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30 signs your parents were frugal

Have you ever washed -- or seriously considered washing -- tin foil to use it a second time?

By MSN Money Partner Oct 16, 2012 10:49AM

This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner blog Wise Bread.


Wise Bread logoFrugal folks come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were raised in typical American families with traditional buying and spending habits and came to embrace frugality much later in life. Others were raised by parents or grandparents who made simplicity part of everyday life -- from the way they cooked and cleaned to the way they fixed their cars and celebrated holidays.


Image: Close-up of a person using a calculator in a supermarket (© George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)For those of us in the latter group, we can spot another member a mile off. There's a sort of unspoken but common shorthand that comes from years of shared experiences. What follows is my tongue-in-cheek way to tell if you were raised by frugal parents (or if you might be on the way to becoming one yourself).

  • You skip the headlines in the Sunday paper and head straight for the sales inserts.
  • You've washed (or seriously considered washing) tin foil to use it a second time.
  • You remember smuggling homemade snacks into the Saturday matinee.
  • You know how to buff your shoes to high shine by adding a bit of water or heat to the polish.
  • You'll still stop to pick up a penny.
  • You ignore the suggested use or recommended quantity directions on most products.
  • There's a coupon organizer in your purse or car (extra credit if it includes a calculator).
  • You save rubber bands or twist-ties.
  • The chocolate milk you were served as a kid was heavily diluted with regular milk.
  • You have a loyalty card to a thrift store chain.
  • You can sew on a button, darn a sock or repair a seam.
  • You firmly believe that vinegar and bleach are the only two household cleaning products anyone really needs.
  • Your family holds a contest to guess how much money is in the change jar every six months.
  • A little mold on bread or cheese doesn't cause you to immediately toss it.
  • There's an almanac somewhere in your home.
  • You know the technique for properly canning food.
  • You know what Green Stamps are.
  • Your medicine chest has at least two hotel soaps or bottles of shampoo in it.
  • You know how to change the oil in your car (even if you don't always do it yourself).
  • The primary toys of your childhood were wooden blocks, the great outdoors and a tire swing.
  • You know the balance of your checking account (within $5) at all times and without looking.
  • Negotiating the price of a used car inspires a sense of adventure and thrill.
  • You know the secret magic that's contained in every bottle of furniture scratch cover.
  • You have a secret stash of used, neatly folded gift wrap from previous holidays and birthdays.
  • You regard empty butter and yogurt containers as a reuse challenge, not trash.
  • At least three pieces of your household furniture were acquired through Dumpster diving, a yard sale, an estate sale or a thrift store.
  • You brag to friends about how much you saved instead of how much you spent.
  • You can calculate any product's price-per-ounce in mere seconds.
  • Your dryer sheets have three times the life expectancy of other people's.
  • You rinse out laundry detergent bottles and cut open toothpaste tubes to get at the last bit of product.

Though these signs are offered with a bit of humor, there's a grain of wisdom that guides each one. Our modern-day mantra of "reduce, reuse, recycle" is just a new spin on an old refrain. For many of our frugal mentors, there was simply no other way to live. The tips and tricks they taught us are recounted here with as much respect as comedy -- and with a gratitude that comes from rediscovering the best lessons of our childhood.


What other signs suggest that you might have been raised by frugal folks? What favorite or quirky saving technique have you unwittingly adopted and passed on to your own kids?


More on Wise Bread and MSN Money:

Oct 17, 2012 1:56AM
When I'm asked what's the difference between rich people and poor people, I reply: spending habits.
Oct 17, 2012 8:59AM

You plan and prepare meals at home. You brown bag your lunch.  You know how to make buttermilk from regular milk. You do your own manicures and pedicures. You do your own ironing, housework, yardwork.  You don't go shopping without a list. You reuse zip lock bags. You own and use a library card. You make your own frappe at home for cents on the dollar compared to the stores.  You go to happy hour and eat 1/2 price appetizers and go home and have a bowl of cereal for an entree. 


Unless we are going to have time to sit and enjoy our meal - we avoid sit down restaurants.  The 20% tip is wasted for a "quick bite".  If you shrug off 20% then I wouldn't consider you frugal.  But each person / household does frugal their own way. 

Oct 16, 2012 6:47PM
You put some thought and creativity into your Halloween costume, rather than money.
Oct 16, 2012 6:22PM
We stopped getting a sunday paper because the cupons that came in it where worth less then the cost of the paper to us. Have reused old butter/margrine tubs are food storage containers. We shop the meat sale to set our meals for teh week around what the sore has on sale.
Oct 17, 2012 7:56PM
My kitchen chairs were given to me by my mom and stepdad when I moved out permanently at age 21.  I'm in my 50's and still using them.  They're in pretty good condition, so why not?  I've never been too proud to accept hand-me-downs.
Oct 17, 2012 12:15PM
You buy frozen pizza and heat it up instead of ording pizza.   Your kids wear handme downs when possible.  
Oct 17, 2012 1:20PM
You scoop unused ketchup or BBQ sauce back into the bottle.

You don't flush the toilet every time.

You shop at Aldi's

You only go to the dentist when a tooth hurts.

You wait to pay your utility bills only when you get a disconnection notice.

You take unused McDonald's napkins home to use.

You never wash your car... it'll rain soon enough.

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