Blast from the Past: Frugal Tools: Sewing Machines

 

In Stitches by Susan Eby Glass
In Stitches

Being able to use a sewing machine is such a gift. I learned to sew at the age of 12, and I can’t even imagine how much money it has saved me over my lifetime. I’ve made my own clothes as well as clothes for others. I have no idea how many window treatments I’ve made over the years.

Being a quilter, I’ve made dozens of quilt tops, including many that went to poor families in other countries after the ladies at my church and I added batting and backing to them, so I don’t even know where they are now.

It frustrates me when someone says, “I wish I could sew, but I can’t.” That’s just an excuse. Sewing is as easy as driving, and a lot safer.

Once you know how to use a sewing machine, you can save all sorts of money. We live in a society where most people pitch things and buy new instead of fixing what they have, but I think taking care of what you have is going to come back into style by necessity before much longer.

Think about your bath towels. You know how one side will come loose and get stringy? And then the strings get caught in the washer, which makes the situation worse? If you have a sewing machine, you can hem that side as soon as it starts to come apart so that your towels stay nice and you don’t have to replace them. All that takes is a straight seam…no big deal. But it saves money, because new towels aren’t cheap (at least they aren’t if you like them nice and thick like we do!)

What about hems that come apart on shirts or dresses? It’ll take longer to set up your machine than to sew a hem back up. My son is short, and even the shortest men’s jeans are long on him, so eventually the hems become frayed. My daughter can trim them and sew them pretty quickly on her sewing machine (a job that would take too long by hand and wouldn’t hold up nearly as well either).

Sometimes I use my sewing machine to make one thing into another. A while back I was out shopping and saw a set of three linen dishtowels on clearance for $4. One of the towels was striped, and the other two were in a coordinating print that really caught my eye. I have a pillow at home that had faded quite a bit, and I decided I’d like a new pillow out of those dishtowels, which I bought. I made a nice pillow cover out of the two matching ones, and use the striped one in my kitchen. My newly recovered pillow looks so pretty! Not bad for approximately $2.66 plus tax, and it’s very sturdy because dishtowels are made to get a lot of use.

I’m carrying on the “remaking” tradition from my grandmother, who was a single mom of four small children during the Great Depression. People sometimes gave her hand-me-downs, and she found that when she was given coats, they were women’s coats, not children’s coats, perhaps because the children had worn out their coats while the women took care of theirs.

In any case, she needed coats for her growing children much more than she needed coats for herself, so she accepted every woman’s coat she was offered, cut apart the pieces, and then laid out pattern pieces for kids’ coats on the cut-up coat pieces. She cut them out and sewed them together. In this way, her kids were always kept warm in nice, “new” coats and the only cost to her was her time.

(Once you’ve remade things a few times, it’s funny how you look at everything with an eye to how you could use it to make something. My grandma never did shake the remaking habit. By the time she was a great-grandma, she had begun buying up all the 1970s polyester pants she could find at garage sales and thrift stores. She cut them into strips and wove them into braided rugs. Let me tell you, they are indestructible. We have two that she made for us in the 1980s and they’re still holding up well.)

(Originally posted 1/28/09.)

Blast from the Past: Re-using Things

When I think of the frugal habits I’ve developed over the years, one thing that stands out is being able to re-use things, i.e. to make one thing into something else.

Some of that requires creativity. I’m somewhat creative but not overly so. My dh is much more creative than I am. When we’re trying to figure out how to avoid buying something we need, he’ll say “Why don’t you try using the such-and-such?”

For example, once he built a tall stand out of scrap pine to use as a display table for a garage sale we were having. After the sale was over, the stand sat in the garage for a few years, holding whatever we happened to put on it, until the year we made plans to remodel our kitchen.

I was thinking I wanted an island, but we were worried that we would just end up tripping on it. I was trying to find an inexpensive island in the sale ads for temporary use (the cheap ones on wheels that you can get on sale for $70) when Tim suggested using that pine stand in the garage. We cleaned it up, covered it with an old flannel-backed table cloth, and began using it as an island. It didn’t take long for us to discover that we loved having an island. When we remodeled the kitchen, he built me a beautiful island that I’ve loved ever since. But we wouldn’t have known that we wanted one for certain until he made a temporary island out of that pine stand (which also saved us the $70 research fee).

While I didn’t come up with that idea, I do know a good idea when I see one. I once had a neighbor, a lady probably 15 years older than me, who taught me a lot about frugality. For example, the first time I saw her home, I complimented her on the lovely sheers she had throughout the first floor. I was expecting her to answer as the rest of the women in the neighborhood would have: “Oh, I picked these up at Macy’s.”

