The current economy is challenging and many are being forced to tighten their belts. The example of the frugal French housewife can be a source of inspiration in these difficult times. Being thrifty can be done with grace and style. Let’s examine how she does it.
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The Frugal French Housewife
The stereotypical French woman has a reputation for thrift and frugality. She demands the highest quality for the least amount of money. She has fewer possessions than the typical American but those items are well-cared for. When it comes to food, the French are famous for their devotion to the well-prepared meal eaten in a leisurely manner while seated at a table.
My earliest introduction to the ethos of the frugal French housewife came from my favorite childhood book series – Linda Lane. The main character is an orphan taken in by a kindly woman of minimal means. Linda and “Aunt Carol” live a sweet and simple life together in a somewhat shabby but clean and comfortable home. Linda is charmed and inspired by the idea of the French housewife’s thrift and uses her example in practical ways. More importantly, she comes to see thrift as a pleasant challenge.
There is much to be learned from other cultures and I truly appreciate the lessons of the French housewife. Here in America we are bombarded with excess. Too many clothes (often poorly made and ill-fitting), too much fast food, too many activities on our calendars, too much “stuff”.
There is way too much food waste in the U.S. According to the FDA, 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted. We throw away 610 pounds of food per person. The average American family of four throws away around $1600 worth of produce alone per year. That is staggering.
By contrast, the average French person throws away 210 pounds of food per year and France is working diligently to decrease food waste across the board.
Food is hugely important to the French and the French housewife takes the feeding of her family very seriously. She most likely shops every day or two, carefully seeking out the very best she can afford, then preparing delicious meals.
Many argue that France is the gastronomic center of the universe – – either from its long history of royal excesses at the dinner table or from its legendary chefs. But I would make the same claim and argue it based on my observations of the French housewife. Jealously guarding the recipes of generations before her, she practices the art of marrying the taste of the royal classes with the thrift and resourcefulness of her peasant ancestors.
Back at home, she sets about squeezing every tasty bite, every nourishing drop, every last crumb of sustenance from the carefully considered contents of her market basket. Nothing — I repeat, nothing — will be wasted. When she puts out the family trash at the end of the week, it could fit into a coffee can.
This is a goal I am striving for but I still have much to learn and implement. The rest of the article contains recipes and tips for using up things we might otherwise throw away. I’m generally pretty good about using up stuff in soup but some items occasionally escape my notice until they are even past using in soup.
I used to have chickens who would happily eat scraps I couldn’t use and I’d love to have chickens again – maybe next spring! I do have a compost pile but must admit I’ve not been using it. Since I plan to do more gardening next year I believe I will make use of the little compost container beneath my sink again. Certainly, the French housewife would do so!
Not only are the French famous for their food but their style is legendary. The amazing thing is that they are able to look so stylish with a much smaller wardrobe than most of us here in the U.S.
The French woman will choose fewer clothing items for her wardrobe but will focus on high quality items she can wear for many years. She is aware of fashion trends, of course. How could she not be when Paris is such a hub of design? But she isn’t a slave to fashion fads.
Most of her wardrobe will consist of classic, timeless pieces that fit perfectly and suit her personal style. She might add a trendy item or two each season but the bulk of her clothing will be consistent from one year to the next.
While she might pay more for a high quality “little black dress” or classic trench coat, she will own these (and look beautiful in them) for many years. She will take exquisite care of her clothing, too, and thus save money over time.
Capsule wardrobes are all the rage these days and I think there is much merit in the concept. After all, it’s worked beautifully for French women for ages.
The French housewife is equally frugal when it comes to feathering her nest. The same innate sense of style she uses to choose her clothing will be put to use in creating a unique and charming home.
Here in the U.S. many older people are finding that young folks starting out are not as eager to accept family heirlooms as was once the norm. They prefer new items from Ikea and Target rather than Grandma’s solid oak bureau from the 40s or Great Grandmother’s china.
Not so for the typical French girl. She treasures her family history and is happy to set up housekeeping with hand-me-downs.
She will also search for treasures at thrift stores. Over time the French woman will create a carefully curated home that is totally suited to her tastes and those of her family…without resorting to credit card debt to do so.
Speaking of credit cards, the French are loathe to take on debt other than for their home:
Certainly there are French housewives who don’t practice thrift (or don’t need to) but the cultural emphasis on a thoughtful and intentional lifestyle means less pressure to “keep up with the Joneses”, or whatever the French equivalent.
Whether you are struggling to make ends meet or simply want to be a good steward of your resources and live lightly on Mother Earth, the frugal French housewife can serve as an excellent example.
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