A Day Late, A Dollar Short, No More: Life Skills are Frugal

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I was once asked how I could call Home-Ec 101 a frugal site when overall money isn’t mentioned. The short answer? I believe life skills are some of the most underutilized assets of the general population.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

This is the mantra of the frugal mindset, and I believe it applies.

life skills

Cleaning a home?

This goes far beyond extending the life of your carpet or getting the mold out of the shower.

There are psychological aspects in play. Many of us perceive clean as newer, better, even shiny! Growing up, we had a joke that clean cars drove better. It is a familiar phenomenon; as humans, there are only so many things we can take in at once, and we rely on general impressions. Walking into a home littered with dirty dishes, laundry, and scattered items does nothing for our general mood or impression of the place—perhaps most significantly when it’s our own home.

Who wouldn’t want to go out and escape a pigsty? Going out usually involves spending at least some money.

Going out is fine when it’s a choice rather than an avoidance tactic.

Organization—and I’m not talking about the going out and buying fancy boxes kind—helps a person avoid late fees and replacement costs.

Ok, but. . .


Simply keeping an item wearable by removing a stain or by not ruining a delicate item gives a person the ability to keep a little more money in their pocket.

Buying underwear because nothing is clean is the antithesis of frugality.


Heather, I’ve seen other websites with cheaper recipes. How can you call your method frugal?

Learning to cook is a process. I strongly believe a series of successes in the kitchen will give a person confidence and potentially a desire to try again.

I want to meet cooks where they are. Some people grow up believing stirring a boxed mix together is cooking, and my goal isn’t to create feelings of guilt or shame. Instead, I want to introduce people to the pleasure of preparing enjoyable food.

Using convenience food because it is convenient is one thing; relying completely on them can be expensive long term. I get excited when someone decides to try their hand at a dish instead of opening a box or ordering out. I get emails from people who are just finding their legs in the kitchen. It absolutely makes my day when someone sends an email to say, I made my girlfriend dinner, and she loved it!

Nutritionally I’m trying to broaden my palate. It’s hard to be healthy—over time—with a three-vegetable rotation, but if you’re a three-vegetable reader, that’s ok, too. I’m just saying it’s your starting point.

Economically and ecologically

I believe it makes sense to take advantage of seasonal and local products when it is possible. I see this as frugality in the broadest sense of the term; it’s making an informed choice to purchase the most beneficial product rather than the one offered at the lowest immediate cost. There can be long-term financial impacts caused by short-term savings. Supporting a local farmer keeps money in the local economy, including the local tax system, which supports local schools. Long term, that can impact other companies’ willingness to invest in the area, and an educated workforce is important.*

For the TL;DR crowd, here’s the takeaway.

Self-sufficiency, both as an individual and as a community, saves money.

Are we on the same page now?

*I say this living in an area and culture that needs to place a higher value on education and technology. It’s depressing to watch the best and the brightest leave for higher ground. In no way do I blame them. It’s just a sad sight to see. There are pockets of people fighting the current, but too often, they feel like the exception.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

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35 thoughts on “A Day Late, A Dollar Short, No More: Life Skills are Frugal”

  1. You have made a brilliant response to the posed question! Thanks for sharing your heart (and wisdom) with your readers!

  2. Frugality is a lot more about practicality than philosophy. The philosophy part is good and writing the praises of frugality isn't bad…but it'll only get you so far. After that, you need skills. And you teach skills. That's more valuable than a dozen blogs which constantly encourage frugality or give little frugal hacks but don't teach the big stuff.
    My recent post Why I’m So Glad We Don’t Have a Car Payment

  3. This site has helped me more times than I can count! I’m no longer using the toxic chemicals that were making me sick – thus spending money on doctors visits, meds, and expensive cleaning chemicals. My house stays cleaner longer thanks to Heather’s tips, and I cook at home more often. I’d say this is frugality at it’s best. Oh, and cheap doesn’t mean frugal if you’re not getting your value.

  4. While, I understand why you couldn't say it… allow me to espound on some of the obvious flaws of the "overly frugal" and where I believe home-ec101 is actually MORE frugal than the so call "frugal sites" that you are being compared to.

    The old adage for somebody being too cheap is, "penny wise and pound foolish" (which not to be condescending means, sometimes spending too little ultimately costs you more in the end).

    For example, let us start with the recipes. Sure there are "cheaper" recipes that can be found out there. Heck, in some cases, you could probably buy a meal for less at McDonalds. But, what is the cost to you in the way of your weight, your nutritional well being, your overall health, impact on the environment, etc.? You could (in theory) eat boxed, store brand, mac 'n cheese for 3 meals a day for the rest of your life, at a cost of under $1 per serving. Of course then, the "rest of your life" may not be all that far down the road, and the ultimate cost in copays for doctor visits because of your poor health, and the fat clothes you will have to buy as you continuously expand will outstrip the "savings" you get from your mac n' cheese frugality.

