Grit Blogs > Close to the Earth in Alaska

Save Money: Think Before You Buy

A photo of Susan B. SommerEvery day we’re bombarded by advertising on TV and radio, in catalogs and magazines, in our mailboxes. Having grown up in our throw-away quick-fix modern society, I constantly struggle to fend off these entreaties to buy new gadgets and spend money on all kinds of things I don’t need. But I also come from a family and am married to a guy who knows how to fix old stuff and build new stuff from scratch. So, though I’m sometimes lured into the thrill of buying new, I’m getting better at purchasing wisely and making do with what we already have. Here are a few ways creative thinking has saved us money.

Plastic Bag Dryer

I use a lot of Ziplock bags, most of which stay fairly clean. I rinse them and have been laying them atop the stack of clean hand-washed pots, pans and delicate stemware in the dish drainer, but inevitably the corners get squashed and don’t fully dry, or they get splattered being so near the sink. Flipping through catalogs, I’ve eyed those bag dryers with the nice ash or birch sticks poking up from an attractive base, but just can’t bring myself to spend upwards of $20 on one. So I decided to make one. I dug through my box of extra jars and found a tall plastic container with a lid, through which I pierced holes with a small nail. I filled the inside with rocks to stabilize it, then gently stabbed a wooden cooking skewer through each hole. I covered the whole shebang with wrapping paper to pretty it up, and voila!

Plastic bag dryer

Clothes Pins as Bag Clips

Those large plastic bag clips are overpriced and unnecessary. We use clothespins for open bags of cereal, frozen veggies, pasta, etc.

Clothes pins as bag clips

Cat Trees and Toys

Have you shopped for a cat tree lately? Highway robbery! Though I’m willing to spend whatever it takes to keep my pets healthy, I’m a cheapskate when it comes to buying their happiness. Shortly after I got two kitties from the pound last year, I visited several pet stores looking for a tallish carpeted cat tree so they could spend the winter spying on critters outside and gazing contentedly down upon their humans and dogs below. Every “tree” I sampled either cost hundreds of dollars, or was cloaked in hideous purple shag carpet, or wobbled. Sometimes all of the above. What to do?

“Could you make one?” I asked my husband, who has lots of tools.

He’s a smart man, and knows that a happy wife equals a happy life, so after only a week or two of hemming and hawing, he cut a large old willow out front, and set to work peeling the bark, drying the trunk, measuring and cutting and nailing shelves. “They better use it,” he said. We joked that it would make a really nice plant stand if they didn’t. Turns out they love it. When they feel like it. That’s how cats are.

As for cat toys, I admit I do buy the bag of 10 rabbit-furred fake mice, but beyond that they get cardboard playhouses constructed on a dull winter’s eve, crinkly tissue paper, and shoelaces.

Homemade cat tree

Corn Bag Helps Keep Thermostat Down

I remember as a child sometimes taking a hot water bottle to bed with me (does anyone use those anymore?). Now I use a corn bag that we acquired as a gift. This year, especially, we’re more conscious than ever of reducing our costs, and rather than have “heat wars” (I’m too cold, he’s too hot – typical couple), we keep the thermostats turned down a bit more than we used to, and I crawl into bed each night with my microwaved corn bag. Within minutes, my whole body is toasty. Two hours later, heat still radiates from the bag.

Corn bag heating feet

So, how do you save money through creative alternatives?