My mother was always doling out philosophical advice to us children. She had all kinds of saying and though she didn't exactly say, "Waste not ... want not," she used other language equal to that phrase.
Perhaps it was because we didn't have much that she always reminded us about being frugal and not wasting. She'd say things like, "Save that." "Eat the rest of those beans." "Don't throw that away." "Don't waste." "You can still use that." "Girl, go take those shoes off." When she said that, she meant we had walked around too long in our Sunday-go-to-meeting church shoes without taking them off and putting them up.
Food was one item we never really had enough of to waste. During meal times, we usually ended up with clean plates – having licked them clean before they got to the dish pan. Our dogs were poor, because we ate their scraps. They did, however, get the bones.
It is a tradition in Southern rural families to reuse cooking oil ... as many times as possible before tossing it out. There was an open-top can that sat on the side of the stove. Whenever we fried anything, the leftover grease went into that can. That was true with biscuits and other leftover foods. If by chance any dough was left, it ended up in a delicious bread pudding. That was also true of chicken feet, hog intestines (chitterlings) and tripe (cow intestines). Actually, lard is made from hog fat and tallow is made from cow beef fat. Each has its respective use. Then, anything that could be eaten was eaten, and anything that could be worn or used was worn out and used completely up.
Now, what other warnings did we get about wasting? "Don't throw that water out. Water the grass or something with it." The warning may not have been that strict, but we were told not to waste water. For one thing, we never had much of a reserve on hand. Usually when we went to the well, it was because we had used all our water supply, but even still, my mother taught us not to waste anything, even if we could get some more of it.
We had to wear our clothes and shoes until we had outgrown them, and any other garments that we could wear more than one year (like a coat, for instance), we had to do so. Only when something couldn't possibly be used anymore was it discarded. If outgrown clothing could be used by a younger sibling, then they were passed on down the line.
Today, we are a throw-away society, but during my childhood, I saw so many excellent examples of what it meant to "waste not ... want not."
While I sometimes got tired of hearing the same warnings over and over and over again, I now see why they were necessary, and I'm a benefactor of Mother's good, down-home advice.