5 Thrifty Lessons From Post-Apocalyptic Novel "The Road"

I’m in the middle of reading The Road, and couldn’t help draw 5 lessons about frugality from Cormac McCarthy’s tale of a father and son scrapping out their survival in the middle of post-Apocalyptic America.

1. Use what you do have creatively
You have no shoes. Yet, you have a suit jacket, a box cutter, and the lining in the suit jacket. Combine them and you have serviceable foot coverings. Similarly, a metal pipe fitted with a length of chain makes an excellent truncheon.

2. Search through the discards
Even if that can in the corner looks empty, tap it with your foot. There might be some useable gas in it!

3. Don’t quit
Just when you’re on the edge of total failure is when you might come across the storehouse of apples and fresh water.

4. When you come across a windfall, use it wisely
Fill back up on what you need, but don’t wallow in it and let it delay you from your journey.

5. Hold on to your morals
Just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean it’s right to eat the flesh of other humans.

In what unlikely sources have you found inspiration for more frugal living?


Edit Your Comment

  1. shockwaver says:

    But.. the flesh of humans is so tasty!

    And babies.. mmm.. tender babies.

  2. winexprt says:

    @shockwaver: Too funny!! ;-)

  3. javi0084 says:

    That is a great book, highly recommended.

  4. righteye says:

    The Road is the epitome of The Great American Novel. It is a masterpiece.

  5. mxwllsmrt4 says:

    great book, can’t wait for the movie.

    funny stuff

  6. Tell me more about this book!

  7. bohemian says:

    My obese neighbors might be a good replacement for Kobe Beef after the apocalypse?

    Probably Jherico or my mom’s old frugal habits due to growing up on a farm during the depression.

  8. And when does the movie for “The Giver” come out? Come on, Hollywood!

  9. fluiddruid says:

    Babies provide a cheap alternative to turkey at Christmas.

  10. dualityshift says:


    I love babies.

    They’re DELICIOUS!

    Now, say that to a new mother.

  11. cronomorph says:


    While true, have you tried the Turbaben? A chicken stuffed inside a baby stuffed inside a turkey. 3 delicious flavors in one!

  12. monkey33 says:

    @cronomorph: Thanks for making me laugh.

  13. jonbruc says:

    Talking Heads: Life during wartime taught me to prioritize when times are tough.

    “I got some groceries, some peanut butter
    to last a couple of days, but I
    ain’t got no speakers, ain’t got not headphones,
    ain’t got no records to play.”

  14. Wally East says:

    Sometimes you have to dump most of what you own so you can survive.

    Charity begins at home. Don’t give what you can’t afford to give. But, if you have something you can share, do so.

    When you’re in a post-apocalyptic world and you think things can’t get any bleaker, you’re probably right, so cheer up.

  15. Sundermania says:

    Great book. Better book than No Country For Old Men. Not sure if the movie can top that adaptation though.

  16. acasto says:

    Everything I know about life after the apocalypse I learned from Kevin Kostner.

  17. Parapraxis says:

    You guys are so wrong.

    Everybody loves babies.

    With teriyaki sauce.

  18. zentex says:

    #5…yea…skin it and think ‘really big chicken’…no worries!

  19. jfischer says:

    Just before “Y2K” was supposed to destroy civilization, I was asked by many of my neighbors if they should stockpile food and water as I was the local high-tech wizard, and was supposed to know all about the situation. I told them “Yes, you should!”

    They asked me what specific items I was stockpiling, and I answered “Just guns and ammo”.

    They asked me why I wasn’t stockpiling any food and water for myself, and I said “You will have the food and water, and I will have guns and ammo.”

    They blanched. I laughed.

  20. acasto says:

    Oops… misspelled Costner. Now I won’t get my mail!

  21. superc says:

    So I’ve tried reading The Road 3 different times now and can’t get past page 28 (or there abouts). Any reason to try reading it a fourth time?

  22. Eldritch says:


    Eddie Izzard has taught me that since human taste of chicken, that chicken must taste of humans. So chicken = baby flavor.

  23. Veeber says:

    Oh great. Now I’ll be thinking about this the next time I say to my infant “ooo you’re so cute… I’m going to eat you up”

  24. Ben Popken says:

    @superc: Think about how awesome it will be to get to the part with all the humans locked in the basement.

  25. shaken_bake says:

    This article is making me cry like I wept when I read “The Road.” At least I’m not on an aircraft, weeping next to two very puzzled seatmates.

  26. @Parapraxis: @cronomorph: LOL
    Apocalypse coming? Surround yourself with babies and puppies and you’ll turn out alright. (see Meg’s book)

  27. Gann says:

    Eat food. Not to much. Mostly babies.

  28. DrGirlfriend says:

    That book taught me to 1) find myself a cellar and a good lock, 2) start canning everything, and 3) learn to fix supermarket carts. You just never know.

  29. dtmoulton says:

    6. Wait for Oprah.

    7. Don’t go in the basement!

  30. dtmoulton says:

    @Gann: YES!

    Literary crowd at the consumerist today. Pollan and McCarthy. Who’s next? I’m waiting for Atwood quotes.

  31. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Confession time: I’m an atheist, but I read fundamentalist Christian housewife blogs for thrifty ideas. Heh.

  32. Negative says:

    Actually, human tastes like pork. Not chicken.

  33. Negative says:

    Actually human tastes like pork. Not chicken.

  34. MayorBee says:

    1. Use what you do have creatively

  35. Parapraxis says:


    “And God said to Abraham, ‘you will kill your firstborn son'”

    How about that literary one?

  36. MayorBee says:

    Grr… I was a little quick on that one. I would have added “No condoms? No problem! Just grab some Saran Wrap!”

  37. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @jfischer: You miserable bastard sinner, you made me laugh my head off at work. Of course, I have both the food and the guns. And the solar panels, and the water purifiers, and the camping supplies, and the oxygen absorbers, and the medical kits, and the useful low-tech trade, and the country property, and….

  38. Burgandy says:

    @speedwell: I’m not exactly athiest (see tiny purple icon) but I probably read some of those same blogs, my husband thinks I’m slowly loosing it :)

  39. Rev-E says:

    Dune taught me to let someone else check out the prisoners; your Mentat is expendable. And how to drink my own body excretions.

  40. GrantGannon says:

    Book sucked, sorry, hated it.

  41. @Ben Popken: LOVED that part. I think I peed myself reading it.

  42. Best book I’ve read in years.

  43. CMPalmer says:

    #6 Save time by avoiding typing all of those apostrophes

    #7 Dont spend your time reading or writing a novel about a subject thats been done just as well before – by everyone from Richard Matheson to George Miller to Stephen King – unless you have something new to add other than literary pretentiousness

    #8 Dont bother punctuating your conversations or identifying the speakers – we readers love a good puzzle in our reading and bow down to your unconventional use of the English language even when it painfully intrudes upon your story and distracts us

    #9 The way to make universal philosophical points is to leave everything vague – dont name your characters, dont explain what happened, dont be realistic about ecology or sociology. That works much better than creating real characters that readers can identify with and care about

    In case you can’t tell, I really wasn’t that impressed by the book. I wrote a full review on my blog (if thats ok to link to here):


  44. nikkomorocco says:

    @CMPalmer: something tells me you wear cardigans with elbow patches and spends his/her time mocking people at the borders checkout for buying “simpleton books.”

  45. solipsistnation says:

    Stocking up on antibiotics and medical supplies when you have a chance is always a good idea.

    And save your last bullets for yourself and your family. Remember to shoot them first.

    (That’s a fantastic book, cmpalmer’s dislike aside. I’ve read many post-apocalyptic novels of various sorts, and McCarthy has made them all obsolete.)

  46. esqdork says:

    Lower your electric bill by unplugging your fridge and dismembering your animal protein a limb at a time?

