Growing Up "On The Cheap" - Livin' la vida Pobre Blog at - 167212

Livin' la vida Pobre

Growing up "On the Cheap" 
Mar. 31, 2010 1:55 pm 
Updated: Aug. 10, 2010 5:06 pm
Since my current mission seems to be saving money wherever I can in the budget, I really should first give props to my mom for being the ultimate cheapskate.  Now, I don't say this in a derogatory way at all; In all honesty, she's the person I admire most for going the distance to ensure that her family never went hungry.  Of course I didn't think that way when I was growing up, on the contrary, I was completely mortified by some of the things she did.  Justifiably, she'd probably be just as mortified to find out that I'm about to share some of those things with you.  But she doesn't know about this blog.  So I'm going to spill.  Sorry, Mom!

We grew up in a small town at the Northwestern most tip of Oregon, between the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.  I've heard my mother say more than once that the ocean kept us from starving.  Some of my early (and best) memories are of going to the beach and using a rake to get crab out of tide pools just after high tide.  We also learned to clam, and would stomp around in the sand right at the edge of the water looking for little clam bubbles, then frantically dig with a narrow shovel to find the razor clams before they burrowed too deep.  I thought this was family time; it just happened to also turn into dinner.  We did it all; salmon fishing, crabbing, clamming, fishing for sturgeon, we even scraped mussels off the rocks.  This, though, was the "glamorous" part of living on the cheap.

The not so glamorous part was the foraging.  My mom never made us come with her for this part, and I thank her for that.  Though we did have to stand at the side of the road picking berries (horrifying to a pre-teen), she never made us go to the grocery store and haul home the cast-off produce that they were going to throw away.  This was done in the guise of "rabbit food", since my sister and I were in 4-H and had several bunnies.  She would bring home boxes of lettuce and apples, whatever was there to be found, and would cut the bruised or damaged parts off the produce and wash and save the good.  Bad outer layers were peeled off of lettuce and cabbage, and the tiny heads that were left got turned into meals. 

Mom would also frequent the canneries, where fish were cleaned and prepped for packaging.  She would bring home 5 gallon buckets of cod heads, "bait" for our crab pots.  However by the time the heads were actually used as bait, they were missing their cheeks.  She would stand at the sink with a fillet knife and painstakingly cut out the silver dollar size pieces of cod, then batter them and serve them for dinner.  I have no idea how many cod heads it would take to make a meal, but it must have been a lot because a family of five can eat a lot of battered fish.  One year Mom made friends with a local beef farmer, who lived across the river.  She was so delighted one day to come home with buckets (and I do mean BUCKETS) of cow tongues in the trunk of her car.  We ate a lot of tongue that winter. 

All of our friends and neighbors must have known we struggled.  My parents had quite a few commercial fisherman friends, and some wacky things ended up in the cooler we kept on our porch; things that I'm sure got caught up in fisherman's nets that they had no use for.  I remember octopus and squid quite well, and I vividly remember the day I came home from school to find a shark in the bath tub.  Of course as an adolescent, I thought my mother was bizarre, the crazy cat lady, only with free food instead of cats.  She embarrassed me to no end.  I often told her she was weird, to which she would reply "No, I'm just eclectic".  And she was.  Still is.  The last time I went to visit her, she had an entire full size refrigerator on her back porch full of eggs.  What does one do with thirty dozen eggs?  They were free.  What was she going to do, turn down free food?  Insanity.  I guess old habits die hard.

I am nowhere near as industrious as my mother when it comes to saving money on groceries, but thank goodness I've never had to be.  I'd like to think, though, that if I was in that position, I would do exactly what she had done, all they way down to bartering homemade bread at construction sites in exchange for their scrap wood so that the family would have heat in the winter.  She might be the crazy cat lady, but not one of us ever went hungry, and we were never cold.  Love you, Mom!

