How to Live Frugally: Think Outside the Broken Box

We all want to learn to live frugally, but in the process, we sometimes think we can be too frugal, and overlook things because they are broken. I have done it many times and passed up some really great deals in the process.

Now? I do live frugally AND can think outside the ‘broken’ box to come up with creative ways to items others deem no longer usable. All it takes is a little time to think about it, and a bit of creativity.

a gray sofa with white pillows in front of a seaside watercolor landscape

Learning to Live Frugally – The Back Story

It all started with a 30-year-old couch that finally gave up the ghost. When we ended up having to buy a new one, I couldn’t find anything I liked in the colors I currently had in the living room. You know what that means – the whole room had to be redone. Which also meant I had to put my skills to live frugally into action.

In all honesty, it was past time for a new coat of paint. It was also past time for a complete overhaul. And since I had to have a new couch, I may as well do it the way I wanted. But I still wanted to with the bottom line and continue to live frugally in the process.

Being the frugal person I am, I wanted to spend as little as possible, and still make it look good. I did what I always do – I created a budget and added 35% to the bottom line. Inevitably, we always seem to need one more bag of nails, another paint roller, or even another can of paint.

simple life dollars and sense ebook

A normal budget buffer zone would be closer to 25%. But considering we live in an old house, and not one single wall is straight, I knew I could run into a few extra problems, so I added that extra 10%. Still, the bottom line was touching the very top of what we could afford, so I had to be very careful.

That meant really trying to live frugally with this major project. Renovation costs all too often go over budget by two to three times what you originally think it will cost.

As with most remodeling projects, when we started in one section, we found something that had to be repaired. That repair led to another one. And before I knew it, we had gone over budget, and had dipped into the reserve. Yes, I was sweating it, as we still hadn’t dealt with the ceiling.

a white ceiling trimmed with painted boards a turquoise painte fireplace in the background

The 1st Broken Box – The Ceiling

I had no choice but to do something about the ceiling. It was the old acoustical tiles, and they had started falling down around our ears. The Country Boy could have stapled them up, but I didn’t care for how it would look. We started researching our options.

My original idea was to find some old tin ceiling, or at least purchase new ones. When we checked the price, there was no way I could stay on budget and still live frugally. The next alternative was the Styrofoam tiles that looked like tin ceilings.

After a little bit of thought, we decided that we ran too big a risk of hitting the ceiling with something and leaving a dent in a tile. I couldn’t live frugally with this in mind, as I would have to buy extra boxes just to replace them when necessary.

So, with a deep sigh (and yes, maybe a tear or two), we chose to purchase new acoustical ceiling tiles. When we priced them, I knew I would only have about 1% of my buffer left.

That meant no new rug, no accessories, nothing else. And I had to pray that we still had a piece of Cypress lumber in the barn that would suffice not only for a mantle, but also for the supports.

I confess I was still pouting a bit when we headed to the store to look at the tiles. I think the Country Boy felt sorry for me, because he said, “You know? I think we can take the tiles down. If the sheetrock isn’t too bad, I can fix it. Then all we would have to do is paint, and we still have plenty left over.”

He was right. It was doable. The best part is it was free! And instead of spending the money on the tile, that gave me more than enough money left over to add a couple of accessories.

a turquoise dimpled glass lamp with no bottom

The Broken Box #2 – The Blue Lamp

Even with the wiggle room, there wasn’t much left over for the simple touches I wanted. One thing we needed more than anything else was a rug. So, we went shopping.

Five stores later, I had just about given up. Rugs are extremely expensive, and ours needed to be at least 7’x9’. At the last store, I didn’t see anything that worked. But trust the Country Boy. He has no qualms about digging deep.

At the bottom of a bin, he found the perfect rug. We even rolled it out in the middle of the floor to make sure. And better yet, it was on sale. Give the boy bonus points!

a dainty silver tray with filigree edge

As we headed to the checkout counter, I saw the perfect blue glass lamp. I couldn’t help myself, I had to see the price. But when I picked it up, it was missing the bottom. All that remained was a ring of glue where it should have been. I still looked for a price tag but couldn’t find one.

One thing about me, I am not shy. I still hauled it to the Information desk. The clerk didn’t have a clue, so she called the manager. He looked at it and said they would just have to send it back, so if I wanted it, I could have it for $5.00.

a turquoise dimpled glass lamp with a new silver tray as a bottom

That lamp went home with me. I already knew exactly how to fix it, too. Because I live a frugal life, I tend to keep things I know will come in handy someday. And if I wasn’t mistaken, I had the perfect thing tucked away in a box.

When we got home, I headed to the cellar and started digging. It didn’t take long to find the small silver tray I had in mind. Placing it against the bottom of the lamp, I grinned. It was a perfect fit.

a turquoise glass lamp sitting on a side table with a pink, white and floral patten tea set

Learn to Live Frugally -Always Think Outside the ‘Broken’ Box

My living room is now finished, and I am in love with the new look. But the best part about it is seeing that blue glass lamp on a side table. The color pulls the room together, and the extra light helps tremendously.

I do confess to digging through more boxes to find other things I could use. For the new mantle I found an altar cloth, a couple of wire baskets and a few old cream bottles. I moved a candelabra from another room. And with a can of pink spray paint I found, my old lamp took on a new look.

When you learn to live frugally, you learn to take a second look at the broken items. Sometimes, they just need a little glue, some new wiring, or even a dainty silver tray to make them whole again. And in the process, you may just come in under budget. I did. I still have about 8% of the living room budget left.

Unfortunately, the Country Boy keeps telling me that isn’t enough to overhaul the kitchen – no matter how frugal I can be.

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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