Congratulations to the winners of the 2011 Almanac Essay contest! Below are the submitted essays and names of the winners.
Topic: My Best Original Money-Saving Habit
Mother always scolded us for paying too much for greeting cards. After she had admired the card and read the verse as well as the personal message we had added, she would flip it over to see the price. So my father, brother, and I began to ink out the price, much to Mother’s chagrin. Later, after my father’s death and my brother’s marriage and departure—and when my mother was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s—money was becoming tight. One day, I was putting a card into our greeting card box, a collection marking numerous holidays and events over 50 years, now neatly sorted, with those for each occasion bound together by ribbon. An idea came to my frugal mind: Mother and I could recycle these oldies! These 5- to 25-cent cards are actually far lovelier than those you can buy today. All we had to do was add a new date and message—and reading the old messages was a joyful trip down memory lane.
–Elizabeth J. Gortemoller, Elkhorn, Wisconsin
An employee at work gave me a red Christmas cactus for the holiday, explaining that a leaf would grow a new plant. Each formation had a minimum of six formed leaves. I gently tore leaves off at the joint, planting each upright in an old soup can. That night, I started 24 plants, placed them on trays, and carried them into the garage, where the cool air and low light were ideal for growing them. Eleven months later, I had 24 lush plants. My grandson and I decorated the cans with wrapping paper and green ribbons. Eight cans became gifts to various family members. We donated ten to the church benefit sale, gave his homeroom teacher and bus driver one each, and gave one to the mailman. We took the last three to patients in intensive care at our local hospital. All of the plants had tags explaining how to multiply them. We not only saved money but also saw the gratitude from all who received one.
–Eileen Spears, Rogersville, Tennessee
I worked in an office that had a pretty stringent dress code. If you wore a dress, you could not have bare legs. One day, while getting ready for work, I discovered that I did not have a good pair of panty hose. They all had a run or hole in them. I did, however, have several pairs that had one good leg. Since I always bought the same brand and color, I cut the bad leg off of each pair and slipped both of the good pairs on. The bonus was extra control.
–Regi Johnson, Manhattan, Montana
I invented this in the mid-1980s, when I was in my 20s: When you get home from work, look around the kitchen and make note of any dinner-worthy ingredients. Put on walking shoes and leave the house with only $1 in your pocket. Walk to a grocery store that is at least 1½ miles away. On the way, think about what you can make with the stuff that’s in your pantry, plus one dollar’s worth of new ingredients. On the way home, congratulate yourself on your frugality and for having tricked yourself into at least a 3-mile walk. Over the years, I’ve saved money and kept my weight under control, too.
–Robert Frohoff, Prairie Village, Kansas
I have been doing this since I was 8 years old. In my bedroom, I have two separate folders. One is labeled “money-spending folder” and the other is blank. When I receive cash, I put a quarter of it into my spending folder and the rest goes into the blank one. At the end of the month, I deposit the money from the blank folder in the bank. I am now 17 years old, and I have $8,000 in that account.
–Zachary Sciuto, Somerville, Massachusetts
I use a solar/wind-powered clothes dryer—a clothesline, the type that folds like an umbrella. I made a fabric canopy to put on top of it when I am not drying clothes. It makes a nice shady spot where I can sit on hot days.
–Nancy Riggs, New Cumberland, Pennsylvania
I bought a large dry-erase board and hung it on the wall. I made it family policy to enter every purchase on the board to keep a running total of our balance. All purchases were rounded up to the nearest dollar, labeled as to where the purchase was made, and dated. I learned that I prefer not to make a wasteful purchase, knowing that I’ll have to publish it on the board. Rounding up adds a cash cushion to my statement balance. Last year it was almost $500.
–Amy Bailey, Perry, New York
Thank you to everyone who sent us a money-saving practice. We received many on similar themes, such as saving coins in jars, growing your own food, making soap, buying socks of one color, frequenting thrift stores, and writing lists (and contest entries) on scrap paper. Then there were these tips: Add water to almost-empty salad dressing bottles, then use the liquid in soups and pasta; hang drapes over doorways to contain heat; use a heater or furnace as a stove top; buy meat in bulk; and make napkins from flour sacks.