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A Penny Saved The Prudent Homemaker

I know that many of you are really struggling with your inability to make ends meet right now. This post is for you. I hope it gives you hope--as well as some ideas for how to live well, even when you are living below the poverty line.
Some of you know our story, how we went 8 months without any income in 2007, and bought nothing for a year--no clothes, no food, no diapers (for my three in diapers), no toilet paper--and certainly nothing else.

We made more in the four months of income we did have in 2007 than we did for all of 2011, and more than we did in 2012, too, by a considerable amount.

How have we lived on so little?

I've learned to do things differently.

One thing I have learned is that there is always something more that can be cut.
You may have gotten rid of cable years ago (we did in 2007 after only having had it for a few years), you don't go out to eat, you have one car or perhaps no car, you make your own laundry soap, you clean with rags and use cloth napkins, you've recently lowered your insurance rates, you cut everyone's hair at home, you make birthday and Christmas gifts,  you already turn off the lights diligently, you bake your own bread, you have a garden, you cook from scratch, you drink water at all meals, and you don't even own a cell phone.
So what else can you cut if you already don't have those expenses?

One of the biggest things to amaze me is that we continue to find ways to cut our expenses. It's a regular thing for us to do. Both my husband and I evaluate each of our expenses all the time.

If you're struggling with making ends meet due to a loss of income, evaluate your expenses--every single one--on a regular basis.

Even tiny changes make a big difference. You may think something that only saves you 5 cents a day isn't worth doing. However, that one thing will save you $18.25 a year. If you find 20 tiny ways to save that each save you 5 cents a day, you've saved $365 a year.

Of course, not all changes are tiny. Some changes may be a lot bigger than you think!

If I hadn't made changes, I can tell you that we would have lost our home years ago. The changes I've made have been essential to our survival.

If you feel like you've already cut everything, here are some suggestions to cut some more. What seem like simple, tiny changes, will often result in bigger savings than you imagine.

Penny and Penny The Prudent Homemaker



Assuming you're already turning off any lights, appliances, unplugging things, etc., here is more that you can do:

When you eat dinner, make sure that the only lights on are the ones above the table. Turn off any other kitchen lights. When the nights are long in the summer, don't turn on any lights at the table.

Use less light while showering. If you have a single light choice in your bathroom, use that instead of one with multiple lights. If you shower after the sun is up and you have a window, don't turn on the lights at all.

When you're in a room at night, consider what light you really need. If you're reading, turn on a lamp with one bulb instead of the overhead light with several bulbs. If you're cooking early in the morning, turn on the light over the stove, instead of all the lights in the kitchen. During the day, don't turn on the lights--just open the shades or curtains.

Shut your computer off at night, and make sure it's set to sleep if you'll be off it for a while.

I read a study that evaluated the cost of turning lights of and turning them back on versus the cost of leaving them on when you leave a room. They found that if you are going to leave a room, it's worth turning off the lights with incandescent bulbs if you will be gone for 2 seconds, and with fluorescent bulbs, for 2 minutes. When you leave the room, turn off the light.


Use old towels, blankets (baby blankets work too), or t-shirts to roll up and put in front of drafty doors and window sills.

Challenge yourself to keep your house colder in winter. Set the thermostat 2 degrees colder than you usually do. Layer on more clothing, including thermals and wool socks. Put more blankets on the beds. These don't have to be the proper size for the bed; use crib-sized baby blankets and throws if that is what you have.

Open the oven door after cooking to warm the room.

When it gets warm enough to not need the heater, turn it off completely.


Keep the air conditioner set at 79ºF. Resist turning on the air conditioner for as long as possible. When it begins to be hot, but is still cool in the mornings and at night, open the windows early each morning to allow the house to cool down. Close them as soon as it starts to warm. Open them again in the evening when it is cool again.

Only run ceiling fans in rooms while you are in them.


Turn the pot of rice or pasta off a minute or two before it's done cooking. It will keep cooking and use less fuel. You can also turn off the stove on vegetables that you are steaming after the water has boiled; leave the lid on and the vegetables will still steam. Likewise, turn off the oven 3-5 minutes before you're done cooking.

When you're using the oven, use the whole oven. Bake four loaves of bread at once.


Bathe a baby or young toddler in a sink or tub instead of the bathtub.

When starting a bath, fill the bottom immediately, rather than letting the cold water go down the drain. If possible, have more than one child use the bath water. Fill it a little lower than you usually do. If possible, shower instead.

