Jul 012014

Man in a Barrel

Everyone goes through hard times. There is no shame in it. It’s simply a fact of life. When I was very young, before I married, I lived through years of hard times. I thought the hard times would last forever. I thought that there would never be anything better. Canned peaches and frozen broccoli were luxury items that I cherished and enjoyed. Every single day I worried about how to pay my bills. There was never enough. Never enough food, never enough money, never enough of life’s basic necessities. Usually I had enough water. Usually I had enough soap and toothpaste. I didn’t always have enough money to go to the Laundromat so I learned to wash my clothes by hand. I didn’t always have money for lunch, so I learned to pack my own. I never had enough money for even coffee or a soda from a fast food restaurant, so I never went to them. I learned a lot about doing without and making do. It was hard. That’s why they’re called hard times, because the living is hard.

Even after I married, Fred and I had a few seasons of hard times together. By then though, I knew more about cooking and shopping. I knew what to stock up on when times were good, so even hard times with Fred, and later our sons, weren’t as hard as they had been in my youth.

The good news about hard times is that they are usually temporary. Maybe a few months or even a few years of temporary, but they seldom last forever.

Living through hard times changes the way we think about things. It teaches us gratitude for the luxuries we do have. For instance, even when I was my most poor, I still had a kitchen with a sink. The sink had running hot and cold water. I never had to walk miles a day to get water for drinking or bathing. I had a stove and an oven. Only 3 burners on the stove worked, and the oven ran hot, but it got the job done. I never had to gather fire wood or spend all day tending the hearth.  I had a refrigerator with a built-in freezer. The food I could afford could be easily stored and lasted a lot longer than it would have without a fridge. I had a warm, dry place to sleep every night and (with effort) I had clean clothes to wear every morning. I had a library card. Life was hard yes, but there were plenty of luxuries I had every single day that are not even dreamed of by millions of other people in the world.

So the first tip for living through hard times is Gratitude. Look around at what you do have and be thankful. My grandmother had a plaque on the wall when I was growing up.

Thank God for dirty dishes

They have a tale to tell

While others may go hungry

We’re eating very well.

No matter how bad things are, I firmly believe that there are always things to be thankful for.

Next are some practical things.


  1. Soap is soap. Dish soap can wash clothes. Shampoo can wash dishes. Bar soap used to be used for dishes, hair and clothes. It’s harder to wash dishes with shampoo than it is with dish soap, but it can be done in a pinch.
  2. Baking soda can be used to brush your teeth. It used to be called tooth powder. Put some baking soda in a small cup. Dip your wet toothbrush into it and brush away. It tastes terrible, but your teeth will get clean.
  3. Cornstarch can be used in place of deodorant. Put some in a clean spice bottle and shake it onto your skin. It works like baby powder. In fact it works like baby powder for anything you might normally use baby powder for, chafing or moisture control, or whatever.
  4. Vinegar can be used in place of deodorant. Arm pits smell bad because of the bacteria. Vinegar creates an acidic environment that prevents the growth of bacteria. Rub a few drops of vinegar under each arm and you won’t smell like body odor. The scent of the vinegar will dissipate within a few minutes so you won’t smell like vinegar either.
  5. Before paper towels, people used newspaper for disposable clean up. Not too many people get their news in paper form any more. Pages from an old phone book work just as well. Simply rip out a page from an old phone book and use it to wipe your hands or to drain the fat from your bacon or clean up cat vomit.
  6. Old Socks make great rags. Simply cut off the toe and slit them down one side. Instant rags. Perfect for holey socks that are beyond repair. This is a great chore for a bored child.
  7. If you have easy access to a washing machine then use cloth napkins and use dish towels and rags instead of paper towels. We use a certain color of wash cloth for cloth napkins. Everyone in the house knows that washcloths of that color are for table use, not for bathing.


