Frugal Living – Making the most of what you have.

The whole idea of self-sustainability encompasses a number of issues, eating what you grow, processing and storing food for later use and generally trying to minimize your need to purchase goods and items from stores.

The whole ideal is admirable, and goes a long way to improve your health, finances and general self-satisfaction of not being an everyday “sheeple”. A person reliant on other peoples productivity to ensure your comfort. I have written before about the immense satisfaction we find in setting a meal on the table where everything is a product of our property and own effort. However this is not the only place where one can step out of the mould.

There are many instances where one can make use of traditional “throw-away” items in ones household by putting them to a second use, or even with a bit off effort make a store bought item at home that is firstly healthier, secondly tastier and thirdly more cost effective.

Below I have a list that was quickly compiled between my wife and myself of different ways that we stretch our hard earned rands. This list starts off with simple to implement ideas on frugal and self-sufficient living, some of which has been passed down from my Grandparents who lived through the Depression era, they did many things to stretch their wages, most of which has now been lost to our instant gratification generation. When you get a chance to speak to one of the older generation, ask them what they did to “fill-the-gaps” in their monthly budget. You may be surprised at the wisdom, knowledge and insight that comes out.

One of the first things that we started doing was saving all of our old wax to use as firelighters, candle stubs, the scrapings off the candle stand, or that red/blue wax off the cheese that you buy. All of this generally gets thrown away. We put it into a container and when we have a braai or need to light the fireplace, those candle ends get wrapped into newspaper and make a fantastic fire lighter.

If we have run out of wax pieces we use an old egg carton that has some used kitchen oil. You know that brown ugly oil that “has” to be thrown away. Don’t! It makes a great firelighter with either egg boxes or newspaper.

Peet a good friend of mine says that in the old days his parents used to dry out all of the used teabags and then drop them into a jar of paraffin. They used those to light the wood stove on their farm. I have not tried it, but I can’t see why it won’t work.

Another fire lighting trick I learnt from my grandparents who used to have a gas stove. There was always a saucer next to the stove for used matches. When lighting a new ring, Ouma used to take one of those used matches, get it started on one of the existing flames and use that to start a new ring. Who says a match can’t light twice!

Another thing I learnt from my Ouma is to save and use the netted bags that you get fruit and vegetables in. She used to roll them up and turn them into a pot scourer. A quick way to make sure you get the most out of everything you buy. I find that the green bags with the rougher plastic make for great scourers, the orange bags also work well, they just don’t last as long. Use some fishing gut and a darning needle to give it a few quick stitches to hold the shape that you desire. We also save the bags to keep our own produce in. They are great for drying beans, garlic, chilies, onions etc as they allow for good ventilation and easy identification.

Living on a farm one gets a lot of mosquito’s and we go through a fair amount of Peacefull Sleep every month. I can’t stand the new mosquito stick dispensers, as they are finicky to use and the stick often falls out and rolls around on the ground. Have you applied a mozzie stick with grit in it? Not a pleasant experience. Also, they sell these sticks as weighing 34 grams, but you can never use the full 34 grams, there is always about 10 or 15% left in the cup at the bottom. Nicola saves all the finished ones and once she has a bunch she will make-up 2 or 3 sticks by scraping the cups out, then melting it in the microwave, she then just reuses one of the original sticks and cups for the “new” stick.

We make our own soap, but this would work for anyone that uses soap. All the little pieces of soap that start to fall apart, (Homemade soap is a big culprit) get dumped into a 5lt ice cream container. Once the container is full we then do a melt and pour exercise with the crock-pot. Weigh the soap and add 10% water and set the dial to low. Let this bubble away for most of the day and stir every hour. Don’t open the lid too often, or you will lose a lot of moisture. Once you are happy with the melting process, just tip the lot out into your mould(s) and let it harden. We can make a good 10 months supply in this way. (but it does take about 2 or 3 years to collect the 5lt tub full) If you make your own soap, then the bits that are cut or peeled off (we use a vegetable peeler) to make the bars look good, can also go into the tub.

Nicola also uses the soap bits to make a washing gel, she starts with small bit and adds boiling water to get the soap to a gel stage. All the bits must be melted or else you get sticky soap bits in your clothes. She then dumps about 1/3 rd cup of the gel into the machine and presses play. It works just great.

We buy 50kg bags of feed salt from the Co-Op for our animals. This salt is clean, white and non-iodated. We will open the bag as we get it and take out what we need for the next few months, this is stored at home while the remainder of the bag goes up to the stables. It’s a coarse salt and our cost is 1/10th of what you pay in the store for coarse salt.

