Mom and Dad in our last family photo
DH = Dear Husband
We’re in the 34th month of our journey out of debt, and I still find myself having “Aha!” moments. This week I had another one.
Two brands of frugal: -intense and -lite
I don’t know about you, but when I think about “frugality”, I think of doing without and toughening up. We used to hire cleaners for our house, but we’re doing without, and we’re (I’m) doing our (my) own house cleaning. (Sometimes). We used to spend over $200 per week on groceries, but we’re doing without, and we’ve cut that bill down to $150. We used to eat at nice restaurants occasionally, but we’re doing without and spending way less – and way less often – on meals out. We used to go on mini-get-aways the odd week-end, but we’re doing without and staying put.
I like feeling tough. My dad was tough. He grew up on a prairie farm during the Great Depression, with only the basics at the best of times. Scholarships were his ticket out of poverty. Physically strong and athletic, academically rigorous, socially aware and contentious, my dad was adamantly frugal with a sort of reverse pride about it all. A bit of contempt in his attitude towards his “softer” fellow men I must admit. I suppose I feel a bit of an “atta girl!” pat on the back when I tough it out.
But here’s the thing. I’m not really that tough. I’m a product of my mother too, after all. Like my dad, she grew up in the era of the Great Depression. But she was a city girl. And her family had a live-in maid. AND a house-cleaner who came every Wednesday. Her name was Jessie. I just found out about that a few days ago. My mother’s hush, hush disposition towards certain topics is giving way to more disclosure now that she’s 90 years old. There had always been a bit of teasing towards my mom for having come from some privilege, and there were jokes about household staff, but I didn’t know it was beyond anything that I have experienced myself – house cleaners doing their wonderful work every two weeks. A stay-at-home mom, a live-in maid, and weekly cleaning service? OK.
My mother’s lifestyle changed dramatically after she married my dad, but she never complained. It wasn’t in a stiff-upper-lip way of not complaining – stoically suffering in silence. She didn’t suffer. She really didn’t miss the privileges of her upbringing. Perhaps she knew that they hadn’t afforded her any more happiness than she was enjoying as an adult having to live within her means. But she was never “tough”. She indulged thoroughly in the charm of life – just not by spending money.
Our frugal groceries: both -intense and -lite
My big New Year’s resolution this year has been frugal grocery shopping. I set the limit of $150 per week, and so far, so good. My first forays into the grocery store this year were characterized by a fierce determination. Calculator in hand, I weighed the vegetables and bananas and studied comparative prices with great focus. I was tough. Atta girl! But in the last few weeks, I’ve forgotten to bring the calculator. And I haven’t bothered to weigh everything. And I’m still coming in under $150.
I actually LIKE this frugal grocery thing. I love the abundance of food that happens when I slow cook large quantities of chicken, beef, beans, pork. I love the high quality hanging out time that takes place in the kitchen as people linger to talk or just share the space while I chop or stir or clean up. I love the enthusiasm with which these new old meals are anticipated, and the way they draw us around the table together again after years of separate eating and separate diets and separate schedules.
My dad’s frugal intensity is present in the time and work devoted to preparations. But my mom’s frugal-lite is also present. In the slowed pace and the casual chit-chat. Something of great value that we’ve done without for far too long – until we started doing without. A few weeks ago, on a Saturday when I was cooking up a storm, DH came through the door and stopped in his tracks. “Hmmm!” he said, eyes closed and nose in high gear. “It smells like home.” We’ve been living in this house for almost 17 years. But I knew what he meant.
Moving forward . . .
Each one of us is a product of two parents. I have approached our journey out of debt almost exclusively with my dad’s frugal-intensity. And there’s been a lot of good that has come of it. But I’m going to embrace my mom’s frugal-lite as I move forward, and I suspect the combination of these two brands will prove to be better for us than either one on its own.
But what about house cleaning?
I’m especially curious to see if it will have an impact on house-cleaning. Is there a frugal-lite side benefit here? I think there must be, but I haven’t found it yet. I really do miss our house-cleaner days. I really am jealous of my mom’s mom. Where is MY Jessie? I really do feel like we’re doing without – and that I’ve got to toughen up. Or not. Maybe what I’ve got to do is open up to the frugal-lite side of cleaning – whatever it might be. I’ll share any discoveries I make. Stay tuned.