Frugal Tips From An Immigrant Part 1

My parents

My parents

Growing up in a family of immigrants, I observed frugality since I was in diapers, cloth diapers, to be exact:). We came to America when my parents were 25 and 30, with 5 children, all 6 years old and younger. Yikes!

They started out with nothing except the suitcases that they brought with them. I’ve noticed that immigrants have a mindset that is keen to all things thrifty and economical, and I think it’s because we came from a place where it was simply a necessary way of life.

Here are some common frugal tips that I’ve observed by watching my parents, relatives and other immigrants. Actually, I know many multigenerational Americans who use many of these tips as well, while many immigrants are not frugal at all. This is just a general observation.

1.       Reuse and Repurpose

Sour cream containers are great to hold many other things, like leftovers, dry ingredients, etc. Plus, they are free:). My Grandma loves to use them for sugar and other things.  Sturdy plastic containers, metal or glass containers are golden to use for storage. I keep my yeast in this lovely jar from a cookie container from many years ago. IMG_9326My Mom still uses  plastic ice cream buckets to store flour, sugar, onions, garlic, etc. We line our trash cans with plastic grocery bags, reuse hardware store buckets that used to hold joint compound instead of buying pails and buckets.300899_10200965148787235_1865349732_n

2.       Be a jack of all trades.

It seems to me that my parents can do anything.

Mom can knit, sew, cook. Mending clothes is a big money saver, of course.  It’s kind of sad to me that we are losing some of these beautiful skills. Many of you have probably seen this funny quote on Pinterest “In the near future, little old ladies won’t be able to knit, sew, or quilt, but they’ll take awesome self-pics in the bathroom mirror”. I was mesmerized to watch my grandma embroider and I’m so glad she taught me how to do it when I was still a little girl.


Starting a new embroidery project

Dad can do any kind of repair, whether it’s car repairs, home repairs, furnace, lawn mower, tractor, washing machine or stove. You name it, he can fix it, or figure it out. He never had any formal training to build houses, put in driveways, cut down trees and run a sawmill, but he taught himself how to do it. My parents were always amazed at people who paid money to get their oil changed or tires replaced by others.

Why, my Dad didn’t balk at changing an engine himself, and built our beautiful family home from the foundation to the roof with his own two hands, even put in all the plumbing and electricity. In the old country, the mindset was that if you needed a house, I guess you were going to learn how.EPSON MFP image

3.       Be an expert DIYer and Cook From Scratch.

As I just talked about, immigrants were big in DIY and clean eating before it became cool. In Belarus, there weren’t any convenience foods or processed mixes and very little canned food. I’m referring to eating food that is in it’s most natural state, not the actual diet that is such a huge movement right now. I’m not saying they had the greatest healthy diet, but out of necessity, most of it was organic and very minimally processed.
Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be intimidating. It’s actually quite simple and so much cheaper too.

Frugal Tips-1-2

My parents have wild grapes on their property, as well as many other berries and apples too. Mom freezes what they don’t eat and uses it in baking, smoothies and drinks, such as Kompot.

Having a vegetable garden in the former Soviet Union was a matter of survival.

My grandparents' garden in Belarus.

My grandparents’ garden in Belarus.

The harsh, long winters and short summers meant that we had to work hard to grow and preserve enough food to last us through the winter, since it just wasn’t available to be bought when growing and harvesting seasons were over. Everyone had a root cellar full of potatoes, onions, garlic, beets, cabbage, carrots and walls lined with canned food that the Slavic housewives preserved themselves.

Frugal Tips-1-3We did not have enough money to spend on extra things. Many people grew much more than they needed for their families to sell the excess in the big cities and make extra money to be able to make ends meet. The money that was made by selling cucumbers in the summer and tulips in the spring was a huge help financially.

I know many people save so much money on weddings by doing things themselves, such as cooking for several hundred people, making backdrops, arranging the flowers, etc.

My brother and his fiancé building the backdrop for their wedding.

My brother and his fiancé building the backdrop for their wedding.

IMG_5956It must be in our blood too:).

This Christmas, my siblings and I, with our spouses, decided to exchange gifts choosing one another as Secret Santas and made all homemade or personalized gifts to each other. It was amazing what everyone came up with. It was so much more special and personal. My sister made me a huge wooden chopping board with my blog logo that she burned into the wood herself. Isn’t it awesome?

Christmas in NY-1-122What are some frugal tips and life skills in general that you learned from your parents or grandparents?


  • Valentin

    Wow impressive writing Olga. Definitely brought pleasant memories. We have the best parents and example of using our resources to the utmost, tangible and intangible. Continue to write Olga, you have an incredible knack for painting a masterpiece with words:) God bless you!

    • Graciela Vazquez de schwartz

      I also came to this country when I was young and we didn’t have much. I learned how to saw, embroider , and to darn from my grandmom and the older ladies in my old neighborhood. We had to make due and be very frugal. I also love to cook and learned to cook dishes from scratch. Now I am a retired attorney but I still use the skills I learned from my parents and grandparents. Congratulations for your new baby!
      Maybe I can share Spanish or latin American recipes with you!

  • Mila L.

