What does a frugal family keep in the car? Well gee! I’m glad you asked. I initially wrote this post in 2006 as a response to that very question from a reader! Today I’ve pulled it out, updated it, and presented it here for your reading pleasure 🙂
Things to Keep in the Car
#1-If you are a frequent Aldi’s or Save-A-Lot shopper, you should always have shopping bags in the car. A few summers ago I bought every one of those canvas “conference” style bags that I came across in a yard sale (never more than $.25) for reusable shopping bags. For the discount grocers, you are prepared for bagging your own groceries even if you didn’t realize you were going to have the opportunity to stop at the store. You won’t have to have the groceries rolling around the trunk of the car or spend $.05 a bag to buy them.
#2-A bag full of plastic grocery bags. If you don’t have reusable ones, you can use these for shopping. Otherwise, I really don’t need to list 101 ways to use plastic bags here. Suffice it to say that there will always be occasions when you are glad that you had a plastic bag on hand!
#2-An emergency roadside kit. This is just a good idea for everyone to have in their car with a safety triangle, first aid kit, etc. Just in case. Since I am in the cold and frozen Northeast, I also like to have a pair of jumper cables in the back of the car as well, both for myself and to act as a good Samaritan as necessary.
Note to self: Good thing about Blog, makes you check back of car to take picture and realize someone has absconded with jumper cables. Must replace!
#3-In my car, in the winter I keep 2 hand knit acrylic fiber blankets. One I made for Princess back in 2000 out of Red Heart yarn, the second was made by a friend. Knitters and crocheters out there will realize that although these blankets were made with love, the yarn is pretty much 100% plastic. The good thing about this is EVERYTHING washes off of it.
If we were ever to break down and be stuck without heat for a while, the blankets would provide an additional layer of warmth for the kiddos. Also, I usually skip the “warm up the car” step when I am only driving across town-why waste the gas and run the car for 10 minutes to warm up when you are going to be driving for less than 5 minutes? Instead the kids can throw a blanket over their lap.
#4-In the case of small children, keep a spare diaper and change of clothes somewhere in the car. Yes-I know you have a diaper bag. But lets face it, we’ve all taken trips that were “just going to take a minute” that wound up taking longer and gotten stuck somewhere without our diaper bag. Luckily this is not a concern for me any longer-but it is worth mentioning for those of you who are!
#5– I keep a Pria Bar or two in my glove box. This started out as a diet aid for me-I knew the exact calorie content and composition so it was much better than buying a cheeseburger out. Even though they cost close to a dollar each, that is still cheaper than a lot of meals out. A frugal person might want to consider keeping a few non perishable snacks stashed in the car to stave off the urge to run through the drive-thru or to buy an expensive snack out.
Note to self: Ate last Pria bar in glove box. Must replace!
Personally I don’t keep bottled water in the car because I have never had a problem with asking a fast food place for only a glass of ice water. I’ve never been refused, even if I haven’t bought anything else there. A single time about 4 years ago someone made me pay $.10 for the cup. Depending on your location you may want to keep a 4 or 6 pack of water in the back of the car.
#6- A homemade “Life Emergency Kit”. I made these for everyone in the family one year, and mine resides in the center console with the diapers and the umbrella! It includes everything that I could think of that someone might need while they were out and about and not have packaged into a small thrift store purse.
There is a mini (homemade) first aid kit-band aids, small Ziploc baggies with Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Alka Seltzer (trail size-free), Rolaids (trial size-free). I have a nail file, a duplicate of my lip gloss & eyeliner, a homemade mini sewing kit (ie small piece of felt with 2 shirt buttons sewn on and 2 needles stuck through threaded with white and black thread), a small notebook and pen, and probably some other items I can’t remember right now.
Having any of these items easily accessible might keep you from making an “emergency” purchase, such as those overpriced little packs of Tylenol they sell at gas stations. The hardest part is remembering to refill the medication etc after you use them so your not caught without the next time.
#7– An umbrella and a pair of sunglasses. I try to ensure that these items always get returned back to the car when we are done with them. Umbrellas are super cheap these days-every dollar store I’ve seen carries them- so there is no excuse not to have one that lives in your car. You know people buy them impulsively when it rains just so they won’t get wet walking back to their cars-Wally World and other retailers frequently have a stand that they pull out and place by the door when ever it rains for just such a reason!
If you are lucky enough to not have a prescription for glasses, or to wear contacts then you can buy inexpensive sunglasses too. I have to have prescription ones so they live in my car. Again-if you are out and about driving and the sun is in your eyes annoying the heck out of you, you are likely to plunk down money for some sunglasses impulsively. If you have a pair that lives and stays in your car, well, then you are good!
#8-This really isn’t something I keep IN the car to be frugal, but rather something I do TO the car. I bought plastic floor mats pretty cheap to put over my carpet ones to try to keep the nasty salty winter mud from getting ground into my carpeting.
I also bought a bench seat cover for the back seat of my car. This matches the interior color so well that most people don’t realize it is there.
My thoughts were that both of these things help protect the resale value (if I decide to resell at some point) of my car, and also keep it looking a little better so that I don’t get sick of it. (you know, that feeling where even though you know that it doesn’t make sense you want to trade in your car that runs perfectly fine because it is starting to look run down and you are “sick of it”. No! I shall resist!)
I think that while I have two kids in car seats the back seat cover is especially important, as it really protects that upholstery from all the kid induced messes.
I paid regular retail for mine at Wally World, but I’ve heard folks say that a fitted twin sheet (ie the part with the elastic on all four corners) is the exact right size to fit over most bench style back seats-you could try that out with a twin sheet, and then if it is true either buy one new or keep an eye out for one in the thrift stores or yard sales that would go with your car, or just bite the bullet and have Mickey and Friends all over your back seat for a while (the kiddos probably would like it)
Another option I’ve seen work well is to buy a very inexpensive vinyl tablecloth, and place that across the bottom part of the seat. That way you are protected against spills & stains.
So, that’s my list of things I actually do keep in my car that help me to stay frugal. What are some of the things that you do?