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Frugal Living: Being fabulously frugal or fanatically foolish?

Sara Noel

Practicing frugality is different for everyone. What might seem extreme or petty to you is everyday life for someone else. Each person decides what they’re comfortable doing to save a buck. However, there are times it’s not simply about saving money. Sometimes it’s about being less wasteful. Frugality can be a split-second decision. Keep or toss? Buy or delay? Some frugal decisions are easy to make, but others fall into the shades-of-gray area – not because it’s foolish, but maybe it’s time-consuming, slightly embarrassing to admit to or doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. But you still choose frugality. What have you done to be less wasteful that’s on the fringe of what you’d tell others?

Here are a few examples:

FLOUR: You flour the counter when rolling dough and when you’re done, you still have excess flour on the counter. Some people don’t feel comfortable saving it. Others will brush it into a bag to use later.

DRINKS: You have a family with kids that don’t always finish their drinks. Some people will pour it down the drain. Others will save it in the refrigerator or freeze it in an ice cube tray for later use. Many frugal people will dilute beverages such as juice or milk, too. One reader Sharon K., from Ohio says: “I drink diet pop, but I fill up a glass with ice cubes and half water and the rest diet pop. I keep adding ice and water and will probably put in about 1⁄4 cup more for the day.”

VACUUMING: Your vacuum dies. Some people will rush out and buy a new one. Other people might buy a used or refurbished vacuum or a manual carpet sweeper. Marie from Texas shares: “When our vacuum died, I couldn’t justify going out and spending money on a new one, so I started sweeping the carpet with a broom to clean it instead. It takes a lot of arm power to do the whole house, but it saves me money. Some people might think it takes up too much time, and it is time consuming, but I kind of enjoy it now. My husband just bought me a new vacuum cleaner, but I refuse to use it. It uses too much electricity.”

CONSERVE WATER: Many families don’t conserve water. Fewer reuse it. Some frugal families will turn a faucet off when sudsing soap in their hands or while brushing teeth until the water is needed to rinse, and some people collect cold water in the shower or bath or sink before it heats up and reuse it to water plants or to manually flush their toilet. Lisa from Indiana, shares: I let the three littles use the same bath water (unless it’s very dirty).” Some people will even reuse bath water to wash their floors.

SAVING LEFTOVERS: For some people, leftovers are amounts of food that are large enough to be made into another meal or more. Of course, there are some people who don’t “do” leftovers. Many frugal people will save very small amounts of leftover food such as meat and vegetables and freeze it until they have enough to make a soup or casserole. Michelle from New York says: “I save and freeze all of our leftover meats, and when I get enough, I make a sandwich spread with it. I just add a little onion and mayo and seasonings.”

DEAR SARA: Help! A candle dripped on my pants. I put them in the freezer and can’t get all the wax off. The pants are 95 percent acetate and 5 percent spandex. I would appreciate any help. Thanks. – Marno, e-mail

DEAR MARNO: Freezing the pants was a good idea. This lets you scrape off as much wax as possible.

I would freeze them again and continue trying to scrape off more wax. Use a butter knife or a credit card. Then pour boiling water through the waxed area on the pants until the wax has melted and disappeared. You want to pour this water from a kettle from 6 inches to a foot above the pants. Place the pants in the sink or over a large saucepan set in the sink. Launder as usual. If that doesn’t work, you can place a brown paper bag or thick paper towel over the remaining wax spots. Place a hot iron over the bag or paper towel. Move iron constantly and keep checking to see whether the wax is being absorbed by the paper and removed from the fabric.

DEAR SARA: A lot of people use their bath towels more than once before washing. I do the same with some of my clothes. My problem is that I’m not sure how to organize them, so they aren’t just hanging on my bedroom chair or draped over the hamper. Any ideas? I don’t want to hang them in my closet next to the clean clothes. – Jenny K., Massachusetts

DEAR JENNY: You can get a hook for your bedroom door, peg rack for your wall or simply fold them and place them on top of your dresser.

DEAR SARA: Do you find a hamburger press a useful gadget? – Elaine, Florida

DEAR ELAINE: I grew up watching my mom make hamburger patties with a Tupperware patty-maker/press, and she’d freeze them for later use. I saw one at the thrift store and picked it up because it was cheap (only $1 versus $35 if bought new). It brought back memories, and it’s great to make and freeze burgers like my mom did. It’s useful because it’s a step up from buying pre-made hamburger patties. Making patties is quick and easy and they’re uniform in size and shape with the press. The problem is, the meat gets compressed, so the burgers don’t turn out as juicy as I’d like them to be. But they’re certainly acceptable. I suggest you buy it for when you want to have frozen patties handy and if you’re prone to making various sized hamburgers that end up being over- or undercooked or done cooking at different times.

For summer-time grilling, I prefer to hand shape my patties. You can save money, make quick patties and have juicy burgers without a hamburger press. I use a measuring cup to scoop the meat and it gives me enough to work with, so my burgers come out thick yet symmetrical. The trick is not to over handle, press too hard or add too many ingredients to the ground beef when creating the patties. Press them just enough to form a nice shape. If you indent the center a bit with the underside of a spoon, the top won’t round out. Once your burgers are on the grill, resist flattening them with a spatula because that presses out the juices.

Speaking of indenting the center, if you buy a press, look for one with a dimple insert that will indent the center.

• Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (www.frugalvillage.com), a Web site that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016, or e-mail sara@frugalvillage

.com.