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Oily Rag tips from days gone by

These days there is a specific device, lotion or tool for almost anything. However, when it comes down to frugal living or simply living with less ‘stuff’, there is no-one better to look to for advice than our parents and grandparents. They were from the generation where a dollar was not easy to come by – and it had to be turned into two dollars’ worth of spending power if they were to get by.

Below are some tips sent in by the Oily Rag Community on how they, their parents and grandparents save money around the home. Let us know in the comment section below what tips you’ve passed onto your family.

Grandma’s tips:

  • wifeWrap cheese in aluminium foil to keep it fresh so you won’t have to cut away the hard edges if you haven’t used it in a while. And reuse your foil afterwards, by giving it a good wash.
  • Dry clothes on a clothes line and not in an electric dryer. You will save lots of money on power and the clothes smell fresher.
  • Recycle plastic bags by using them as rubbish bin liners. It makes cleaning out the bins easy and mess free, and means you won’t need to buy bin liners.
  • To stop cast iron pots from rusting, put a paper towel or a coffee filter inside them before storing. They will absorb any moisture you may have left inside and stop rust from forming.
  • If your clothes are feeling or smelling a little damp, place some chalk pieces in a cloth bag and hang it up in the closet. It will absorb the dampness and prevent mildew. If you don’t have a cloth bag you could use any container that allows air to get through, like a paper bag with holes in it.
  • Make sure you have a vegetable garden and cook whatever is in season.
  • To make cheap meat go further, bulk them up with even cheaper ingredients – like mixing bread crumbs or oatmeal into mince. Another option is to use rice in meals – that way you can reduce the meat content of a meal, and the cost, without compromising the flavour. A lot of traditional dishes from poorer countries do this.
  • Line the bottom of your refrigerator shelves and drawers with paper towels. They not only absorb spills and make cleaning a whole lot easier, but in the vegetable drawer, they absorb the moisture that can make veggies go off.
  • Use rags when cleaning, instead of paper towels – and try using newspaper instead of paper towels.
  • Don’t throw away solo socks – place them on your hand and you have a versatile cleaning rag or duster!
  • Minimise heat loss in the house by closing off rooms that are not used – like spare bedrooms. Place rolled towels or draft sausages on the floor to stop sneaky heat from being lost under the door.
  • Run full loads of clothes and dishes.
  • Make hair shampoo last twice as long by diluting it with an equal amount of water – or do away with shampoo entirely and use baking soda instead. And for a hair conditioner use, 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar and 2 drops essential lemon oil in a cup of water.
  • In the shower use a traditional bar of soap instead of liquid soap or exfoliating body wash. It lasts longer and is much cheaper!
  • For an all-purpose cleaner use, a little white vinegar in water.
  • housewifeUse cheap cuts of meat in stews and casseroles, by cutting the meat and browning it in a frying pan before placing in a casserole dish. Add vegetables and cover with stock and tomatoes. Simmer for about 90 minutes until the meat in tender. Serve with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potato.

Grandpa also has some tips!

  • Never throw away any bits of old building material – instead, sort in such a way that things can be found. It’s amazing what a home handyman can reuse and adapt to suit.
  • Buy things for cash, not credit. Don’t borrow to buy household items. Save up until you can afford them.
  • Buy used not new. Nowadays some folk seem to think pre-loved is not good enough but there is no harm in it and it will save lots of money.


By Frank and Dr Muriel Newman.

Read more Oily Rag articles here.

You can contact the Oily Rag community via the website at or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.