But she surprised me. It turned out her sheers were custom made….by her. She’d gone to the thrift store and bought up all the white sheers she could find, which cost her just a few dollars. Then she remade them to fit her windows. How cool is that? She and I have both moved away from that neighborhood, but I still remember how clever she was to do that, and when I’m in thrift (i.e. resale) stores, I look at the linens and window treatments with the thought of “What can I make out of these?”

Of course, in the case of remaking window treatments, you need more than just a nearby thrift store. You need one of the frugal person’s most valuable abilities: knowing how to sew. More on that in upcoming posts!

(Originally posted 1/26/09.)

A “New” Old Tactic for Saving Money on Groceries

I did all my grocery shopping the other day and was dismayed to find that prices continue to go up. To make matters worse, in some cases the price increase is disguised by smaller packaging, which just makes me mad that food companies think we’re so stupid that we don’t realize what they’ve done.

For instance, a can of tuna is now 5 oz. I have recipes from when I was a newlywed (back in 1979) that refer to a 7 oz. can of tuna. So now, when I double a recipe using tuna, I have to buy three cans of tuna, not two. Do they think I don’t notice this?

As I’ve written elsewhere, I do the usual things to combat inflation. I bought 10 pounds of ground beef when it was on sale, cooked up 3 pounds and froze it, and froze the rest raw for meatloaf, etc. I watch all prices and only buy items when they’re on sale for a good price (as opposed to “sale prices” that are actually regular-price items placed on the sale aisle with a big sign, which is why we need to know our prices).

But as each grocery shopping trip reveals higher prices, I’m thinking I need to add a new tactic, one that makes sense but that I hadn’t really thought about in recent years: we need to eat less.

So instead of freezing one-pound packages of meat, I’m freezing ¾-pound packages, figuring a little smaller hamburger patty won’t hurt any of us. I’m putting fewer chicken pieces in each bag before I freeze it. I’m making cookies and rolls a wee bit smaller than usual.

This will make the food I buy last longer, and will hopefully help me shed a little weight, too. It’s healthier, and it also goes back to the way we lived when I was a child.

For instance, my grandmother used to split a can of pop between four of us kids. Each one’s share barely filled a juice glass (and we knew better than to ask for seconds!) Her logic was that pop wasn’t good for us so we shouldn’t have too much.

In an age of 32-oz. soda cups in fast-food restaurants, I think our society has lost that sense of limiting ourselves. But the era of unrestrained appetites may be coming to an end, thanks to inflation. I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining.

Previous posts on saving money that you may have missed:

Exercises in Frugality

Exercises in Frugality, Part 2

Exercises in Frugality, Part 3

Exercises in Frugality, Part 4

Exercises in Frugality, Part 5

More Thoughts on Frugality

I thought of one more reason why I’m frugal. It’s because I see being frugal as a way of earning money without going to work.

For many years I homeschooled and raised kids and did not earn any money. But I viewed the money I saved by living frugally as being like pay: every dollar deducted from the store receipt total because of a coupon or a sale price was a dollar I had earned through my efforts at finding the best price.

As a bonus, it was money I earned without having to pay tax on it. (When wives going to work full-time first came into vogue, one of the criticisms of the concept was the fact that the second income often pushed a couple into a higher tax bracket. I was a newlywed back then, and that knowledge made an impression that never left me, I guess.)

I’ve also been conscious of the sliding scale between income and expenses. Back when I only had two children, I stumbled upon a job opportunity that allowed me to work at home as a writer and editor. The company I worked for gave me as much or as little work as I wanted.

At first, I took on as much as they would give me, thinking I could make a nice side income. But what I discovered was that the more I worked, the less time I had to make meals, thus driving up what we spent on pricy frozen entrees and restaurant food. I also realized that I was spending money on treats and toys for my kids because I felt guilty that I sometimes parked them in front of the television in order to make a deadline. I began to notice a trend: the more money I earned, the more money I spent.

I had to find a balance between earning enough money and saving enough money. So, where was the happy medium?

I never found out, because I had another baby and had to give up the job. Great way to solve that problem :)

These days, I still prefer earning money without going to work. We have a publishing business, so I can continue to work at home, and I decide how many projects I want to take on, i.e., how much I want to work. I divide my day between homeschooling our youngest, working on the business, and continuing to be a frugal homemaker. The ideal mix of those things is something I haven’t figured out yet. But one thing I know for sure: I enjoy the challenge of living frugally.