I want to tell you about a frugality wake-up call I had, something I need from time to time.
I'm sharing this now because my moment happened during the holidays -- just the time when you don't want a wake-up call.
It reminded me that it's so easy to get sloppy, especially since we're surrounded by abundance and a seeming endless supply of everything.
It was the morning of our annual holiday dinner party. I had limited time and many things to do. On my list was "clean patio chairs" because we would undoubtedly need them for additional seating. I wanted them sparkling clean and presentable.
I grabbed my supplies and discovered I had just one roll of paper towels, and it was partly used. This would be a three-roll job at the least. I don't count out one or two towels; I just spin off a big wad.
Normally, this shortage would have sent me on a quick trip to the store. But, as you may recall from previous columns, I do not have a car. By choice, I share a car with my husband.
On this day, he was at the office and I wasn't. I did not have time to walk to the nearest store, so I decided to go with the only choice I had at the moment: Make do.
I carefully tore off three towels. I scrubbed and cleaned. Then, instead of tossing those wet towels in the trash, I opened them up, straightened them out and cleaned some more.
At first, I was irritated that I had to do this, but it didn't take long to turn this into a game to see how long I could make the towels last.
I worked my way through the chairs and ended up with clean white chairs and towels on the roll to spare.
I was downright proud of myself.
My experience with the paper towels made me think: What if I approached everything with the same sense of scarcity and the fear of running out? Would the milk last longer? Would I measure the laundry soap instead of "eyeballing" it? Would I be more careful with errands if gasoline was scarce? Would I be careful to wear an apron in the kitchen?
What if this was the only tube of toothpaste for the foreseeable future? Could I make it last? Would I throw away half a pot of cold coffee or freeze it in ice cube trays for later? Would I use the tea bag to make two or three cups of tea, as if tea were in short supply? How long could I make other things last, items that seem so ordinary and available it's easy to be wasteful?
How long could you make things last -- not because you have to but because it's the right thing to do?
It's good for the Earth, for your attitude and good for your wallet, too.
Write to mary@everyday cheap skate.com or Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, CA 90723.