When showering, put buckets in the shower to catch the water while the water is warming up. You can also leave the buckets in to catch water while showering. Use that water to water potted plants, to water your garden, to pour into a top-loading washing machine, to flush the toilet a few times, or to scrub the floor.

Take shorter showers. Challenge your children to take 5-minute showers as well.

Use the water from steaming vegetables, canning, and what is leftover in drinking glasses to water plants.

Fill water containers from the faucet and put them in the refrigerator to keep cold. You won't be wasting water waiting for cold water and the chlorine will dissipate, leaving you with better tasting water.

Thrift Store Skirt Refashion The Prudent Homemaker



If you're finding the thrift store too expensive, try garage sales instead. Aim for prices that are .25 to $1, spending up to $3 or $4 for something more expensive, like a child's coat. Keep a running list of needed items so that you only purchase the number of items you need. To maximize time and minimize gasoline costs, stick to community garage sales, and consider going with a friend. You can drive one time and she can drive the next.

Mend and makeover existing clothing. Turn long-sleeved shirts with worn cuffs into short-sleeved shirts.

Repurpose old sheets into clothing (garage sale can be a good source for old sheets, eepecially top sheets, as the bottom sheet wears faster).

Attend a clothing swap. If you can't find one, set one up and invite other people.

Gasoline (Petrol):

Stay home more.

Take a bicycle instead of driving when possible. Or walk!

Cut your grass with a push mower.


Check out more books at once from the library and renew them online to reduce trips to the library.

Ride a scooter to work. If you get one under 200cc's, it doesn't have to be registered or require insurance, which saves more money. They get 60 miles to the gallon. You'll need to figure in more time to work (they go 20-30 miles an hour), but even a short commute can save you several dollars a day in gasoline. Purchase a used one. Keep a gasoline can at home for fill ups, since they only hold one gallon of gas.


Much cleaning can be done with just water and a rag. If grease is a problem or there is a lot of dirt, a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water will go a long way.

For killing germs on non-porous surfaces, vinegar works well. Soak orange or other citrus peels in vinegar for three weeks to make your vinegar smell like citrus (note: granite and marble are porous surfaces that will be pitted with vinegar and should be cleaned with water, and a mild amount of dish soap).

Cheaper than vinegar and newspaper for washing windows is a few drops of soap in a bucket of water.




If you are still able to shop (i.e. not living from your pantry exclusively) but need to lower your food budget, check out my series on Eating for 40 Cents a Day.

Stop buying things you don't need.


Switch brands to lower cost brands.

Compare the price of toilet paper by the length (not by the number of rolls). I switched to purchasing POM toliet paper from Sam's Club, as it the lowest price I can find.

Regularly evaluate where you can purchase items for the lowest cost. I found, to my surprise, that our grocery store has the lowest price on both mine and my husband's deodorant. They have it on sale as part of a mix and match ten items sale. Deodorant isn't always listed in the ad when they have this sale, but on arriving at the store, I have found that it is often part of the sale. Their sale price is 50% to 60% lower than I have paid anywhere else.

Make homemade hair detangler. You can even make it using free samples of conditioner. It's just a small amount of conditioner (a tablespoon) mixed with a squirt bottle full of water. I used an empty spray gel bottle for mine, but you can also purchase a bottle for $1 in the travel section.

Sign up for free samples.

When you get to the bottom of a container, cut it open to get several more days to a week's worth of product from it.

Take your own bags to the store. Several stores will give you a credit of 5 cents (Target) or 6 cents (Winco) back in credit per bag that you take

Dorsett Golden Apples The Prudent Homemaker 


Look for less expensive sources for seeds.

Grow open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and collect the seeds to reduce your need to purchase seeds.

Make changes to your garden to grow more in the space that you have. This can be accomplished in several ways: growing more vertically (such as pole beans, 6-foot tall varieties of snap peas, and cucumbers), converting more of your non-garden areas to garden by building beds or adding pots, growing food in the front yard, and adding edibles to your flower beds.

Grow more fruit. Add fruit trees, grape vines, and berry bushes.


July Harvest The Prudent Homemaker


Instead of feeling like you can't possibly cut anything else, look around to see what else you can find. Every month I find at least one way to cut our expenses. Last month I saved $110 in utility expenses just by making more small and simple changes.

What have you cut when you thought you couldn't possibly cut any more?

How to Cut Expenses Sidebar

Tagged in: Do Without
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One of the most frequently asked questions in my inbox is, "What do you use for sandwich bread?"

The answer is simple: I use French bread.

