Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Frugality: Not a New Concept

Frugality is not a new concept. There was once an era when being frugal was considered to be quaint or virtuous. It was considered wise to practice frugality before it became necessary - to put something away “for a rainy day”.

October 29, 1929 - Black Tuesday - began a decade long era of depression. People lost their businesses, jobs, and homes. More than 15 million Americans (one-fourth of the total workforce) became unemployed. Sugar, gas, coffee, tires, and many other items were rationed. Coupons or stamps were issued for a family’s allotment and when that supply was gone, there was no more until the next ration was issued.

Money was scare, goods were scare, and “Use it up - Wear it out - Make it do - or Do Without!” became the normal way of life. Children of the era grew up in a time that produced an environment of frugality that they took with them into adulthood.

Nothing was wasted. Bits of string were tied together, wound into a ball, and put away for future use. Gifts were always unwrapped with care so that the paper and ribbons could be carefully stored until the next year. Egg shells were crushed and incorporated into the garden soil.

Frugality abounded in the kitchen. No meat was ever left on the bones of a chicken or turkey, and every ham bone met it’s end in a pot of soup beans. Ketchup bottles were propped upside down and even rinsed out in an effort to use every last drop, usually in a meatloaf or a pot of spaghetti. Plastic bags and containers and even aluminum foil were washed and reused.

Clothing was handed down between families and through the children in the family. It was remade to fit the new wearer, patched to last longer, and when no longer wearable, what was still usable was cut into pieces to be made into a quilts or woven into rugs. Runs in nylons (for those fortunate enough to have them) were stopped with a dab of clear finger nail polish and larger holes were mended with matching thread. Cotton and wool socks were more standard apparel and were stretched over light bulbs and the holes darned to make them last longer.

The still good parts of bed sheets were made into pillowcase - worn pillowcases became kitchen towels - worn kitchen towels became dishcloths or handkerchiefs. Printed cloth feed sacks were made into clothing while plainer flour sacks were made into underwear.

A pair of bib-overalls sold for only 99 cents a pair, and a pair of work shoes for only $2.98 a pair, however it was not unusual for a man to work for only 50 cents a day at that time. Thus, he would work for four days to buy one pair of overalls and one pair of shoes.

In comparison, today we are predominantly a “throw-away” society. Things are used once or until they malfunction, and are then thrown out. Expensive homes and luxurious automobiles are commonplace - as are the payments that come with them. Most families depend on two incomes to meet their expenses and pay their debts. Loss of even one income can be disastrous as many have no reserve, no “emergency fund” to fall back on in such circumstances.

Frugality is still a virtuous practice, and one that should be implemented in all American households. We should develop the desire to live without those things that are extravagant and excess, and to appreciate and care for the things that we have, if for no other reason than to create savings for times of need.

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