  1. In baking and pancakes many recipes call for milk–soymilk, almond milk, dairy milk. You don’t have to use milk. You can use any other liquid instead. Water is cheapest, but you can also use other liquids like fruit juice. Sometimes I’ll use a combination of liquids like apple juice and water or soymilk and water. The leftover water that is used to boil potatoes is especially good in pancakes and muffins.
  2. When a recipe calls for butter or margarine you can usually use vegetable shortening instead. Dairy-free margarine is not exactly cheap. If you prefer to save it for where the flavor really matters, then feel free to use plain or butter-flavored shortening in your baking recipes. Butter flavored vegetable shortening is GFCF and vegan besides. It’s an economical alternative to dairy-free margarine in baking.
  3. In baking, when the recipe calls for a solid fat, such as butter, margarine or shortening you can use any type of solid fat. You cannot however, use a liquid fat such as vegetable oil. If you try to use oil instead, then your baked goods won’t turn out right. On the other hand, if your baked good recipe calls for a liquid fat, you can use melted shortening or melted margarine and usually get satisfactory results.
  4. Leftover rice can be fried with just about anything–canned or frozen veggies, canned or leftover meat, chopped hot dogs or baloney, eggs etc. Simply heat a little fat in a skillet. Add onions if you have any. Don’t worry about it if you don’t. Add the meat or vegetables. Stir-fry until they are hot. Add leftover rice, salt and pepper to taste. Fry until hot. Eat. Fast, easy and a great way to use up leftovers.
  5. The liquid from cooked pasta, grains, beans, canned vegetables, cooked vegetables or boiled meat has a lot of nutrition still in it. It makes great soup and can be used in white sauce or gravy. You can also simply warm it up and drink it like bouillon. You can season it with black pepper, a little onion powder or garlic powder or lemon juice if you like. When you pour this liquid down the drain you are discarding all of the vitamins that you already paid for. When you hit hard times don’t waste the good nutrition found in this liquid. If you can’t use it right away then save it in a jar in the fridge for several days, or in a tub in the freezer for longer keeping. When you’re ready to make soup, bring it out and put it to good use.
  6. The liquid from canned fruit can be added to hot or iced tea. It can be mixed with apple juice or kool-aid. Use it as the liquid for muffins or pancakes. Use it as part of the liquid for gelatin. It has nutrition and you paid for it, so you might as well put it to use.

Miscellaneous Health Care

  1. My dentist recommended this over-the-counter combination for pain. It’s as strong as prescription pain killers, but much cheaper. Take 3 Ibuprofen (Advil) with 1 extra strength Acetaminophen (Tylenol). Take all four pills at the same time. This can be used every 4 hours, as needed for pain. I can personally attest to how strong this combination is. It got me through root canals and wisdom tooth extractions. I’ve even taken it when I’m out of migraine pills and over-the-counter headache pills aren’t cutting it. Fred has used it for back pain, and he prefers it to the narcotic pain killers he was getting by prescription. If you’re in pain, go to a doctor. Also, be certain to discuss this combination of pain killers with your health care provider before using it.
  2. Self Health Care Resources & Antibiotics Links to incredibly useful and blessedly free Health Care books such as Where There Is No Doctor, and When Women Have No Doctor. Also information about antibiotics that are legal to buy in America, without a prescription. When you are poor, the resources from Hesperian provide information and hope. I cannot even describe how helpful they have been to my family. Written for people in second and third world situations, they provide ready access to vital information from first aid to diagnosis of common conditions as well as treatment options. Amazing resource.


  1. Go on a picnic. Pack a blanket and a meal. Remember to include a beverage (enough for everyone to have seconds and thirds because they’ll be thirsty). Take the kids and the dogs to the park and relax. It’s not a vacation, but it comes close. The fresh air and sunshine will do everyone good.
  2. Be gentle with yourself. Take time for a walk outside. Take a hot bath. Paint your toenails. Have a movie night with a movie from the library and a tub of homemade popcorn. Hard times are hard. Be kind to yourself and your loved ones while you wait them out. It takes the sting out of living.

These are  just a few of the things you can do to make it through hard times with your serenity intact. If you have other ideas, leave them in the comment section so other people can learn from your experience.

