Don't Trash Frugality With Your Garbage

"Every little bit counts" has become a popular phrase in our recovering economy. It certainly applies to this month's highest-rated frugal sense tip. Lisa McMahon, of Memphis, Tenn., has found an easy way to save money on garbage bags. And she doesn't mind that her daughter now calls her the "dry-cleaner plastic queen." How did you get this idea?

Lisa McMahon: My husband still has to wear a dress shirt to work. He likes his shirts to be starched. I just can't iron a shirt the way he wants it, so these dry-cleaner bags just started piling up. I hated to throw them away.

I was in the kitchen one day and I couldn't find the box of garbage bags. The great big long dry-cleaner bags were the ones I used first. I tied a knot at the bottom. In the laundry room, I don't put wet garbage in that garbage can, so I can let it get really full. There's nothing in there that would smell. I found out, "Oh my God, it really holds a lot of stuff." Then I started saving the bags.

I use the short dry cleaner bags for the bathroom. I used one of the big ones to pick up yard trash. That's the other thing about these bags: They're made from really strong plastic. It's a lot stronger than it needs to be. I just started using them for everything. I pack clothes in the plastic; it helps them from wrinkling. It was just one of those things where I found, if I can use the bags for this, I can use it for this, too.

My daughter lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Instead of using tissue paper, I wrap things in dry-cleaner bags. It makes really good packing material. ... My daughter laughs at me and says I'm the dry-cleaner plastic queen. How long have you been doing this?

Lisa McMahon: Probably a couple of years. My husband is one of those people who likes to wear a tie. He doesn't know what the point of wearing a dress shirt is if you don't wear it with a tie. He doesn't care for it being open at neck. So he still takes everything to the dry cleaner. ... He's hoping they'll reinstate ties at the office. He's a real funny person. He's really great, but he's really picky. So do you still buy garbage bags and do you use them?

Lisa McMahon: Oh yeah, I use those, too. My husband doesn't like to do what I do. You know how every household has its own division of labor? His thing is doing the garbage. So he takes out the trash. When he's doing the trash, he uses the store-bought bags. When I take out the garbage, I get one of my dry-cleaner bags. So it depends on who's doing the garbage. I probably don't buy garbage bags but once a year. A box of 80 bags will last about a year. We only have to take out the garbage a couple of times a week. We have two cans -- one in the laundry room and one in the kitchen. Usually he does the kitchen. It probably takes a couple of weeks to get the dry-cleaner bags full. Where does your sense of frugality come from?

Lisa McMahon: My father was a letter carrier. My mother didn't work a lot of the time when we were young. We had five kids in family. You get creative when you're trying to figure out how to feed and clothe everybody. My mother always had little things she did to stretch dollars.