and being wasteful.

Related: I’ll Admit It, I’m A Tightwad

Now, however, there seems to be a rise in wanting to live simply and find more meaning in family, friends and worthwhile activities rather than in buying more things that we don’t need anyway.

As much as we don’t often like to admit it, we learned a lot of money lessons from our parents.

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  1. Kathy on August 14, 2013 at 5:04 am

    I do some but not all of these and am considered cheap. Of course, I consider what I am doing as not being wasteful. LOL.

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

      @Kathy: Previous generations definitely were not wasteful – even if they were not poor. From rotating crops for better yields to sewing worn clothing into quilts, they made things last.

      They also didn’t buy anything until they had the cash, didn’t use credit cards and were great savers – good habits to continue.

      • Karik on August 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm

        I “catch” myself doing some of these things. Cutting the toothpaste tube open was one of those things. Now I stock up when it’s on sale and absolutely delight in opening the fresh new tube! We did the mold on cheese when we were kids and you’d always find some sort of “game” in a cooler by the back door from an uncle. My mother was a genius at saving and distributing the small amount of money that my father gave her on payday. We didn’t know we had any money until I was a teenager and my father came home with a brand new car that was paid for!!! I imagine my buckle boots were part of his savings plan! I hated those things.

  2. Kevin@OutOfYourRut on August 14, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Hi Marie – We did at least 25 of those when I was growing up, and still do at least half now with my own family (especially #28).

    On #24, there’s actually nothing wrong with cutting the mold off cheese. I worked in a deli many years ago and we did that all the time. The manager said that mold on the outside of a block of cheese has no affect on the inside. In my experience, that’s absolutely true.

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:25 am

      @Kevin: I agree, I’ve always cut off the mold.

      My sister-in-law (who grew up in a family of 9 kids) tells me they ate lunch meat when it became slimy with a greenish tinge. Ugh! I draw the line at that!

      When we are invited over for supper we always arrive early to “help out,” but in reality I’m suspiciously going over what she plans to serve us 🙂

  3. Echo on August 14, 2013 at 6:50 am

    I think Pinterest has helped people find new and creative uses for items 16 through 20.

    About 1/3 of these have passed down to the next generation, so thanks(?) Mom!

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:28 am

      @Echo: Storage, craft projects, emergency repairs – oh, the possibilities!
      The danger is in saving too many. You need to weed out occasionally.

  4. Alya on August 14, 2013 at 7:22 am

    It’s interesting how many of these items are also environmentally-friendly.

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:29 am

      @Alya: Reduce-reuse-recyle are buzz words now but they used to just be a way of life.

  5. Gary on August 14, 2013 at 8:08 am

    WOW! Talk about a walk down memory lane! Thanks Marie; I’m going to print this one for posterity. ( and for our kids and grandkids ). We are the original recyclers.

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:33 am

      @Gary: It makes me laugh when I hear about people being so virtuous and frugal by mending and repurposing household items.

      This is how we grew up!

  6. ljhallan on August 14, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Your post today brought back memories. My Mom had other ways to save: any leftover cookies or cakes were dried out and made into garbage squares (tasted great), wash out milk bags for storage, remake clothing into something else (eg. aprons, jackets etc.), unwind old sweaters to make mitts and socks to name a few. My Mother was ahead of the time in her reducing, reusing and recyling.

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:38 am

      @ljhallan: Growing up, I used to think everyone lived this way.

      it wasn’t until I went to university that I found out differently and then I thought we must have just been poor 🙂 I then became one of the rebels (temporarily) until I realized it just made sense to be frugal.

  7. Money Beagle on August 14, 2013 at 9:14 am

    I did probably about a third of these and considered that we were fairly frugal. I still carry a lot of the habits and it’s overall crafted me an attitude to guard my money and make sure it is spent wisely.

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

      @Money Beagle: Learning to be frugal makes you think about money in a different way and, as you say, be careful and spend wisely.

  8. zak on August 14, 2013 at 9:24 am

    What?.. These are “quirky?” I thought everybody did these things? Heck, I still do most of them — esp the cheese and “sniff test” 😉

    Nice post. Love reading this stuff!

    • Boomer on August 14, 2013 at 11:45 am

      @zak: Thanks. As I mentioned before I thought everyone lived this way, too and old habits die hard.

      Although, some things my parents did do seem quirky (crazy?) to me now and I love hearing about the things my grandparents did when they were kids.

  9. Mike on August 14, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Nice article. Still doing most of the stuff and feel proud about it. Use the backyard garden vegetables till February. Freeze, store, recycle, reuse anything and everything.

    • Boomer on August 16, 2013 at 11:12 am

      @Mike: Old habits die hard – and good ones are good to keep.

  10. Mike on August 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    HAHA We were a frugal family. I remember when Dad brought home a jar of pickles as a treat and it was a HUGE deal! And actually I am still a snack smuggler at the movies and bowling alley!

    • Boomer on August 16, 2013 at 11:12 am

      @Mike: I knew there were others out there.

  11. KrissyFair on August 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I keep a bacon drippings jar in my fridge. My mother thinks I’m nuts, but my grandma gets it!

    • Boomer on August 16, 2013 at 11:14 am

      @KrissyFair: Potatoes fried in bacon drippings – yum!

      Now, alas, I only keep grease in a container to harden and then throw out – easier on our plumbing and our arteries.

  12. Gerard on August 16, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I feel like one of Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen (“Luxury!”) by saying, “You went to movies?” and “Saving ketchup packets? Wouldn’t that involve eating in restaurants?” 🙂

    • Boomer on August 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

      @Gerard: Mothers sent their kids to the Saturday matinees so they could get a few hours to themselves, I suspect, and the price was probably worth it.

      For about .25 you not only got preview of coming attractions but also several cartoons, perhaps an episode of a continuing serial and 2 (yes, that’s right – 2) feature movies.

      My mom worked so we did get take-out occasionally. They used to throw handfuls of those packets into the bags – way more than we needed for a meal.

  13. Alamin K on August 16, 2013 at 8:54 am

    Grew up dirt poor in South Africa. Thank you and your readers for reminding me a lot of what used to happen in our family as well. My kids, of course, see some of the carry overs we practice till today as being “cheap” not frugal. Have to admit we do have a laughable amount of plastic containers, hotel soap and soya sauce packets piled up. I think it was Jim Carrey who once said once that one of the great joys of having money was that he could finally chuck that last bit of soap out and open a new bar.

    • Boomer on August 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

      @Alamin K: There’s a fine line between being cheap and being frugal, but we have become a very wasteful generation and there are good lessons to be learned from our parents and grandparents about thrift.

  14. Sierra on August 17, 2013 at 7:36 am

    My family did a lot of those things, but then my mother didn’t have an outside job. When I had children and a full-time job, the habits died off- no time. Now that I’m retired, they are creeping back in.

    I draw the line at taking packets of ketchup, etc and hotel samples. IMO, that’s stealing and we all pay because pilfering is built into the prices.

  15. Boomer on August 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

    @Sierra: I would not take more than I need from the “help yourself” condiments section in fast food places and coffee shops but, as I said in another comment, we used to get handfuls of packets that were tossed into the bag by the server.

    Also, if you use the shampoo, etc in a hotel, the remainder will be tossed if you leave it behind, so why not take it with you?

  16. Laurette on August 19, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I definitely grew up in a frugal family and many of the practices have carried forward. Some I don’t do but there are others that are only recently possible because of technology. Here are my favourites.

    1) buy gently used items on e-bay, especially books
    2) get a free library card and use the free e-books, e-magazines and e-newspapers

    Thanks for the article.

    • Boomer on August 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

      @Laurette: Good tips. I like them.

  17. Marguerite on August 20, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I still do many of those – it’s become a way of life and any money not spent is money in my reserve

    • Boomer on August 20, 2013 at 10:26 am

      @Marguerite: Those old cliches we learned do have truth to them.

      “A penny saved is a penny earned.” 🙂

  18. LD Meyer on August 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Most of those frugal suggestions are for inside, outside buy a cheap push lawnmower and put a mulching blade on it and never, ever bag and throw away grass clippings. You can use the clippings around flowers and gardens to hold moisture and keep weeds at bay or start a compost pile for your veggie and flower gardens. In the fall rake leaves out in the open and run the mower over them and they’ll compost back to yours truly, “Mother Nature”. Leaves and grass clippings are “FREE” fertilizer, NEVER haul them to a landfill!

  19. Jamie on April 2, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Going to the supermarket at the end of the day to buy reduced milk, bread, meat, dairy.

    Getting free boxes from the supermarket to pack your house and move yourself.

  20. Joan on March 13, 2018 at 5:02 am

    I grew up this way . I didn’t rebel, but my sibs did. I raised my kids this way – They rebelled big time. I’m retired now and starting to relax – a little bit. Still look for the best deal, save, reuse everything I can, but I do eat out more often.

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