This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. Psalms 34:6

  15 Responses to “Tips & Tricks When You’re Rock Bottom Broke”

  1. Miss Maggie, how well I can identify with your “hard times” report. Seems like most of my life has been a similar scenario. When I was about 10 (1952 or there about) Monopoly made a big splash comeback. Two kids in our neighborhood received one from their parents. We all gathered at their house during that summer vacation and played game after game of monopoly. (There was a terrible drought in our area of the country and the temps were over 100 every day. This was the before the Salk vaccine for polio so parents were cautioned to keep their children indoors. Because of the drought, water was rationed and swimming pools were closed and we couldn’t play in the front yard with the hose. So we stayed indoors and played games, read, drew paper dolls.) My sister and I wanted our own Monopoly game and we begged our parents for one. We were told that due to tight money (the game cost $5.00 at that time!) we couldn’t have one So I took two large old coloring books, taped together the backs and went to the neighbor with the Monopoly game and I took a ruler and pencil and copied the board on the plain sides of the two coloring book covers. Then I found some light weight cardboard and measured the monopoly cards and copied all the info on each of the cards. For the “funny money” we found some play money at the dime store and Mother bought two packs for a dime each. For tokens, I went through Mother’s button jar and took out buttons of all different colors and we used those. Someone gave us a pair of dice. For the “houses, apt. houses, hotels” etc., I cut different colored pieces of construction paper that was left over from a school project, then I wrote the names of the buildings.
    And we were ready to play!

    We used that game until it literally fell apart, and it was tape upon tape upon tape to keep the board together. I don’t know how many replacement cards for houses, apts, etc., I made throughout the years we played with it. It was just as much fun as a “real” game and it was ours, and all it had cost was the twenty cents Mother paid for the play money.

    I realize this wasn’t a story of thrift where food, holiday gifts or clothing was concerned, but it gave me a sense of ingenuity and creativity that paved the way for more “important” necessary thrift measures later in life.

    EB in MO.

    • EB, this is a lovely story. I’m so glad you shared it. For me it was paper dolls. I couldn’t afford store-bought ones very often so I cut pictures out of the Sears catalog for some and made others from construction paper. I would make elaborate outfits for the dolls with glue, construction paper and glitter. I even figured out how to make fronts and backs that folded over the doll so her outfit would show on both sides. I learned so much by figuring it out myself and spent hours upon hours working on it.

      It’s pretty amazing that you had the wherewithal to figure out you could make your own version. Modern kids would never even imagine that to be possible. I bet there was a lot you learned from making that game yourself that you never would have learned otherwise. It’s a real inspiration. 🙂

    • I love that story, EB!

  2. I love all this. A couple of things we do~ You know those last little smidgens of veggie scraps that are too small to recreate into something leftover? I collect them into a large plastic container in the freezer to make vegetable soup. When I have enough, I take it out and add a can of tomato sauce or a few squirts of ketchup if I’m especially tight, water, a few shakes of garlic and herbs, and some rice, potatoes, or pasta (these can also be scraps added to your freezer tub as well) to make it hearty. Also, I add a crushed vitamin C tablet to my cooled jug of ice tea. Fresh fruit and fruit juice are expensive, and for $1 for 30 tablets at the Dollar Store, everyone in my family can have their daily supply of vit.C for a month by just drinking a glass of tea :o)

    • That is a brilliant idea Joanne. Clever and extremely economical. Does the ascorbic acid in the Vit. C affect the flavor of the tea at all? I mean, does it add a citrus like tang to it?

      When my oldest son was younger, I would sometimes crush Tums antacid tablets into a powder and add them to beans and rice, or whatever he was eating, for extra calcium. Everything he likes best is spicy, so the fruity flavor of the antacids was disguised. I never thought of doing it with Vit. C. I love that idea. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      • I find the ascorbic acid does not affect the taste. I use one 500 mg. tablet to a half gallon of cooled tea. I sweeten my tea somewhat, and possibly for someone who does not, it may depart a bit more tartness. I also add a crushed tablet to my canned fruit, especially in the winter time and cold season, when we don’t drink as much iced tea. Good idea on the calcium tablets.

