Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My new column!

We're starting a new column at the weekly paper where I work, and I get to be in charge of it! Called "Penny-Pinching Times," it will be a combination of money-saving ideas I dig up from various websites and my personal copies of all three volumes of The Tightwad Gazette (Subtitle: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle--when these books first came out in the early- to mid-90s, I used them to drive my children crazy), tips sent in by readers, and suggestions channeled directly from my mother, who occasionally reaches down, whacks me "upside the head," and says things like, "Do you really need all those lights on?" or "Don't throw away those perfectly good bones--make a soup!"

We're a little late to the party, since the Lewiston Sun-Journal (our "parent" paper) has been running a column called "Tough People, Smart Money" for a couple of months now (but I think we have a better title for ours, and the proof of that is that every time I go to mention the Sun-Journal's column, I have to look at the paper to remember what they call it).

Anyway, here's the first installment, which is mainly intended to introduce the column and, I hope, generate some interest:

Penny-Pinching Times

Introducing a new column with hints, tips, and creative ways to make ends meet in a challenging economy.

Born in 1920, my mother grew up during the Great Depression. She remembers her own mother taking in washing to make ends meet, as well as baking cakes for neighbors' special events. “Whenever she made a cake, she would always bake an extra cupcake, and divide it among my brothers and me,” my mother once told me. “She called it a 'try cake,' and it was our job to let her know if it was good. We thought it was such a treat!”

My mother was a new bride in the spring of 1942, when sugar became the first of many foods to be rationed during World War II. The rationing program was the government's attempt to make sure that every American got a fair share of commodities that were in short supply during the war. Rationing eventually extended to many other foods, including meat, butter, shortening, processed foods, and canned milk, as well as non-food items like gasoline and fuel oil, and even shoes and bicycles.

As their children began to arrive, my parents sat down, did some calculating, and figured out that if they both switched to drinking their coffee black, without sugar, they could save enough sugar to bake a batch of cookies once a week for the kids. By the time the rationing of sugar ended in 1947, nearly two years after the end of the war, they were the parents of three small boys, who surely appreciated their sacrifice.

The lessons she learned during the Depression and the war years served my mother well when she was a widow raising five children in the late 1950s and 1960s. My siblings and I grew up knowing how to pinch a penny, stretch a dollar, and never let anything go to waste.

I've always tried to follow my mother's example, both for environmental and financial reasons, but at times when I've had a little disposable income, it's been easy to forget the importance of conservation. In the challenging economic times with which we're faced today, I've found myself turning more and more to the tips and tricks she taught me, as well as coming up with a few of my own.

This column will offer suggestions for creative ways to stretch your resources. For those who survived the Great Depression, rationing during World War II, and other tough times in America's history, it will be a chance to share your hard-earned wisdom with the next generation. For younger penny-pinchers, it will offer a chance to tell us new ways you've discovered to make ends meet while attending school or raising a young family. With suggestions for saving money on food, clothing, utilities, and entertainment, it should help show all of us ways to be thrifty without feeling deprived.

My mother washed out baggies, composted food scraps, and re-used wrapping paper. She was not only a tightwad, but an environmentalist – although an accidental one – before we ever even heard of the word. (And she never went back to putting sugar in her coffee.)

Here's one of my mom's favorite inexpensive recipes. It goes without saying that she always bought store-brand beans!

Gramma Wight's Three-Bean Salad

1 can each of green beans, yellow wax beans, and kidney beans, drained

¼ cup each of celery, onion, and green pepper, finely diced

½ cup cider vinegar

½ cup sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Mix together beans, celery, onion, and green pepper. Mix vinegar, sugar, and oil till sugar dissolves and pour over vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill at least two hours for best flavor.

Please send your tips for saving money to, mail them to The Rumford Falls Times, 69 Congress St., Rumford, ME 04276, or drop them off at the office. Be sure to include your name and the town where you live (we won't print your name if you'd prefer to be anonymous).


  1. I'd never heard that story about why Gramma drank her coffee black! Not long after I started drinking coffee, I was at the camp and poured myself a cup. When I reached into the fridge for the milk Gramma said "No one in this family puts milk in their coffee!" It was years before I started putting milk in my coffee again.

  2. I loooove that 3 bean salad (as you know) so I was pretty happy when I started seeing it on the salad bar at work. I excitedly told the kitchen staff that my mom makes it and it is one of my favorite things. They looked really confused - apparently it is also made by Green Giant and comes in a gallon-size tub.