Stretching Your Resources in Uncertain Times

Guest Post by Jim M

money public domainWith the cost of everything going up and the future uncertain, stretching your resources and re-purposing items becomes more of a necessity. I am always looking for new ways to get the “max for the minimum.”

Some recent posts here reminded me of some of these things.  My grandparents and parents were a young family when the great depression hit. What kinds of things did they do to make ends meet when things were expensive or scarce?

Unfortunately, many of them who went through this period in time are no longer with us. However, I remember a few things they did or heard of them doing, that now, looking back, were obviously brought about by the times they lived in. Even after times improved somewhat, some still stuck to certain ways of doing things. Old habits are hard to break.

Hunting and gardening were basically a given back then. Most everyone outside the city limits did one or both of this along with bartering services for goods. A little carpentry or plumbing work for a couple of chickens.

I remember my grandfather mixing his old used motor oil with a little bit of kerosene and spraying the underside and inner fender wells of his pick up truck just before winter. He claimed it helped protect the truck from incurring rust damage over the winter months. Getting more serviceable years out of the truck.

I am sure environmentalists would have a cow over this nowadays, but it was a way of taking something that didn’t appear to have any usefulness left ,and yet, finding one more use for it. The county used to spray old used oil to keep the dust down on dirt roads during the spring and summer months. Don’t see that happening anymore.

My grandfather saved some wood ashes from his fireplace to sprinkle around his tomato plants in the garden. He claimed it brought more blooms, thus more tomatoes during the growing season.

My grandmother would take apples and make pie filling and apple sauce. She would then take the wasted apple skins and apple cores and boil them down in water to get enough juice to make apple jelly. Finally using the old boiled down skins and cores to slop the pigs along with other scraps.

That was really getting some serious mileage out of your apples. I am sure such things as corn cob jelly and jello came from the same kind of frugal thinking of, “If I could just find one more use for this material.” My grandmother never threw a tea bag out after only “one” use. She also used up every last bit of an orange. Eat the orange, use the zest of the skin in baking and boil the pithy part of the skin to give the kitchen a nice aroma.

I had uncles who made hard cider during prohibition and would play cards all night on the weekends. That was long before my time but seems they still knew how to have a good time even when things were tough. God bless them.

My parents had the 1970’s to deal with, huge interest rates on mortgages, gas lines, inflation and crazy tax rates. My dad worked his hind end off and made pretty descent money. But by the time he paid for the weekly and monthly expenses, it sure didn’t seem that way.

Christmas was the time of year when me and my brothers would get new blue jeans. My mom would take the brand new jeans and wash them on a low load setting to get as much of the blue dye out of the new jeans. Before the washer would spin that water out, she would remove the new jeans and put any of our old faded jeans that still fit along with jean jackets in the dyed water to soak overnight. Gave old jeans and jackets a “little” darker blue look.

How about an old wire clothes hanger as an emergency exhaust hanger for your car. Works in a pinch to get the muffler from dragging on the road. Unfortunately most clothes hangers they are making now are plastic.

A friend of mine has used old pine wood pallets to build cold frames. The wood was free and if you get a couple or a few years use out of it, all the better.

My brother-in-law reloads his own ammo.

Old newspaper can be used for a weed barrier in the garden, gift wrap and I would dare say make a good candidate for emergency toilet paper if cut or torn down into smaller sheets. So would old telephone book pages.

I have also seen some recipes on the net for making logs to burn made with old newspaper. We keep some around to start fires. Anyone remember the old Readers Digest Christmas Trees? They would fold the pages of a Readers Digest a certain way and spray paint and decorate them to look like a Christmas Tree.

I have the tank to an old shopvac that I use as a waste can next to my workbench in the basement. The motor is long gone but still found a use for the tank.

I have found that a simple tarp has many uses other than covering wood piles. I have seen them used to stop a leaking roof until better weather comes along to address the problem properly. I have taken an old tarp that was starting to fray and cut a section out big enough to cover the windshield on my work car. It sits out in the weather and this piece of tarp can be removed in the morning along with the frost. Now I don’t have to scrape ice or run the defroster for 10 minutes before I leave during the cold months.

