• Like a bad penny, debt always turns up…

    unless we change how we interact with money, of course!

    The Bad Penny is dedicated to two pursuits: getting out of debt and staying out of debt! It recognizes that frugality and caring for our planet go hand in hand, and that our unsatiated need for stuff is hurting us in so many ways.

    Easier said than done!


    I am not a finance professional. I write about the world as I know it, and my advice may not be the best course of action for you! Please seek qualified advice for your particular situation.

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You Might Be Living Frugally If…

Good morning all!  Yes, I’m happy.  I got a really good night’s sleep, after spending several hours traveling out to Minnesota to visit family and celebrate my niece’s second birthday.  (And if we are just a bit lucky, her little brother will be born before I have to get back on a plane.)  So if by any chance you were wondering why I haven’t posted much this week – I haven’t given up!  I’ve simply been busy with laundry, packing, and flying.

I wandered over to frugaldad‘s blog this morning where I saw a very clever list – Jeff Foxworthy style, as he puts it.  It was titled, “You Might be Living Frugally if…”   I highly recommend it.  I laughed when I recognized myself in some of his list!

I could think of several things frugaldad didn’t list, so I thought I’d add to the list in my own blog.  If you are a blogger, continue this list with more items on your own blog, and post a link here! Of course, if you prefer, just stick your idea in the comments.

Here they are, in no particular order:

You Might Be Living Frugally If….

1. Your idea of a nice “date” has become a free library video and a homemade pizza.

2. Your child has learned the lesson “don’t waste.”  He picks up any food he drops on the floor and eats it.

3. When gas prices are higher than normal, you only buy $10 worth of gas at a time.  When it’s priced normally, you might buy $20 worth.  $20 fills a quarter of the tank, so you’ll be buying gas again the day after tomorrow.

4. Instead of throwing away a pair of jeans literally falling apart at the seams, you buy a spool of jean thread and get to work!

5. Much of your home decor is “custom-made” – that is to say – you made it.

6. Your husband questions, “Why buy a snowblower when shoveling by hand is cheaper and good exercise?”

7. You actually consider the “One Square of hygenic paper rule.”

8. You’ve hacked your Swiffer Wet Jet cleaner container so you can put a vinegar/water solution in it.  And you use an old washcloth attached with safety pins instead of the expensive store-bought mop clothes.

9. Your guest bath has brand new towels (bought on Black Friday for $3 each.)  The master bath towels have large holes and stains, but you won’t throw them out because they’re still absorbant.

10. You add water to your bath products so you can rinse out every last bit.  And you cut your toothpaste tube open, because after the tube is completely flattened, there’s still a week’s worth of toothpaste in there!


On the Path to a Paper-less Kitchen

One of the principles of both environmentalism and of frugality is easy: “Don’t waste.”

If you don’t waste it, you don’t have to buy more. You don’t have to use up more resources. You don’t have to throw more away.

In that mindset, a few months ago I started avoiding the use of paper towels and napkins, among other paper products. In fact, I went so far as to go out and buy a pack of bartender’s cloths at Walmart for several dollars.

The Bad Penny's

I’ve also salvaged dish cloths, including many my mother-in-law gets during Christmas from her 3rd grade students. It’s not a pretty picture, but you can see my towel drawer above.

I avoid using these for the really icky things – the mice the cats like to kill and leave for us, blood from hamburger meat that gets on the counter. In the case of the blood, I don’t trust that our washer gets hot enough to kill any pathogens involved, and as for the mice, well…the thought of something touching my counter that picked up a dessicated mouse – no matter how many times it’s been washed – is just really disgusting!

I keep a small plastic wastebasket under the sink, and I throw the used cloths in there (another reason not to use it for hamburger blood!) When I go around collecting laundry, it’s just another stop.

To be honest, it’s so ridiculously easy, I don’t know why I didn’t do it before. It really doesn’t add any strain to my workload, because normally the small cloths will nicely fill up the last little bit of the washing load. And it sure beats going up to the Sam’s Club every couple weeks to buy another pack of paper towels!

But does it save money? Definitely.

We were buying about 4 – 12 packs of Bounty paper towels at Sams Club every year.   That’s $60 a year of paper towels. We were going through about a roll every week.

In the past six months since we’ve started using cloth, we’ve only had to buy a pack once – when we moved into this house. We still have about 5 rolls left. That means we’ve used about a roll a month! We’ll only buy one pack of Bounty in the entire year, saving us $45 (and considering our grocery budget right now, that’s a large amount.)

