My dad passed away at the beginning of 2022 at 85. I owe a lot of who I am to him. In particular, I owe what frugal habits I have to him and my mom. Those habits have kept our family out of a lot of trouble for a long time.
He was born at the tail end of the Great Depression in a rural village in Illinois. Several times he described his upbringing to me as “poor” but didn’t ever say that his family was ever in need. His parents saw the full brunt of the Depression though, and no doubt that’s what shaped his frugality.
Here are a few examples of frugal things that my dad did:
I would remember my dad spending an hour or so picking the remaining meat off of a chicken or turkey carcass after we had roast one and had whatever meals and leftovers. He’d then boil the carcass to make the stock, and use that with the recovered meat, celery, vegetables, and barley to make a fantastic soup. It was a lot of work but the additional monetary cost was marginal, and it was delicious!
Learning recipes and cooking
Related to this, both my mom and dad cooked meals at home almost all the time. My dad learned a lot about grilling and baking and had quite a few favorite recipes that were fantastic. Our meals were better than restaurant meals and far cheaper. French fries from a bag? Oh no. We started from a bag of whole potatoes, peeled them, put them through a French fry slicer, and boiled them in oil. (And we’d save the oil for use next time.) Even as recently as Christmas 2021 we sliced carrots rather than buy them pre-sliced.
I was well past kindergarten the first time I went out for pizza. Going to McDonald’s was a treat because we did it so rarely (it was usually a last-day-of-school thing).
Painting our house
Two of my neighbors growing up remembered my dad on an extension ladder pretty much every day during a few summers repainting our house. He did a little bit each day and usually ended up doing one side of the house over a summer. He’d first scrape off the old paint with a burner, then prime the wood, and finally, paint it the same yellow that we had before. He got to spend time outside at his pace and saved a lot of money in the process. And the paint job held up for years!
Making his own furniture
My dad designed and built a set of four display cabinets and a corner cabinet in our family room when I was young. He spent months in his shop after work and on weekends doing this. I think he told me that the total cost of the materials was around $500. One of the cabinets bought retail would have been more than that. They held up for 40 years or so with lots of use.
Walking places rather than driving
My home town is walkable so that meant that we (my dad and I) could walk places. (My current town is not.) Downtown was only a few blocks away so on nice days we didn’t have to burn gas going places on the weekends.
Related to this, he lived only about 15 minutes from work, and for years he carpooled with someone who lived up the street from us. Hearing about people commuting two hours or more one way is just completely foreign to me.
Spending money where it mattered, and not spending money where it didn’t
My dad loved classical music, musicals, and opera. It was an important part of his entertainment for most of his life and he invested in good recordings and great sound equipment. He bought a compact disc player in the early 1980s and over time upgraded most of his albums to digital.
He also enjoyed wine but wasn’t really picky about which. Big jugs of Carlo Rossi and whatever box wine happened to be on sale were just fine.
He put most of his spending to the frugality test: “Parsimonious where it doesn’t matter, profligate where it does.” He bought things that would last, even if they were more expensive. For the more important things, he researched and bought the best he could. For most everything else, he would make do or do without.
What frugal things did you learn from your parents?