Saves me some time and a little gas money too. Word to the wise. Don’t put it on the car when they are forecasting freezing rain. Not nearly as easy to remove. I am sure tarps can be used for a temporary shelter in a survival situation.

A couple of years ago, I saw a man on TV claiming that he shaved an entire year with just one disposable razor. AN ENTIRE YEAR! He claimed that leaving the razor wet after you use it is what dulls the razor. The water deteriorates the sharp edge on the blade.

This sounded crazy to me so I decided to try this out. I did not get the same results this guy did by far, however, I will get through this year using a total of 5 replacement blades on my razor. This is based on shaving twice a week, not everyday. Get your whiskers soft with hot water, use a shot of liquid hand soap to lather up and shave as normal. I believe the actual cutting of the whiskers is what dulls the blade, not the water.

So getting the whiskers as soft as possible with hot water and the lubrication of the hand soap is what helps keep the razor sharper for longer. Why are replacement razor blades so expensive? Don’t they mass produce these things by the billions?

My boss has been bringing me in empty plastic jugs that contained cat litter. They have the 2 HDPE marking on the bottom. So far, I have used these to store rain water that we use on our garden. The jugs he brings me hold about 2.6 gallons of liquid. I have even taken old motor oil to Walmart for collection in these jugs. I’m sure there are probably many other uses for these.

We use old baby food jars to store herbs we grew in the garden. The really small jars (2 or 4 ounce ?) are really good for this. I also keep my hardware sorted and orderly at the workbench with the larger jars. Kids have used them to make endless crafts, too.

We reuse storage bags when possible.

I use some of the leaves that come down in the fall to pack in my basement window wells. The basement windows are a cheap, thin glass window. And they are below ground level thus the wells on the outside. I pack these wells as tight as I can with dried leaves during the winter.

It keeps heat from wicking out the thin glass, acting as an insulator and deadens the sound from outside. In the spring. I remove the leaves, bag them with the mulching mower and till them into the garden. I even heard of people using dried tree leaves as insulation during the depression to keep the lower floor of their homes warm. Surrounding the house with a temporary snow-type fencing and filling the void between the house and the fence with dried tree leaves. Then removing the fence and leaves in the spring.

With each passing generation, we lose a little bit of useful knowledge and common sense that was gained by the times in which they lived. I’m not sure of the severity of what’s coming, but I feel some of what they did could serve us well in days ahead.

I am very interested in finding out what you, the readers, could share about what you do and what your relatives did many years ago to cope and survive in uncertain times and stretch what resources are available to the max.



  1. Here, we are looking at what we can cut back, cut out, and do without. We are looking for cheap(er) sources of whatever we need. Stockpiling what we can get cheap now. And we have been doing that for some time.

    I refuse to let the political situation cause me to go into a “panic buy” situation. Many people will, if Nov 8th does not go their way.

    I’m sure there will be many acts of violence by one side or the other, just because they lost and anarchy serves the current (possibly future) administration. During times of chaos, people willingly surrender their freedoms with greater ease for the illusion of safety. More laws/restrictions will not help; criminals ignore them, non-criminals are restricted by them.

    But then I’m just an archaic old solder who worries too much. After all, the government is here to help! Right?

    • patientmomma says:

      JP in MT, I echo your thoughts. Nov 8 and after will probably bring many problems no matter who wins the election. I cannot anticipate what the banks, NWO or existing prez will do or not dot I’m sure it won’t be in our favor. Like the author of the article says, reuse, repurpose, save and rebuild from what we have.

