Ways to Make Do With What You Have

iStock_000013365179XSmallHave you heard the old saying:

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”?

I grew up with this, in theory and in practice. We were poor, Mom and Dad lived every day showing us what it meant to ‘make it do’ and we often ‘did without’.

Here are my thoughts on frugal ways to make things do.

Take care of your wardrobe to keep it looking work and wear worthy.

  • Get some shoe polish and shine up those old shoes, take them to a shoe repair shop to have the re-heeled or soled if they are worn down. This used to be a common occurrence with a shoe repair shop on every main street.
  • Learn to hem and patch and sew on buttons to repair minor issues with clothing.
  • Learn how to remove spots and do it as soon as the clothing gets dirty.
  • Buy good clothing, used. Avoid buying cheap clothing new.
  • Darn the holes in your socks instead of throwing them out.
  • Pass down serviceable clothing from child to child.
  • Make old t-shirts and dish cloths into rags to use when dusting or washing the car and etc.
  • Donate good clothing you really can’t use to a non-profit and bank the tax deduction.


Use up your food.

  • Plan uses for your leftovers. No one likes second hand food, but if you fix it differently the second time around it can still be appetizing.
  • With fresh food – buy only what you can eat before it goes bad. A good deal on a big bag of fresh lettuce isn’t thrifty if you can’t use it up before it rots.
  • Buy dried milk to use in cooking – especially if you aren’t a regular milk drinker.
  • Pay attention to expiration dates by organizing your pantry and freezer so that the oldest food is in front.
  • Store food properly to make it last as long as possible.


If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it (or replace it).

  • Use the life out of all your appliances, but save up enough money to replace them quickly if they are nearing the end of their lifespan. Our 27 year old furnace is still going strong, but we are prepared for it to quit at any moment.
  • If one feature goes out (like an ice maker on a freezer), but the rest of the unit still works fine, think about using an alternative to extend the life of the appliance (like making your own ice, or buying a bag a week at the grocery).
  • Avoid re-decorating your home every few years. There have been countless times I have seen nearly new, decorator pieces being sold for pennies on the dollar at garage sales because the homeowner decided to re-decorate. Try re-arranging furniture and a deep cleaning instead. Add one or two small new-to-you items to make things seem different.
  • Keep your vehicle instead of trading it in every 2 or 3 years. If you maintain it by changing the oil, rotating the tires and keeping it clean you are well on your way to having a serviceable car for years.


If it is broken, fix it instead of trashing it.

  • You Tube can show you how to do most everything these days. If that won’t work, hire a handyman to help you fix a broken (assuming the cost is estimated to be less than replacing).
  • Check online for replacement parts, you will usually find them.


If you can’t afford it, do something else.

  • Instead of taking the family to a movie, have a home movie night with friends and family.
  • Instead of taking the family to a professional sports game, attend a little league game near your home and cheer on the neighbor’s child.
  • Instead of going out to eat with friends, take turns cooking and eating at each home.
  • Instead of paying for television programming, view free TV or cheap movies on Netflix (or maybe even read a real book!).
  • Instead of paying for telephone, use free services over the internet (Skype and Google both have them – but note that there may be privacy issues in their use).
  • If you can’t afford a car, use public transportation.
  • If you can’t afford a gift, make or do something for the recipient.
  • If you can’t afford air-conditioning, consider a ceiling or attic fan as an alternative.


Our direct ancestors lived with much less and had many fewer possessions than we now have and use. Making do was a proud tradition just a generation ago – it showed that you were smart, thrifty and responsible. Our parents and grandparents were ‘green’ before green was cool.  Most of them had little use for huge walk in closets or shoe racks to hold dozens of pairs of shoes or garages to hold more than one or two cars.  Most of us seem to ‘need’ these things – but do we really?

Making do is not disgraceful and I encourage you to try it out, especially if you are struggling financially or are tired of our mentality of the need for over-abundance.

What other ‘make do’ solutions do you have? 


Ways to Make Do With What You Have — 15 Comments

  1. This is great!
    I try to do almost all of these things on a regular basis and it really adds up. I hate throwing food away!

  2. Great list! I especially love the last part, if you can’t afford it, find something else. A lot of people falls into the habit of getting into debts over things they can’t afford instead of finding a way to do things within their budget.

  3. Our society, especially in the Western nations, has become one where people think everything is disposable. Sometimes it’s become cheaper to buy a new one then get it fixed. Think about things like microwaves and DVD players that can be bought for $30-$50. If you take it to a repair store or call a appliance tech out to your home you’re looking at $60+ just for them making the call. It’s too bad as so much waste is filling up landfills this way.

    I like to try to repair things rather than replace them. I’m just about to drop off a winter coat to the shoe maker to get a new zipper put in. Way cheaper than replacing the whole coat!

    Great list, thanks for sharing it!

  4. These are great tips and for my shame I have to say that I do only some of them. However, waste in all its forms has been annoying me more and more the older I get. Waste is bad for our wallets, for our family’s future and for the planet – how can we say this more clearly. Also, it is better to make do and give away what you don’t need than waste.

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