Thrift Tip: Repurpose, reinvent, and even relaunch blog

Upon discussing relaunching this blog to a longtime writer friend, the thought emerged that a truly impoverished person would unlikely have access to reading it. This hindered my spirited endeavor for a few weeks while I let the thoughts on what it means to be poor or rich percolate in my mind. I’ve never been impoverished as many in this world. I’m privileged enough to have internet access and other worldly comforts. Yet, the main reason I stopped this originally short-lived blog was the inability to afford a new computer after the one I had crashed. I’ve been low enough on money to wonder how I was going to eat. I’ve screwed people over because I had to worry about meeting my own ends. Yet, I’ve been used for money and resources because somebody in a poorer state (mostly of mind) didn’t want to earn his keep.

My outlook on life is to keep prospering, better hood upon better hood. I am not as poor as I used to be. By my own willpower, each step I take is in the opposite direction of that poor material state as well as the occasional rough mental state. Honestly, I inherited money that enabled me to buy a house and get a nice car. But, that is where the spoils ended. The money I use for paying my mortgage and all the bills associated with home ownership as well as providing for my son come from my consistent income from my job. In my case, it is mostly cash tips as my income source. I am thoughtful on how I spend my money because of the few years I spent fucking up and learning how to be resourceful without much cash flow. I don’t like to be cheap. I like to be clever. Besides the environmental and socioeconomic factors, much of my home goods and clothing shopping is done at thrift stores so I can use the money saved on getting my hair and nails done on a regular basis.

As for beauty and hygiene products, ideally, I would like to make my own. Besides those, I would like to shop organically for everything else in the marketing spectrum. Yet, I am not privileged with the time for the former, and I do not have money for the latter. I do try to be conscious of what is organic and look for sales in organic products. There are, however, some brands I do not touch for I believe money spent is like a vote on the future of consumerism.

So, where will this blog go? It will go and go, without forgetting its humble roots. It’s getting rich from being poor. It’s about what it means to be poor in spirit and in hand. It’s about the richness that can be found with or without money. The richest experiences I know have been free. The feeling I get when I write a piece I’m utterly connected to does not cost anything. The sheer look of happiness on my son’s face; free. Then my thoughts go back to the fact that some of those in extreme poverty are not educated enough to write or be provided with basic needs. What a conundrum.  My guilt speaks to me to explore that type or poorness in the future. There is a wealth, pun intended, of topics waiting to be explored in this blog.

I may have help with navigating through these topics. My original concept was to have many contributors to create a wide scope of tips, ideas, and beliefs. My previously mentioned writer friend has something in the works. This same friend ended our last conversation with the words, “I was never that down and out,” when I told him one of my roommates from about 10 years ago stole toilet paper from convenience stores’ bathrooms. I pointed out that I was just as guilty because I always used it and never bought any. How appropriate.

Disclaimer: Stealing toilet paper is not something I’m presenting as an idea when you are poor. It’s an example of what you can stoop to when you are low.

How does it feel when you got no food?


From Robyn: Pantless and tentless camping under the stars

Photo by Deborah Henny

Although vacations are splendid getaways for those who can afford them, I cannot take a week or so off work to appreciate such pleasures.  Yet, I do not let my work schedule prevent me from enjoying weekend or day-trip adventures.  July and August are generally a slow time for restaurants not located in tourist areas.  This caused some of my hours being cut for my weekend serving job.  I took this opportunity to give myself some much needed away time.  Recently, I went on an impromptu trip to Cherry Springs State Park in Galeton, Pennsylvania.  Cherry Springs is a park dedicated to catering to viewing the night sky in all its glory.  Camping is allowed under strict guidelines, including no white lights after sunset, which can disrupt stargazing.  Thus, 3 friends and I traveled the 3 plus hours (we got lost a little bit) to camp in the beautiful outdoors of Potter County.

Photo by Deborah Henny

Because we left later in the day, we did not arrive to Cherry Springs until after sunset.  This less than ideal time of arrival resulted in not setting up the tent partly because we couldn’t see well but mostly because we wanted to lay out and sleep without barriers to the night sky.  Upon unloading our blankets and gear, I realized I haphazardly did not pack my pants.  This left me with the cut-off shorts I was already wearing and my knitted Muk Luk Santa Claus-esque boots.  Consequently, I spent the rest of the night in my sleeping bag trying to keep my thighs and knees warm.  Despite my restriction of staying in my sleeping bag for the rest of the night, I did enjoy gazing into the clear night sky.  For the first time in my life, I was able to see the Milky Way.  And that sight makes up for whatever shivering I was doing.  I did not sleep much because of the cold, but it was pleasant to gaze into the stars in between shifting around trying to get some shut eye.

Photo by Deborah Henny

We left fairly early the next morning because of the cold and because everything was soaked from the dew.  Yet, we decided to check out the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon since it was close by. The fog made it difficult to really take in the canyon, and yet the fog was pretty amazing itself.  We were all feeling a bit lethargic from the night which resulted in us not taking the four mile hike down the side of the canyon.

Regardless of maybe not having the optimal experience most people would have liked on a camping trip, I believe there is no such thing as bad camping.  It was fun, and it gave us an idea to what to expect and what we want to do when we go and stay a whole weekend.  It was cheap (12 dollars a night per party of five), quality time with friends under the stars and on the road 🙂

Photo by Justin Ebert



From Emilie: Eating right when the money is tight

Like a lot of middle class kids, my first experience with poverty began in college. I got really good at inventing dinner from random, rejected ingredients in my pantry. Sometimes I wouldn’t get so lucky; I remember a few days living off of crackers and spicy pickles. One of the biggest challenges of a small income is eating healthy. Cheap foods often offer little in the way of nutrition and forget about affording organic. I won’t get into federal subsidies and the politics of why, but the information is out there if you want one more thing to be upset about. If you can have a garden, great! But for the rest of us, working/parenting/with rental property restrictions/living in zone 4/reading this at the end of the growing season, having a garden might not be practical. With harvest time getting into its swing, fresh produce is everywhere and cheaper. I’m going to talk about what to get, where to get it, and what to do with it.

