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7 Frugal Hacks From My Frugal Mother

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You know what they say…Moms know best. And seriously, my mother is probably one of the most frugal people I know. My parents have improved their economic situation so much since I was growing up, so I think they’ve loosened the reigns a bit on the frugality, but when they were trying to get ahead, every penny counted!

1. Reuse Everything!

My parents reused EVERYTHING growing up. They reused paper towels, saran wrap, grocery bags, sandwich bags, wrapping paper, and plastic and glass containers!

I remember my mom always used one of those small tiny cottage cheese containers or tofu boxes to hold our sponges at the sink. Speaking of the sink, we always hand washed bunches of greasy sandwich bags and saran wrap to be reused later! If I washed my hands and ripped a new paper towel to dry my hands, my mom would demand I leave it on the counter to dry so she could use it later to wipe down something.

Birthdays and Christmas were times when my sisters and I would carefully pluck the tape off presents from friends so we could save all our wrapping paper or gift bags to reuse later.

We reused apple juice containers to hold our vegetable/cooking oil and other condiments, which of course were bought in bulk at Costco.

We reused old tshirts as rags for cleaning around the house. We reused scrap paper and flyers as scratch paper for math.

All of these hacks probably saved tons of $$$ over the years not to mention the carbon footprint friendliness of everything! I have to say, I don’t have the self control to live like this and reuse everything, the only thing that really carried over for me (sadly?) is the reusing plastic and paper bags.

It’s really interesting because my parents really decorate with company in mind. The places in their house that look the nicest are the ones that guests could see–things like furniture and decor. The things they don’t care about being aesthetically pleasing are things they have to look at every day. I’m the opposite. I care about how guests see my home, but I care more about having a space that feels aesthetic to me. Meaning I’m that person who splurges on uniform plates and containers just for my own viewing pleasure. Hey, it’s not my fault…we live in the world of aesthetic lifestyle blogging!

2. Shop Sales/Thrift Stores/Yard Sales for Everything

Clothing is a huge money sink especially when it comes to shopping for kids. My mom was a firm believer that we would grow out of our clothes within 6 months – 1 year so she almost never purchased anything new. 90% of clothes she bought for me and my sisters were always gently used items from a yard sale/thrift store/or 90% off from Kohl’s. She was the thrift queen before thrifting was in.

Other items, especially home goods are definitely things you don’t need to purchase new. Plate sets or vases or infrequently used kitchen gadgetry are great items to pick up at a yard sale or thrift store. Having worked in Retail especially in the home goods department, I can attest to this. Home goods aren’t really of high value but are the kind of item you need to have on hand. When I worked at Macy’s, various things were sold at a discounted price probably 80% of the year.

Again, very carbon footprint friendly habits!

3. Shop For Christmas A Year Early

12/26 is your best friend.

The day after Christmas is full of GREAT deals. All the gift sets that go unsold are marked on clearance. All the Christmas wrapping paper that were selling at $5/roll are selling for $1. Cute little Christmas themed stuffed toys or coloring books are 50-90% off.

My mom always took advantage of these day after sales and bought a bunch of the clearance Christmas sets to stock up on gifts for acquaintances for the following year.

4. Shop Off Season

Yep, my mom was a biiig fan of buying winter clothes at the tail end of winter and summer clothes at the tail end of summer. It works really well, though I don’t really know if she ever accidentally bought the wrong size because the point mentioned above about children growing out of clothes so quickly!

5. Buy Multi-Purpose Items

We never ever ever used something that wasn’t all purpose. Every cleaner in our entire house was a multi-purpose cleaner (well, except maybe the carpet stain remover). To top it off, we’d always buy the GIANT bulk size refill at Costco and just keep refilling the spray bottles.

When it came to kitchen gadgets, my parents only had 3 knives–a meat cleaver, a vegetable knife, and a paring knife. We didn’t even own a veggie peeler for the longest time because my parents peeled everything with a paring knife. I did some knife sales for Cutco at the end of high school and was actually just shocked to find there were so many different types of knives…like one for cutting bread. Wow!

6. Use A/C and Heat Sparingly

During the summer, our house was always too hot. During the winter, our house was always too cold. My parents hated paying so much for utilities! Because we had a 2 story, 4 bedroom house, the utilities were another huge money sink. I basically lived wrapped in a blanket or bundled in 2 jackets during the winter.

I think my parents have gotten more lenient on this one ever since they moved to a new house. Their bedroom happens to be above the garage which is usually the coldest room in the house. And it just so happens in my childhood home, my room was the one above the garage

7. Never Let Savings Slip By

Whenever my mom went back to China, I would be astonished by her aggressive bargaining skills–it was insane! I wish I could ask for a raise the way she bargained!! She would literally cut prices by at least half.

