Friday, April 11, 2008

Creative Frugality

, by Sung Kim, from allposters

For some reason, there is a great deal of talk about the hardships of the past, and mostly in a good light. Two elderly people have recently talked to me about this, even though I doubt very much they know of this series on modern frugality. One family was telling me that it was just about impossible to find work when he was very young, so he and his wife followed the harvest. Wherever they could pick fruit or berries, they went. He was describing how difficult it was, and yet, because they were not tied down to a lot of financial obligations (having no money to do so in the first place), they were free to go and find work. He said that in spite of his own childhood spent in austere circumstances, his memories of all those times are ones of great happiness. After picking fruit all day, the children jumped in the river and swam.

I visited my grand-uncle on his 99th birthday and took a printed photograph of his family. He told me, "If you had only seen how those people lived, you would not have believed it. They had nothing." Yet, he told me that they found many innovative ways to live. He also expressed the fact that there was a lot laughing about, and humor seemed to be one of the marks of character in those days. He was able to point to each of the 9 people in the photographs and tell something about their personality and the things they liked to do

Cottage by James Lee from allposters

There seemed to be an unwritten formula in these families, that made them come alive in the worst of times. Complaining was not cultivated as much as it is today. It was considered ungrateful to despise their lives. They did not, however, consider lack of money or material things the "worst" of times. They were difficult financially but not as bad as the break down of the family. Lack of money did not seem to break down the family as much as it does today. They had an inner resolve and deeply held Biblical beliefs that kept their family loyalties strong.

Most of them knew the scriptures and identified with strongly with the phrases and the historical accounts of the Bible. Some of those accounts took place in a barren land, where water was hard to find. Some of the work was back-breaking. Some of the prominent characters followed the harvest. One thing that many people learned is that planting and cultivating a piece of dirt brought more prosperity to it. Once barren land could have a foot of loam on it in only a few years if it had been cultivated. In some ways, I think our attitudes respond the same way!

They were able to be creative. It is interesting to "paint your way out of" just about anything. I would encourage a viewing of the artists featured in this post today. Just type in their names at When I was growing up, we often were stuck out on the homestead, not having much, for a long time, but drawing was always encouraged. In drawing, you can go anywhere in the world and do anything you want. Developing such a skill is very important to the mind, to lift one out of their current situation.

Writing your way out of something is just as absorbing. The best loved stories, including "Anne of Green Gables," were written by women who were confined to the home because they had to care for someone around the clock.

Singing your way out of something is more uplifting than going on a shopping spree. It is fun to buy things when circumstances enable it, but when not, singing can get a person through a lot of hardship. One of my favorite things to do when I have a huge pile of things to wash or sort through or fold, etc., is to have a younger person in the family sit down and tell me the words in a song book, helping me to learn all the verses of a song. It helps them learn to read and sing and it helps me get through some of the more time-consuming tasks.

Giving your way out of the circumstances is also a very interesting concept. When trying to cut back and be more frugal, giving to others is an activity that distracts us from our lack of money. No matter how frugal we get, there always seems to be a creative way to serve others. I have noticed that people are starved to come to visit other people. They just are not doing that as much these days. One lady I know always has someone over, at least for a cup of tea and a scone. She does not do much real cooking otherwise, but she has become an expert at making a pot of hot tea and scones. She gets her house all cleaned up and calls someone over and the two of them talk of whatever is lovely in their lives.

Working your way out of circumstances will not only improve the mind, but change the circumstances. Houses can always be improved through cleaning and arranging, and yards can always be kept spic and span as if they were surrounding a castle.

Being at home does not necessarily mean you will not have money. This is what people do not always understand. It means, instead, that you will not spend it as freely. You will find more ways to put it away, and more excuses to save it. You will find more substitutes for things you might have bought.

Porch, by Erin Derner

Creative frugality requires looking at things in a different way. Sometimes we have more than we think we do, but we are stuck in a mind set that it can only be used one way or cannot be changed.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lady Lydia. This series on frugality is a wonderful reminder: "a man's life does not consist of the things he posesses."(KJB) Real life is loving, learning, and serving others. Your writings encourage me to be a better wife, mother, friend, and neighbor;I'm "renewing my mind" and learning true BIBLICAL womanhood. Being a keeper at home is not being taught at the church we attend, though it would be considered doctrinally sound in all other aspects. No one there really understands why I left my job to stay home; the answer to leaner times nowadays is not frugality but "go back to work!" Though I know my being home is God's calling,it grieves me that it's not taught in our church. I just want to thank you for being such an encouragement and a true Titus 2 woman.

God Bless You!

Lydia said...

It is still taught in the Bible.

Gina said...

