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While looking through my local library’s website this past week, I rather randomly came across an historical book first published in 1829 titled “An American Frugal Housewife: Dedicated To Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy”. Anytime I see something claiming to give frugal advice I’m intrigued, even if the advice is from long ago. I was curious enough that I decided to check out the book on my Hoopla app and found myself smiling and nodding my head in agreement as I read it. And that’s because even though this book is almost 200 years old, the principals of frugal behavior are timeless. The advice she gives is the same type of advice I give today!
Her book reminded me of an article I wrote a few years back titled “You May Be Frugal If . . .” where I shared five resourceful habits that I lot of frugal people share. Here are a few comparisons between that article and the 1829 version of being frugal:
My Modern version: “So much of being frugal or thrifty or a cheapskate or whatever you might want to call it, is just being resourceful. It’s looking around and saying “how can I keep using this?”, or “how can I use this differently or more efficiently?”, or “how can I make my own with what I already have?” Instead of rushing out to buy something, you stop a minute and contemplate what other options or new solutions there might be.”
The 1829 version: “The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments so that nothing be lost. I mean fragments of time as well as fragments of materials. Nothing should be thrown away as long as it is possible to make use of it, however trifling that use may be.”
My modern version: “One of my little habits is to save pieces of tinfoil to use later. Sometimes I have a piece of tinfoil over a pan in the oven and when I’m done cooking, it hardly looks used. Why would I just throw that out? That resourceful spirit tells me it’s perfectly fine to use again for something else. I fold it up and put it in the drawer for later.”
1829 version: “Keep a bag for odd pieces of tape and strings, they will come in use. Keep a bag or box for old buttons so that you may know where to go when you want one.”
My modern version: “Those times when an extra pages comes trailing off your computer printer that you weren’t expecting? And it’s got like one or two words on it or something? I save it for later! I keep them in another pile and print on the back side of them when I’m just printing off a recipe or something that only I will ever see – or – I use them to write grocery lists or other random notes.”
The 1829 version: “Preserve the backs of old letters to write upon.”
And I saw several other parallels between things I’ve written about that sound so much like what was written so long ago:
My modern reminder to always add ingredients gradually: “You can always add more but you can’t take it back out.”
1829 version: “Be careful to not throw in salt and pepper too plentifully, it is easy to add to it, and not easy to diminish.”
1829 version: “Have a bottle full of brandy with as large a mouth as any bottle you have, into which you cut your lemon peel when they are fresh and sweet. This brandy gives a delicious flavor to all sorts of pies, puddings, and cakes.”
I love to repurpose little glass jars. They come in handy for keeping things like your homemade taco sauce and your homemade mod podge.
1829 version: “Save vials and bottles. If the bottles are of good thick glass, they will always be useful for bottling cider or beer.”
I’ve learned that I can just as easily pamper myself with my homemade body scrubs without the need for buying the expensive ones or spending money on a spa experience.
1829 version: “People think they must go abroad for vapor baths; but a very simple one can be made at home. Place strong sticks across a tub of water, at the boiling point, and sit upon them, entirely enveloped in a blanket, feet and all. The steam from the water will be a vapor bath.”
Well by now, you certainly get the idea. Being frugal, whether it’s 2021 or 1821, is a willingness to look at life creatively and to be resourceful with what’s on hand. It’s about maximizing what’s already there through using your supplies carefully and creatively. It’s being willing to find new uses for things, use things up completely, save things that might be needed later, and trying homemade alternatives.
I love this quote from the book: “True wisdom lies in finding out all the advantages of a situation in which we are placed instead of imagining the enjoyments of one in which we are not placed.”
So even though two centuries have gone by, I feel rather like a soul sister to Lydia Maria Child, the author of this 1829 book about being an American Frugal Housewife. A frugal spirit is timeless. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Using all your resources wisely will indeed help you see the advantages of your current situation rather than imagining that the grass is always somehow greener on the other side.
1829 version: “The writer has no apology to offer for this cheap little book of economical hints except her deep conviction that such a book is needed.”
Modern version: It’s important to be a good steward of your resources and I’m happy to write this blog so you can save money and just make your own!
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