The ball of soap scraps, and other things I did when we were poor

Right after getting married, in accordance with the known rules of the universe, we were poor.

Each year got better, and now when the Wife stresses over bills, I can safely remind her to take a look around at the nice house, three cars, child in college and remember when she stressed over the same bills from the comfort of our folding futon in the living room of our 3-room roach nest with the front door that opened right onto the sidewalk.

Last night I reminded her of the soap scrap ball, the swanson’s pot pies and other things we did because we had to.

The soap scrap ball was just what it sounds like. When the shower soap became a useless scrap, it got added to the giant ball of useless soap scraps. The ball was kept in the soap dish, carefully so as not to get soaked and melt on it’s own. At SOME point, we would find ourselves out of money, low on soap, and have to resort to using the mishapen, many-colored ball of soap. By itself, it was usually good for about a week’s worth of showers.

After we moved into the second house we bought, I ceremoniously disposed of the soap acrap ball. And didn’t shed a tear.

What kind of seemingly silly things did you do when you were poor that remind you how far you’ve come?

I used to wash and re-use Baggies. I was also a coupon-clippin’, rebate-gettin’ fiend. Not bad things to do, but they have slipped away as I have become more financially secure.

Mom remarked on the way my attitudes towards money have changed the other day. She had asked me to pick her up some cigarettes, which I did without asking her to pay me back. She also was fretting about what to do with a box of pencil stubs she’d found, and I told her to throw them out. Very unlike the old me.

Sometimes, these days, I buy myself clothes that are not from the thrift store.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a far away land (ie when I was married), I would buy baking soda because it was a lot less expensive than toothpaste and cleaning supplies–neither of which we could afford. Once I got divorced, things got better, but it was years before I could quite stockpiling toilet paper and laundry detergent, because we never had that stuff when I was married.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite meals was a little recipe my mom liked to call Soup-Over-Bread. I remember being very surprised one day when I asked her why we never had it anymore, and she told me that it had just been her way of stretching a can of soup.

When I first got out on my own , I ate ramen at almost every meal . I would get creative , using cans of tomato sauce to make italian ramen , hot dogs or anything to dress it up . It’s funny because I really still enjoy it . Especially since you can get it in its own cup.

Even though I am no longer poor I still take the sliver of soap and meld it into the new bar. It is just habit.

After deciding how to divvy up my meager paycheck, I would deposit what I needed to write checks for (rent, phone bill, utilities) and bring home whatever cash was left over. I would sort the cash, and staple a note onto it (“gas money,” “groceries”) so that I wouldn’t spend it on anything else. Some weeks, the gas money would sometimes need to become bus fare money instead.

I think our old house perfectly represents us when we were poor. The rent was $80 a week. There was a mysterious circle of grass in the backyard that grew back at a phenomenal rate no matter how often you cut it. It had termites and a leaky roof but our landlady wouldn’t fix it because she said she was planning to demolish it and sell the land after we moved out. This was 10 years ago. I recently went back to see it and it was still there. I wonder how the tenants are doing.

I spent four months in Reading, PA, and they were the poorest months I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve lived in a car).

We smoke cigarettes. We bought two-fers of whatever was cheap, and when we were done with our cigarettes we’d empty the butt-tobacco into a cheapie tupperware. When we were too broke to buy cigarettes we’d handroll them out of rolling papers (which are, on the whole, a lot cheaper than an actual pack of cigarettes) and our used tobacco. It was gross, but it kept us from killing people.

Actually, I still save the tobacco, even though I’m not as po’ anymore.

My mom made this thing she called “shit on a shingle,” which wasn’t chipped beef on toast because chipped beef was actually too expensive, so it was creamed tuna on toast - a cheap white sauce, tuna, peas, and toast, usually the air-filled kind. The whole meal would stuff us to the gills and cost about two bucks. I still, to this day, like shit on a shingle.


Homeless and jobless in NYC. I would pick up change off the street till I had enough to get a cup of ccffee at a cheap restaurant. Then I use their bathroom to wash up, get my coffee, and take leftovers off of an abandoned plate to eat.