  2. Marigolds planted around garden keeps bugs away. Toilet paper card board rolls put over just planted pepper seeds about inch in ground. Keeps cut worms from cutting off new sprouting plants Styrafoam, plastic cups also work. Too keep deer from garden use hair. A high school in Burke co, Ga had a new foot ball field but the deer were ruining the newly planted field . So the barbershop and beauty shop were raided for cut hair it was then put around on football field. They now have a beautiful field.
    Preditors with your chickens and live stock. To keep them safe testosterone is the answer. Have the men and young men urinate around what ever you want to protect. This is a something that needs to repeated every few days depending on weather. A bobcat stayed away from ours a few months ago because I collected urine. Urine and hair are great wildlife deterrents. Urine is also can be used in tanning process to help clean inside of hide.
    My parents were farmers and a veterinarian , they adopted me at age 50. I’m in my 60’s I never realized how much stuff I learn from them and my grandmother.

  3. Contrarian says:

    Have seen other uses for old newspapers. One was to tack or staple them up on walls to block the wind from coming through for sheds or work spaces. They can also be wadded up and used for insulation. BUT if you are going to use them for wall insulation first mix a strong baking soda solution and soak the newspaper in it. After it is dried then use it as insulation. The baking soda will act as a fire suppressant.

    • Anonamo Also says:

      if you use borax it will also kill off the bugs, roaches , ticks, fleas, waterbugs that try to invade.also kills spores of molds.

      • Yes. I noticed that the Terro Ant gel I used to get in hardware stores is Borax. Also, “The Complete Tightwad Gazette (book)” is a great resource for repurposing and money saving tips. I use google when I need a substitute for something, i.e. in a recipe. Lots of good info. available.

        • A borax soak and thorough drying will keep out insect pests, provide fire protection of the newspaper, and keeps down mold. Borax is an all-purpose kind of treatment. I tried to make the Terro with sugar and water and borax. However, I suppose I never got the formula right. I will still buy Terro. It is fairly cheap and lasts forever since I only use about a tsp each year, a tsp distributed around different places.

    • Contrarian says:

      Didn’t know that about borax.

  4. mom of three says:

    I save my K cup coffee and tea bag’s let them dry and dump the grounds in a large flower pot, and use them in my plant’s. I make home made fruit leather out of old apple’s, replace oil in muffin recipe’s with the same amout of apple sauce. Crush my egg shells to use around plant’s, also slugs don’t like sharp object’s so they move away. Save good bacon grease to use later on. I donate usable items, get a tax credit and a coupon then I re shop at those thrift stores, to get jeans, candles ect…

  5. Attention MD Creekmore, I’ve seen this article before,but I don’t think it was here.

  6. I read in one survival booklet about saving dryer lint for a fire starter I put a 1 gallon bag over my laundry area and when I clean out the dryer vent just throw the lint into the baggie. I almost have 1 full bag after a month. I was in Home Depot last week and saw a bag in he grilling area that looked a lot like this same bag of dryer lint selling as fire starter for $12 a bag. It’s free and we all get it every time we do laundry. Also we buy large bags of potatoes and when we don’t use them all quickly enough, I put the ones with several eyes on them in some soil and I have a bumper crop of potatoes coming in my garden.

    I’m relieved to say I now have enough water saved for 10 people for 140 days thanks to lots of containers and buying cases of water. I also wash out and refill all juice, soda, milk jugs, laundry containers,etc and fill them with just regular tap water and saving them as toilet flushing water, in addition to the drinking and cooking water we have stored.

    Canning meats is easy and simple and have figured out ways to store many of the things my family loves, so just in case, we can eat our real foods we love.

    Just thought I’d share. Thanks, Mariomomi

    • celticreeler says:

      The lint should be mostly cotton, but maybe some synthetic…do you know if it would “poison” a woodstove catalyst block (the kind made from metal, the size/shape of a brick, with lots of holes perforated that’s supposed to be coated with platinum or palladium)? I have a 24 year old Vermont Castings that is an absolute treasure, and I’d hate to mess it up.

      Also, regarding canning meat…I have a pressure canner, which I understand low-acid foods and meats require. Has anyone used a pressure canner on a sealed cooktop? They told me that was not recommended. I know I dropped the regulator once and broke the top, had to replace it. So I’m assuming they’re talking about the weight of a full pressure canner.