Mar. 31, 2010 2:19 pm
Your mom is a very resourceful woman! I admire her! Though, as a kid, it would have been mortifying to be sure. I wish I could be like that - not out of necessity, but it is so fun to get stuff "on the cheap" and by your own resourcefulness! Very nice blog. Thanks for sharing!
Mar. 31, 2010 2:40 pm
Wow, sounds a lot like my grandma at the ranch. Like Mother Ann put it, it's not cheap it's resourceful! Great Blog.
Mar. 31, 2010 5:30 pm
There are so many interesting people that I've met in Astoria! Thank God I'm only 45 minutes away!! Your mom sounds awesome!!
Mar. 31, 2010 7:19 pm
I think your mom taught you more about responsibility than anybody could realize. I haven't heard of anybody working that hard for her family, before.
Mar. 31, 2010 7:22 pm
i think i am your cosin, the south georgia redneck one. my mother grew up a sharecropper's child. one of 109 children that survived to adulthood. you had a terrific up-bringing. i wish my mother was still alive. i have/ had 9 brothers and sisters. some have passed on. we ate what we caught. we picked peas we picked peaches, apples, pears. we canned we never begged and we were never hungry. we worked. we were proud. god bless your mother!....and mine! thank you for a glimpse of your past, as well as mine.
Mar. 31, 2010 7:25 pm
sorry...9 children that survived...1 died soon after birth
Mar. 31, 2010 7:59 pm
WOW!!! SOme of that reminds me of both my grandparents. I had my own little personal flash back of my grandpa's making homemade stink bait, to catch catfish and turtles. My grandpa was the more frugal one in the family, but none of my grandparents didn't waste nothing. My papa, he's family was Indian, and I would here all the stories about how they used every part of cow, buffalo and deer for every purpose. Nothing left behind. It's amazing how we aren't more like that still. But I sure do like passing those stories on to my kids. To remind them on how easy they have it verses myself and my family before me had. But they sure don't realize once we hit Oregon after my hubby retires, what is in store for them, to back to some serious basics. Good blog.
Mar. 31, 2010 8:07 pm
Amen! I grew up so similar! I appreciate those who appreciate a "not so normal" beginning! But how we grew up makes up who we are today...I am "eclectic" and Proud of it! Such a precious blog, Rebecca, thank you for your thoughts! Hugs!
Mar. 31, 2010 8:15 pm
My father grew up in the Hudson valley of NY during the Depression and he had some very thrifty habits that curdled my teenage blood. His father couldn't find a job so he and my dad would go apple picking for $1. a day and the bruised fruit that had fallen and was not salable. My grandmother also provided lunch and dinner for 2 teachers for $.50 a week each and made money on the deal. She was always held up as an example of the best way to stretch a dollar. Now that I have been unemployed for so long I really appreciate having learned her thrifty ways. Thanks for sharing your story.
Mar. 31, 2010 9:06 pm
Wow! It sounds like you ate so well, despite financial difficulty. So many families today could learn a lot from this story. Thanks for sharing!
Mar. 31, 2010 9:28 pm
No fish here, but we raised chickens for eggs and food, had a 2-acre garden and canned, canned, canned all summer long. We also had fun nights sleeping in the corn field to keep the 'coons away, breakfasts of watermelon and cantalope (sp). We pitted cherries, sliced apples, snapped beans, and took corn off the cob at the kitchen table while Mom and my oldest sister did the actual canning. Very hot, very tiring work. Even worse was taking the potato bugs and the tomato worms off the plants, looking for insect eggs...tomato worms are terrifying critters. No air conditioning? Sleep on the porch! We were lucky to grow up in a time where it was safe to do that. Kids today have a lot of "stuff", but they don't have the connection with nature that I'm grateful to have had. Or the sense of being safe. I'm very grateful to have had that.
Mar. 31, 2010 9:38 pm
I could identify with much of what everyone is saying here. We lived on a "hard scrabble" farm and really did live off the farm. Milked cows, slopped pigs, raised chickens and had a very big garden and canned everything we could all summer, including meat. No electricity until I was almost a teenager and no running water or air conditioning. We were poor but didn't realize it until we were grown and we credit our parents with that security. We worked hard but had a wonderful life growing up and I feel sorry for my grandchildren who don't have some of those experiences.
Mar. 31, 2010 9:55 pm
Rebecca I think I would love to know your mother! Her "cheap" gene kept you all fed like royalty in ways...I mean, who can really afford all that wonderful, FRESH, seafood? I suppose it's such a luxury here because I grew up very much inland. What my Mom prepared for supper almost certainly came from a can or a box, but I ate more at my Mamaw's than I did at home, and she was all about fresh and/or homegrown. Mamaw's house had a "breeze way", a screened in porch linking the kitchen to the garage, and Summers were spent out there shucking corn or shelling peas and beans for canning and freezing. The jobs got more involved as we got older, but you'd be amazed at the amount of peas a two year old can shell! I think we all had purple fingers all Summer long!! And I'll never forget the "Summer of the Fresh Chickens". My Papa was a diesle mechanic and a great one at that. Once on a remote repair call, he came upon a big truck that was hauling live chikens from a farm to the chicken plant, that had turned over. Papa got his wrecker crew to right the truck and haul it in. In turn, the truck driver gave him all the crates of live chicken the bed of his truck hold, and it was stacked high when he got home. For a couple weeks there, the men would be out back beheading and plucking chickens then Mamaw would take over with scalding and finer plucking then cutting up chickens for the freezer. You brought back some great memories...THANK YOU!
Apr. 1, 2010 4:57 am
My moms family were farmers.... they has similar stories. I was in awe of their resourcefulness and determination - and RESPECT for not wasting. We waste so much and take so much for granted - how often I grew up hearing "waste not, want not". Probably the best lesson my mom could have taught me and I try to pass this to my children. Great blog - I wanna hug your mom.... :)
