These days, it pays off to think ahead before spending too much on too little.
In Barbara Stankus' backyard in Ashland, a plastic zip bag is pinned on a trellis after a washing in water and dish soap.
When it's dry, Stankus will tuck it into a tissue box for easy dispensing and reuse.
It's one small way the retiree and co-founder of the TWIT (Totally & Wholly Informed Tightwads) newsletter pinches pennies to stretch her limited budget. Stankus has plenty of tips about frugal living in her weekly e-mail newsletter. And in these difficult economic times, more people are receptive to her advice.
"This is a topic of great interest," she said.
People who have been laid off, lost their retirement savings in 401(k) investments, lost their home to foreclosure or just want to prepare for a deepening recession are cooking at home and shopping at discount stores and secondhand shops.
Yet, pinching pennies isn't that simple, Stankus said.
"Being frugal really is a lifestyle," Stankus said. "It's a mind-set. It's not buying immediately. It's waiting for things to go on sale. It's being aware of how much things cost. It's planning."
On a Wednesday evening, Stankus sits at her kitchen table browsing through a pile of grocery store advertisements.
The room evokes the feeling of warmth and luxury, embellished with framed art, antiques, unique knickknacks and rich colors.
But there's a bargain-hunting story behind the pieces.
For instance, a large framed abstract painting with arches of blue, orange, yellow and brown, reminiscent of the shape of the Sydney Opera House, was purchased for $80 at Rogue Valley Manor's annual sale.
Her eyes sharp and her posture erect, Stankus points to a canned soup special in an Ashland Shop N' Kart advertisement.
"Progresso soups are really good," she said. "I recently saw them on sale at the Ashland Albertsons for $1 a can, and I bought a lot. Now, I see $1.38, and I'm thinking that's not a good deal."
The example illustrates how pinching pennies sometimes can be a waiting game, especially on items that aren't a necessity.
Stankus passed up a 50-percent-off framing sale at Michaels in Medford because she knew the art and craft store has 60-percent-off sales sometimes during the year.
She has eight pieces being framed from the last 60-percent-off sale — including an original ink sketch of a woman drinking tea that she bought for $5 at a Southern Oregon University water polo team fundraiser.
She makes lists of items she needs, prioritizes them, and marks whether she has coupons for them.
She looks at advertisements in the newspaper on a daily basis, but she said even those who don't subscribe can access some ads online. Just go to your favorite stores' Web sites, she said.
She cooks at home, plans her meals and usually goes out to eat when there are locals' specials at restaurants in Ashland.
She and her friends often share bulk food, so they can benefit from the discounts of buying in large quantities without letting food go to waste.
On Friday, Stankus is ready to make a shopping trip to Medford's Food 4 Less.
"Some of the people in TWIT say to me by the time you drive to Medford to go to Food 4 Less, you are losing money, especially when the gas prices were so high," Stankus said. "I don't just go to Medford for a gallon of milk. I have a list of things. I also combine shopping with other errands. That's part of the economizing."
With list in hand, she charges through Food 4 Less with her cart, eyeing signs for good deals. She spies a sign for broccoli for 79 cents a pound.
"That's a really good price, but I have some at home," she said.
She grabs a cluster of bananas instead at 58 cents a pound.
Next, she goes to the chilly aisle of dairy products. Marked on her list: Darigold butter with a 40-cents-off coupon.
The butter is on sale for $1.98 a pound, which she knew from a previous trip to the store. With the coupon, she'll be paying $1.58 for a pound, remarkably better than any of the other prices on the shelf.
When she buys meat, she typically checks in the grocery store bin where the meat that is about to expire is offered at half price. People often don't think of buying the meat if they're not ready to use it. But it can be frozen and used later, she said.
Growing a garden also saves Stankus money on food, especially on herbs that can cost $1 to $3 a package.
When searching for an item to furnish one's home, she recommends that people first try to find items for free. Several Yahoo groups around the valley notify each other if they have something to give away, or if they need something.
Stankus recently gave away a double-size mattress and box springs through the Ashland Freecycle Yahoo group to make way for a new one she bought, and the recipient of the old mattress helped her set up the new mattress.
Stankus also makes spontaneous stops by yard sales and estate sales and browses through secondhand and discount stores to find things she needs. Finding a deal sometimes takes patience and diligence, she said.
"I poke around if I go downtown (Ashland) or to Jacksonville," Stankus said. "Maybe I have something in the back of my mind. If I find something at an antique or secondhand store, I will haggle in a nice way, and I find that people are really amenable because they want to make a sale."
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.