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‘Frugality is relative’: Money-saving tips from a longtime MoneySmart reader

Reading through the obituaries last weekend, I was sad to see a familiar name, Eleanor Bastedo. I used to see that name often on return-adress labels in my stacks of mail at work. It belonged to a lovely and astonishingly frugal woman who used to write and share her money-saving tips with me.

I looked forward to Eleanor’s letters, always written on salvaged scraps of paper in tight, cursive script as if to save as much space and ink as possible. Opening her letters was like a breath of fresh air in the middle of a stressful day. Readers often write to complain and insult. Not her. What a wonderful treat to hear from someone kind.

I often think of her when I do things like melt the soap slivers back together or grate them into laundry detergent.

One time I shared that Eleanor would lay the empty butter wrapper on hot vegetables to use every last bit of butter. One person wrote to say, “Oh, come on, everybody does that, tell me something I don’t know.” Another person wrote to say, “Oh, come on. No one would ever actually do that. Tell me something I can actually use.” That’s when I learned two more lessons from Eleanor: Frugality is relative and everyone’s a critic.

Her letters were always sunny. Mixed in with advice about money, there were always lessons about life. In fact, she used to write up all her tips and give them to new brides as wedding gifts.

Eventually, I did a whole story about Eleanor and the lessons she picked up from her Depression-era parents. I saved that article, as I saved all of her letters.

One last time, here are some tips from the late, lovely Eleanor Bastedo:

• Eleanor used to get five uses out of a single tea bag. Even if you only reuse yours once, it’s still like getting a buy-one-get-one-free deal.

If you don’t like the idea of saving a used tea bag and using it over and over, use a teapot and brew it all at once instead. You can reheat it later.

• Refinish furniture. Darn socks. Repair shoes. Rather than throwing stuff out and buying new, fix or freshen up the stuff you have. It saves money, and it’s better for the environment.

It doesn’t just have to be your stuff you’re rescuing. The same thing goes for thrift shopping and garbage picking, both of which Eleanor did.

• Never buy freezer paper again. Reuse cereal bags – they’re the same thing!

• Eleanor grew up on a farm, so she knew how delicious fresh food is, and she knew how much money you could save growing it yourself.

She always had gardens and grew food, though she had to downsize as she got older and couldn’t keep up with the physical work of gardening. She canned, too.

Even if it’s just a pot of basil on your windowsill (herbs are expensive!) growing your own food is a MoneySmart move.

• Look at the container your food came in. Chances are it can be reused, whether it’s a plastic container with a lid, a jar, foil, a zipper bag or a bread bag.

• Shun credit. If you can’t afford to buy something with cash, don’t buy it.

• Eleanor once said that when she looked back on life, it was memories like hanging clothes to dry with her family back on the farm that mattered, not the things she bought. Stay focused on what life is truly all about.

Got consumer tips or questions? email schristmann@buffnews.com, tweet @discountdivasam or “like” Facebook.com/DiscountDiva.

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