  47. DrGirlfriend says:

    I have nothing against Stephen King, but damn, I’d say The Road kicks the crap out of any book he’s written that is similar in theme. I can’t believe the comparison is even being made.

  48. yotoad says:

    just got it on amazon — can’t wait to start. TONIGHT!

  49. arthurat says:


    Amen, this book was terrible.

  50. CMPalmer says:

    @nikkomorocco: Actually, it’s right the opposite. I enjoyed the book a bit, but I have no patience for pretentious “lit-fic” novels. I thought McCarthy’s prose was poetic at times, but the story, what little there was, was subsumed by the “Look at me! Look what a pretentious writer I am! Marvel at my use of words and unconventional structure and punctuation!” All the while, he’s telling a story that’s been told many times before in much more intriguing and insightful ways.

    In my opinion, the mark of an excellent writer is someone who can make you disappear into a story and still make you feel, learn, think, and experience difference “lives” and points of view. Much modern fiction seems to be more concerned with dazzling the literati while writing books and stories about nothing. Even that may be defensible in the school of thought that fiction should represent “true life” and abandon common literary patterns and cliches, but if that was McCarthy’s intent, why write about such as cliche as the collapse of civilization and human despair in a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Nihilism and hopelessness isn’t that profound in such a fantastic setting.

    My comments above were intended sarcastically, as was the tone of my review for the most part.

    I have no problem with experimental prose if it serves its own purpose. I even admire some of Joyce’s work. For example, if it were obvious that the book’s narrator actually existed in the world being described and that was a reason for the way it was written, as in Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, then it would be OK. In The Road, it was merely distracting and annoying.

  51. sapguy says:

    Upon finishing “The Road” I realized that McCarthy had indeed invented Time Travel. Here I was, transported into the future by the X number of hours it took me to read the book. And I had no additional knowledge, no insight into humanity, no entertainment value, no value added at all.

    In fact, McCarthy might have invented a diet program… he transported me into the future and I had a bowel movement.

    (It definitely left me with less than I had started “The Road” with)

  52. BrianU says:

    If you’re not the travelling type:
    Dare To Prepare – 2nd Edition by Holly Deyo.
    And, Prudent Places USA – 3rd Edition, if you want to get a head start

  53. Nighthawke says:

    Welcome to another edition of THUNDERDOME!!!

    Two men enter! One man leaves!

    Two men enter! One man leaves!

    Two men enter! One man leaves!

    Say the gospel, preacher…

    “Dyin’ time’s here.”

    Gimme Max over Blaster any time.

  54. BlackFlag55 says:

    I come from hill billy stock. Loooong line of hill billy southern secessionist stock. McCarthy ain’t writing anything new. May be new to him … but not to people who know all the words to Hank Williams Jr’s A Country Boy Can Survive

  55. seandavid010 says:

    I’m trying to work this into my AP curriculum for this year, as I think my students will really enjoy it. An amazing read! McCarthy is truly one of the great American authors.

  56. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Funny! Right under Number 5, there’s a teaser link and photo to “Save Money By Being Your Own Butcher”.

    Next up: The Joy of Cooking – Wendigo edition!

  57. jpx72x says:

    @superc: Dude, I was past 28 before I left the library.

  58. Torley says:

    I like how the dialog is formatted in this book. Way to save a lot of quotation marks! I know James Frey has used a similar style; I think it’s going to catch on further for pacing/aesthetic purposes.

    Some have said (urgh, passive) this book reminds me them of Stephen King’s The Stand. The “end of human civilization following a massive catastrophe” is a very general theme that can be written about in multitudes of ways, so I’m not so much concerned about that similarity – but I think it’s VERY COOL how The Road is consider a work of great literature and contains grotesque acts by cannibals!

    What a way to get horror writing some cred points.

