Saving up for hard times

I was washing out an empty margarine tub this morning, and it made me think of my grandmother. (This is my mom’s mother – not the Coke and potato chips grandma, that was my dad’s mom.)  When the Great Depression started (October 1929) she was 26 years old.  One week later, she had her first child – my mom.  My grandfather worked for the railroad and didn’t lose his job, but times were tough.  Then, World War II came along, with its shortages and rationing and victory gardens.  For most of my grandmother’s young adult life, resources were scarce and people scrimped and made do every way they could.

My grandmother lived to be 90, and in all those years, I don’t think she ever threw anything away that could possibly be used again.  I know other people have told me that their relatives who lived through the Depression did that too.  It’s too bad that not very many of those folks are around these days; they’d probably have a lot of good advice for us.

Anyway, the reason that the margarine tub made me think of my grandmother – after she passed away, my dad and I went over to her house to start cleaning up, getting ready to sell the house.  We opened up a kitchen cabinet, and about 50 plastic pimento-cheese containers, with lids, fell onto our heads.  We laughed about it.  Unfortunately, the containers were all thrown away after all, because there is no plastic recycling in the rural area where my parents and grandmother live(d).

I think that frugality as a lifestyle is hard for us as adults these days, because most of us have never been forced to do it by circumstances outside of ourselves.  As with everything, we get better at it with practice, but it still doesn’t come naturally.  And because not everyone chooses to or has to practice frugality, there isn’t a sense that “we’re all in this together” like there was during WW II.  I think the federal government has contributed to this by encouraging everyone to “go shopping” and keep spending money.  They certainly could have taken a different approach to the post-9/11 condition of our country, building on what happened during the disaster response in NYC to encourage the entire country to come together in a sense of cooperation and service.  But that didn’t happen.

We have a phrase down here in Florida that the weatherpersons use when a hurricane is coming – “hunker down.”  That means gather your resources and get ready.  To me, it feels like we should all be in “hunker down” mode in our current economic and environmental circumstances.  Maybe this recession (or whatever it is) won’t last long, but there will be another one, and our environment isn’t going to improve much at all (and more likely will continue to get worse).  I plan to stay in a “hunker down” condition from now on, as much as is possible.  How about you?

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4 responses to “Saving up for hard times

  1. I also had a grandmother who came up during the Depression. Her frugality (having to raise six children almost on her own) was legendary. But when she died, we experienced the flip side. Cleaning out the large house filled with things that for the most part had only sentimental value took months because she could not bear to throw anything out because of some potential usefulness in the future.

    Also, my sister has friends who live a very frugal lifestyle. The raise most of their own food, barter for most other goods and services and ride bicycles everywhere they need to go. They’ve chosen this lifestyle for enviromental and health reasons. One day the husband, exhausted from a hard day of splitting logs, made the point that this type of life was never meant to be lived in isolation.

    I think living a real life that strikes a the right balance between “hunkering down” and modern comfort requires a level of community and interaction that we have been programmed to view as too socialistic and therefore un-American. Being that the last 50 years have been shaped by rampant consumerism in the name of corporate profits, finding enough people within one geographic location who shared the same frugal values was difficult and you were almost forced into a disposable lifestyle or become the person with the houseful of stuff.

    Sorry so long. I may flesh this out into my own post soon.

  2. I think you’re exactly right. It’s hard to help out the Joneses when you’re too busy trying to keep up with them. Consumerism isn’t the only reason, but we have lost the sense of community that we once had.

  3. Pingback: Treading Softly

  4. Pingback: Thrift vs. debt « Treading Softly

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