    I could go on with other examples, but you certainly don't need me to defend you. You did give a fair explanation to those that I fear are lost in the minutia of being "miserly" instead of actually frugal. Hopefully you were able to show at least a couple of them the difference.

    • Also Jay, thank you. I do appreciate your input here and for bravely stepping up as one of the male voices.

      The same goes to Ken & Eugene, and JimK who hasn't show up, but I"m sure he's around. I really do enjoy your comments.

  5. 'Having to buy underwear because nothing is clean is the antithesis of frugality. I’m just sayin’.'

    Or just go commando like I do and save even more money. Oops was that TMI? LOL

    • This falls under the to each that whole we save in some areas to splurge in other, our definitions of splurging and necessity will vary.
      Me? I find underwear a necessity. 🙂

  6. I would add two things that have helped me specifically.
    You and your readers have encouraged me to use just water for cleaning a lot of things, instead of bottles of expensive cleaners. Good for the environment, good for the budget.
    Menu Mondays encourages me to HAVE A PLAN, thus avoiding having nothing to eat at 6:00 and calling for takeout or pizza.
    Thanks, Heather!

  7. Let's face it – you can find someone who will take money from you to do things you don't know how to do (cook, clean the house, do laundry, repair pretty much anything)

    So, what could be more frugal than learning how to do these things for yourself instead of having to pay someone else to do them? Save your money for the things you really CANNOT do, instead of spending it on things you could easily do — if you know how!

    On top of that – if you can do something in a healthier way, whether it's cooking or using less toxic cleaners – that is frugal as well. You'll be healthier in the long run, saving on trips to the doctors/medicines.

  8. I've really learned a lot from this site. Please keep on posting, because your blog is really very informative.

    Shaira of Omaha heating

  9. "Heather, I’ve seen other websites with cheaper recipes. How can you call your method frugal?"

    There is a little thing I like to call investment. Time is money. It "costs" more time to make a homecooked meal than to order delivery. However, along the lines of what you said, Heather, it pays off in the end. It's easier to order Chinese take-out but, after a month or two of cooking the food yourself (I mean the Americanized stuff you find at a lot of take-out places), you will probably be able to cook the same dishes and make them even tastier! Cooking is skill that you have practice over and over and over and over again before it becomes second nature. It's worth the investment, though.

    • I suspect the person that made the comment initally about "frugal" recipes is talking about cheap ingredients or other such miserly tactics.

      For example, I had found on one site, the way to save money on coffee is to not throw away the grounds after you make a pot of coffee. Save them, add one additional fresh scoop of coffee the next day and "Voila… every bit as good as making it with fresh grounds, but you use 1/2 the coffee."

      That isn't frugal… it is insane… but cheap.

      • That tip is all over the internet. I understand some people are desperately poor and I understand that some people have completely different priorities. I get it, but for me? Many things would be cut from the budget before I'd reuse coffee grounds. I'd probably walk to the library to use the computer before I'd reach that point and it's a 10 mile round trip, toting 3 kids.Are we there yet?

        • I also get the "different priorities" thing… somewhat… but when you wind up with stomach problems and going to the doctor because some weird bacteria grew on your used coffee grounds before you got around to using it the next day. Just how many cans of coffee do you have to save to equal a doctors visit and a prescription.

          My point is (which I seemed to have lost in my wordiness today), is I will take the logical home-ec101 frugal over other so called "frugal sites" any day.

          • I hadn't even given bacteria consideration. I was just thinking about how bitter the grounds would be. Coffee grounds create a really bitter flavor when they are over-extracted and I just can't see how that would be at all enjoyable.
            The water is pretty hot, but you may have a point.

  10. I agree that learning to cook food isn't always about trying to make the least expensive meal. I love to cook and love trying new recipes. I justifiy buying more expensive ingredients because it is still a lot less expensive than ordering in (which I can't do anyway – I live in a rural area) or going out for dinner. I feel that my family is happy to stay in when I can cook a delicious and nutritious meal. I also can cook some very frugal meals, but splurge now and again too.

  11. I enjoyed this post and think you made a good case for yourself. People can't be expected to go from being totally non-domestic to being able to do everything in one step. I like the way you help people take steps toward being more self sufficient, letting them decide how many steps to take each time. Also, I tend to pick and choose where I want to be frugal, where I want to save time, where I want to spend time or money and so on, so my frugality will be different to everyone else's; but I think we all do that. I read some tips and think "Er, no," but I learn a lot from all sorts of people.