  59. glitch44 says:

    @CMPalmer: Dazzling the literati? You’re joking, right? I think Cormac McCarthy has only done two interviews in the last 20 years. I think he’s pretty much the exact opposite of someone who cares about the literati, critics, reviews, or book sales.

    It wasn’t a book about “the collapse of civilization and human despair in a post-apocalyptic wasteland”. It was about finding hope during the collapse of civilization, and finding a way to go on when everything seems lost, which is a very different thing.

  60. I learned that Coca Cola will provide me a brief, but profound sense of pleasure if I go cold, hungry, and thirsty for a long time. Take that, Nuka-Cola!

  61. Ben Popken says:

    @CMPalmer: I disagree. I think the postmodern flourishes were actually pretty spare. But I’ve seen some pretty crazy literature so maybe it’s like scotch and you have to experience a few times before it tastes any good.

  62. elanne says:

    shockwaver said:
    “But.. the flesh of humans is so tasty!
    And babies.. mmm.. tender babies.”

    Stay Away From The Babies.
    We need them for Baby Oil.
    Jeesh. You want to create another shortage. Enough is enough.

  63. @speedwell: Hillbilly Housewife FTW!

  64. MommaJ says:

    “It wasn’t a book about’the collapse of civilization and human despair in a post-apocalyptic wasteland’. It was about finding hope during the collapse of civilization, and finding a way to go on when everything seems lost, which is a very different thing.” Exactly. And, I’d add, about what it is to be a parent.

    Stunning book that has stayed with me for months now. Recommend you set aside an afternoon and read it at one sitting for maximum impact.

  65. farmerjoe says:

    I’m constantly surprised at the accolades this book receives. I read enough to be familiar with an eclectic range of very well written and engaging works, and i found this particular read marginal at best. I didn’t hate it, but I was entirely unimpressed with both the writing style and content of the book.

    I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they were in grade 8.

  66. Ben Popken says:

    @Ben Popken: Plus getting rid of quotation marks reflects the minimalism and starkness of the environment, no?

  67. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    In what unlikely sources have you found inspiration for more frugal living?

    I’m drawing a complete blank. I can’t recall any money saving ideas or inspirations sneaking up on me.

    I find that post-apocalyptic stories provide inspiration to learn how to make your own stuff. The long term plan is to be versed in all the fiber arts, not just knitting, so that I have skills I can barter with after civilization collapses. Also, I’m going to move to Amish country.

  68. itmustbeken says:

    The Road was really good, but ‘great American novel’?
    Wow, aren’t we lowering the bar just a bit?

    It was entertaining but c’mon, its not transforming.

  69. I learned most of my post-apocalyptic genius from two books: “The Psalms of Herod” and its sequel, “The Sword of Mary”, by Esther Freisner. Both were well-written (as I remember; they were certainly grippingly engaging and terrifying realistic) and truly disturbing stories. I even tried to go back and read The Psalms of Herod after I had my daughter, and I can’t do it now that I’m a mom. >,<

    Great books; totally recommended if you like dark post-apocalyptic OMG-fests.

    I learned:

    – stay the hell away from large groups
    – if you get stuck in a large group, pretend that you agree with their ideologies completely until you can get away
    – always stash a weapon on your person, the more invisible the better
    – do not wear/hold/display any sash/totem/item that someone you barely know gives you to take to a public place; it probably labels you as something nasty or illegal
    – have a long-term goal and stick to it no matter what
    – do not compromise on your morals, ever, unless you absolutely have to, in which case, forgive yourself for it immediately and let it go. (if you never compromise, then if you have to, it’s easier to know that you had to and to let it go.)
    – always pretend to be what people expect you to be, but if there’s someone you need to intimidate or control, get them alone and show them a bit of your fighting spirit. They’ll doubt their footing with you, and if they try to warn anybody else about meek little you, they’ll undermine their credibility.
    – the more religion a place has, the more fucked-up it is, even if you can’t see the 3v1l on the surface.

    and lastly,

    -protect children at all costs *except yourself*. You are a functioning person who can change the world *right now*, whereas a child cannot survive on its own and only has the *potential* to change things.

    happy sigh

    I love morally ambiguous, rich and hand-wringing stories. I need to suck it up and go read those again, nightmares or not!