    This is so true. My dad passed away over 10 years ago but I was always amazed how he will learn new skills to build, repair appliances or cars. It was amazing to watch him figure out how to make stuff and have us read books in English and try to translate to him. Oh, miss those days. Thanks for sharing your family experiences.

  • Estera

    Love this post- pretty much sums up my family (who came from Romania in 1988).

    I too have learned from my parents and grandparents to reuse, cook from scratch, plant a nice veggie garden and build my own stuff (my hubby does most of the building ) :). We’ve saved a lot of $ this way and we never went without (all due to wise planning and lots of DIY’s).

    I am blessed to have grown up in a family that has thought me all these valuable things that have helped me in life and I am not teaching them to my own children.


  • Galina

    Hi Olga I am very new to your blog I loving it fron the moment I got it from my sister… I like everything about your blog you’re doing a great job… keep on doing it…. also I like to read your stories very impressing and very inspiring…. thank you for all your hard work… God bless you and your family. …

  • Olga

    Hi Olga! What your post reminds me of is gratefulness! Everything you wrote about is a reminder to appreciate every single little thing! I’m looking forward to part 2 of your post. 🙂

  • Alina

    You brought back pleasant memories. We came to America over 20 years ago, and looking back I used to think my parents were “cheap” for being frugal but it really was a way of life where we came from. And I am thankful for them because they taught me so much, especially my mom. My mom always reused things like you mentioned and always cooked from scratch. And now if you look on pintrest, its actually “in” to be frugal. Who knew!

  • Iryna B.

    Hi Olga, was reading your blog for a while.
    Nice to meet you!
    This post made me came out.
    Originally I am from Ukraine, came here 14 yrs ago. My mom was a single mom, so she raised me with all those tips you listed here. Only, she worked two jobs and could hardly do any crafting. I was the one who got interested in cooking, baking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving…. Really like what I can do! I wanted to be different, not like everyone that got clothes from the same store….
    In my home here, in America, I also re-purpose cans and jars and line trash cans with grocery bags – why not! I think it is very smart! And when we decided for me to stay home with our child, though I don’t have to – I clip coupons, I sew clothes for my daughter and often use our clothes that don’t fit anymore, U-pick at the local farms…
    We don’t live extremely frugally nor extravagantly.
    But I like to know that we save money here and there.
    Thank you for this post. Will be back to read more!

    • olgak7

      Hi Iryna!
      I’m glad to meet you:). Thanks for sharing your story.
      Lessons learned from our parents are something we can use in our own life today. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post.

  • Sofia

    Hi Olga,

    I adore your blog and all your posts, if only everyone was as kind and good hearted as you and your family. Its always a joy to get a new recipe and hear a heart felt pleasant story to go along with it. This story really touched me, although I didn’t immigrate to America with a family that passed on these wonderful skills you’re right, It is in our blood! I’m frugal to the last bone in my body especially with the quality of things depreciating day by day. I hope to be an expert gardener and capable of making clothing one day, makes you feel more self sufficient. Whose to say in our lifetime we won’t have the necessity history often repeats itself. Whats a good place to start when learning to embroider?
    I so happy you guys finally have the joy of children in your home. Thanks as always Olga have an ever blessed life.

    Btw, you should do a post on how your Dad went about building that house it always intrigues me when you talk about it. Also your videos turn out well, I actually made the chicken broth after the video and couldn’t be disgusted more by that boxed stuff. 🙂

    • olgak7

      Hi Sofia!
      Thanks for taking the time to write. I love reading everyone’s comments.
      I am looking forward to having a garden of my own someday too. I always enjoyed gardening when I was still living with my parents. Thanks for your well wishes.
      (I’m glad you enjoyed the Chicken Broth too.)

  • Joe Van Duerm

    Hi Olga – As a father of four boys and husband to a wife who is a GREAT cook, I can tell you that the older I get (just turned 50!), it is very rewarding to tackle DIY projects as opposed to “buying it done.” The sense of accomplishment afterwards is a great feeling! I really enjoyed your post and can really relate to your Dad and his “I guess if you need a house then you’re going to learn how to build one” attitude. I wanted to be able to share with you how I got over the fear of attempting DIY projects so that perhaps other subscribers to your blog might be tempted to try it out. A few years ago, I had to replace a rear wiper motor on the family van. I went to a body shop and was quoted anywhere between $300-500 to have this done. When I asked how long it would take to put on I was told about 20-25 minutes. I was furious but motivated to do this myself. After purchasing the motor on the web AT A FRACTION of the cost, I then went to Youtube and searched for videos on how to install it. Not only did I find one video that detailed what I needed to do to install it properly, I became hooked and searched the site on how to do all kinds of stuff that I used to have to pay to have done. My grandparents were hard-working immigrants from Ireland and Belgium whose work ethics back then can not even compare to the “buy it done” mentality of the fast-paced world we live in today. After installing the wiper motor and tested it, it was perfect. Here’s the payoff – when the bodyshop called to see if they could do the work, I proudly stated that I had bought a motor and PUT IT IN MYSELF. To your readers and subscribers of your blog (of which I am one!), I say this: Try a DIYER project. You might just like it! -Joe

    • olgak7

      Hi Joe!
      I completely agree with you that there is so much satisfaction from figuring out how to do something and then looking at the completed project. Good for you!

