Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not spending at

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking of frugality only in terms of getting good bargains. What is important to remember is that often we can save the most money by not spending at all.--Crystal, Saturday Savings Smorgasbord at Frugal Hacks
Sometimes, frugal as we Squirrels are, it's hard to wrap my brain around that. I have a hard time understanding how those pioneer families managed on their infrequent trips to a store for sugar, salt and shot...or how people concerned with simplicity (who haven't engineered the whole thing ahead of time, stocking up on every possible thing they might run out of) manage to go on one of those no-buying-anything-at-all shopping unbinges.

I mean, some things are obvious to me: if you need to wrap a present and haven't saved up all the bags everybody else has given you presents in, you find some creative wrapping, even the thoroughly-clichéd colour comics. If you're short on baking powder, you can combine baking soda and cream of tartar, assuming that you do have cream of tartar. It makes more sense to use up the getting-dusty bag of split peas to make soup than it does to complain that the canned stuff hasn't gone on sale lately. If you don't have a crib, you can use a playpen (we did). And the list of ways to amuse children and improvise free toys and games can and does go on for pages. That, I get.

But it isn't a toy famine that we're usually experiencing here, nor a lack of furniture. We have more than enough kitchen equipment, lots of books to read, and a flip of the switch provides us with free radio entertainment and edification. What we run out of are the small things. Socks that fit growing feet. Tape. Printer paper. Working ballpoint pens; and I don't think the backyard crows would lend me any quills. Flour (and therefore all the things we make with flour). Toilet paper; and I have no burning desire to start substituting catalogue pages in that regard. Baking powder when there isn't any cream of tartar around. Foil. A VCR that quit working and that Mr. Fixit can't resuscitate. How do you manage without spending at all when life today seems like one big pile of little receipts?
"'What do we need to get in town, Caroline?'

"Ma said they did not need anything. They had eaten so many fish and potatoes that the flour was still holding out, and the sugar, and even the tea. Only the salt was low, and it would last several days."--On the Banks of Plum Creek
I'm looking at this from the perspective of one who went out and BOUGHT a cake this weekend for Ponytails' belated birthday party; not because I'm that lazy generally, but because I haven't felt up to it this week (still under the weather with a cold) and because I didn't particularly want to handle food that five non-Squirreling little girls were going to be eating. Meredith, we could have done the Pepperidge Farm thing too (your baby's cake was beautiful), but at least this took care of the cake, the decorations, and the name--except that the supermarket's cake decorator, despite our having said Ponytails' name clearly several times, wrote "Happy Birthday Aunt Ponytails" on the cake. She then scraped off the "Aunt," leaving the icing somewhat less pristine than it started out and not offering to compensate us for the mistake.

Maybe we would have been better off with Pepperidge Farm. But I digress.

Could I actually go any length of time without buying anything? I know there are so many things you can improvise, and many more that you can just do without. We lived through our hot chocolate mix famine last winter. I really do like using things up and finding ways to use what's in my hand. It's the Year of Abundance, after all.

But then there's the really good candy corn for Thanksgiving from the Bulk Barn...and some classical CDs from Dollarama that will make great stocking stuffers and Secret Sister gifts...and the purple Northern Reflections sweater I found at a rummage sale Friday night (I do need sweaters). And the Turkish Cookbook I got there for a quarter, and a spool knitting set as well. (Crayons thought those were both awesome.) And dancing-class shoes for the younger Squirrelings, because their last-years' pairs are worn out (call them the 2 Dancing Princesses); those cost more than a couple of dollars, but we didn't want them to have to dance in their bare feet.

And that aseptically-packaged apple juice from Giant Tiger for 77 cents a box (amazing deal)...and, if you don't think we should be eating candy and drinking juice (too much sugar), how about the pumpkins and apples and squash and broccoli and the most excellent popcorn that will be gone all too soon when the farm stand closes up for the season? And we just bought a hot-air popper at a yard sale for $2...and a couple of VCRs for about the same price, no kidding. I said VCRs, not videos. See, you have to admit, sometimes spending is just fun. And smart; check the big box stores, VCRs are quickly disappearing from the shelves, and then how are you going to watch all your Star Trek videos?

So while my preferred way of dealing with don't-have-that problems is trying to see another way around it, I'm not going to stress out with guilt over the things we do need to buy. Want to buy.
"And in the lean-to they found a boughten broom! There seemed no end to the wonders in this house."--On the Banks of Plum Creek
Life would certainly go on without a purple sweater and a popcorn popper; I'd wear my old frog-playing-with-a-yo-yo sweatshirt awhile longer, and keep making popcorn in a pot on the stove. If we found ourselves without any means of watching videos, we'd probably read more books or listen to more records. (We found a few of those yard-saling yesterday too. Lena Horne at The Sands, 1961--that would cheer anybody up.) Life goes on no matter what little you have, right? But a few well-spent dollars here and there can be all right too.

[P.S. Update and Little House nitpick: Crayons and I are reading, obviously, On the Banks of Plum Creek. While they're stuck in winter blizzards and living off beans and cornmeal, Pa plays his fiddle and Ma knits. What I want to know is, where did she get the yarn? That's another thing I have a hard time keeping in stock here unless we find a yardsale cache.]


Marsha said...

As with most things, I find the notion of balance useful. I try to find the middleground between buying and "working around" and usually the golden mean presents itself without too much trauma to myself or the people for whom I try to make a nurturing home.

I reserve stronger objections for no-buying stunt masters like the "Year of Not Buying It" lady or the No Impact man (Google will be helpful for those who haven't heard of these folks). Who wants to go through life without making an impact (are we not admonished as children to not "hide your light under a bushel"?) I mean, I get his point, I really do, and he may well be onto something big picture-wise although I think that if one has to make one's point by urging the denial of the most basic human urges - to be known to each other and, yes, have an impact - then one may need to rethink the message.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. There is so much that can be bought for pennies. And while it may not be absolutely vital to life, often little things enhance the beauty in life. And if it fits within our budget, frankly- I am not worrying.

Anonymous said...

The "No Impact" crowd are just the modern day version of the ascetics of long ago....denying themselves the basics as a part of their spiritual discipline. Only, it has become a form of Earth worship, in my opinion. The Earth was made so that Man (people) would use it...wisely, but use it nonetheless.

Mrs. H.

Kate said...

You had two things in your post that really stood out for me:

Turkish Cookbook
Lena Horne

Lucky you!

I will say that now that I've found some beautiful garments at Goodwill, I simply can't find myself shopping at a mall for full-priced or even on-sale garments.

Anonymous said...

There are days when I'm at work when I long for days at home to cook from scratch with what I have on hand, discover "new" additions to my wardrobe already hanging in my closet, finding a wonderful book that's waiting for me in my library that I bought months or years ago at a yard sale, or firing up grandms's sewing machine and playing with fabric to change out the pillows in my livingroom.

All these things require no new outlay of cash, just time, which is a much more elusive commodity these days.

I've also wondered about those pioneers who shopped maybe twice a year. There are still folks who live like this in the hills in Northern Idaho. I've lived way out in the country where going to the store for a loaf of bread was a two hour commitment, believe me, I never spent so much in my life! Everytime I passed the grocery, I had to stop and pick up something I "might" need. It's much easier to live near the stores and make the decision to stop buying.

Balance is the key. Knowing your time and money limitations is important.

Mary Ellen