Apr. 1, 2010 8:42 am
While we lived in town while I was growing up, my Grandfather had a large garden, so every summer it was in the garden early, then sitting on the sofa shelling butterbeans or peas, on the porch shucking corn and then scalding tomatoes that were canned together for soup mix. I was 10 before I knew people bought jelly from a grocery store or that there were any kind of preserves except peach pear or fig. Our pancake syrup was blackberry jelly that did not jell(before SurJell's time). I can still can and make preserves and chow chow. I am thankful that I grew up knowing how to be self sufficent and thrifty.
Apr. 1, 2010 9:29 am
Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts and experiences! My poor brain has just been spinning with memories of my childhood, and I'll have to write more about it soon. It's great to hear about everyone's humble beginnings. Love it!
Apr. 2, 2010 6:03 am
oh my that sound so like i grew up...there was seven of us kids, my father died when i was four, so mom raised us alone,she had a large garden also,we picked,canned all summer, we ate good, didn't have much but we ate good. i am so glad i was raised that way...must have been hard for mom...thanks for reminding me
Apr. 2, 2010 6:48 pm
Hello I am Rebecca's eclectic mom She shared this forum with me today....I have to say..I got a lot of smiles, and some chuckles. Rebecca's memories are accurate...but there is so much more to tell. There were many times when her Dad was unemployed for extended periods of time, so we were challenged to find unconventional ways to supply our needs. None of us ever went hungry. There was always a roof over our heads....sometimes it leaked..Rebecca, do you remember the Thanksgiving that your grandparents came to visit, and we had to have the ceiling propped up with 2 by 4s due to the rain? That was after we had paid a contractor to put on a new leaked worse than the old one. Long story short....yes we did struggle....I'm sorry you were embarassed.....but look at the stories you will always have to pass down to your children. I must tell all of you readers that my girls learned their lessons well. They can all stretch a dollar now, and they are all fabulous cooks and wonderful loving mothers.....They might not pinch pennies as hard as I did, and still do....but I'm proud of each of them.....Keep up the good work. Love Mom
Apr. 7, 2010 5:52 pm
Hi, I'm Rebecca's oldest sister. I had a roaring laugh while reading this. I however was the daughter who helped get the "rabbit" food from the store. And when I worked at the canneries, I would cringe when I saw her coming,she would just walk in with a big smile on her face. Our other sister reminded us of the year that Mom went on a tofu kick, the trauma made the rest of us forget that one, I don't think the dog was ever the same. I remember when Mom joined the gleaners, you never saw a woman so happy to go pick up apples off the ground, the pie was delicious though, no one would ever know. Rebecca's right though, as embarrassing as it was, we never went hungry and neither did any of our friends. Hat's off to you Mom! We love you! ps. Our mom is so resourceful, she can even make her own penicillin~she can share that story herself...heehee
Apr. 7, 2010 7:39 pm
I am touched by your Mom's dedication to her family Rebecca, and to providing for you all, no matter the cost to her own dignity (if there was any - sounds like she enjoyed every minute of it ;) That, to me, is the 'ultimate' parenting. Thanks for sharing your story.
Apr. 8, 2010 8:23 am
Nanabooboo you are a class act! You are what every mother should be. My mom is the same. Although she did not have to pinch pennies to the extent you did growing up, she would do anything to protect our family. I could learn a lot from you.
Apr. 8, 2010 12:38 pm
Thanks for all the fun compliments. It's intersting to read what my girls remember from their growing up. The gleaning wasn't the only thing that I did that embarassed them....I made all their clothes too. Everybody wore home mades...from underwear to coats, it was either hand me downs or home made....when they were little, they didnt seem to mind....but when they were teens it was a different story. I used to hear that you just couldn't wear the same formal twice......but their friends would stand in line for a chance to borrow and wear them....It's nice to know that after all these years, some of the embarrasment has worn off, and my girls have learned how to they get excited when they find good deals or find a new way to stretch things.....they're turning into me?:)
Apr. 8, 2010 3:24 pm
What the heck; is everybody on here now?? Oh Mom, we're not embarrassed of you, and never have been. We've been horrified by some of the things you've DONE, but never who you are! I know you're proud that we're all budget-hunting, penny-pinching, Goodwill shopping miserly mom's now. Honestly, if that's the worst thing we learned from you, just imagine all the gems we have hidden :) Michelle, I didn't know you were working at the cannery when Mom would go on a fish head run----mwahahahahahahah!!!!! That's funny stuff! Goat milk, anyone??
Aug. 10, 2010 5:06 pm
Great memories! I especially liked the story of the fried fish cheeks! I'll bet your mom would enjoy dumpster diving!
Click to Change your Profile Picture

Home Town
Astoria, Oregon, USA
Living In
Leesburg, Georgia, USA

Member Since
Mar. 2003

Cooking Level

Cooking Interests
Baking, Slow Cooking, Mexican, Italian, Southern, Healthy, Vegetarian

Subscribe Today!

In Season

Delightful Summer Parties
Delightful Summer Parties

All the little bites, cocktails, casual dishes, and desserts you want for your next get-together.

Banana Bread
Banana Bread

Bake those overripe bananas into a delicious, easy loaf of quick bread.

Subscribe Today! Only $7.99
Subscribe Today! Only $7.99

Delicious recipes, party ideas, and cooking tips! Get a year of Allrecipes magazine for $7.99!

About Me
Argentina  |  Australia & New Zealand  |  Brazil  |  Canada  |  China  |  France  |  Germany  |  India  |  Italy  |  Japan  |  Korea  |  Mexico

Netherlands  |  Poland  |  Quebec  |  Russia  |  SE Asia  |  United Kingdom & Ireland  |  United States