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Substitute, Improvise, and Make Do With What You Have

I can’t tell you how many times recently I have been caught without something I needed. I don’t have a car [1] and rely on public transportation and/or walking to get me anywhere I need to go. While it works most of the time, getting anywhere requires a little bit of planning – not great if a last-minute need arises.

I’ve found that a little creativity and/or search-engine prowess can help me get out of almost any bind with things I already have in my apartment. Here are some quick fixes I’ve used to save me time, money and stress.

Quick-Fix Ideas

  • Cooking: I bought everything recently for a slow cooker pot roast [2] I was so excited about. But when I got home I realized I didn’t have Worcestershire sauce. A quick internet search told me that soy sauce and a pinch of cinnamon was a good substitute – and the pot roast turned out so well I think I’ll make it that way in the future! I have also substituted a can of chicken broth and a little soy sauce for beef broth and thrown a can of tomatoes in the food processor when I realized I didn’t have tomato sauce.
  • Baking: I was making cookies the other day and already had the mixer going when I realized that the recipe told me to sift the powdered sugar before adding it to the dough. I don’t have a sifter – in fact, the only person I know who does is my grandma! But I realized that a sifter just helps get out any lumps [3]. So I put the appropriate amount of powdered sugar in a small Ziploc bag, rolled over it a few times with a rolling pin, and pushed out the rest of the lumps and bumps with my fingers. I’ve also used a Ziploc bag [4] to smash up avocado for guacamole and as a substitute for a pastry bag.
  • Gift wrap: If you find yourself without a gift bag or roll of wrapping paper in your house just minutes before leaving to a party, get creative [5]. Magazine or newspaper ads can make great gift wrap if used creatively. I’ve even made bows out of newspaper by curling long strips of brightly colored sections
  • Laundry: Frequent trips to the dry cleaner are both expensive [6] and impractical for somebody with no car. When I have a dry-clean only item that is actually clean but just a little musty from too much time in the closet, I freshen it up by putting it in the dryer with a scented dryer sheet for just a few minutes. If your dresser or wardrobe leaves your clothing smelling like wood, dryer sheets [7] also make a great substitute for scented drawer liners or expensive sachets.
  • Linens: I recently bought a new twin daybed when my full-sized bed didn’t fit in my new apartment [8]. I thought I had twin sheets left over from college but realized I didn’t. For the first several nights, I just folded my full-sized sheets carefully towards the back of the bed, and didn’t even notice the difference. While I did purchase twin sheets eventually, I never did replace the dust ruffle at the bottom of my bed – I just folded the large one in such a way that the extra hangs towards the back. Since I don’t plan to use the twin bed beyond this year, there was no reason to invest in new, expensive items.

What have you made do with recently? Did you find the substitute was as good or better than the original? Tell us in the comments!