Laura Dean Bennett
“Use it up and wear it out. Make do or do without.”
My mother’s man-tra about thrifty living still echoes in my head on an almost daily basis.
Get together with any group of folks from around here and bring up the topic of frugal living and you’ll get more memories and anecdotes about “growing up poor” than you can shake a stick at.
Don’t get me wrong, these are not stories about “feeling poor,” although, technically, and by today’s standards, many of us, our parents and grandparents certainly did grow up poor.
But, we didn’t necessarily “feel poor.”
We were loved, we had enough to eat, adequate clothing and shoes, a warm bed and a roof over our heads.
And, oddly enough, lots of people from extremely humble beginnings found ways to get a good education, have successful careers, raise wonderful families and many have even achieved greatness.
Back in the day, whether you grew up during the Depression or a long time after it, nearly everyone seemed to have learned how to stretch a dollar.
One of those lessons is about how to live frugally.
I was born early in the 1950s and in my lifetime, until fairly recently, it was always “boom times.”
Easy money and credit card spending were the order of the day in the second half of the 20th century and no matter how many times my mom would caution that it could all come to a crashing halt, I didn’t want to hear it.
Saving money was hard to do, but I got serious when I got older.
Living a frugal lifestyle can sometimes make one feel like the odd man out.
It takes a little effort – some sacrifice, some time and, often, hard work
But that’s okay.
Building up a savings account and reaping the advantages of your habit of saving will be worth the effort.
But even if you don’t care about saving money – although I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t – frugality brings other benefits to your life and the lives of those around you.
By making fewer purchases and consuming less, we can help the environment.
Americans generate more than 260 million tons of trash every year, with only about 87 million tons of that material making its way to the recycling bin.
That means that, on average, each American creates about five pounds of waste or trash per day.
Repairing, reusing and repurposing old items, instead of throwing them away, means less trash in landfills.
Families who buy used items instead of new will inevitably throw away a lot less product packaging.
Buying used items also means less energy used for production, packaging and shipping.
Another benefit of living below your means is that it can lower your stress level.
The American Psychological Association revealed that money has been the top stressor for Americans every year since the inception of its study on stress began in 2007.
It turns out, sticking to a budget can be the antidote to a lot of our daily stress and nighttime worries.
Do we really need to “keep up with the Joneses?
Frugal people don’t view frugality as a sacrifice – but as a means to an end.
Let’s face it – being fashionable and hip can be exhausting and time-consuming.
I think the fact that we don’t have any fancy malls or shopping centers here in Pocahontas County is a plus.
We generally only shop out of necessity or when we really need something.
When you’re watching your pennies, you don’t treat shopping as entertainment.
Rather than spending time shopping, frugal people are doing things that are more important, like gardening, farming, spending quality time with family, enjoying their hobbies or simply relaxing.
And then there’s the elimination of waste.
In a world where millions of people, here and abroad, are living without many of life’s essentials, it’s wasteful and, some would say, even sinful to buy so much “stuff,” only to throw it away – especially food.
Coordinating meal planning and grocery shopping, freezing and canning excess food and being more creative with leftovers can cut down on the amount of food we throw away.
There is something to be said for living in a rural area.
We know how to get along with a lot less – and be happy and content while we’re at it.
There was a time when every young girl knew how to sew.
Handmade clothes were the norm back then.
Carol Swiger, of Marlinton, tells the story of how, when she was growing up, shopping for a new dress was out of the question.
“When I was a little girl, my mother sewed on a treadle sewing machine, and made my dresses out of feed sacks,” she said.
“Once when we were visiting my aunt in Ohio, we were in a dress shop and the clerk came up to me and said, ‘What a pretty dress you have on.’
“I was so proud. And I said, ‘Thank you. My Mama made it out of a feed sack.’”
Kathy Henry, of Frost, said she was the fourth girl in her family, so she grew up wearing a lot of hand-me-downs.
“My mother sewed and made our clothes,” Henry said.
And everyone had a garden.
“Dad gardened, and we always had fresh produce to eat.
“And we enjoyed lots of berries in the summer. We’d gather all the berries we could from the berry bushes in the neighborhood.”
This coincides with my own memories of stopping along the side of the road – any road, any time – when Mom would see elderberries, dandelions, wild plums, raspberries or anything else, she would say:
“Pull over! We’ve got to get those picked!”
At home and at my grandparents’ farm, we had big gardens.
My job was to carry buckets of water and use the dipper to put a dipperful of water on the base of each plant.
When we finally got several long hoses connected, long enough to reach the garden, it was a real relief.
And everything that grew in the garden would be eaten, given to other people who didn’t have gardens or canned and frozen for the winter.
Our basement was an endless warehouse of Ball jars, filled with the food that we had grown ourselves.
Leota Abdella tells about growing up at Stony Bottom.
“My parents were Louis and Geniveve Shields.
“I was born in 1935, and I grew up poor,” Abdella said.
“There were six kids in my family. We didn’t have running water or electricity, and we did our lessons by lamplight.”
“Mother washed on a washboard. We carried water from a well outside the nearby one room schoolhouse in Stony Bottom.
“We had a small farm. We always had a big garden and a milk cow. My dad, who worked at the mill, also sold milk between Cass and Stony Bottom.
“We raised and but-chered pigs, and my mother canned everything she could get her hands on.
“She had a treadle sewing machine, and she made our clothes out of printed flour sacks from Southern States.
“We rode horseback to haul hay shocks and plowed corn with a horse and plow.
“But we never thought of ourselves as being poor because we had everything that we needed.”
Benjamin Franklin is well known for his wise expressions about frugality.
He said, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
Apparently Mary Lou Hollabaugh’s father-in-law, Lynn Hollabaugh, Sr., of Mt. Union, Pennsylvania, thought along the same lines.
When I asked Hollabaugh about her most memorable lesson about frugality, she told me that her father-in-law would often say, “I’m too poor to buy anything cheap.”
Her mother also grew up during the Depression.
“Nothing ever went to waste at our house,” Hollabaugh said.
“You could open the refrigerator and it would look like there was nothing in there but odds and ends. But in half an hour there would be a big meal on the table.”
Besides the positive impact frugality can have on your budget and your life, it can also make it possible for us to give more generously to good causes that really need our help.
Being able to take care of ourselves and help others in need will make us happy and give us a sense of purpose.
And if all of the other benefits of frugality weren’t enough, there’s that wonderful feeling of security you can have from knowing that you’re ready for a “rainy day,” and you’re squirreling away money for your retirement years.
Living frugally can also help us concentrate on the really important things in life.
There’s a lot of wisdom in the old proverb that says:
“If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy.”