My sophomore post has nothing to do with art, design or music. That is, unless you consider extreme frugality, beyond the point of necessity, to be an art form. Today’s entry is dedicated to the many ways in which my family, and those of childhood friends, found to skimp on the essentials. It’s a testament to the fact that necessity breeds innovation; or, more fittingly, cheapskates make do with what they got.
Today’s post will be presented as a series of axioms. Perhaps the only people who will identify with me here are my brothers and close friends. But let’s give it a go. I present to you the basics of Growing up Cheap.
Coffee filters and toilet paper are interchangeable.
Essential. So essential. This one seems self-explanatory to me, but maybe that’s because I was raised in a house of cheapos. What this means is that if you start to brew your delicious morning pot of coffee, only to discover that you have no filters, you simply lay a few layers of toilet paper across the basket, throw your coffee in, and you’re golden. And conversely, if you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of needing to do your morning business, and toilet paper is MIA, just grab a little stack of coffee filters. Comfy? No. Effective? Indeed.
Knob, Schmob. Grab the Pliers.
If ever a nob or accessory for a radio, air conditioner, or household appliance breaks or becomes lost, buying a new one is simply not an option. Grab some pliers, channel locks, a crescent wrench, or whatever you’ve got, and latch them onto the nub where the knob once resided. Growing up, our air conditioner was operated in this way for years at a time.
Water + Coffee Creamer = Milk
Doesn’t it suck to pour a bowl of hearty cereal only to discover that there is no milk in your fridge. No need to worry if you’re a coffee-drinking family. Just mix a cup of cold water with a few spoonfuls of coffee creamer, and enjoy your Crisp Rice.
Crisp Rice = Rice Krispies
Very rarely would you find brand name food items or sundries in our pantries. Ever heard of Sure Savings sugar? Instead of Rice Krispies, we had Crisp Rice. Instead of Lucky Charms, it was Marshmallow Maties. In short, find the box of name brand cereal you want, and then grab the bagged version below it on the bottom shelf. These were reasonable substitutes, other than the fact that they became soggy a little quicker. The one food substitution that I’d fight is Dr Thunder in place of Dr Pepper. The difference is very noticeable there.
Sauce Pan + Ladel = Coffee Pot
I suspect this one might require a little explanation. There were six people in my house growing up (sometimes more), 5 of which are and were heavy coffee drinkers. So we went through quite a few coffee makers. As a house full of boys, the glass coffee pot ( or carafe for the fancier reader ) never lasted too long. But did we buy a replacement? Of course not. You just find the most appropriately sized sauce pan and lay it on the hot plate. Of course, the pan doesn’t fit in the grooves, so once the brewing is done, you turn the stove burner on 2-3 and move the pan over. Then, you use the biggest ladle you own to serve up your morning cup. Sounds ridiculous, but I literally remember doing this for years at a time.
Water the Air Conditioner
I’m not sure if this is a common experience or not. My childhood home was and still is cooled by a window unit, which normally runs using water fed to it through a small hose. But for some reason, this was not how ours worked. Instead, a few times a day, we’d go out, grab the water hose, and spend about ten minutes soaking the outer panels so the unit would blow cold air for a few more hours.
Cabinet Doors Are Just One More Step Between You and Peanut Butter
Again, as a gang of rough-housing boys ( I suppose this is the reason? ), there were several cabinets in the house whose doors become broken and lost. These doors were never replaced unless a complete rebuilding of a room took place, which happened only once as I remember. There is a cabinet door in our kitchen that was broken when I was about ten years old (I’m now 26) at the latest; it is still missing.
Powerade Bottle = Football
This one is a little baffling even to me, but I was a witness throughout my middle school years to a daily game of Powerade football. For some reason, we weren’t provided with any sort of real sports equipment or source of entertainment during recess. So, in the familiar spirit of resourcefulness, a Powerade bottle was filled with rocks or water and tossed around in a serious game of football. This happened every day. Yet still no football was provided. Maybe that’s part of the reason there were so many sixth graders already smoking the reefer.
Yahtzee is Not a Board Game
It therefore should not be purchased in a box. There should be no cups involved, unless it’s holding iced tea or beer. Come on, who rolls dice out of a cup? And pre-made score pads? A waste of money. My family has played more games of Yahtzee than 99.9% of families on earth. And I can tell you confidently that the only necessary components are five dice, a pen, and any sort of paper you can find. Notebook paper is nice though.
Soccer Ball = Basketball
We had two recesses per day in elementary school. My friends and I like to play basketball, but of course we were not provided with one. We did, however, have a soccer ball for some reason. Although it doesn’t bounce very well, that would make a reasonable substitute, assuming you have a basketball goal…
Monkey Bars = Basketball Goal
No, we did not have a basketball court or even a goal to play on. But we did have monkey bars. So the rectangular holes between bars became our basket. There are about twelve holes; so which one does it have to go in? Any of them! Come on, we’re bouncing a slippery soccer ball in the dirt. Give us a break.
If You Don’t Have Enough Gear, Make Up a New Sport
I’ve already given an example of this practice. But it didn’t stop in middle school. Dozens of obscure sports were born out of our lack of sufficient equipment, the most recent of these being Relay Tennis. The family was visiting my wife and I at our apartment, where tennis courts lay right across the parking lot. My dad and a couple brothers headed over to the courts with me carrying only two racquets. Did we take turns? No way! We partnered up and tossed the racquet back and forth to our partners between returns. It’s a pretty tough feat, especially when the opposers slam a return back quickly.
Bicycles Are 2-Person Traveling Devices: Give Me a Pump!
If you’ve got two people and one bike, both of them will get to the destination on the same bike. One rides on the seat, and the other rides on the handlebars – also known as getting a “pump.” It’s quite a balancing act starting out, but was a necessary skill growing up.
Stove = Water Heater
Our trailer house was sufficient for our family of six ( the four of us shared a room ). This number often increased, though, as other family members needed a temporary abode. The number of people around, combined with our small, hard-water-affected water heater, meant that the last several people in line had to take a cold shower. But cold showers suck! So we discovered an alternative for the times when the ice cold water was more than we could take. You partially fill up the tub with the lukewarm-to-cold water that’s left, and then fill up the four biggest pots you own with water and set them on the stove. Bring them to a nice boil, and then pour them into the tub. This should bring the bath to a nice, bearable temperature. If not, just repeat the boiling process as many times as necessary.
When the Mercury Drops Below 32, Keep the Hair Dryer Handy
I blame this one on the designer of trailer homes. The water heater and connected water lines sit in a closet accessible from outside. On cold days, the only thing between the heater and the often frigid outside air is a thin, fiber board door. As you’d suspect, our water lines were frozen about a dozen times a year. So to speed the thawing process and get the water flowing, we took turns warming the lines with a hair dryer in 15 to 20 minute shifts.
Wire Hanger = Antenna
No explanation needed here. This seems pretty universal, and just narrowly earned inclusion on this list.
The mindset behind all these conventions is an ongoing point of contention between my wife and I. She wasn’t raised in quite the same way as I was, and finds many of my solutions irrational. So the idea is that at some point, we can find a happy medium between our vastly different takes on resourcefulness. We actually had a breakthrough when we broke our first coffee pot; my saucepan / ladle method was employed temporarily. My goal, however, is to arrange a situation that requires her to adopt my toilet paper / coffee filter logic…and I’m not referring to brewing a pot.