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Living a Thrifty Lifestyle While Still Having Style

Updated on May 14, 2016
Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna wears many hats: writer, mother, crafter. Over the years, she has found what works and what doesn't for herself and her family.

A Lesson Learned

Most of us these days live in a hazy cloud of consumerism. Ads on television blare at us all hours of the day and night. Bright, glowing signs for various fast-food chains, discount stores, and car dealerships light up the night sky as I drive home every night. But, this wasn't always the way things were. Life has changed a lot since my grandmother was a child, and truth be told, she has, too.

My grandmother was a child during The Great Depression. She even still has a book of ration coupons from that time. Imagine the thought of it all. There just wasn't enough of anything. Everything had great value. So many things that we take for granted today were so treasured back then. Even a simple cup of coffee. Everyone got by with what they absolutely needed, so that others could have some as well. How did we all get so far from that idea?

Now, what we need is at our fingertips, at all hours, and we don't even have to leave the safe sanctuary of our homes. No scrounging up money to buy a loaf of bread or a bit of meat. No "depression spaghetti" (I may get into that one, it's a strange concept). I could order a pizza from my computer right now, pay with my credit card, and have it delivered to my home, pipping hot, in no time at all. Even groceries and various other items can be ordered and delivered in the same manner.

Everything is expendable. Everything is disposable. Disposable diapers, plastic cups, even disposable food storage containers. When I was a kid, my mom used cloth diapers, which even then, was a bit of a throw back. A lot of people had already started using disposables, but not my mom. Everything was saved and reused, in one manner or another. I am surprised we ever used paper plates or paper towels. I even remember reusing aluminum foil. The valuable lessons learned by my grandmother were passed down, first to my mother, and then to me. I do have to admit, I feel that even in the case of my mother and myself, these lessons have faded over time. Long gone are the days of "make do or do without." But, with the current state of the economy and the environment, I think it's way past the time when these ideas need to make a comeback.

My Gram (on the left).  One of the wisest, and greatest people I know.
My Gram (on the left). One of the wisest, and greatest people I know.
Ration book
Ration book

A Thrifty Lifestyle Can Be Stylish

So, taking the lessons learned from our parents and grandparents, how do you incorporate that into something that remotely resembles those 'oh-so-perfect' pictures in the magazines? Whether you are decorating your home, or dressing for a great night out, there are ways to mix in a lot of style while still being friendly to your budget and the environment.

I have been re-using, and reworking various pieces of handed down, scrounged up, and discarded "junk" for years. My parents found a great coffee table one time and gave it to me when I needed one for my new place. The table was pretty scuffed up and damaged, but I saw potential. I sanded it down for what seemed like forever, and carefully hand-painted it. It was amazing when it was done, and it all it took was a little paint and a lot of time. The end result was a gorgeous coffee table with a top that looked like stone tiles. Most people thought it was stone until they touched it. Did it take a lot of work? I won't lie. It took forever! But it was well worth it. The table would have ended up in the garbage, and a new coffee table like that could have cost me a lot more than a little of my time.

With websites like eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle, items like this can be found all over the place for little, or even, no money. No dumpster diving or early morning trash runs needed. Though grabbing "curb alert" items off of Craigslist kind of feels like trash picking. These days, a new dining room set or armchair is at your fingertips. And with dozens of great, trendy thrift stores in most large towns, even nice clothes can be found for a great price. Like the old saying, "one man's trash, is another man's treasure."

My most recent venture involved a Craigslist curb alert. (For those not in the know, a curb alert is a post offering free goods, most often left at the curb for anyone to come pick up.) I checked the site, and saw that someone had left over stuff from a garage sale. I was heading to that area anyway, so I checked it out. I saw a few boxes and a few chairs. I saw one I liked and brought it home. It was a pretty basic wooden chair with a chocolate brown cushion. I liked the cushion and took that as a bit of inspiration and went from there. The trusty sandpaper and paints came out again, and after months of work (a little here, and a little there, between work and sleep) and it was done. It's now a one of a kind, functional and stylish piece of furniture that I absolutely love.