I sometimes will make baguettes and have sandwiches like I did in France: ham, cheese, and mustard on bread. More often, though, I'll slice the bread, and just use it that way.

For meats, I'll cook a bone-in ham, or a whole turkey. I use an electric knife to cut the ham from the bone in several large chunks. I then use my meat slicer to cut in into deli-thin meat. I was using a $5 meat slicer that I picked up used from a garage sale, until the motor burned out. We decided to replace it with a nicer slicer this time (with a stronger motor). I saved up my Amazon credit (thank you dear readers for purchasing through my links!) and I bought this one. I use it to slice bread as well. I can slice bread thinner on the slicer than by hand.

Turkey sandwiches on French bread with mayonnaise, tomatoes, basil, and Italian dressing

I will sometimes shred the cooked turkey and mix it with barbecue sauce, and add tomatoes from the garden (in summer).

I purchase ham and turkey on sale for under $1 a pound at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (usually $0.75 a pound and under). I freeze them to use throughout the year.

When I have lettuce or arugula from the garden in spring and fall, I'll use that on my sandwiches. In summer (when it's too hot for lettuce to grow here), we'll often have tomatoes and basil on our sandwiches, (or just tomato basil sandwiches!) We love Italian dressing on our sandwiches.

We'll also have Thanksgiving style sandwiches, with mayonnaise, turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.

I've planted a lot of basil up the walkway in front of our house so that I'll be able to make pesto, which is delicious on a turkey or chicken sandwich with cheese. I plan on making these this fall when we have lots of basil.

Tuna melts are another favorite at our house, made with tuna fish, pepper, mayonnaise, homemade sweet pickle relish, and topped with cheese. We make those on our griddle. We also make grilled cheese sandwiches.

To go with our sandwiches, we'll have homemade pickles, or giardiniera. We also always have some type of fruit with our sandwiches, depending on what is in season. Last week I cooked a ham and we had apples, peaches, and grapes from our garden with our sandwiches. I've also served carrots and dip made with homemade yogurt alongside our sandwiches.

What is your favorite kind of sandwich? What inexpensive sides do you serve with your sandwiches?

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Doing Without: What I Don't Buy

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Updated 12/2014 

Lettuce The Prudent Homemaker 

Sometimes I feel like the un-normal American. It seems that wherever women are gathered, they love to talk about their shopping habits. Considering that shopping is our responsibility, and it takes up so much of our time (as does cooking) I think we cannot help but talk about food.

The trouble is that I have no idea what these women are discussing. I've never heard of some of these foods. I don't even know what section of the store two women at church were discussing the other day. I've been in that store, but I've never paid any attention to the section where all of the convience foods are located. I admit that I wouldn't know where to find it. The women were discussing a delicious salad that one had brought to a meeting. "After all," reasoned the first, "why make something when you can just buy it?"

This is exactly the opposite of the way I think. Why buy something when you can make it?

Cooking from scratch, especially from bulk and home-grown ingredients, saves me quite a lot of money.

My way of shopping has changed much over the last six years. There are things that I used to buy that just aren't in my budget anymore. Some of them have never been in my budget. (Some of them would never be, as they are not things that I eat or drink anyway, but that many people do).

I've had a lot of comments recently from readers, wondering how I've cut our food budget to $0.40 a day per person. While I've shown you what we are eating, and I've written about how we're eating for less,  I think an important part of our budget is what we aren't eating and what we aren't buying.


Grapes The Prudent Homemaker

Use It Up

Wear It Out

Make It Do

Or Do Without

If you've ever wondered what you could cut from your food budget, and you just aren't sure what else you could live without, these lists may give you some food(s) for thought.

Whole Wheat Crackers The Prudent Homemaker

Here are some things I never buy:

Fruit snacks
Granola bars
Potato chips
Crackers. I make my own.
Juice boxes
Powdered drink mixes
Flavored water
Cold cereal. It doesn't matter how inexpensive it is. I will never go back. The children are no longer hungry an hour after breakfast, and a cooked breakfast is so much less money!
Coffee creamer
Grapes. I grow my own and eat them in season
Apricots. I grow my own and glean apricots.
Figs. I grow my own and glean figs.
Pomegranates: Again, home-grown and gleaned.
Cherries, artichokes, zucchini, sugar snap peas. I grow all of these. If they do poorly, we go without.

Herbs The Prudent Homemaker
Fresh Herbs: I grow lots of fresh herbs. They are easy to grow and there's no need to buy tiny packages of them at the store. Most of my herbs are perennials, so they are not a recurring expense.
Exotic fruits and vegetables
Cake mix
Meat above $2 a pound. In general, I stick to only buying meat that is $1 a pound or less. This usually is hams and turkeys bought on holiday sales, frozen, and used all year-round.

