Fun With Next to Nothing

24 04 2008

This is the first of probably many shout-outs to my parents. Growing up, I would declare boredom in waiting rooms, restaurants, backseats, and many other places. My parents would immediately come up with a game, or my father would create a flower or toy out of the McDonald’s napkins. When I smiled in relief, my father would often exclaim, “See? Fun with next to nothing!”

This was only one of the ways my parents taught me the benefits of frugality by example. Now, there are the extremely frugal–those who write books on living off the grid and such–who can be commended for living lightly on the earth. But practical frugality doesn’t require you to give up the investment possessions that may contribute to your happiness, whether to you that means a house or a T.V. or a chic trenchcoat or a new Jeep. What it does do is teach you to be happier with what you have–whatever that is. It also inspires creativity, and that’s something the world needs more than ever.

Yes, frugality can be fun, and it usually is, if you’re doing it right. Although I complain when I know I should live without the gourmet chocolates, most of the time it is enjoyable to see how little money we can spend on food and other goods. Everyone loves a bargain, and hunting for one is certainly a staple of frugal living. Here are few other ways to live more lightly on the earth and on your wallet:

  • Invent a solution. Sometimes I’ve wanted things without wanting to pay the price. So, I’ve made my own flower press out of cardboard and rubber bands (which I still use today); I’ve made greeting cards out of pieces of other cards and leftover craft materials. In college, a friend made me a shelf for my coffee and filters out of cardboard, thumb tacks, and string. And a certain man I know made a camera bag out of an old sock. A good resource for making something out of nothing is The Complete Tightwad Gazette.
  • Try less . . . and I don’t mean stop attempting things. Try to use less of any product you routinely use, and keep using less until you notice a difference. Chances are, you will be surprised how long it takes you to notice a different result, but you will notice the difference in how often you buy the product. Great things to try this with are shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent . . . you get the idea. A related tip is to cut the remainder of a product with water to make it last longer. This works especially well with liquid hand soaps. Can you believe they are selling foam hand soap when you can make it yourself?
  • Wash clothes in cold water. You will seldom have a time when you need to wash clothes in even luke-warm water. Cold water washes and rinses as well as warm or hot for all but the most obstinate stains.
  • Play a game. Even though I have been wanting to get a coffee from the locally famous Queen City Creamery cafe, I keep telling myself, “wait some more.” It’s become a sort of competition with myself, and it adds an element of fun and accomplishment to frugality. The self-control game is not the only variation; try making dinner from what’s in your house right now. Many people don’t realize how much food is in those assorted cans, and this is another way to strengthen your creative (and culinary) powers.
  • Find fun for free. Open your favorite search engine and type in “free activities in [city or place of choice].” There is an amazing wealth of parks, museums, and other attractions in most cities.
  • Enact a moratorium. Yet another variation of the “play a game” tip above, this entails not buying any new books until you read what you have, or not buying new clothes until you’ve tried on and refined your existing wardrobe (stylists call this “shopping your closet,” and it’s all the rage right now). You can let yourself work around the moratorium, of course; for books, try getting library card. For clothes, try online clothing swap sites. For both books and clothes, try exchanging with friends.

More ideas will follow, but they deserve their own posts. Please share your own ideas in the comments.

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3 responses

24 04 2008
Sara

Great blog, Colleen!

I’ve been reading for awhile, but I just had to comment on this one. What a thrifty roommate you must have had in college! 😉

I’ve been trying to do some of the kind of things you suggested in your article more recently, as I get geared up to move overseas. Using a little less of something each time really can make a difference in how often you need to buy more.

When I got a new camera, I didn’t want to buy a case too, so I’ve been using a thick sock folded in on itself. I’ve also started using a sock for a flash drive case. The “case” keeps me from misplacing the tiny drive too. I just lay the flash drive on the toe end of a sock, roll the sock up over it, and fold the open end over the roll. Its been working great, and its a good use for a lonely sock.

Keep up the good work with your blog! 🙂

25 04 2008
Mister Moone

Dear Colleen,

Thank you for so fondly (and accurately) remembering your parents’ efforts to teach and entertain you! There actually was a book I had when I was a child entitled, “Fun with next to nothing.” But the many things you mentioned did not come out of that book! And you are right to urge us to continue with that “make your own fun” endeavor…I find, for example, I am getting really bored with TV. I also especially enjoyed the Blog material below:

“…Play a game. Even though I have been wanting to get a coffee from the locally famous Queen City Creamery cafe, I keep telling myself, “wait some more.” It’s become a sort of competition with myself, and it adds an element of fun and accomplishment to frugality. The self-control game is not the only variation; try making dinner from what’s in your house right now. Many people don’t realize how much food is in those assorted cans, and this is another way to strengthen your creative (and culinary) powers.”

That is GREAT stuff! We (your mother and I) kind of do this, at times, using up leftover food supplies…

Thanx….

Wayne (aka., Dad)

26 04 2008
Susan (aka., Mom)

Hi Colleen, I’m really impressed with the blog. It’s the first blog I have ever been to! I’m so glad that you fondly remeber “fun with next to nothing.” I guess things could have gone the other way–a child could grow up missing some of the “things” they never had. But I still believe that things don’t really make us happy–we can make our own happiness. I think that happiness comes from inside of us–from our love for God and his creation (other people and nature). Keep up the good work and I’ll be spreading the news of your blog. All my love, Mom.

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