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Saving traditions; Eleanor Bastedo grew up during the Great Depression, learning ways to scrimp and save that are virtually unheard of today. But they still work.

Eleanor Bastedo was just an infant when the Great Depression began. But living through those meager times still very much informs who she is today at 83 years old.

Bastedo is the kind of woman who rubs soap slivers together to make a new bar (or chops them up and throws them in with the laundry), gets five cups of tea out of one tea bag and lays the "empty" wrapper on top of her dinner vegetables to melt out every last bit of butter.

"I had a very thrifty mother," she said. "She was a saver. She saved everything. That's why I'm a penny pincher."
Her parents, Dorothy and Clarence, raised her on a farm. There Bastedo learned how delicious fresh food is, and how much money you can save by growing it yourself.

She has always had large vegetable and flower gardens at her Hamburg home, though she has had to downsize the number of crops as she gets less able to do the work of gardening. She preserves the vegetables by canning them, just as her mother did.

Though she has a clothes dryer, her mother always used a clothesline, so she prefers to dry her clothes that way, too.

She remembers going along the road with her mother, who would stop and pick up anything of value.

Bastedo regularly brings home furniture, refinishes it and gifts it to grateful friends and family.

Just last week she picked up a "beautiful black leather pocketbook," a vase decorated with roses and a bevy of returnable pop bottles -- all before breakfast.

"Today's generation wastes too much," Bastedo said. "I pick their garbage, I don't mind. It's like brand new! They should have a garage sale."

The sewing skills she learned from her mother also have been a big money saver.

"My mother tore clothes apart and would make new clothes for the kids," she said.

Bastedo does it, too, using fabric from clothes or objects she finds or buys at Goodwill. Most recently, she took apart a pillow and made pot holders for the owners at her favorite restaurant, Mickey's Rise and Dine.

"We mended everything -- socks, sheets -- and I still do," she said. "And my daughter can make suits, drapes, anything you want."

Yes, the lessons from the Great Depression keep trickling down in the Bastedo family.

"That's just the way she was raised and it has benefited me and my three children," said Ann Black, Bastedo's daughter. "I try to be the same way."

Black is especially thankful that she has never used credit cards or incurred debt.

"My thought was always if I don't have cash, I can't afford it," she said.

Because her parents never handed out money, she learned to work and earn income beginning at a young age. Her children learned to work for their money, too.

"My son just got his first job. He laid his first paycheck on the table to show me and he was so proud," Black said.

Though families did begin to get more frugal at the onset of the Great Recession, statistics show those habits may have been fleeting for many people. A lot of families have already gone back to their more lavish ways.

Bastedo realizes families in the new millennium could use her advice. She writes down many of the tips she has found useful and gifts them to new brides as wedding presents.

She tells them how they can reuse things like ice cream container lids (put them under plants to catch water), pickle jars (use them for canning), and the water drained from vegetables (add it to soups to retain vitamins).

"She saves foil, bread wrappers, the insides of cereal boxes," Black said.

Bastedo interrupts.

"Cereal liners are just as good as freezer paper!" she says. "I never have to buy freezer paper."

Black smiles and shrugs.

"Well, I'm not going that far," she says.

Even if you didn't live through the Great Depression, you can learn a few things from those who did.

*Repair, don't replace. Before ditching an old pair of shoes, a piece of furniture or an item of clothing, see if it can be fixed. Patching a pair of jeans, reupholstering a chair or putting new soles on a pair of shoes can be much less expensive than buying new.

*Use it up. There's probably a lot more life left in the things you have than you think.

When bath towels get ratty around the edges, for instance, Bastedo cuts them into smaller dish towels. Instead of buying expensive containers, reuse old margarine tubs. Swirl water around in your "empty" detergent bottles to get every last drop.

*Do it yourself. Why pay someone to do things you can do yourself? It doesn't take an expert to repaint a room or make many small home and car repairs.

You can even learn how to do things like sew, crochet and change your oil by watching tutorials on YouTube.

*Shun credit. If you can't afford to buy something with cash, don't buy it. If you do use credit cards, be sure to pay off your balance every month.

*Find out what really matters in life, then stay focused on it. When people look back on their lives, it's probably not the 55-inch television set or late-model SUV that they cherish. It's more likely the simple pleasures they remember fondly, such as the time they spent at the dinner table with their family or playing a board game with their kids.

The best things in life really are free. Just as Bastedo basks in the remembrance of hanging clothes to dry on the farm with her mother, people create some of their most meaningful memories during really tough economic times.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com