Ham The Prudent Homemaker
Deli meat. Instead, we cook hams and turkeys and slice them for sandwiches.
Cookies. I make my own instead.
Applesauce: I make my own, usually with gleaned apples or apples I've bought for .50 a pound.
Bread: I make my own for .25 a loaf.
Bottled salad dressing. I make my own dressing for pennies.
Jelly. Store bought is cheaper (sometimes) but homemade tastes better.

Green Onions The Prudent Homemaker
Green Onions. I bought starts for my garden years ago. I harvest the side shoots, and every year they reseed themselves. They grow all year-round here. I've never had to buy them since! You can read more about this here.

Ham The Prudent Homemaker

Lunch meat. We make sandwiches from turkey and hams bought under $1 a pound instead.
Popsicles. These are so easy to make and so inexpensive to make! I have several recipes here.
Pasta sauce. I buy a #10 can of tomato sauce and make my own instead.
Bean Sprouts. In 2005 I bought mung beans in bulk for sprouting. 2 Tbsp will fill a quart canning jar once sprouted. I still have lots of mung beans left.
Alfalfa sprouts. Ditto for what I said about mung beans!

Tomatoes in Colander The Prudent Homemaker


Fresh tomatoes. We eat the ones from the garden. If the tomatoes don't grow well, we have less.

Baby food. I haven't bought baby food since my third baby. It's really easy and much less money to make my own.

Canned beans. I used to buy these, but prices went up, our family grew, and I learned to cook whole beans. Now I buy beans in a 25 pound bag. I cook up a big batch and freeze bags of beans to use later.
Pasta/Rice a Roni mixes. I make my own instead.
Individually packaged anything.
Organic food. Really. It's too expensive.

Yes, I know that there are coupons for many of those items. I still don't buy them.




Here are some things I almost never buy:

Lettuce. We eat lettuce from our garden. With a packet of 750 lettuce seeds costing under $4, I can plant lettuce for a couple of years for very little. However, it does not grow in the hot months. I will buy lettuce a few times in the hot months, but not very often. I usually buy Romaine hearts at Sam's Club because they are the cheapest lettuce I can find. I only buy lettuce around 4 times a year.

Candy: I limit buying candy to a couple of holidays a year. I make sure to combine coupons and sales whenever possible when I buy candy.

Eggs over 1.25 a dozen. I can still sometimes find eggs at .99 a dozen, I buy 13 dozen, and I make them last until the next sale comes along. (According to the American Egg Board, eggs are good for 4-6 weeks past their expiration date. I have to ration them out to get 13 dozen to last that long, since we can eat 18 for breakfast if we have scrambled eggs).

Greek Yogurt 2 The Prudent Homemaker

Yogurt: I only buy a small container of Greek yogurt on a rare basis when needed as a yogurt starter for making my own yogurt. So far I have only bought one and I have been using my own yogurt as the starter for new batches. If at some point it no longer works, I will get new yogurt to use as a starter, and will then make that one last as long as possible.

Fruits and vegetables that are more than $1 a pound (those that are sold by the pound).  (Update 12/2014: The lowest price for strawberries in my area is $1.25 a pound on sale in season. I make an exception for those to buy them at that price).  I buy in season at the lowest price, which usually means .25 a pound to .79 a pound for most things. 

Out of season produce.

Juice: I have bought apple juice to use in cooking to make fig sauce. I buy this on sale for $1.25 or less for a half-gallon bottle, and I buy 12 or fewer bottles a year.

Soda: Very, very rarely, I will buy a 2-liter bottle of root beer (on sale) for me and my husband for a date. We will have a little bit and make it last for a while.

Tortilla Chips: This is the only kind of chips I buy, and it's rare. I will occasionally have them on taco soup, and rarely for a date night at home with my husband.

Restaurant Meals: We don't eat out but once or twice a year, and then it is only because my mom gave us money for my husband and I to go out for our anniversary or our birthdays (usually not both).  This year we went out once on a date for my husband's birthday.

Zinnias Roses and Basil The Prudent Homemaker

Fresh flowers: I've found the least expensive way to have flowers on my table is to grow my own.

I'm sure there are more things that I don't buy that are on the "typical" shopping list, but since I don't buy them, they aren't even things I think about!

What are you currently buying that you could cut from your grocery bill?
Tagged in: Do Without
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