        • Adding it to fruit is a great idea. They already like the fruit, and the extra Vit. C just makes it better. Thanks for the info about the flavor. We like our unsweetened tea a bit on the sour side anyway, so ascorbic acid wouldn’t hurt at all. This is just so clever. And so much cheaper than the many alternatives.

  3. I’d love to see an article about the specifics of how to wash clothes by hand. I saw something in passing on your old HBHW ages ago about using a plunger, and that had me off doing hours of research. I never knew that a plunger would be helpful in washing clothes before that, and I bet there are a bunch of people who would like to hear how to do it from you.

    • That’s a great idea Kelly, I’ll put it in my mental list of topics and ruminate on it for a bit. Washing by hand is a chore, but it is totally do-able when necessary. If I write about it, I’ll have to do it again and that is a lot of work. Maybe some sheets… I’ll get back to you on it. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

  4. When I was first married (the first time :0( ) we didn’t have a washing machine. Also too poor to go to a Laundromat, even though you could wash for 25 cents a load and dry for 25 cents a load. In the walk in basement were 2 large sinks and running hot and cold water, so I’d wash at least twice a week. Husband worked in a factory and he only had two changes of work clothes so I washed on an old fashioned wash board, and with his really dirty clothes I really had a workout getting them clean enough for his approval. (I haven’t seen an old wash board like that for years and when I did it was in an antique shop and asking price was about $40! Luckily it was left by a former occupant of the house so I didn’t have to buy one,)

    When my parents found out that I was expecting their first grandchild they went to a used furniture store and bought a Blackstone wringer washer. I thought I was in heaven,

    Love your site and all the interesting things you (and we) have to say.

    EB in MO

  5. Determination goes a long way towards saving money. I’ve had to wash greasy work clothes by hand too. It is not an easy chore. Wash boards do make it easier, but heavens is it hard work. As a young woman I had a friend with an old washer ringer machine. I was so envious, because at the time I was doing our laundry by hand. My favorite modern appliance is my washing machine. It saves more work than any other appliance.

    Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  6. Our washing machine broke down and we did not have the money to repair it right away, so I started washing our clothes by hand. I found that I was actually able to get my husbands work clothes (he’s a bus mechanic) CLEANER than the washing machine did. Although I’m back to using the washing machine (it’s so much easier) I still think about that. Actually, washing them wasn’t that hard, it was wringing the water out by hand that was hard for me. I recently found an idea for getting the water out of your hand washed clothes that sounded interesting: Take 2 5-gallon buckets and drill holes in one of them along the bottom edge. Dump your wet laundry in that one and set the second bucket with its lid attached on top. Then sit on the buckets! Your weight will supposedly remove a lot of that excess water with no effort on your part. You can bet I’ll be trying this if I ever have to hand launder again.

    • Muriel that is such an excellent idea. Thank-you for sharing it. Wringing clothes out by hand is almost harder than washing them. This idea is so good. Talk about a labor saving device!

    • I don’t know if I know how to use this comment form, but I’ll try 🙂

      I second the observation Muriel made. You get cleaner clothes when you wash them By hand. I had a period without washing machine last year. It was hard, but not as hard as getting your laundry dry in a small bathroom 😉
      For wringing sheets I used this method: I sat on a chair, the tub between my feet. I began to wring from one end of the sheet. When I had enough wringed I Placed the wringed end between my knees. I had it there so it wouldn’t fall back into the tub, and then I just kept wringing to the other end of the sheet, adjusting the wringed part of the sheet between my knees as needed.

      • Thanks for your tip Miriam. I can agree that getting laundry dry in a small bathroom is challenging. I’ve set up a fan in the doorway to the bathroom to accelerate air flow, and that tends to work pretty well. Sheets and blankets I fold in half and hang over interior doors. Be sure to dust the top of the door first though, or else your sheets will have a long line of dust right down the center where they hung over the door. Very disheartening. At least now I know to dust the door first 😀

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