Of course, we have to look at the cost of the cloth, too. I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for our 10 bartender’s cloths, but I want to guess it was around $7. The rest of the towels were given to us or we’ve had them for years. Washing doesn’t cost any extra, because I’d be running that load with or without the cloths, so there’s no need to add anything for that.

This year on paper towels, we will save a net amount of $38 compared to last year. Next year, we’ll spend even less since we won’t have to buy more towels. Not to mention the amount of trash reduction! (It scares me to picture taking three of those 12 roll packs and just throwing them away. That’s a lot of trash!)

I’m keeping my eyes open for more dishcloths that  people are getting rid of!

Smart Shopping

So how do you buy groceries for cheap? How do you provide for your family with a very limited budget?

It all has to do with smart shopping techniques I’ve learned from books, the internet, and some of you all. I’d like to share 12 of the best ideas I’ve heard. There are many more, but I could easily fill an entire book – and you don’t want to read a book where there should be a blog, do you?

Many of these ideas

Smart Shopping

1. Shop the loss leaders like crazy – last week I got 90% lean ground beef at Giant Eagle (a mid-line grocery store) for $2.29 a pound. That’s unheard of nowadays – the same stuff at Sam’s Club is $3.29 a pound, and the usual price at Walmart is closer to $3.69 a pound. When I come across deals like these, especially in meat, I buy enough for a month or more. In my experience, I can expect the stores to “loss-lead” a meat product in a six-week rotation. So if ground beef is a loss leader this week, I can expect that in 6 weeks it will be a loss leader again. However, be careful that you don’t stock up on loss leaders to the extent that you can’t get the groceries you need!

2. Double your coupons when you can – but again, be careful. Many of the stores that double coupons also cost significantly more in general. If you double your coupons on a few items but buy a bunch of full-priced stuff you’ll still lose money.

A good example of the price difference – I went to Walmart and bought store-brand gelatin for $0.26 each. The Jell-O was $0.48. I went to Giant Eagle next and happened to look at Jell-O there. How much was it? $0.96! The next week it was on sale for $0.50 each. Even on sale it was more expensive!

3. Make sure it’s really a deal. Use a price book. I know when something is a good deal because I know the prices.

4. Buy locally when possible. Your local farmer’s market or flea market is a good place to get produce and even meats for excellent prices when they are in season. You might also find people selling teas, spices, soaps, and just about anything else you could use!

We also buy from the local Amish stores – they are bulk foods, mostly, and some sell meat and cheeses from the local Amish cheese factories/butcheries. They are only slightly lower in price, but we are also supporting a locally owned business that makes much of their food within our county.

5. Buy produce in season and can or freeze it if you can. Buy frozen vegetables and fruits when they are out of season – or don’t buy out of season produce at all. Apples and oranges are in season right now, and frozen corn, broccoli, peas, strawberries, etc, are readily available. We also froze some of the berries from our yard last summer – they’ll be great for sauces when they thaw. We’ve canned many tomatoes, and we still have several quarts of tomato base for soups and sauces.

6. Buy items with rebates – Walgreens has items that are completely free after rebates every month. You can even browse the rebate catalog online! Check other drugstores, too. My experience with Eckerds and CVS is that they don’t have quite as large of rebates, but they still have those items that are significantly discounted, and nearly free if you have a good coupon.

7. Try it before you buy it – using sites like absurdlycool.com and walmart.com to get free samples of items in the mail. There are some ethical considerations to sampling – don’t request samples you wouldn’t use or don’t need. I tend to sign up for the free samples of things I enjoy – I just signed up for a sample of tea for my Senseo hot drink machine – but I avoid the samples of artificial sweeteners and dog food since I use neither.

8. Check for a money back guarantee before you buy. A couple of years ago, I bought a certain expensive moisturizer from Bath and Body Works and absolutely loved it. When I went to buy another bottle, the company had changed the formula to include sunscreen – which made my face break out. Bath and Body Works has a satisfaction guarantee, so I was able to return the nearly unused bottle for a merchandise credit. I am more likely to try a new product if I know I can return it if I hate it, and usually I’m happy with it.

9. Write or call in to companies with your complaints and or suggestions. I recently burned a pumpkin pie from a big frozen dessert company (it was a loss leader) even though I followed the directions exactly. I figured I still must have done something wrong until my friend came for dinner the next night with a burned pumpkin pie from the same company. We both wrote the company and complained, since it was obviously not a fluke. I recently got several coupons in the mail from the company, including one for a free product (though I won’t be buying more pumpkin pie, the apple pie from the same company was very good.) I also got an email repeating the directions, so be prepared for them to only half-listen to your complaint.

I’ve also recently written a coffee company about some samples I received and really enjoyed, and suggested that if they created the product in a darker or flavored blend, I’d definitely buy even more than I already had. Guess what? I got a free product coupon in the mail, along with more samples – of their new Columbian and flavored blends! I like to think I did that, but the likelihood is they were already planning the new flavors. 🙂

10. Buy store brand. It’s almost always the same stuff. If you don’t like the taste, it’s not because it’s a weird store brand – it’s because it’s a name brand you don’t like. I don’t buy generic ketchup because there is one brand I like and I haven’t found the store brand that matches.

My father worked for a very large, famous food company. He would tour factories and watch as his company’s brand label was placed on the goods. Then the factory workers would stop the line, change the label to a store brand label, and continue labeling. Same food – different labels. And significantly different prices.

11. Buy in bulk when you can afford it. I don’t buy little 10 ounce boxes of baking soda for $0.50 each. I buy one 12 pound bag at about two-and-a-half cents an ounce (it’s $4.89 for the bag) from a warehouse club. The 10 ounce boxes cost five cents an ounce – that’s twice as much! Since I use it for cleaning and baking, we’ll go through about two bags in a year. Buying the 12 pound bags saves me about $10 a year. No, it’s not much, but if you think about the fact that this is only one product of many that we buy – it adds up!

12. Don’t buy prepared meals. Buy the rice, veggies, and meats and make it yourself. For the same price as one frozen prepared meal (like a skillet meal or lasagna) one can make two or three meals from scratch – sometimes more.

What do you really need?

Do you really need expensive bags of preservative-rich chips? Over processed cookies? Tubes of yogurt? Cereal straws?

Our nation is drowning in fatty, sugary, overprocessed foods that destroy our bodies and our wallets while filling landfills with dumptrucks full of shiny plastic and cardboard. We save nothing by buying junk at the grocery store.

What smart shopping comes down to is a commitment to find the best prices, but also a commitment to buy and cook healthy, wholesome foods that will nourish our bodies and keep our pocketbooks a little fuller. By keeping the junk food out of the kitchen, we keep it out of our bodies, which means a fewer medical bills, diet pills, and large grocery bills!


You know, it’s crazy, but I never imagined I’d be in this much debt by the time I was 28. I have student loans, two mortgages in two states, and a TON of credit card debt from starting a fairly successful business without funds (obviously not successful enough.) I’m going to go into more detail in a later post, but for now, suffice it to say that I’m overwhelmed and tired of it.

I don’t want debt anymore. None of it. Not even a mortgage. I want it paid off.

And you know what? I’m tired of paying for expensive products – especially when they are expensive because they are overpackaged or stuffed with chemicals. I’m tired of having cabinets full of stuff I don’t need or don’t use just because I bought into some advertisement or because I thought it might actually work better than something else I had. And I’m tired of worrying about what exactly is in my food – whether it’s pesticides, preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup (I struggle with a major Pepsi addiction.)

Funny, but I find greater satisfaction using vinegar to clean my stove and refrigerator, knowing that if today my 2-year-old son decides to lick it (kids are weird) I don’t have to worry. Not about the toxicity of my stove front, anyway. My son is another matter! And knowing that I don’t have to worry about running out of paper towels or diapers (not to mention paying for them) because we use cloth napkins and diapers whenever we can is a very secure feeling! There is something to be said for the feeling you get when you look at an object and know your hands provided it – a knitted sweater, a sewn tablerunner, or a jar of blackberry jam, picked and jammed fresh from your own yard.

Not everything I suggest will work for you. You have to adapt what you can, file away some, and be creative with your own situation. You have to ask yourself on a regular basis – how could I consume fewer products? how could I get this cheaper? how could I use something else instead of buying something new? There’s a Quaker poem I like to repeat to myself on occasion to remind myself to ask those questions:

Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without

We recently moved out to a rural area of northeast Ohio for my husband’s new job and we have some new options open to us. Canning, gardening, even raising chickens are options available to us now. We live in an area fairly densely populated by Amish – they provide resources for us we didn’t have living in the city in the south, such as chicken killing (I’m such a wimp!)

But that might not work for you. You may not have space for a garden and you’ll have to adapt – either starting a container garden or looking for other ways to save money on healthy, local food. Or you might prefer your diet now, and not desire a change.

My number one rule of frugality is do what works for you. This blog, and all others, are simply a resource of ideas. For example, if you love to go out to eat and you cut your out-to-eat budget to $20 a month, you will feel like frugality is a punishment. The goal is to make frugality a game. Eliminate what you don’t need or really want. Keep the things that make you feel human. Every little bit counts!