  • Milana

    He he he! I especially loved reading this particular post. Remembering all those times, good times. lol
    Thanks for sharing another great post dear!

  • Claudia

    Love your recent post. My parents were children of the depression, they carried their careful ways throughout their lives. Preparing our son to leave for college in the Fall, we are discussing constantly to work within his means and stick to a tight budget, regardless of what others are doing! Teaching him to cook things for himself and save where he can. Enjoying your blog, so refreshing!

    • olgak7

      People who go through difficult times learn so many valuable lesson. I’m sure your son will be so thankful for everything you are teaching him.
      Thanks for visiting my blog, Claudia.

  • Elaine Pearcy

    What a wonderful and heartfelt story and topic. You are a very talented writer. It is interesting to me to try to understand the influence your grandparents and parents former lives have had on yours as a first generation immigrant. I am 4th generation Polish/Czech and know nearly nothing of my grandparents history. My best friend is 1st generation American Belarusian and I am always so amazed by her families farm and the extraordinary houses they have built. I think the things you care about are the most important and am happy to see people in America who have not been totally corrupt by materialism and capitalism. Reading your perspective gives my an idea of the stark contrast in way of life between America and other countries. Thanks for your insight!

    • olgak7

      Thank you for taking the time to write, Elaine! We are extremely thankful for this wonderful country and know it is God’s gift for allowing us to make America our home:).

  • Elisabetta

    Olga, Oh my I could write book on the projects our family did and still do. Air Force brat born in Japan, I have a komono made by our housekeeper not because we were wealthy but because Mom couldn’t fit between the washer and dryer when she was pregnant with me, base housing you took what you could get. Anyway Mom tiled the bathrooms and much more recently I tilled in our bathroom and kitchen counter. Dad now 79 much like yours and still going. My parents were poor growing up however instilled strong faith, morals and values by example. Can you imagine what our parents could have done using the internet? lol 😀

    You have such a wonderful website, take care God bless you and your family.

    • olgak7

      What great memories, Elisabetta! Thank you so much for sharing. Our parents sure gave us a great heritage. I will always be grateful.Sounds like your parents were pretty special too:).

  • Tzivia

    I learned from my late paternal grandmother (may she rip) and mother how to repurpose leftover food a lot of my childhood summers were in nc north Carolina and whatever food was leftover (if it was enough) for example if there was enough chicken she would make a really yummy creamy chicken salad or lots of potatoes she would make a hash omelette my mom has also taught me ways to come up with creative dish ideas for example with potatoes that look like they can use a makeover I make casseroles or bakes my sissy is very into bakes and it’s usually finished on the same night or the next day

    • olgak7

      I love repurposing leftovers too. It gets my creative juices flowing:). Thank you for sharing about the things that you learned from your mother and grandmother.

      • Tzivia

        My pleasure olga definitely a big money saver big time and also this way my whole family goes out to eat a lot less

  • Natalia Elam

    Thank you so much for sharing, Olga!

    I absolutely Love your blog! My family and I came to America 26 years ago when I was 13 from Estonia/Russian border. With 4 kids, we have always learned to reuse everything. I still reuse as much as possible and definitely am very crafty. My mom and grandma taught me how to knit, crochet, embroider and sew, along with cooking and gardening. All 4 of us were also sent to music school by my parents (who worked very hard to pay for those lessons) and learned how to play the piano, along with music history, music theory and appreciation.

    I just stumbled onto your blog today, and looking forward to following you on all the social media. 😉 I did want to ask you about the cross stitch project. I love Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 passage about there being a time and purpose to everything. Would love to know where you got it. Haven’t cross stitched in years, though. 🙂

    May our awesome God continue to bless you and your beautiful family.


    • olgak7

      I really enjoyed reading your comment, Natalia. You are so talented and hard working. That’s so great that you learned so many things from your mother and grandma. That’s such a priceless gift that they passed on to you. I always treasure the things I learned from my Mom and grandmothers and I really cherish the time that I get to spend with my parents learning from them and making memories.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write.

  • Mila

    Hi olga!
    I’ve been following you on ig for a few years now and was just showing your blog and recipes to my mom. My parents are also from Minsk and we immigrated to the US in 1989 (we left in 88 but lived in Austria and Italy for a while before finally being granted visas to the US)
    As soon as my mom saw your mom’s photo she said that your mom looks very familiar. She insisted that I write you to tell you that we lived in Frunzensky District and to ask your mom where she lived and if you guys immigrated via Ladispoli.

    • olgak7

      Hi Mila,
      It’s so good to “meet” someone from Minsk! How cool.
      We didn’t immigrate via Ladispoli; we came straight to NY. We came to America in December of 1992.

  • Aleksy

    Thank you for sharing these nice stories (along with useful tips), Olga. I love your writing. To this day I still help my granny make the same things her granny made, we make a lot of varenye, pickles of all kinds, and sometimes cheese. I’m really impressed that your father built such a massive house, it makes me think “I can do that too [eventually]”

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