live on the smell of an oily rag

live on the smell of an oily rag

To live very frugally, economically, or sparingly; to survive with very meager resources. Primarily heard in Australia, New Zealand. I spent a year travelling abroad, and I lived on the smell of an oily rag to get by. We're going to have to live on the smell of an oily rag now that we have a fourth baby on the way.
See also: live, of, oily, on, rag, smell