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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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