It started innocently enough – by accident, really. I don’t know who put the plastic spoon in the dishwasher – it could have easily been myself, my husband, or our daughter – but I know that when I saw it in there after I’d run a full loan, I merely shrugged my shoulders, decided it was clean enough to use again, and put it right back in the silverware drawer with the rest of our (stainless steel) utensils.

After that, it became hard to throw away all those plastic spoons, forks, and knives that seemed to accumulate in our house. Why toss it in the recycling bin when I could wash and reuse it, I figured. And that is how a simple accident in the kitchen turned into my latest frugal habit.

My History of Frugality

During my time here at Financial Highway, I’ve written about some of my strangest frugal habits. I’ve talked about my penchant for buying gas station-quality toilet paper for mere pennies on the roll; I also went into great detail about the razor with which I shaved my legs for more than a decade. But in some ways, I feel like my latest endeavor takes frugalness to a new extreme.

Seven Is An Unlucky Number

Our silverware story begins back when my husband and I registered for our wedding. At the time, we were in our early 20s and had nothing of any quality. In fact, the silverware set I’d been using in my tiny apartment had only four place settings, and had been purchased on clearance from a discount store for less than $15. The poor construction showed: prongs broke off the forks and the knives were barely sharp enough to cut butter. When we made our wedding registry, we opted for a stainless steel silverware set with 12 place settings that cost $99; it was one of the more expensive items on our otherwise modest registry.

Over the past seven-plus years, we’ve used that same set of silverware every day. We’ve lost a few of the utensils here and there – some went with us to work in brown bag lunches to work never to return, while others had an unfortunate run-in with the dishwasher. Today, we still have all 12 large spoons, 11 large forks, 11 butter knives, 9 small forks and – here’s the problem – just 7 small spoons (oh, we also have a partridge in a pear tree, just for the record).

The lack of small spoons is a problem in our house, especially with two young children who can’t quite fit the larger spoons into their mouths. I find myself washing all seven spoons on a daily basis; sometimes, I even have to wash them between lunch and dinner, just to make sure my kids have something with which to eat the mashed potatoes and gravy.

The Cost of Silverware: Disposable and Permanent

When I first discovered that we were so low on the small spoons, I contacted the company that manufactured our silverware set to see if I could order replacements. I could, in fact, order half a dozen spoons… for $25 each. The cost sounded ridiculous to me. After all, our original silverware set – all 65 pieces of it (12 of each utensil, plus 5 larger serving pieces) – had only cost me $99, or about $1.52 each. Paying $25 for six small spoons – the smallest of all the utensils in the set – represented a 273% markup over retail. I passed.

The plastic utensils, on the other hand, were largely free. They made it in my kitchen by way of takeout orders: wings and fries from the local BBQ joint one Friday night; a Greek salad one afternoon for lunch. At first, I didn’t like using plastic utensils – it felt cheap to me – so I would stuff them in the silverware drawer for a rainy day. But as more and more small spoons fell victim to kidnappings (literally and figuratively), those plastic spoons started to come in handy.

My frugal habit has even gotten to the point where I’m considering ordering more silverware – not the genuine steel stuff, but the plastic utensils that have become a staple in the kitchen. I shopped around on the Internet and found a set of 1,000 heavy-duty plastic spoons for just $25.03 – the same price I was once thinking about paying for six stainless steel spoons. At just two and a half cents per spoon, it sounds like a great deal.

Things Won’t Always Be This Way

As much as I get a kick out of using free plastic utensils in place of real silverware – it’s a great way to save money – I have no intention to keep this charade up long-term. I’m well aware that one day, I’m going to host a dinner party for more than seven people, and will likely want to serve them using real silverware, not a plastic spoon I got from Cookout or the Chinese takeout place.

So what am I waiting for? I actually have a pretty valid answer for that. I’m waiting for my kids to grow up a little bit. I’m waiting for them to get out of the habit of sticking things between couch cushions, into the A/C registers, and directly into the trash can – all places where utensils go to die. I’m waiting for them to get out of the “dropsy” phase, to a point where we can get through a meal without a fork or spoon clattering onto the tile floor, inevitably chipping it. I’m waiting until my son stops trying to stab himself in the eye with the prongs of a fork and his sister realizes that knives shouldn’t be used as weapons except in a street fight unless you’re a Shark or a Jet.

That day is coming. By the time it does, it’s likely I won’t have any of the original pieces from my wedding registry silverware still intact. Then, I’ll happily go to the store and pony up on a fabulous, platinum-plated, diamond-encrusted set of flatware. I’ll be using the money I saved by using plastic silverware to pay for it, of course.

Reader, what are your extreme frugal habits? Got any deep dark secrets you care to share?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke