Reflections on life, marriage, and a young woman who is constantly learning how much there will always be to learn!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The American Frugal Housewife

From The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn:

The American Frugal Housewife (1833) by a Mrs. Child bears a curious subtitle. She dedicated the book "To Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy."

Although frugality may have enjoyed a larger general acceptance during her time, clearly she felt it was falling out of fashion. She frequently quotes Benjamin Franklin's words on thrift. After pondering that I also wondered at the 18th-century attitude toward thrift, since Franklin felt compelled to write his thoughts on the subject.

Mrs. Child wrote: "Economy is generally despised as low virtue, tending to make [characterize] people ungenerous and selfish. This is true of avarice; but not so of economy. The man who is economical, is laying up for himself the permanent power of being useful and generous."

Mrs. Child's observation of the negative attitude toward thrift might also be seen from earlier times. Since the development of the English language, we have no positive nouns for a frugal person. Instead we have "cheapskate," "skinflint," "penny-pincher," "miser," and "tightwad." Even the positive adjectives that the English language gives us, like "frugal" or "thrifty," have come to have a dull or boring connotation. We associate these words with Depression-era fuddy-duddy thinking. [...]

The American Frugal Housewife is not to be considered required reading. Much of it reads like a 19th-century Heloise, offering tips that have little relevance for our time. [...] [I LOVE such books, even if they are irrelevant, and would jump at the chance to get to read something like this! Old books like this offer such a glimpse into history, and how people lived back then.]

However, I was also struck by the similar overall strategies and philosophies that still apply (and parallel ideas that I have written). "It is wise to keep an exact account of all you makes you more careful in spending money, and it enables your husband to judge precisely whether his family live within his income." (Record spending.)

"If you have two dollars a day, let nothing but sickness induce you to spend more than nine shillings; if you have half a dollar a day, be satisfied to spend forty cents." (Regardless of your income level do not spend everything you earn.)

"Let [women] prove, by exertion of ingenuity and economy, that neatness, good taste, and gentility, are attainable without great expense." (Use creativity and thrift to improve the quality of life, rather than spending more money.)

"Make your own bread and cake. Some people think it is just as cheap to buy of the baker and confectioner; but it is not half as cheap." (Avoid convenience foods and instead prepare food from scratch.)

"It is poor economy to buy vinegar by the gallon. Buy a barrel, or half a barrel, of really strong vinegar when you begin housekeeping." (Buy in bulk.)

"It is a great deal better for boys and girls on a farm to be picking blackberries at six cents a quart, than to be wearing out clothes in useless play. They enjoy themselves just as well." (All family members should develop hobbies that save money [or make money:o)] rather than ones that are non-productive...or ones that cost money.)

"Patchwork is good economy. It is indeed a foolish waste of time to tear cloth into bits for the sake of rearranging it anew in fantastic figures; but a family may be kept out of idleness, and a few shillings saved, by thus using scraps of gowns, curtains, etc." (Whenever possible reuse materials you already have rather than buying new materials at craft shops.)

"To associate with influential and genteel people with an appearance of equality unquestionably has its advantages, but like all other external advantages, these have their proper price, and may be bought too dearly. Self-denial, in proportion to the narrowness of your income, will eventually be the happiest and most respectable course for you and yours."


Blogger Mrs.B. said...

This was too cool! I LOVE reading things like's so neat to see a glimpse of life back then.

2:20 PM, March 10, 2006  
Blogger Mrs.B. said...

A friend of mine just started a blog, if you get a chance, check it out! (o:

2:23 PM, March 10, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

Thanks for the link, Mrs. B! BTW...I'm wondering when YOU are going to start a blog!;o) You always seem to have such great things to share!

3:42 PM, March 10, 2006  
Blogger deleted said...

Thanks for posting this, Erin! I LOVE reading old housekeeping manuals, home economics books, cookbooks, etc. There is a lot of wonderful wisdom to be found in old books.

4:52 PM, March 10, 2006  
Blogger Mrs.B. said...

Thanks Erin! (o: Actually I'm considering it. I'd like to have one but I'm not sure if I'm technilogically savvy enough to know how to do it! (o: My friend said she'd help me with that though. Actually she asked me to write a guest post on her new blog and I's a post on dog training and it's my first post I've ever written so Erin, come and check it out and leave a comment to tell me what you think!

Thanks!! (o:

9:28 PM, March 10, 2006  

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