Do you have things in life that you use but no matter what they always seem to be there in reserve? I have things I haven’t bought in months (and sometimes years) that still seem to be well stocked in the house. They are barely a flicker in the fire of my budget. Perhaps you can identify with some of these:

  1. Magician Pens and Pencils– So when I got a little fat in college, I asked my mother (nicely I hope) to not send me any more junk food. She began to then send silly socks, healthier food, and pens and pencils in my care packages. Between mom’s generosity, accidentally kleptoing, free giveaways, and provisions from every job I’ve ever had, I have enough writing tools in reserve indefinitely.
  2. Toothbrushes– There has been a debate in our house about how often one is supposed to change toothbrushes. Here’s one opinion on the subject. I get one from my dentist every six months when I go in for my cleaning. Apparently that’s enough for me because I can’t think of when I ever needed to buy one.
  3. Cleaning Products– Maybe it’s because I move all the time and other people tend to leave cleaners behind or maybe it’s that I’m not as clean as the rest of Americabut about $50 worth of cleaning supplies (the bulk of it being laundry detergent) is more than enough for me for a year. And that isn’t $50 of cheap cleaner. I buy the organic, good for the environment stuff so I can feel alright when Sadie is licking the floor or cabinets. I like Method a lot. If I was really industrious and cool, I’d make my own.
  4. Paper– I buy one ream of paper every couple years for printing projects that are going somewhere special. Otherwise, I recycle office paper used only on one side in my printer for stuff only I will see. I have also cut paper into small squares and stapled them together for a not so fancy notepad.
  5. Candles– Perhaps it’s my femaleness or the fact that candles make good gifts in general but I have enough good smelling ones to last me through many a potential power outage. I have also been known to remelt (I used one of those candle warmers to get the wax pourable without dirtying a pan) and recombine bits of candles into one new one.
  6. Perfume, Body lotion, soap…- Again, perhaps my femaleness makes me more inclined to get this sort of thing as a gift. All of these things seem to appear far faster than I could ever use them. I have five perfumes going right now, and this is after giving several away. Oh well, at least I smell good!
  7. Wall calendars– everyone seems to be giving away a calendar at the end of a year. While I saw a cool woodblock pattern one this year, I couldn’t justify buying it. We already had two perfectly good (and free) wall calendars.
  8. Socks- Mom has single-handedly kept me in socks for years between college care packages and other gifts. Also it probably helps that the moment it gets warm enough, I don’t wear them anymore, which saves a few months or so of wear and tear every year. Oh and I’ve also been known to sew holes. Cheap, yes. Practical, yes.
  9. Vases and flower pots– Often coming with flowers, vases can be washed and reused. After a couple years of dating the right type of people, you should have amassed quite a collection. If you’ve expressed interest in flowers that last through time, the same can be expected for your flower pot collection.
  10. Dishes and napkins- I feel like dishes are either given to you or so cheap that you can buy a set and use them for years. My $20 set of Corell white dishes is still going strong. I’ve received glasses from my friend Kate and silverware from Mom. Also, cloth napkins can be made and washed easily enough that you almost never have to replace them. One set I’ve had for six years is getting just a little warn out. (As a complete aside, cloth napkins may or may not be more environmentally friendly than paper.)
  11. Pajamas- Between gifts and retiring old sweats and t-shirts to my pajama drawer, I have always had enough things to sleep in and putter around the house in.

Of course, there are the perennially free things like:

  1. Plastic Grocery Bags, which have many uses as litter collectors, dog poo holders, lunch bags… (not all at once, of course).
  2. Boxes, which you should never have to buy. (A little tip: if you need some boxes for moving, ask a small town grocery store a couple weeks before you move. My Vinalhaven grocer had stashed away over 40 free medium-sized boxes for me (the ones that liquor come in). Of course, when I was moving in, my neighbors thought I had a drinking problem but that’s another story…
  3. Kindling– maybe it’s that I live in Mainebut every time I see a bunch of kindling at convenience stores for $5 certain times of the year it makes me laugh (at least I’ve seen this in both Lewiston and Freeport). Just walk in the forest in the fall (with your blaze orange, of course) and collect some tree branches. As long as you only have a fire occasionally, your hunter-gatherer instincts should lead you to enough wood for a few winter time fires. You can also burn other things to fuel your fire, but that’s another story.

So the next time you get a gift that’s a little overly practical or find something that seems kind of basic around the house, just remember, it’s one less thing you have to buy, which is always good for the budget. Now think “Yay, socks!”or “Wohoo, mechanical pencils!” because that means more money for fun stuff. And isn’t that kind of magical?

Is there anything free (or purchased so infrequently that it’s almost free) that I’m overlooking?

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