Talking about the Co-Op, we actually get quite a bit from there for our own use. Bear in mind that the grains given to animals come from the same source as the grains that are diverted for human consumption. We used to buy all our wheat in bulk from the Co-Op, and grind it for real whole wheat flour. Now we grow our own Hard Red Winter Wheat for part of the year and buy the balance in. This flour makes a great loaf of bread, the nice thing is that it has all of the essential oils that are processed out of the “plastic” whole wheat flour bought in the shops. We also use this to make puffed wheat to add to muesli as well.

Making your own roast peanuts and peanut butter. We learnt this by trial and error. Either buy (Co-Op again) or grow your own fresh peanuts. Lay them in one of those blue/grey oven pans and put the oven onto roast. For about 3kgs of peanuts, use 2 tablespoons of olive oil and stir the oil in until all the peanuts are very slightly covered in oil. Then put the tray into the oven. Stir every 5 or so minutes and do this until you are happy. I like to use the grill in the last few minutes to get a bit of toasting on the finished nuts. Just make sure you are watching ALL THE TIME, this part burns very quickly. Salt and/or season to your own taste.

To make Peanut butter. Take the roasted peanuts and put them through a hand mincer two or three times with a fine mincing plate. This will give you a chunky peanut butter the more you send it through the finer the “butter”, but you will never get it to the smooth consistency of store-bought smooth peanut butter. Add a little oil to make it more spreadable in your last stage. This stores perfectly well in the cupboard and needs no preservatives. If the oil separates you have added to much oil in and you can either remove it for a stir-fry or mix it back in. I recon it would be at least a 60 or 70% peanut oil and it’s great in a stir-fry.

We make our own Muesli, generally we will buy rolled oats, and different bran fibers from the store and from there it’s build from scratch. The oats and fiber make the base of the muesli. Honey from our hives is thinned just a bit with water and this is drizzled and run through the mix. This whole mix is then, baked in the oven to toast it, stirring regularly so it won’t burn. Once it’s all done, we also add homemade puffed wheat, puffed corn and sometimes even strawberry popcorn. Depending on the season and what dried fruit we have on hand it all gets mixed in. We have worked out our costs and it’s marginally (about 20-30 % depending on season) cheaper than store bought muesli ….. but way healthier.

With the cost of meat going through the roof, one of the fastest ways to stretch a mince based meal is to throw in a brinjal. Just chop up the brinjal into small pieces and throw it in, it seems to take on the flavors around it. Brinjals were for a long time the bane of my life, I can remember my father making many various versions of brinjal dishes to try and introduce us kids to the pleasures of brinjals. We kids wanted nothing to do with them. His frustration was palpable. This year is the first year that I have come to appreciate the beauties of this stunning fruit. Sorry Dad.

We have a special in our family called the 3 Day Chicken. Not the most appetizing of names but let me explain. We grow and slaughter or own birds, so for a family of 7 we need to take out 2 birds on the first night and they are generally roasted. Each person gets a portion and the balance is kept for the next night. The following night we will have a chicken stir-fry, chicken salad or a similar meal that uses de-boned chicken pieces. The remainder of the chicken and all the bones then gets turfed into a stock-pot and boiled down into a broth for chicken soup that is either frozen or eaten the following day… that’s the story behind 3 day chicken. So instead of “gutsing” ourselves on two birds for one meal, then throwing the bones to the pigs. We can stretch those two birds into 3 meals.  It’s a great way to use everything on a bird and use it properly, and the pigs still get the bones.

Those are just some of the things that we do on a regular basis, we do these for a few reasons. First I think it’s because we actually enjoy the processes. Secondly we don’t have a time-thief (TV) and actually have the time to play around with things. Next, it’s healthier. It’s also better for the environment and reduces our load on landfills. Lastly, you get to save money, learn a new (old) skill and not waste opportunities.

We and I’m sure other readers of this site would love to hear your hint’s, tips and suggestions of how you make your “buck stretch” so please feel free to leave a comment below.

One thought on “Frugal Living – Making the most of what you have.

  1. Really neat post. Thank you!

    Plastic shopping bags…. cut bottom off and handles and one side…. lay flat…. do the same with a few and lay on top of each other…. place this collection between sheets of paper and iron for about 10 seconds on each section … or until plastic melts together into a plastic fabric. Can even sew articles with it. Place some sort of fibre in between and it will be even stronger. Good way to join plastic sheets too if need a large piece.

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