One of the most important skills a homemaker can have is the ability to manage the household finances well. No matter the income, we all want to get the most for our money. I would love to share some of my favorite frugal resources with you.
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David and I married quite young – he was barely 20 and I was not quite 19 – and we started our life together with almost nothing.
We were both still driving the cars we got as 16 year olds. They were 1966 Mustangs which were cool to look at and usually fun to drive. They didn’t have air conditioning, though and that wasn’t exactly comfortable during hot Oklahoma summers. Still, they were paid for and that was a huge plus.
We rented a small, one-bedroom apartment which we furnished sparsely with a handful of furniture and the contents of my hope chest. We didn’t have a sofa so I took one of those tri-fold lawn chairs, laid it out flat, covered with a quilt and put a few throw pillows against the wall. It took up the space where there should have been a sofa but you could only sit on the center part or it tipped over. On the other hand, I had a complete set of pretty china which my parents had purchased for me as a graduation gift and I served our frugal meals on it. Honestly, I couldn’t have been happier despite our humble home.
Over time our financial situation gradually improved, especially after I graduated from nursing school and started working. I’ll share the rest of the story some day if anyone’s interested but due to health problems I had to quit. We decided to homeschool the kids and I gave up my job. That meant cutting our family income in half.
That’s when I really got serious about saving money and living frugally.
In the years since, David has become very successful in his career and we’ve been blessed financially. It’s something I don’t take for granted and I’m truly grateful. But now we are starting to look toward his retirement. He’s in his late 50s and though he will probably work until 65 we now realize how quickly those few years will pass.
Our home is paid for and his pickup is the only debt we have. His company provides a transportation allowance which pretty much covers the cost of the loan and my car was paid off this past year. We are in pretty decent shape as far as retirement savings but it will still mean less income than we currently have. So I’ve been dusting off my old frugal resources, so to speak, and brushing up on my money-saving skills.
Here are some of my favorites:
Money Saving Tips and Ideas
Around the time I realized I would have to quit my job I discovered The Tightwad Gazette. Back then it was in three volumes which I still have. Now you can get them in one volume. This is the ultimate in frugal living tips. The author wanted to raise a large family on a single income and set about doing just that. The book is packed with money-saving ideas and is inspiring overall. Keep in mind, however, that this was written in the early 90s and some of it is very outdated. Even so, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive source of money-saving tips.
For a number of years a woman named Laine wrote a series of charming letters about frugal homemaking which she sent out via email. I printed many and still have my binder full of them. Her blog is no longer available but you can still find her letters and recipes here on the Wayback Machine. They are written from a Christian viewpoint and while I haven’t looked at them in years, I suspect they are also somewhat out of date. However, if you’d like a nostalgic look at a homemaker doing her best to save money and take care of her household, Laine’s Letters are worth a peek.
About the same time I was reading Laine’s Letters, I also received letters from “Penny Ann Poundwise”. Again, I printed these letters and still have them. The author of these letters, Terri Cheney, later started a blog which continues to this day. I did an interview with Terri which you can read here:
There are only a handful of blogs I read consistently these days and Terri’s is one of them. She’s just a few years older than I and her husband is looking toward retirement, likely around the same time as my David. Her chatty posts are fun to read as she shares not only her frugal wisdom but also her day-to-day life.
In addition to practical frugal living tips I think it is also important to seek out inspiration for living well on a budget and appreciating what you have. Here are some of my favorite books, films, a couple of television series and a YouTube channel…
This is one of my all-time favorite books and my vintage, hardback copy has a permanent place on my desk. The story takes place at the turn of the century and focuses on the life of young Francie Nolan and her family. Poverty nips at their heels and life was pretty harsh at times. Still, there are shining moments of joy and triumph, and the way Francie’s mother manages to take care of her children under extremely difficult conditions is admirable.
I have always found this passage to hold an unusual bit of wisdom:
“There was a special Nolan idea about the coffee. It was their one great luxury. Mama made a big potful each morning and reheated it for dinner and supper and it got stronger as the day wore on. It was an awful lot of water and very little coffee but mama put a lump of chicory in it which made it taste strong and bitter. Each one was allowed three cups a day with milk. Other times you could help yourself to a cup of black coffee anytime you felt like it. Sometimes when you had nothing at all and it was raining and you were alone in the flat, it was wonderful to know that you could have something even though it was only a cup of black and bitter coffee.
Neeley and Francie loved coffee but seldom drank it. Today, as usual, Neeley let his coffee stand black and ate his condensed milk spread on bread. He sipped a little of the black coffee for the sake of formality. Mama poured out Francie’s coffee and put the milk in it even though she knew that the child wouldn’t drink it.
Francie loved the smell of coffee and the way it was hot. As she ate her bread and meat, she kept one hand curved about the cup enjoying its warmth. From time to time, she’d smell the bitter sweetness of it. That was better than drinking it. At the end of the meal, it went down the sink.
Mama had two sisters, Sissy and Evy, who came to the flat often. Every time they saw the coffee thrown away, they gave mama a lecture about wasting things.
Mama explained: “Francie is entitled to one cup each meal like the rest. If it makes her feel better to throw it rather than to drink it, all right. I think it’s good that people like us can waste something once in awhile and get the feeling of how it would be to have lots of money and not have to worry about scrounging.”
This queer point of view satisfied mama and pleased Francie. It was one of the links between the ground-down poor and the wasteful rich. The girl felt that even if she had less than anybody in Williamsburg, somehow she had more. She was richer because she had something to waste.”
I believe that everyone needs some affordable luxuries and perhaps especially those living with a very tight budget.
A childhood favorite, Little Women has many good lessons to teach, including the importance of sharing with those less fortunate and that money doesn’t buy happiness. The March girls sometimes struggle with their desires for things they cannot afford but under Marmie’s gentle guidance they learn to be grateful and make the best of what they have.
This is a new discovery for me. Kate Singh has a YouTube channel where she shares her views on homemaking and living on a small income in an expensive part of the country (Northern California). I find her vlogs charming and inspiring. She is rather chatty but I love how honest and real she is.
This is my favorite Christmas movie. There is no better portrayal of the importance of friends and family over money.
This is a lesser known Frank Capra movie and one of my very favorites. Grandpa Vanderhof, the family patriarch, was once a successful businessman until…
“Then one morning, when I was going up in the elevator… it struck me I wasn’t having any fun. So I came right down and never went back. Yes, sir. That was thirty-five years ago.”
His whole family and several others who live with them each do pretty much exactly what makes them happy. Of course, the house is paid for and Grandpa must have money to support them all somehow. It may not be entirely realistic to only do what makes you happy. However, the contrast with Mr. Kirby, another character in the film whose sole interest is in making money is food for thought. Some people get so caught up in making money that they forget how to live. It’s all about balance.
The Great Depression was an extremely difficult period in our history. Widespread unemployment, bread lines and soup kitchens, and tremendous poverty were features of this time. Yet many exhibited an impressive degree of resilience and strength in the face of adversity. In many cases, families drew closer and learned to value relationships more than ever. This is what made The Waltons such as inspiring television series.