Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course
If you enjoy fixing, mending and MacGuyvering like any self-respecting Cheapskate, you need a special survival kit just for your frugal activities. You know the old adage, use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Well, to follow that to the max, you need some inexpensive gear.
Making things last longer by repairing them is one of the most important pillars of thrift. I write about all sorts of different survival kits on this website, but I recently realized I never wrote about my Cheapskate’s Survival Kit. There are certain tools and supplies that will help you make things last longer and best of all, they don’t cost a fortune.
What goes in your cheapskate survival kit?
Without further ado, here are the things that every thrifty soul should keep close at hand.
- Duct tape: It sounds like a cliché, but there are so many things that duct tape can quickly repair. I have duct-taped the back of a sofa after it got ripped during a move, the leg of a table, tarps, backpacks, sneakers, and much, much more. Was it sexy and beautiful? No, probably not. But the value of your ability to eke out just a little bit more wear from an item cannot be overlooked.
- WD-40: It doesn’t have to be name brand. Any kind of lubricant can be worth its weight in gold. From silencing squeaks to making hinges work again, lubricating fluid is a valuable repair asset. It can also be used to loosen up formerly moving parts that are stuck, although if they’re rusted tight, you may need a penetrating fluid.
- Black dye: At least once a year, I run all of our black clothing through the washing machine with a package of black fabric dye. It makes faded clothes look brand-spankin’ new. It doesn’t have to be name brand Rit dye. Any black dye will work this magic. (Be sure to run a load of darks as your next load after this so that you don’t stain light colored clothing.
- Aluminum foil: It’s good for more than just tin foil hats! You can cut aluminum foil with scissors to sharpen them. You can also ball it up and use it as a scrubber for pots and pans, and you can throw a ball of foil into the dryer to reduce static cling. Wrap furniture feet in foil before moving heavy items to prevent scratching the floor. You can craft a speedy makeshift funnel or you can make a heat reflector by wrapping a big piece of cardboard in foil and sliding it behind your radiators.
- Hot glue gun: Not only can you use these for all sorts of DIY crafts, but you can also use it for a multitude of repairs. I have used my hot glue gun to “weld” plastic bread tags onto plastic clothing hampers that have split. I’ve also used it to repair shoes, books, and toys. A dollop on each side of a plastic hanger can give clothing a little something to cling to. You can quickly attach decorations to costumes with hot glue. I’ve even seen YouTube videos of people repairing electrical cords with hot glue, although I have not done this myself.
- Zip ties: Plastic zip ties have a multitude of uses. I use them in my garden every year to hold my tomato tipis together and also to secure wobbly plants to the piece of bamboo I stuck in the ground to stabilize them (Be sure not to tighten it too much – they need room to grow. You can use zip ties to make all sorts of redneck contraptions, like attaching a teeny flashlight to the side of your glasses or holding a trouble light overhead on the beams of your basement. You can also use them to tame the mass of cords at the back of your entertainment center. In a pinch, I have even been known to put my long hair in a ponytail using zip ties. (This was back in the days when I worked in an automotive shop.)
- Staple gun: What CAN’T you do with a staple gun? I’ve used one to reupholster furniture, to cover a piece of plywood with fabric, to attach posters to backing before putting them in a frame, and to attach “skirts” over some lower kitchen cabinets with long-lost doors.
- Vinegar: You can clean with it, cook with it, pickle with it, and kill weeds with it. It’s as multipurpose as a kitchen item can get. Here are more brilliant ideas for using white vinegar.
- Safety pins: You can use safety pins for all sorts of things. A lot of them relate to clothing, like a quick fix for a dropped hem, holding a blouse shut between the buttons, or taking something that is too loose in at the sides when you don’t have time to sew the item. However, they have other uses too. You can turn a scarf into a pillow cover, attach fake flowers to a blouse or jacket, remove garlic from a garlic press, or stash them in a first aid kit to keep bandages in place. Last but certainly not least, safety pins can be used to rethread a drawstring through pajama pants.
- Cooking oil: It’s good for more than just cooking. It can be used to remove all sorts of sticky stuff from all sorts of surfaces. Cooking oil can take off tar, tree sap, chewing gum, grease, sticky labels or price tags, and even eye makeup. It can also be used as an ingredient in homemade furniture polish or wood floor cleaner.
What’s in your Cheapskate Survival Kit?
There are probably lots more of these thrifty tools, but the things are above are the ones I would personally feel lost without. I certainly didn’t just get them and put them away – I use them all the time.
Use this list as inspiration to put together your own cheapskate survival kit!
I would add wire and Command hooks to that list. Even paper clips can perform miracles.
Cooking oil can also be used in a primitive oil lamp (i.e., just a bowl and a wick).
I’m sure that Angus “Mac” MacGyver would have appreciated the spirit of your article.
Here are a few basics worth adding to your list, without going into a lifetime’s accumulation of wood, plastic and metal working tools, many of which you could find even on HarborFreight.com, or better, a walkthrough one of their stores:
1. A farmer’s tin snips. They leave ordinary scissors way behind when it comes to cutting leather, heavy canvas, sheet metal, tin cans, etc.
2. Kroil. It’s the best penetrating oil I’ve ever used, in spray can or gallon cans. See details on kanolabs.com
3. Small bench vise. Whether it clamps (for portability) or bolts to a work bench or table or pickup tailgate, this is fundamental to holding all kinds of things for repair, maintenance, modification, etc. Even more flexibility is gained with a pair of magnetic padded vise jaws that can be dropped in at a moment’s notice for more vulnerable items you don’t want marred by the bare steel vise jaws. I started learning to use one from age 4 on.
4. JB Weld (several types). For high strength attachment of metals, woods, some kinds of plastics.
5. Vise Grips. For holding or compressing things tighter and more securely than you could ever manage otherwise.
6. Battery powered headlamp. For those nighttime situations when you need both hands available and there’s nobody handy to hold a flashlight for you. Rechargeable Nimh batteries plus a combination AC and solar power charger gives you even more flexibility.
7. A comment on duct tape (which was mentioned). There is a wide variety of quality and durability on the market. One of the best is the Gorilla brand, which WalMart carries.
I love having metal perforated tape and a box of assorted nuts and screws… Have repaired a lot of heavy duty stuff that has to survive tear and wear
The bottom of the bumper of our black car has been held together with black duct tape since falling victim to a high curb 3 years ago. Every once in awhile we have to retape it, but you don’t notice it and it’s not money we’re going to spend on a car with 242,000 miles on it, or ever, truthfully.
Back when faded jeans were bad, we used to redye the denim blue again
Wire. A small roll has helped me in many situations.
INPrepper’s suggestion for a roll of wire is excellent. Farmers used to save the baling wire that held hay bales together — before that industry went el cheapo and changed to using baling twine. These days, about the nearest equivalent wire rolls you can easily find are what construction contractors use to tie rebar together for house foundations, commercial buildings, etc. Roughly $7 bucks will get you a 400 foot roll of “rebar tie wire” at your nearest Home Depot, or their website. That, plus a wire cutter tool, lineman’s pliers, or wire cutting feature on many multi-tools, and you can cut, wind, twist, tie and hold much of the world together.