Do some research on Superfoods

If you can’t buy it all, buy the best. I did a bit of research on which foods were the most beneficial to my health. I read the book 100 Health-Boosting Foods: Facts and Recipes for Super Health by Jo Lethaby. This book tells you what benefits you’re getting, how to best store the food to maximize those benefits and related recipes. I took notes and bring the list with me at the store. Using that list, I buy what’s on sale.

Another interesting route to couple superfood research with is healing through vitamins. In addition to or instead of taking supplements, you can find out which foods have the vitamins and minerals you need. During my summer job, I got bruised up a lot, so I looked into holistic fixes. One suggestion from this book was bioflavonoids. I noticed a significant difference when I started eating my citrus with the white stuff (albedo) on and just the zest scraped off.
On a side note, here are a couple quick articles on how to save money at the grocery store.
Another resource is coupon mom. It’s virus safe, and I love the printable coupons.

Look in the free section

A few people will post in the paper or in craigslist if they have a surplus of garden goodies they want to get rid of. If you don’t see any postings, be proactive and post your own garden exchange ad. Roadside stands can also be a great way to score deals and support the local economy. You might even try your hand at bartering.

Go to the food bank

When you’re just getting by, an unexpected financial emergency can be devastating. Do not have reservations about getting help. Some people will talk themselves out of going because “other people need it more than I do.” I would say, “Maybe, but you still need it.” Going to the food bank is a good lesson in humility and humanity. It’s good to experience what it’s like to need and use those services. Best of all, it puts you on your feet so you can be a productive member of society, and it opens your eyes and your heart to your fellow humans. You can volunteer time or donate food when you’re back on top.

I felt very awkward my first time I went to the food bank. I felt self-conscious about my clothes being too nice and that people were going to judge me. I was afraid I was going to see someone I knew. I felt like I should have been able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and that it was a failure that I was there. Going helped me get over prejudices and preconceived notions I didn’t know I had about poverty. It was good for me to wait in line for an hour and talk with people I otherwise wouldn’t have met. I felt overwhelming gratitude for the volunteers there. It restored my faith in humanity. The food bank ignited in me a desire to serve and give back.

Get a food dehydrator

One of the best investments I’ve made is my food dehydrator. The resulting product has no preservatives, no sulfates, endless uses, and freezes very well. Dehydrating produce allows you to stock up when there are produce sales or sales on produce that is marked down because of close expiration. In addition, a dehydrator can cut down on food waste and freezer space. For other ideas on cutting down waste try this article.

Be creative

Being on a budget doesn’t mean subjecting your taste buds to bland, boring fare. Cooking for yourself can be a really fun experiment. One of the best books I’ve read is Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist Cooks at Home. The concept of the book is cooking with what you’ve got in the pantry, using few ingredients and minimal effort. He stresses substitution and improvisation. This is one of my favorite recipes from the book. The sour cream is worth it. Mark Bittman also has a column.

While it can seem hopeless to maintain a wholesome, nutritionally balanced diet when money is tight, I’ve learned it is possible. Don’t let the low prices of Ramen noodles fool you.

From Robyn: Essential household cleaning trifecta

the trifecta

As someone who works in two restaurants, I know the importance of using quality laundry detergents. For me, I never felt it was good to skimp on using the more expensive brands. Whenever I used the cheaper product, the coffee or ketchup stains would remain after washing. I also felt the scent of these brands were less than desirable. Thus, I splurged a bit and went for the name brand, which seemed to do a better job. Then I discovered the more cost-effective habit of making my own laundry detergent. I found the simple mixing of Borax, washing soda, and Fels Naptha produced quality cleaning power as well as a light, pleasant scent.


1 cup Borax

1 cup washing soda

1 bar of of Fels Naptha (finely grated)
Mix thoroughly and store in a plastic or a glass container. Add 2 Tbsp. per load into running water before clothes are put into the washer.
Yield: 40 loads

Comparison of prices with the cheapest and the most expensive store-bought powder detergent:
Surf: $5.29 (40 loads)
.13 per load

Tide: $9.49 (40 loads)
.23 per load

Homemade: $1.63 (40 loads)
.04 per load

the finished product

While I used the whole bar of Fels Naptha to make this, over 50 oz. each of Borax and washing soda remained. Yet, these two products can be used for various cleaning tasks around the house. I used a small amount of Borax mixed with warm water to spot clean stains on my toddler trampled carpet. For a deeper cleaning of my carpets, I experimented with a re-tweaked recipe for homemade carpet shampoos I found online. I made this shampoo in two batches and managed to steam clean all the carpeted rooms in my house with some still leftover.

Add ⅔ cups Fels Naptha to 6.5 cups of boiling water and allow soap to dissolve. Once dissolved, remove from heat and let cool. Add 4 teaspoons washing soda, 6 drops each of eucalyptus and lemongrass essential oils.  Store in plastic container and shake well before using.

Honestly, I just winged it and steamed cleaned my carpets using about a half a cup per gallon in my steam vac. Not very scientific. But my carpets came out looking and feeling great. It smelled fresh and not chemically.  I used the essential oils because they are known to have bug repelling qualities, and I also appreciate their scent. The cost of the two batches I made combined was roughly $0.78. Compared to the $8.78 I would spend on Resolve Steam that does the same amount of cleaning, but not as good cleaning, I’d say the procedure of making the shampoo was worthwhile in the savings and in the quality.

leftover carpet shampoo, not a container of snot