The other thing she always did was double check her receipts. She never let a cashier accidentally charge her more for an item that was on sale…she would always go back into the store to argue for that dollar back. I think this is more of a good habit than a huge savings hack–being in the habit of always defaulting to going back will save you a lot of money in the long run!

If there was a coupon, she’d have it prepped and ready at a grocery store or at a retail store. She pretty much always waited out a good deal instead of doing what so many of us (including me!) do today which is wait a really short period for an acceptable sale.

What were some crazy smart frugal things your parents did? Do you think you picked up anything from them?? I definitely picked up frugal thinking, but I don’t do 90% of the things my mom did!

Jing is currently a software engineer based in Oakland, CA. She left her job in New York, moved to San Francisco unemployed, and more than doubled her salary in 4 months.

10 thoughts on “7 Frugal Hacks From My Frugal Mother

  1. Did we grow up in the same house? I one time complained to my mom that our house was too cold and she said “Jimmy Carter would say I’m a patriot.” We also reused everything-plastic containers, plastic bags, newspapers, old clothes, everything. I don’t remember a time we ever used our dryer, either. We must have, but I remember hanging clothes out to dry in the summer, and draping them in the mudroom in the winter.

    I have grown lax about reusing things in my own home. I’d like to get back to using cloth towels instead of paper towels.

    1. LOL your mom sounds like a riot! It’s actually crazy how our parents out of trying to save some money were all so environmentally friendly. I really believe the aesthetic life we’re sold now a days by West Elm and even minimalist inspired stores like Everlane are just causing so much waste!

      Wow, not using the dryer! That’s a new one I haven’t heard 😛

      I’m the same…I haven’t been reusing much, though I do try to keep gift bags or the occasional NON-greasy sandwich bag!

  2. I definitely save gift bags! They’re so pricey and they can usually last a few regifts. My friends and I [I’ve gotten them into this frugal habit] have a bag that’s circulated through at least 4 people and I recently got it “back” after my wedding, haha

    1. Yeah! I remember my friends and I did this all of college. We had a few big gift giving occasions and EVERY year there’d be at least a couple of the same gift bags floating around…But seriously, they’re like $4 each!!

  3. Your mom’s stories are so cute! I can definitely relate.

    12/26 is my favorite holiday, too. That’s when I stock up on all the best Christmas gift wrap for cheap.

    If you opened up my mom’s fridge, you’d see it filled with “tupperware”, which are actually like margarine tubs and pickle jars that don’t actually have any margarine or pickles in them.

    My mom blew my fiance’s mind not too long ago. She wanted to seal some food up in a plastic bag, but she didn’t have any Ziplocs. So she put the food in a bag that had one open side, then she took a lighter to the open end to “seal” it. Mind blown.

    It’s hard for me to use A/C, even as an adult. I never ever had it growing up, so it feels super luxurious now.

    Isn’t it amazing how immigrant moms are so damn frugal and only need, like $200 a month to be happy and survive? Kind of puts the rest of us to shame…

    1. My mom’s tupperware drawer is similar! All sorts of old pickle jars, apple sauce jars, basically anything that can form a seal was not getting thrown away…ever.

      WOW, your mom just blew my mind too! I’ve never heard of that trick, I’m going to have to save that one in my back pocket! On a side note (and hopefully not too random/gross) about plastic bags, my college roommate taught me that if you don’t have a plunger for a clogged toilet, you can tape a plastic bag around the seat and it auto-plunges when you flush!

      Yeah, I’m afraid to tell my mom how much I actually spend! I think of it as a fair tradeoff when I give her advice on credit card points 😂

  4. I cracked up at the point about knives. Is so true!!! We have one giant cleaver and a regular knife used for 90% of other the kitchen duties.

    My mom was only frugal by force though. Being an immigrant is hard so she only shopped at Ross and Marshalls. If she had the resources then she would blow it at Macy’s.

    Back in China she grew up in a well off family so she doesn’t have the same experience (financially) as me or dad. I take after my dad’s side (they were very poor) and got a dose of hyper frugality. When me and my mom fight about her shopping I can see my dad nodding at me from the corner of the room LOL!!

    1. Yeah I had the toughest time trying to do my knife selling presentations to my parent’s friends because they would all be like “I don’t get it…what is this knife for again? Do you have a cleaver in the catalog?”

      My mom shopped religiously at Ross and Marshalls too! Did your mom have any adjustment period when she had to suddenly be so frugal?? I feel like that would be so difficult to flip frugality on like a switch!

  5. Wow your mom is such a hard-core saver! My mom uses old clothes for rags too. Our house is super colorful thanks to her DIY rags heh heh. My parents only turn on the A/C when it’s SUPER hot at night. Sometimes they turn it on for only an hour or two in ONE room and then use the fan for the rest of the night. @_@

    1. We had so many fans too! Our A/C was a bit different because in New Mexico where I grew up we actually used these things called Swamp Coolers that you couldn’t control in different rooms, so unfortunately that meant rarely turning it on!

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