I still pick up change off the street.

My worst time was when I was pregnant with our third child, and my husband was laid off from his job. The layoff was supposed to be temporary, so he didn’t look for anything else.

The little bit of money we had went for food for the kids.

But hubby and me, we took our fishing poles down to the river every day for a couple of weeks and ate whatever we caught, which was usually bullheads. Ever eat a bullhead? They taste like mud, no matter how you fix them.

Soap scrap ball, huh?

In the process of helping Mom clean out the house, I found a basket of old decorative hand soaps. They were rather nice, but I used them up rather quickly. I had been given a pack of rose-scented “bath petals” (little soap slivers) for Christmas that I had never used, and I had an empty liquid soap dispenser in the closet…this gave me an idea. After lining the bottom of the dispenser with some decorative glass stones, I placed the slivers inside and covered them with water. I added five of the “bath petals,” then let the mix sit for a few days. I stirred it every day for about a week, adding “bath petals” until the soap slivers had liquified. The resulting liquid soap smells rather nice, and is very thick and creamy. I showed it to Mom; she was horrified.

I have three scraps beneath the “good” soap in our soap dish right now. I don’t need to manufacture the soap scrap ball, but my husband doesn’t quite believe that we no longer need to do that. Household Hint #327 (for those who DO need to do the soap scrap ball): Wrap them in a nylon stocking when they’re really wet. It binds them together nice ‘n’ tight. He also saves baggies and the occasional piece of aluminum foil.

If he ever asks me to darn a sock, I’m calling the lawyer.

When I was broke, I would buy a pack of Reese’s Pieces as a treat every few days. I would then count it out into three portions and eat each portion one at a time in three seperate sessions. This would be my treat a couple of times a week.

I always stick the scrap to whatever is the next bar, but this was obsessive. I made a whole new ball out of it. The nylon stocking trick works like a charm, take it from a professional soap scrap sticker.


Know what you mean. When I was young during the Depression, the 5 & 10 sold a little basket device with a handle that opened up so you could put all the pieces of soap inside. Then you just sloshed it around in the dish washer. It cost, as I recall, a dime so we just did what you did, made soap balls.

As some comedian said, if you’ve been poor, no matter how well-to-do you get, you still go through the house turning off the lights.

Then there was the story of an old lady who died. As her relatives went through her house, they found an old shoe box marked, “Pieces of string too small to use.”
Sound familiar? :smiley:

Even though we were poor, we always ate well because my parents believed it was okay to have a crappy house and a crappy car and crappy secondhand clothes as long as you were healthy and well-fed. So no shit on a shingle/soup over bread/exclusive ramen diet for us, even though our house was falling apart and a cop pulled over our car for being unroadworthy. Looking back, I think it was a good call on their part. After we got less poor they liked to comment on how great it was to live in Australia, where the rich and the poor ate pretty much the same food (as opposed, I suppose, to China, where the rich ate lobsters and the poor ate cornmeal wads or something). Personally, I think it was just THEM, but I’m not complaining :slight_smile:

My mother has had the same pair of ugg boots for five years now. I bought her a new pair a few weeks ago but she won’t throw out the old ones and still wears them “when it’s not very cold.” She also saves cling wrap :rolleyes:

Oh, and when I was in seventh grade in Canada I had a friend whose family were fairly recent immigrants. She told me it took her mother several months to finish a pack of gum because she’d take out one stick, break off half of it, chew that and put the rest away for later. I later went to her extremely budgo birthday party where they served shapes cut out of peanut butter sandwiches. I went into the next room to find a basket full of bread crusts with shapes missing from them, and her parents eating the crusts. I had to smile because it was so totally the kind of thing our family would do.

My cheap-ass ex mother-in-law who lived in an affluent neighborhood would cut paper napkins in half when she had us over for Christmas dinner. What the FUCK!

You two maybe separated at birth or something? :smiley: