Saving Money: Tightwad Genes Run in My Family

My grandparents were all born around the time of the Great Depression. This probably explains why they all seem to have lived by the old adage “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.” My Grandma Mary actually made re-using things an art form.

Growing up, I remember Grandma saving disposable cups, plates, and utensils – rewashing them and using them again. At Christmas – every year – Grandma would bring out a special trash bag for all of the wrapping paper, boxes, and ribbons that everyone had removed from the gifts. This particular trash bag never met the trash man or the burning barrel.

Everyone in the family knew that Grandma would press out the pieces of giftwrap that were large enough to be used again. And we would all see the same paper, ribbons and boxes year after year until they would disintegrate or someone would sneak them into the bottom of the trash can. I have a feeling that when I was 10 I unwrapped presents wrapped with ribbons and paper from my first Christmas!

Grandma reused everything and did not believe in waste. My Grandpa, in fact, has been known to drag home numerous items found in junkpiles, trashcans and roadsides. When I was a little girl, I used to love family outings with my Dad known as “junking.” Junking entailed driving around along backcountry roads hunting for junkpiles – illegal landfills where locals threw their trash.

Believe it or not, I got a lot of good stuff growing up from junking. I remember assorted Barbie toys, clothes, shoes and other treasures. The most fun was the digging through the junk to unearth a true diamond in the rough. I never thought this was weird and I thought all kids went out junking with their Dads.

Apparently I was wrong as I have discovered in my adulthood. Most people I reveal my junking past to have the same reaction: “EWWWWWWW!” Both of my grandmothers sent home many leftovers in old Cool Whip and butter containers with the reminder to return them after each use. My Dad’s family would giggle at Grandma’s quirkiness when she wouldn’t allow anyone to throw away plastic forks after a family get-together. It became a competition to see if anyone could get disposable dishes into the trash and out to the burning barrel before Grandma could dig them back out.

Secretly, I think I always admired the frugality and ingenuity of my grandparents. I actually appreciated the fact that they could see items for more than just what they were expected to be used for. In fact, they must have passed their genes down to me – as I have learned to embrace my own inner tightwad. I first noticed it after I had gotten married and had children. It began simply enough – reusing Cool Whip containers, then washing and reusing plastic baggies. Saving wrapping paper came next. Saving rubber bands from the daily newspaper for reuse came next.

It hit me one Halloween that I was a full-blown cheapskate: Two younger cousins had decorated the trees in my yard with rolls of toilet paper. As I was cleaning up the white streamers, I noticed that some of the rolls had not unrolled completely. Some were actually nearly intact – minus only a foot or two of paper. As I looked at the dozen or so rolls of perfectly usable toilet paper – I made a decision that changed my life – and the life of my husband.

I gathered up any rolls that were not empty and took them into my bathroom – where they found a new home in the bathroom cabinet. And they were eventually used. I felt a warm sense of satisfaction – a comfortable knowledge that somehow, in some small way I had beaten a system of rampant materialism and consumerism. I had triumphed with my “recycled” toilet paper.
From that moment on I was hooked.

I reveled in pinching pennies and stretching dollars. I tasted sweet victory each time I saved something from becoming trash by finding a new use for it. Oh yes, sometimes I take my tightwad-ness to new and disturbing levels Like the numerous times I have tried to convince my Dear Husband to stop on the side of the road so I can pick up something that has great potential to be a treasure (and after he would refuse I would grind my teeth upon discovering that my Dad had stopped and picked up MY treasure later on!).

Or when I began throwing disposable diaper wipes into the diaper pail (along with cloth diapers) and washing them in the washing machine for reuse (Pampers brand diaper wipes actually wash really well and are perfect for multiple uses). Did you know that Ziploc bags can also be thrown into the washing machine? They don’t work so well in the dryer though. Or how about the time I decided that we would no longer buy toothpaste – because, well, baking soda is cheaper – although less flavorful. Dear Husband put his foot down on that one.

Although I have tried to modify my behavior, or at least tone down my cheapskate leanings, I am still a tightwad at heart.
I have most recently been stocking up on toilet paper – actually buying it from the store thankyouverymuch! I’ve been stocking up because you just never know when an earthquake will hit, or gas will be too expensive to go anywhere, and I definitely don’t relish the idea of running out of toilet paper. My personal favorite is Charmin – the Mega Roll. For our family of five this is a bargain – as we definitely use a lot of toilet paper! I wonder what that means? Hmmm, well that’s another story entirely.
Anyway, as I’ve been stockpiling toilet paper – when it’s on sale, when I have a coupon, when we are out, I have a few rolls of my favorite brand and other cheaper brands put back in the bathroom.

My son was reading about a game called “Egyptian Mummy Wrap” in which players wrapped up partners in toilet paper in a relay race to see who finished first. He asked if I would allow him and his two sisters to play such a game. I confess, I really had to think long and hard about allowing my children to waste perfectly good rolls of toilet paper on a frivolous game.
In the end, I decided that I would sacrifice a few rolls of the CHEAP stuff to allow my children an afternoon of fun and frolic. After all, they are more important than my stash of toilet paper.

As the Youth Director at my church, though, I have decided to extend an open invitation to my teenagers (and any others who are interested): Come and teepee my house as much as you want – just make sure you use Charmin – the Mega Roll!

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