Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Frugal Beginnings

I grew up in a frugal household out of absolute necessity; we bounced between being working poor and lower middle class depending on how the company my father worked for was doing. In good years there would be a gas card and over time pay, in bad years we were taught to ignore the ringing phone or to tell the bill collectors that our parents weren't home.

Later I took up frugality as an adult and realized how much more frugal my family could have been. It made me kind of sad; my parents worried about money all the time. My mom taught me to balance a checkbook by adding rather than subtracting because she was always in her overdraft. The house payment was overnighted to the mortgage company in order to arrive the day before they would be 30 days late and reported to a credit agency.

We wore second (or third) hand clothing, my parents drove used cars, we didn't have cable TV, we often qualified for free or reduced lunch, we didn't usually take vacations, my mom clipped coupons, and more.

Still, we ate brand name breakfast cereal for breakfast every morning, and my mom ate Pop Tarts, and our dinners were Kraft Deluxe, Hamburger Helper, Swanson TV dinners, and other brand name processed food. Soup came from cans, stew was made with frozen vegetables and a packaged "starter", and burritos were a special meal made with Rosarita refried beans and hot sauce. sandwiches were made with Weber white bread and Oscar Meyer bologna, and our packed school lunches always had a Hostess treat and bag of Frito-Lay chips.

At home there were always snacks. Popsicles, Fudgesicles, Mother's cookies, Koolaid, Swiss Miss puddings, etc.

I realize now that my family could have cut the grocery budget in half with homemade foods, which is sad because my mom thought she was doing really well on groceries, the best she possibly could. She didn't buy store brands because my dad thought they tasted bad. She used coupons and looked for sales; what more could she do? She didn't grow up learning to cook food from scratch, plus she had health issues and thought that cooking from scratch would be too time consuming and exhausting. It's true; by age 10 I was already making many of our most basic dinners, such as heating hot dogs, canned beans and canned corn, or making Hamburger Helper.

But I know now that beans and rice don't take a lot of labor, just time, which my mom had. I know that Hamburger Helper really isn't less expensive than regular pasta and even jarred sauce. I know that oatmeal is far cheaper than boxed cereal.

(I also know that meat doesn't need to be a part of every dinner, but I don't think my family would ever have gone there.)

Still, I appreciate having been taken to thrift stores and yard sales as a child. I may have chafed at wearing used clothing as a young teen, but young teens chafe at most everything. I'm glad that our family baked birthday cakes (even if they were from boxed mixes and iced with canned frosting) rather than buying bakery cakes. I'm glad that we couldn't afford to eat many meals in restaurants. I appreciate having learned to clean house and do laundry (since we didn't pay people to do these things for).

What I wish is that we had eaten more produce and less processed food, but the times were what they were.

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