photo by Abri Beluga
solar oven

Frugal living can be a way to reach a financial goal, but it's also a way to make it through a rough patch. It offers you a way to prepare, conserve resources and survive. The following reader tips can help you plan for tough times.

CONSERVE: Learn to cook from scratch. You can buy dry-food items such as flour, beans, rice, pasta, dried milk and eggs in bulk. Read "Stories and Recipes of the Great Depression of the 1930's" by Rita Van Amber. If you have a fireplace, buy a device to make newspaper logs, and follow the directions carefully. You don't want to burn down your house, but you want a cheap source of fuel. I cut my toilet-paper usage in half by folding the toilet paper instead of wadding it. If you have children, you might want to squash the roll before putting it on the holder to make it harder to unroll and waste the paper. Unplug energy vampires in your house. Anything that's plugged into an electrical socket that has an electronic clock or small light is draining energy 24/7. It's not uncommon to find 15 things in your house that are costing you money.

Two Web sites to visit:, which offers tips on surviving tough times, and, a product site that details how to build a high-yield, low-maintenance garden. -- staceyy, Pennsylvania
Added note: Taylor Gifts ( sells paper-brick makers, and Log Maker ( sells a version that makes paper logs.

VOLUNTEER: I joined a community-supported agricultural association ( for 20 weeks in the spring/summer. We did this last year and enjoyed a lot of organic produce. I already paid for 2008 and got a 15 percent reduction for paying in advance. This year, I plan to volunteer because I think I will enjoy it, plus we get extra produce! Then, in 2009, I will be eligible for another reduction because I volunteered. -- Susan, e-mail

LEARN: Buy heirloom garden seeds and save the seeds from year to year. You can plant a small garden/container of seeds. It may mean the difference between eating or going hungry. Learn basic skills now, such as simple sewing, mending, cooking, fishing and food foraging. Learn how to build and use a solar oven, cook in a fire pit, etc. We try to keep small bills and coins for emergencies. I don't trust that money cards will be usable in dire circumstances. I also stockpile things to use for bartering: shampoo, toothpaste, aluminum foil and so on. -- Denise, Illinois
Added note: For directions to build a solar oven visit: and

SUSTAIN: Use white vinegar, baking soda and Basic-H (a soy-based product that is nontoxic and multipurpose) for cleaning. I use all three for everything, including laundry. A woodpile and a wood stove help us heat the house. Wooden clothes-drying racks and an outdoor line for drying clothing save money. For entertainment this winter, we have been putting together 25-cent puzzles from rummage sales, playing games, reading and making collages. -- redmaples, e-mail

SHARE: My sister and I have combined households and are living together to save money. Together, we could make it through the worst-case scenario. I have begun to make plans with friends for a canning party or two later in the season. We are going to get free blackberries, apples, etc., and can up a storm. -- Christine, e-mail

I live near a university and have an extra bedroom I can rent out. I planted fruit trees, too. -- Jen, New York

ALTERNATE: I use my electric fry pan, roaster and slow cooker as often as possible because it costs less than using my stovetop and oven. -- Jill, Kansas