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A frugal heritage

“Frugality, I've learned, has its own cost, one that sometimes lasts forever.” Nicholas Sparks

My younger son recently wrote a very humorous account of my husband's life based on a few facts, a few character traits, a few family sayings, embroidered hugely with a lot of imagination and a lot of humour.

This is an AI picture that he generated for the second chapter that he called Poverty, oh the poverty. It's based on that Monty Python sketch in which four wealthy Yorkshire men reminisce about their youth, trying to outdo each other on how poor their childhoods were. David loves it, and often quotes the line about how he 'licked road clean with tongue". Hence the picture. You can see the original sketch on YouTube. Well that's the very original sketch which actually is not Monty Python, but from At Last the 1948 Show - John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor. There are other later versions available.

And I'll just say that the AI photograph is remarkable. I thought it had to be AI but honestly it's amazingly convincing. I almost thought it was real. The older child even looks a little bit like David's older brother. David is the middle one actually licking the road clean.

The point of all this is that David, and I too, both grew up poor - David poorer than me - and in spite of having spent the vast majority of our lives in increasingly comfortable circumstances, that poor beginning is still with us. In different ways though, as I'm sure it is with others.

We differ in our early humble beginnings in that David was extremely poor but surrounded by wealth in the form of relatives and his public school environment. I was just ordinary poor - nothing extreme, and living in an area populated by people in similar circumstances. 'Ordinary poor,' but nevertheless by the end of the month my mother was cooking meals with very cheap ingredients like egg and chips. She cooked delicious meals from the very cheapest cuts of meat - scrag end of neck of lamb, lamb's hearts, rabbit, ox-tail. Nearly all of which are now expensive luxuries. We never had steak but she somehow managed to provide a roast dinner at the weekends.

Yes - "Frugality is misery in disguise." Publilius Syrus

And because I lived in a poor area and because my mother was careful I did not notice. The misery and stress were all her's. For David, the misery was not so much in disguise I feel, because of knowing that others lived far better than he, and also because it was more extreme.

All of this was compounded I guess by the fact that both of us grew up in the time of post-war rationing when food was scarce. I do vaguely remember home-grown tomatoes, and strawberries, but we didn't keep any livestock, such as rabbits or chickens. Rationing would have been an equaliser though and nothing to do with class envy. And as I grew up in suburban London with people in the same financial situation, my 'ordinary poverty' it didn't bother me at all. That was just how it was.

As I grew older I, like David always, began to recognise that we were less well off because I went to a high school in a slightly better heeled area where some of my fellow students even had ponies. I was also more conscious of the struggle that my mother had to make ends meet, and vowed that this would not happen to me.

Of course, everything I said about food and our diet, also applied to everything else - particularly clothes, which were either hand me downs or made by myself or my aunt, from material from Romford market, or unpicked grown-out-of clothes.

'Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without' Anon

Yes indeed I remember darning, and repairing - my mother would sit down every evening with clothes to be mended. Even my brother learnt to darn. Torn sheets would be cut down the middle, turned around and sewn up again, with a bit of judicious trimming at the new edges.

So both David and I knew how to make do, make the best of things, and shop carefully. When I worked in the East End of London for example, I would shop there for our food rather than in posh Hampstead where we lived in our tiny basement flat. It was cheaper. And, incidentally, rather more fun.

Skip decades and we find ourselves in Australia, initially having to watch the pennies because of mortgages and children, but not to the extent of our childhood privations. And yet. I still made my own clothes - well the majority of them, I still bought food on special where possible and never bought expensive cuts of meat. Not even if we were entertaining.

A highlight I remember was being able to buy a whole side of lamb for 16c a kilo. Imagine that! And it certainly meant that as you got to the end of the side and were left with the scraggy neck, the shanks (also now a luxury) and the breast you had to be inventive - Lancashire hotpot anyone?

"Frugality without creativity is deprivation." Amy Dacyczyn

It became a kind of game in a way. Cheating big business of their profits and finding bargains for just about everything. Creating silk from a pig's ear as they say. There is great satisfaction in that. At the same time I suppose we were trying to teach our children the necessity of being careful with money - or as Charles Dickens put it:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery."