I've been really enjoying your posts. Today's reminded me of my grandparents. They came here from Portugal and bought a two family home, renting out the bottom floor. Grandpa kept the grounds so incredibly beautiful, especially with roses, that people would stop their cars to gaze at the beautiful little yard. He had fruit trees and some vegetables in the back. Grandma made frugal stews and fried up doughboys, made simple shortbread type cookies, and that was the cleanest house I've ever been in. For instance, every Saturday one of her tasks was to take apart the top of the stove, including the knobs and scrub every bit of it. All of the family members regularly came to visit. Such great memories!

Lynn said...

Another beautiful post - this series has given me hope, peace & contentment - so unusual to find elsewhere these days usually you just have to try to find the resources within oneself -it is good to find a blog where you can find these resources readily on hand for the times you are lagging a little - thank you.

Anonymous said...

Lady Lydia, Yes, it's right there in the bible for all to see, and yet in churches today, the admonition to be a keeper at home is all but totally ignored. Most of the women i know are Christian women, and they all work. One even works long days as a teacher to send her children to a private Christian school. I just don't get it. Maybe what's happening today is just good old fashioned covetousness. I am grateful to be home and learning to be frugal. I pray that all working women with a heart for home would be able to fulfill their longing...

God Bless

Lydia said...

Lack of money does not necessarily indicate covetousness. What I've tried to deal with here is unnecessary spending and making do in ways we might not have seen before. At least, in that aspect, people could eliminate the problems that they themselves are causing by the way they use their money, or use their things. It is not covetousness to have bought a home, or to want a piece of land for your family, or to get a new kitchen. These are all part of showing love for the family, but the problem is that you usually have to get a mortgage, with increasing interest payments, to get a home. In that sense, you become house debtors instead of house owners. The payments on a house are dependent upon someone bringing in an income. If the company you work for goes broke and cannot hire you any longer, you can lose your house. (We really need to get rid of a certain banking and lending organization that will not be mentioned here,that gets to be bailed out, while families just wanting a house, have to pay up)

Anonymous said...

Sadly enough I understand what anonymous is saying. ALL of the Christian women I know work outside the home. Not one of these women are working to pay a house payment. They are working for Mr. Pride and yes, some work for Mr. Greed. Here are some of the things I know the women in my family are working for horses, sports related activities, expensive vehicles, higher education, vacations, and week-end shopping trips. And now because they work...they are working to feed those expensive vehicles.

My nephew just got an ipod touch or some expensive thing like that. Why? Was it his birthday? NO. Is he graduating? NO. Because he said, "I wanted it." His sister lost the wheels to her heeley's in some high grass last Sunday. She was overheard saying, "Gee, those are my favorite shoes. Well, never mind Mama will go get me some new ones in the morning." Sure enough, her Dr Mom (who cries poverty a lot) went next morning and purchased a new brand pair of Heely's.

I love these articles on frugality. I find much encouragement from your blog. Thank you.

Shalom, Paula

Anonymous said...

I forgot I wanted to make a comment about this:
"Creative frugality requires looking at things in a different way. Sometimes we have more than we think we do, but we are stuck in a mind set that it can only be used one way or cannot be changed."

Last year for Valentine's Day my daddy gave me a box of chocolates wrapped in some really pretty paper. I gushed over the paper, asking where he bought it, etc. He said, "It's only a napkin." I was deeply impressed and asked how he ever got the idea to do that. He said, "From you." Truly I was puzzled. I could not recall ever having done that. Then he explained.

Some years ago for his birthday I wanted to give him a special gift. I went hunting the perfect gift, but I just couldn't find it. One day as I was tidying our photos and I saw a picture of my pre-school gratuation (back in the early 70's) it was Daddy and me. I was wearing my favorite blue long dress and my white cap and gown. My hair was long. I was Daddy's little princess. He was so handsome, still is. We both love that picture. Anyway, the picture was off center, which I realized would work in my favor. I printed off the poem, "In a Hundred Years" and glued it to the side which showed the stage. Then put it in an inexpensive frame I had from Rose's (they left our area years ago). Anyway, I had no paper to wrap it so I used a man's garage towel (orange and rough) for a bow I used some short bungee cords (another manly thing). I felt so poor when I gave it to him. That was many years ago and he still remembers the packaging of that gift!

But it just goes to show you never know when you will inspire others to "look outside the box".

Shalom, Paula

Mrs. K's Lemonade Stand said...

I always loved the stories my Grandparents use to share. Although I was young, I recognized there were lessons in their tales.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this series. I have been enjoying it so much. I linked to it from my blog, in the hopes that some more people will find it and be inspired.

Have a great day!


Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Lydia,
This is such an interesting series of posts.
I'm struck by how wasteful the lifestyle of being at work is. Unfortunately I have to be in the workplace for the moment, but since discovering your blog I've begun really to notice how much money is wasted during the working day. I'm not talking about the wasteful practices of business (which is a story in itself!), but of the habits people fall into just because they're at work. The first thing I noticed was the takeaway cup of coffee that co-workers carry into the building in the morning. The paper (or worse, styrofoam) cup is wasteful in itself - how many of them are actually recycled? And why buy a cup of coffee when you can make one with ground coffee yourself for a fraction of the price? It's like a badge that says 'I work in an office.' Likewise the shop-bought sandwiches and salads at lunchtime, or the lunches out, or the little treat to cheer you up because you're having a tough day. Working life encourages people to spend these little amounts of money each day - I imagine they'd be horrified if they totalled up what they spend in a year.

For some time now I've made my own hot drinks at work, taken in my own sandwiches, and for a breathing space I get out at lunchtime and walk in a lovely park nearby. It feels good.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly...I recently did the math on the daily coffee purchase vs. the daily brewing, and found that it actually costs the same to brew at home as it does to buy!

A pound of coffee where I live costs approximately 7.00, and will produce about 1 week's worth for myself and my significant other. So, a dollar a day. The coffee we buy from the cafe at the office is $0.50 a cup. So, a dollar a day. Actually, this method saves 2 dollars a week...we don't go out for coffee on the weekend.

I still brew, since it reduces waste, but if the cafe ever offers to fill reusable mugs, I'd gladly give up trying to keep my thermos from spilling every morning on the train!

Anonymous said...

Takeaway coffee obviously commands a premium in Scotland! A takeaway cup is a minimum of £1, more like £1.70. A bag of ground coffee about £5. Interesting...
The issue of course is looking at the things that are over-priced and asking why we're buying them. That reflex action of 'I'm going into the office so I must have a takeaway cup in my hand'. I find these posts are causing me to look at my motivation for spending money on some of the things I do, and separating out what is valuable from that which is definitely not!

Anonymous said...

Scotslass...Believe me, it CAN command a premium here in New York, but we have these miraculous street vendors, who for some reason are able to still sell it so cheaply. But they would laugh if you asked for some frothy mocha extra 'spresso nonsense...plain' ol' drip coffee, cream and sugar is what you get!

Lydia said...

godddess of french you are welcome to post here. The newcomers article was to stop the tide of students in Europe who think it is really worthwhile to mock and harass the homemaker, instead of tending to their own laundry.

Lydia said...

Regarding the cost of a cup of coffee: I think I covered in one of the frugality articles that if the quality of a food is not as good and you don't like it, it doesn't end up being cheaper, as it has no value to you. If you buy some kind of food that is cheaper but the family won't like it and it gets thrown out, it is not cheaper, it is more expensive. Better to buy the quality item and enjoy a little of it than to buy a bulk item and dislike it. You can make good coffee at home and put it in the paper cup you save from work. My husband does this. He may buy one cup of coffee every two weeks or so and he always brings the paper cup and top into the house. Then he fills it up with home brewed coffee as long as the cup will last (he isn't allowed to bring in his own mug, for security reasons). If you buy high quality beans and grind them in the store or at home, the flavor is even better. You don't have to have a drip coffee maker either--you can actually make coffee in a pan, or with a filter that sits over the cup. It IS cheaper to make your own at home.

Lydia said...

More Creative Frugality:

When trying to stop so much money from flowing out, and keeping more for your own security, the first thing that usually goes when shopping are the non-food items. Cleaners and paper products (aside from toilet paper) are not necessary. Vinegar cleans windows, and bicarb. cleans other things. There are other paper products that perhaps we buy at the dollar stores without thinking, because they seem to be so inexpensive. However if you want to save, you have to learn first by saving the dollar here and the dollar there. In the US at least, our paper bags are sturdy. They afford all kinds of crafts and innovative substitutes. I've even made stuffed dolls from them and they are really cute, decoupaged. They can be cut up into sheets stapled togeher for notepads, scrapbook pages, drawing paper, little books, etc. I have seen them cut in strips, folded, and woven together for mats of various kinds. The paper can also be painted. They are great for wrapping a package. They work well to put over, and under something you are ironing, to prevent sticking to the iron. With folding techniques, paper from paper bags can be used for boats or hats and other structures to play with. It would be interesting to hold a contest and see what all that people could come up with that a paper bag could be used for.

Anonymous said...

I thank you for your reassurance, but frankly I would fear giving inadvertent offense, being a feminist, an academic, and not a keeper-at-home...

Though I do maintain the Hungarian Pastry shop at 110th street and Amsterdam Avenue brews a tastier coffee than I am able, and more cheaply! Should anyone happen to visit Manhattan, stop by for a cuppa and hamentaschen.