Every thrifty family is thrifty in its own way.
Mine, for example, thinks nothing of wiping down a counter top with a paper towel and then leaving that towel to dry for later re-use on a mess where a cloth rag just won't do.
Growing up, the kitchen counters always had a few clouds of half-drying paper towels awaiting their next job. Disposable, yes — but only eventually.
I have thought nothing of it, until my sister recently told me how weird (lazy? yucky?) the practice looked to outsiders.
It got me thinking about all the other wacky ways our family of six saved money and how strange those cost-savers must appear to most.
The ultimate example is Christmas. Santa never skimped on gifts, but the wrapping paper might look familiar. My mom still sits near the Christmas tree each holiday, sorting the swirl of wrapping paper and bows. She carefully smooths each snowman-printed piece of paper, trims off the rough and ragged edges and folds down the stray tags of remaining tape. The next year, someone is sure to see it again, covering the contents of a different present.
I was astounded last Christmas to discover a sheet of unused, sticky gift tags. Most gifts from my mom come addressed via the cut-out remains of a Christmas card sent by a family friend years ago. The makeshift gift tags get smaller and smaller each year as she cuts away the name of last season's recipient and replaces it with this year's.
The obsession carries over to the kitchen, where no sheet of tin foil rests after just one use. The crinkled, silver patches are unfurled from their plates of leftovers, smoothed and stored for the next bowl of spaghetti. The folded squares of foil sit next to twisty ties salvaged from bread bags. Actually, the plastic bread bags are in the drawer, too, awaiting their next life. When I broke my wrist in second grade, re-used rubber bands secured those bread bags around my heavy cast to protect it from getting wet when I swam. It didn't really work.
My mom would pull over on our way home from school whenever she spotted a discarded pop can. "That's 10 cents," she would explain, as she opened the door and scurried down the road to pluck the bottle from its weedy hideout. My brothers earned the wrath of local cheerleaders when they followed my mom's lead and began collecting pop cans left under the bleachers during football games. Apparently, cheerleaders had dibs on those dimes.
The boys had better luck shagging baseballs at the waterfront park, where they would earn a few coins or a piece of paper redeemable for a concession stand treat for each fly ball they returned.
Now that I'm on my own, I find myself saving scraps of tin foil, too. But I'm always hunting for a twisty tie and wishing I saved the last one from the bread bag.
Reach Vanessa McCray at firstname.lastname@example.org.