live on the smell of an oily rag

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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