  12. Honestly, every time I read your site, I feel like frugality (not cheapness) is kind of an underlying theme. I'm kind of confused as to how someone could read the site and not pick up on that – unless maybe one was reading only bits and pieces and taking things out of context or something. Just because money is not mentioned specifically or cost savings are not quantified does not mean that frugality is not a consideration. And by the way, with the things that are discussed generally, it would be impossible to quantify any cost savings of, say, a recipe or cleaning products since these costs vary by store and geographic region. But the post was a pretty good summary of why you do things the way you do them and why we all read, so thanks!

  13. Your problem is you forgot to have it in your name, hahaha… Frugal Home-Ec… I think some people just miss the point if it is not slapped down on the paper, oops screen.
    My recent post BBR Burritos

  14. I just wanted to jump in here and let you know I have learned so much from this site and check it daily. For me the site helps me with frugality and another important goal of mine – to be as environmentally friendly as possible. I think frugal, 'green', and healthy habits all overlap on this site, not to mention a realistic, supportive, non-judgmental attitude. Please keep it up.

  15. used to be, in public schools, a person not only learned the three r's, but also life skills in classes such as home ec…, shop, electricity, welding etc….. home economics was a class that took four full years to complete as it offered home nursing, nutrition, cooking, childcare, marriage, sewing, etc…each subject filling up one semester each. the skills i learned at home and in school have stayed with me. it is such a shame that kids coming up now do not have these advantages…they may be great in the careers they chose, but sadly lack the common sense life skills needed to survive-particularly in todays economy.

  16. Well Bless Their Little Hearts if they can't figure out that this is a frugal website. In the South we can be things without being all loud about it, ya hear?!? Learn to cook and clean your house and you don't have to hire no help to come in. Learn to keep your husband and family healthy and clean and you don't have to pay for so much doctorin'. Clean with vinegar and water and you will have some money left over in that grocery budget for those lady fingers and mint julips that the bridge club can't stop talkin' about.

    Being a Southern Lady means being frugal without being all loud about it. I get it. All of us loyal readers get it. Those folks that think it isn't frugal because you don't broadcast your grocery receipts and whatnot are what my mother would call vulgar. It isn't polite to talk about money, chile. Don't you know that?

    (Insert my heavily leaned upon Southern Accent…..I was mentally in Virginia while typing that).

  17. This was a great post. Though i do agree with some of the comments, that when you are on a budget, you have to have atleast an outline of your expenses. Otherwise you would have a tough time keeping track of the drain.

  18. Most of people are on a budget and I watch the money very closely. Things will last longer if things are taken care of. I like a clean house, and dishes never go undone. I love to cook so it doesn't take so much time to cook meals, and you know the family enjoys it. There is nothing like home cooking. Then when we do go out and eat, it is something very special. Its not a habit like alot of people have. This is a super post and all of it is very true. Keep us the great work.

  19. I thought it was kind of obvious that learning to do things yourself was more frugal, in the big picture, than paying someone else to do them. Thanks for all the great MONEY-SAVING FRUGAL tips….(Sometimes you just have to headline it for people…:-)

  20. I always understood that's why they called it Home Economics. In my youth (dark ages), housewife and frugal were understood to be companionable terms. I'm amazed you needed to explain!

  21. "Heather, I’ve seen other websites with cheaper recipes. How can you call your method frugal?"

    Because it is frugal. Frugal is not the sme as cheap. Frugal means making on-sale sirloins or rib eye steaks at home rather than going to a restaurant and paying $35 for each meal. Frugal is efficient and smart. It's more self reliance and knowledge. Everthing from home repairs to fixing cars. From patching a hole in work jeans to soaking stains out of a shirt. Making your own bread or salad dressing. Making great quality coffee at home rather than spending $4.50 at a coffee shop. Packing a fabulous lunch rather than a flabby burger at the drive through. You are investing in and taking control of your life. It's not only frugal, it's immensely satisfying.

    Great article Heather.
    Your faithful reader,

  22. I am standing up and clapping at my desk. This is exactly how I try to live. But I also wanted to point out a longer-term benefit to simply taking good care of the things you choose to bring into your home. My grandmother was a frugal – but not cheap! – woman who took meticulous care of her things. When she passed away in 2008, she left a beautiful, well-cared-for collection of furniture and dishes and kitchenware and linens. I am able to continue using and enjoying her things because she worked hard to keep them in good order – and I’ve saved a ton of money because she had an excellent eye for timeless pieces.

  23. Dear Heather,
    I read your book and absolutely loved it! Just know that, when it comes to living frugally, I trust you with every fiber of my being. Thank You! 🙂


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