My next venture is an upholstery project, which should be interesting, considering I have never attempted to reupholster anything in my life. It should be quite an experiment. Unfortunately, that experiment was never meant to be, as we had to give the chairs over to someone who needed them before I got the chance to try out my upholstering skills. Maybe another day.

My most recent project was to make curtains for my daughter's room. I decided to get creative and make them. I will preface this by saying I don't own a sewing machine, and even if i did, I would not know how to use it. I had some twin-sized flat sheets that I had no use for, and decided to use them to make curtains. I used one flat sheet, cut it in half and used fusible tape to hem the edges and make a pocket for the curtain rod. I took some ribbon I had, and trimmed off one edge with it. All without sewing anything. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and I finally got some use out of those twin sheets I had been keeping. I am not sure why I held onto them, because we don't have any twin beds, but now, I am glad that I did.

My Chair Project

Basic finish with wood seat
Basic finish with wood seat
Now a one of a kind piece.  Hand-painted leopard print on the back.
Now a one of a kind piece. Hand-painted leopard print on the back.
Flea Market Flip-  A great source of inspiration on rehabbing old furniture, and other pieces
Flea Market Flip- A great source of inspiration on rehabbing old furniture, and other pieces


Seriously, Pinterest is my new best friend!!! I go there whenever I need inspiration for a new project, some decorating ideas, and for just about everything else. I have gotten so many great ideas for inexpensive projects. I am not even kidding when I tell you I have made ornaments and decorations for my house out of cereal boxes! Yes, cereal boxes! I made cute, little three-dimensional stars that hang in my entryway. I made them for Christmas, but found that I loved them so much, that they just stay up year round.

Browse Pinterest and see what you can find. Think of a project you want to tackle, whether it be an art piece, furniture refinish, or whatever. I guarantee you can find some inspiration or ideas on there!

Trust Your Gut

I don't go out looking for things, I just seem to find them. A cute little chair here, a fun and funky belt there. If you see something that catches your eye, even if it looks like it could use a little work, grab it. It just might become something you really love. Find things and use them in creative ways. Make them your own. My mom bought a really great sewing box off eBay one time, but it ended up being too small for what she needed. I asked her if I could have it, and now it sits on the counter in my bathroom, and holds all my make-up. It opens up sort of like the inside compartments of a tackle box, and the smallish compartments keep all of my various make-up items neat and organized. I have a cute, little butterfly pin that went to a shirt I never wear, but pinned to a hair clip, it makes a great hair accessory for a fun and playful look. I am always collecting bits of this and that, never knowing when I might find a use for it. Admittedly, it's a little silly. I am a little worried that it will only get worse, and I will end up on that Hoarders show. Thankfully, it hasn't gone that far, and in truth, I'm not all that attached to the stuff. I hope to open a store, so that I can sell some of my unique furniture pieces and whatever else catches my eye.

Keep your eyes open. You never know when you might find something that is, or could be, really great. If you need some seating for your living room, and are willing to put in a little time and effort, you could create a one of a kind piece that is all you. Most furniture in the stores these days is pretty bland and boring. A little work and a little time is all it takes to go from pre-fab to pretty fab! I have a huge list of items I need for my new house, and I am already searching around for just the right pieces to finish off that list. A few bookshelves and a couple of chairs could end up costing me hundreds of dollars, but with my keen eye, and careful handiwork, I could spend a whole lot less. And, so could you.

This woman is an inspiration to me!!  Check out Cash & Cari on HGTV.  I wish this show were still on, instead of House Hunters.
This woman is an inspiration to me!! Check out Cash & Cari on HGTV. I wish this show were still on, instead of House Hunters.
Cool clock made from a bike rim
Cool clock made from a bike rim
So many projects that just need a little love
So many projects that just need a little love

© 2011 Anna Marie Bowman


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