The fact is that I honestly do not know any other way to live. It’s a simple truth that I derive satisfaction from saving money the same way others derive a thrill from spending it.
You would even be right to say that I cannot help myself.
What that means is that I don’t have a long list of wants. I shop only when I need something, and then I do it very purposefully and very quickly to get it over with as soon as possible.
I can easily turn a deaf ear to even the most insistent of advertising campaigns. And I also do not find it terribly difficult to stick to a budget.
So, yep, frugal is moniker that fits. And it's a trait that has enabled me to save tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, savings that we have been able to use for our children's education and our retirement fund.
But it's not as if I am genetically wired to behave that way any more than anyone else is.
I simply have had a lifetime to nurture the careful habits that I first learned from my frugal parents. And that's something anyone can do, if they have an interest in doing so.
My parents set a strong example, as did so many of their generation who witnessed or endured first-hand the poverty and hard times of the Great Depression.
The traumatic experience of seeing long bread lines and homeless people desperate for food and work etched itself into their psyche, permanently affecting their outlook and attitude about financial security.
They never took it for granted, even if their own families largely escaped the worst of the hardships around them.
The principles of “save for a rainy day’ “waste not, want not” and “a penny saved is a penny earned” became an ingrained part of their mindset and lifestyle.
Lessons Passed On to Us
It goes without saying that we, their 9 children, observed and absorbed that ethic. Tight budgets were very much a part of our lives growing up. My Mom could stretch a dollar like few other people I know.
She had to.
My Dad didn’t make much money at all as a school teacher in rural Maine, and there were many mouths to feed and a large household to run. So we learned from a young age about domestic economy and management.
We learned to respect the time honored tradition of thrift. We learned the importance of doing things for ourselves, and making do with what we had. We learned practical skills such as gardening, sewing and animal care.
Kitchen Skills Learned at Mom's Elbow
And we learned how to prepare and cook daily menus of simple, wholesome meals.
My Mom taught us early that eating cheap and eating well are not contradictory aims.
Yes, achieving both definitely required planning and cooking, but that was understood in those days.
The takeaway for me was that if you were willing to put a little effort into the process, you would naturally be able to get a lot of mileage out of your food dollars.
We took for granted that daily chores were the norm, and cooking was one of them. But regular practice meant we soon achieved competence that made even the most mundane tasks far less tedious.
Taking Those Lessons into the Real World
All those habits of organization and economy, and the practical skills that I learned in childhood stayed with me when I established my own household and raised my own family. They have proven to be more useful than I could ever have imagined as a child.
Among other things, they have helped me retain some semblance of order and sanity during very busy, stressful times in our lives. And they have also helped us maintain fiscal discipline and weather some tough times of unemployment.
My parents taught me -- mostly by example -- that the key to smart, healthy living is consistent adherence to the principles of thrift and moderation in all things. That includes dietary matters as well as financial ones.
It Begins in the Kitchen....
Thus, I learned to provide my family with a sensible diet that incorporates plenty of vegetables and whole grains into it. I learned that it’s best to ignore fads or diet gimmicks and their often dubious assertions and claims.
I learned that any food plan that suggests eliminating entire food groups is probably not sustainable or workable. I learned to avoid slick marketing campaigns whose sole mission is to get you to spend more than you should. And that applies to many parts of our lives, and not just in the kitchen.
....And Becomes a Lifestyle
The low key, frugal approach to life that my parents passed on to me, along with their common sense lessons in matters related to household management, cooking, and meal preparation, has helped my family beyond measure over the years, not least by allowing us to maintain excellent health and well-being.
And all of this has also saved us tens of thousands of dollars over that same period of time compared to many other families I know.
As much as the world has changed since the years of my parents’ youth, their approach to living has stood the test of time in more ways than not.
It turns out they and their peers were right about so many things. We may think we have advanced well beyond their generation and any lessons they have to offer. But I think I’ll stick to what I learned from them – it’s served me well so far.
Sometimes the old-fashioned way is still the best way.