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Saving Money on a Budget by Recycling Household Items

By Hannah Wolfson

Photography by Ed Rode

Looking for ways to save, Donny Jackson gave a new purpose to his old truck toolbox no longer being used.

Jackson, of Leipers Fork, Tenn., attached legs and wheels to the toolbox to make it into a movable workbench. This saved him from having to dispose of more waste, and it also saved money he may have spent on a new tool box.

"It makes a real handy piece," he says. "I can roll it outside and I have a bench to work on and I can lay parts out on it. It's good and sturdy."

He also stores tools> inside it, another thrifty use for this old item. "I put stuff that I don't want in my nice regular toolbox," he says.

In today's tight economy, everyone's looking for ways to save and make do with what they have. Your best bet might be to think twice before throwing something away; many household items that have run their course, such as Jackson's toolbox, can be given a new purpose - called repurposing.

A search online reveals entire websites dedicated to repurposing, with such clever ideas as using an empty CD/DVD spindle to organize wire cables and converting a vintage refrigerator vegetable bin into a bathroom caddy.

"There isn't a magic bullet for saving money out there," says Kimberly Danger, a consumer advocate and family savings expert who runs the popular website "It's all the little things that add up."

Danger's thrifty lifestyle began eight years ago when she quit working full- time after her daughter was born. With her family living on one income rather than two, she searched for money-saving tips. She didn't find much at the time, so she decided to come up with her own savings ideas to share with others.

Reusing throwaway items not only saves money, but it keeps them out of the landfill while passing on a legacy of resourcefulness to the next generation, Danger says.

"We've become accustomed to living in this throwaway society," Danger says. "I hate to see our kids raised to think that way. Even if you don't need to reuse stuff and you can afford to go out and buy it, I think recycling is a good idea."

Start small and you'll eventually work up to making a workbench. Danger suggests beginning with these areas:

Storage - Why spend money on boxes and jars when you're throwing good ones away? Baby wipes containers can hold plastic grocery bags, which pop through the hole for easy access. Oatmeal boxes are great for storing pens and paintbrushes. Pretty glass candle jars can be scrubbed clean and used to stash cotton balls in the bathroom. And egg cartons make perfect seed starters.

Celebrations - Greeting cards can become gift tags or cut up for scrapbooking. The comics or glossy advertisements from magazines make good wrapping paper, and you can shred old gift wrap to make pretty stuffing for gift bags.

Kid stuff - Children constantly outgrow things that can be put to good use. Danger keeps her old crib mattress under her daughter's twin bed as a makeshift trundle bed.

The key is to keep your eyes open, Danger says. Problem-solving skills used in repurposing could even be reused themselves in other, broader circumstances.

"I always tell people this: with frugality, it depends what works for you," Danger says. "What I think is a great idea others might think is crazy."