We saw our frugality as a way of teaching them that one should be careful with money, but it must have seemed a bit unclear, because it must also have seemed like a bottomless pit to them. They never saw, or even felt, any worrying about money - where the next meal or the next pair of trousers were coming from. Why couldn't they have the most expensive pair of sneakers when some from K-Mart would do? Which allows them as they have grown to adults to be able to be simultaneously careful, and extravagent without being foolish.

Alas now that we really do not have to worry about money at all, it seems we cannot leave frugality behind. Even I who would indeed like to splurge on an expensive holiday somewhere, cannot resist buying foods on special, and never, ever buy wagyu fillet steak for example. I am just beginning to try to buy more expensive cuts of meat - free-range rather than not for example, but I still can't come at the way fillet steak. Nor do I buy expensive clothes, but shop at the inexpensive places like K-Mart for everyday wear. I did splurge a little on a cheap lower level designer dress for my 80th - it was on a special! And even that extravagent holiday - which won't happen because it needs two of us to agree - yes even that, when it comes to it defeats me; in that I just cannot spend huge amounts of money on a few luxurious days in some exotic spot.

David on the other hand, just cannot do it at all. He is an ardent bargain hunter - to the extent that he is a foolish bargain hunter as he purchases things that are bargains but superfluous to our needs. I'm sure this all comes from a really dire and poor childhood. But:

"Riches means abundance. Not only financially, but also mentally. If you are afraid to spend or lose money, you don’t have abundance, you’re thinking about scarcity. "I don’t want to spend my hard-earned money." That’s the mindset of a fearful person." Darius Foroux

It sounds a bit cruel and I guess it is. Nevertheless there is a grain of truth in there. I'll just offer a couple of quotes which propose that extravagance is not always bad. Just because I liked them, not because I think it will change anyone's mind.

"There is hope in extravagance, there is none in routine." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We owe something to extravagance, for thrift and adventure seldom go hand in hand." Lady Randolph Churchill

"Avarice has ruined more souls than extravagance." Charles Caleb Colton

"An extravagance is something that your spirit thinks is a necessity." Bernard Williams

Enough of our two case studies. Suffice to say that poverty in youth affects us all in different ways, when we are no longer poor. Some spend like there's no tomorrow; some cannot shake the frugality habit of a lifetime; some give it all - or some of it away; some steer a midway course.

These days the notion of frugality is increasingly fashionable in the world of eating. It's an important issue for several reasons - the high cost of living; the effects of climate change and the huge amount of waste that is produced every year.

Our supermarket magazines tell us all the tricks of how to save money - buy in season, buy cheap cuts of meat, etc. They tell us how much a portion costs; its dietary constituents, what's in season and how to budget and plan.

Meanwhile the celebrity chefs (and the magazines) are telling us all how to do amazing things with leftovers, and food that is past its best; how to preserve a glut of something; how to create something delicious with food that is almost going off; how to create a new meal from the leftovers of yesterday's ...

Which reminds me I now need to go and create a delicious corn and chicken chowder from the remains of two of the salads I made for our Sunday feast. Tomorrow's post perhaps.


Yesterday in our letterbox we found this: an ad that included a '$150 off your first five boxes' offer, from Dinnerly, one of the companies that provides ingredients and recipes for you to make dinner. It's an expensive way to eat - they might say 'with recipes starting from just $3.99 per portion' but (a) it's possible, as the supermarket magazines show frequently, to cook food for less than that, and (b) 'starting at' probably applies to just one meal and all the rest cost much more. Nevertheless it shows how even expensive options need to emphasise low cost these days.

As in all things there has to be a middle way surely. Be frugal but give yourself a treat and lift every now and then with something more extravagent, but still within your means. After all why did you spend most of your life accumulating that money if you don't spend it when you have the time.


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01 de mai.
Avaliado com 4 de 5 estrelas.

Poor, that's only half of it. A rented 3 room house for 5 of us. No bath or shower. One cold tap. Licked the cobbles clean each morning before taking my Aunt's poodle for a walk for the princely sum of 6 pence - perhaps 20 cents in Aussie money today. School lunces were a life saver. Still only up from such a start!😂

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