  70. Speak says:

    Loved “The Road.” Can’t wait to see Viggo Mortensen play the father on-screen.

    Other source of inspiration for (frugal) living: zombie movies. 1) Have a blunt object handy. 2) Make sure one has a can opener. 3) Learn how to keep one’s sanity in close quarters.

  71. othium says:

    I liked the book and am looking forward to renting the movie when it comes out on DVD.

    Personally, I have had my “Bug Out Bag” packed for a few years now…

  72. Breach says:

    Also, always carry a shotgun and a cricket bat for post-nuclear zombies and mutants.

  73. righteye says:

    @itmustbeken: ‘Great American Novel’? Absolutely. The Pulitzer Prize is no accident. Revisit these comments in 20 years and assess The Road’s position in the literary canon then.

    This is book is more than just a post-apocalyptic nightmare. McCarthy deals with big themes – strength, courage and redemption – and he does so skillfully and poetically. To me, it’s a study in what it means to be a father, and how a father loves his son. The Road affected me deeply.

    Sniping about punctuation, or lack of, and style misses the point. In a world were there is nothing, who needs apostrophes?

    Also, it made me habitually study the construction of various shopping carts, in case I ever need to fix one in dire circumstances.

  74. matuszek says:

    Lots of jokes in this thread… my serious answers are

    1. Supply and demand are context-dependent. That’s always why you diversify your investments. In this case, consider moving money out of things that will be worthless (real estate, stocks, bonds, cars) and into things that will be priceless (clean water, canned food, medicine, weaponry, bikes). Not all of it, of course, but a small investment could pay off big-time.

    2. “All true wealth is biological” — Lois McMaster Bujold. Providing for your kids is your number one priority, or else why are you even on the planet?

  75. CMPalmer says:

    I’ll tell you what – I’ll go back and re-read it and see if my opinion has changed.

    I was just looking back at the list of Pulitzer prizes for literature (and before that, for the novel) and out of 80 or so of the prize winners, I’ve read about eighteen of the them and I liked them all better than The Road.

  76. CMPalmer says:

    Back to what was supposed to be the original point of this thread…

    Before you can efficiently use, recycle, and improvise on what you have or that others have discarded, it helps to acquire some basic skills of engineering, carpentry, science, and history. This is true whether you are trying to get by with less or dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane – not just if you are in a post-apocalyptic world full of cannibals. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to push a crappy shopping card down melted and cracking roads instead of improvising something better.

  77. screaminscott says:

    Honestly, I found this book just too boring and depressing and uninteresting to glean anything useful from it.

    Seriously, why is this a best seller?

  78. CMPalmer says:

    @screaminscott: Oprah?

  79. matuszek says:

    @screaminscott: Pulitzer?

    I agree that it was an incredibly depressing book. Not boring though. I can’t stop thinking about it.

    What I do wonder is what Oprah could possibly have had to say about it. Power of love and redemption? Surely that would have required some sort of happy ending. Something religious? The main character is pretty dismissive of that idea. Does anyone know this?

  80. CMPalmer says:

    @matuszek: I’m not sure, I won’t admit to watching Oprah :-)

    I would dismiss her and her book club entirely except that she has promoted some excellent books, and not just new books by authors on the talk show circuit – One Hundred Years of Solitude and East of Eden, for example. Then again, she’s also responsible for promoting Deepok Chopra and Dr. Phil on her show, so I guess that balances out what good she does for literature.

  81. jamesf3i says:

    McCarthy’s writing makes me weary and the lack of punctuation and character identification is a gimmick instead of literary innovation.

  82. Rivercat says:

    Are you reading a book or playing a videogame? That’s exactly the type of problem (puzzle) solving you do in a typical post-apocalyptic action-adventure game.