  7. Rob Polans says:

    My wife told me she still has her bicycle, she won’t like it but I’ll ask her to bring it into the house so I can convert it into a generator. Electricity is after all just energy. I’ve been saving hundreds, maybe thousands with the get your beard soft first then use the razor. I learned under extreme conditions in VN, everyone wanted some cool. Growing a beard was the easiest way, then when we were state side shaving it. The Borzax thing reminded me of this. I have never done it, but a foot powder (I forgot which) is supposed to improve soil. I don’t know there it seems like the geo thing just not as sophisticated.

    • Chloe in Maine says:

      Hi RP…
      I had the same idea about using a bicycle for a generator. I was driving down the road and came across someone having put an exercise bike out front his house with a FREE sign. works fine probably became a dust collector like most of that equipment. Gotta get that completed before winter. 😉

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        The bicycle generator thing looked great on Gilligan’s Island, but having used one I can say it’s a lot of work.

        A few solar panels are the better way to go.

  8. Chuck Findlay says:

    As far as using a razor blade longer (I use disposable Gillette ones) there is a very simple method to sharpen them to get 3 to 4 months out of them. Just rub them backwards over bluejeans laid flat on a table and this sharpens them. It kinda works like a barbers strop. I run them across the bluejeans 20 times or so and it puts a sharp edge back on them. It works better as an ongoing thing rather then waiting till they are dull as by then they are well on the way to being dull.

    Amazon sells a sharpener that will do the same thing. I don’t have one, but it’s something I have been meaning to get someday.

  9. My parents were both raised during the Great Depression and the lessons they learned remained with them the rest of their lives. My siblings and I learned many of the same lessons.

    We grew up in northern MN where it got dang cold. We cut wood every fall, and hauled it home from the woods to be split. We had to split it with wedges and a sledge hammer. When we were at school my mom would even split wood to load up the pile. We put on storm windows every fall, and banked up leaves against the house. After we had snow, we piled snow up all the way around the house on top of the leaves. We also grew a huge garden which some years the bears got more benefit from than we did. We hunted and fished to supplement the family larder, and raised ducks, geese, chickens and rabbits. My mom would can venison, and about anything she could get.

    Every spring we speared fish which got smoked and put in the freezer. We also had a sugar bush. We tapped trees every year, gathered the maple sap after school and dumped it into our boiling pan. The pan held 40 gallons of sap, my mom stayed in the woods all day feeding the fire to boil off the water. Her only company was our family dog. Some years we would get over 35 quarts of maple syrup but it was a lot of work for the entire family.
    During the summer we picked berries, every type available we picked. It included choke cherries, raspberries, blue berries, goose berries, high bush cranberries and wild plums some years. My family cleaned and processed all of them. My mom canned some, froze some, made jams and jellies etc. One year my uncle gave us 100# of apples, my mom made apple sauce and a batch of mince meat that lasted us for years.

    I think you get the picture. Learn what’s available near your home or BOL. You get what you can where you live, harvest it, clean it, process it, prepare it, can it, freeze it, dry it or do what is needed to preserve it for future use. If you can’t tell, I miss my parents, just thinking about how hard they worked during different seasons each year for us brings back memories. It was a different time than now, my nieces and nephews today have no concept of hard work or going without things.
    But you know, I wouldn’t trade that hard work or my memories for all of gold in the world!

    • Col. D,
      I think often of the hard things my mother did to provide for us. My father was not that industrious. She worked until she was ready to drop, sick or well, pregnant, with new baby and through five children with little help from him. I do reminisce and am grateful, so grateful.

      • celticreeler says:

        That sounds like my mom. I’m one of 6.

        She would sit at the kitchen table, snapping beans or peeling apples for applesauce. She’s 83 and still at it.

        I want to be just like her when I grow up. 🙂

  10. Chuck Findlay says:

    Stretching your resources is really nothing new, people have been doing it for most all of human history.

    It only seems new to us because with the intense marketing of products since the 1960’s and the idea of a throw-away world many have come to see as a way of life to buy our way out of any problem or issue.

    But now that the consumerism lifestyle of buy new things all the time is finally seeing it’s end as it was never sustainable, we are seeing the pendulum swing back to a more realistic way of living.

    The sad thing is that this stuff has to be re-learned instead of being passed down as it has for most of human history.

  11. Penny Pincher says:

    I’ve heard of folks with house trailers using bags of leaves under their trailers in the winter to keep the pipes from freezing.

    I do a lot of these “tightwad” things to pinch pennies. Here’s somet:

    I never buy new clothes, unless it’s underwear or socks. I turn worn out clothes into other things.
    I patched a hole in my bed sheet rather than stop using it.
    Some sewing scraps become gun patches.
    Unused food becomes either compost or gets boiled to make wine or broth. Old milk gets turned into cheese.
    I buy cheap used candles, then turn the stubs into fire starters.
    I always save screws, I have a couple cans I rummage through.
    I look in the trash of my neighbors for useful items.
    I’m always looking for free food I can preserve.
    I save seeds from supermarket produce.
    I propagate edible weeds in waste places.
    I brew my own wine, and I don’t drink very much anyway.
    If I get a great deal on meat I will buy a bunch and can it.
    I buy squirrel corn and bags of wheat seeds at the feed store and grind them for cornmeal and flour.
    I never buy a Christmas tree. I decorate a potted plant.
    I’m always looking for cheap wool garments at the thrift store. I make blankets and things from them.
    Almost my entire yard is vegetable garden.
    I rent rooms out in my home.
    I don’t pay for internet and I don’t have cable or a smart phone.
    I often do my laundry in a bucket by hand and line dry it.
    I’m going to quit eating fast food at work. It adds up fast.

    • I still have socks from the 1980s and they still fit. They may be thin but I will use them until they are unusable.

  12. Ronald Beal says:

    A mixture of apple and orange peel, mixed with fresh cranberries makes great preserves. You can sweeten to taste or leave tart, without sugar. Great with hot, buttered bead. Dried peel also makes good tea for winter nights. Apple, lemon, peach and orange all work for tea.

  13. My father lived through the great depression and one thing his mother did was to take stale bread and butter one side then toast both sides she would then pour hot coffee over the slices. She would place 2 slices side by side on the plate pouring the coffee over each layer as she stacked them like pancakes. They also fed this too young children as it becomes very soft and chewy. Our family calls this coffee toast and we really like it.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Bread also was used as a fuel filter of sorts in England during WWII.

      The English Gov added red tint to gasoline and if a civilian was caught with red gas in their auto jail was in their near future.

      But the red fuel poured through a loaf of bread came out clear, and bread was common and inexpensive, it made a great work around that the government never caught on to till after the war was over.

      Lots of people got Military fuel on the Black Market and filtered it as there was not much of it to go around because of the war machine needing it. Strict fuel rationing was in place even after the war for a bit till they caught up.

      Just goes to show that people will find a way to cope.

      • A good documentary to watch is War Time Farm. It is on youtube. It is a BBC production about the farms in the UK during WW II. Quite an interesting program full of ways the folks there saved and used everything.

  14. I have several of these books….”Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and More From Your Kitchen Today”, I think there are 5 or 6 volumes and they contain valuable information.

  15. I grew up with the mindset that you repaired what you had and didn’t throw things away thanks to parents who grew up during the depression. Hence the reason I still have a freezer from the early 70s. Unfortunately, many of the things made today aren’t worth fixing or it costs more to fix it than it does to replace it.

  16. D S from Ill says:

    My mother and Grandparent had a large orchard during the depression and they bushels or very good apples which they took to a near by large city but could not sell a bushel of apples for 25 cents a bushel. They in turn made more apple sauce, apple pies, and fed them to the hogs because they were short on corn to feed the hogs

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