I Was Frugal, When Frugal Wasn't Cool

Credit: Jane M. Sawyer / morguefile.com
Having come from a somewhat poor family...well, a very poor family...I learned very early not to ask for anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. When I was 17, I broke up with a very nice boy so I would not have to ask my father to buy me a prom dress. He would have done one of two things...screamed  how I didn't need to go to the prom, or borrowed the money from some high-interest credit company to buy it, which would leave my mother fielding yet another call for payment. My parents were both alcoholics, and all of us learned at a young age that our needs came second to their need for alcohol.


I spent a lot of time with my mother and grandmother, watching them cook everything from scratch, grow their own food, and make pickles and preserves. I got one Christmas gift from Santa every year, and one birthday gift.  My grandmother and aunt tried to make up for this by giving me gifts from themselves and every one of the five children, but when my aunt's marriage broke up, that ended too.

All in all, I did not know I  was poor until I hit about 6th grade, when all my friends were beginning to think about fashion, and I could  not dare ask for my parents to buy me anything other than the 6 for $25 dresses I wore all year long, just adding sweaters in the fall and a coat in the winter. Middle school was hard, but I started babysitting, so I spent that small amount of money on what cheap versions of the fashionable clothes I had. Still, it was all to apparent that I did not fit in. In high school, I learned to sew, and since babysitting jobs had dried up, I skipped eating lunch at school to buy material and whatnot to make my own clothes.

So when I had my children, I tried very hard to see that they had clothes and shoes that people would not make fun of, but I found that as a single parent, the choice between the cheaper brand names and the more expensive, more "in" names was a deciding factor. I did without for myself as much as I could to do for them. Still, it made me so sad one day when my son asked if he could have Lee jeans instead of Levi's. The mere $3 difference in price meant that he would get two pairs instead of one, and I explained this to him. He broke my heart when he said "I'll take good care of them, I promise."  So Lee jeans it was, and I washed those jeans on gentle cycle and hand-scrubbed out the stains to keep them as nice as possible for him until he grew out of them. I would cry when I was doing this, because it brought back memories of being made fun of as a child because of my shabby, made-over clothes.

I did everything possible to feed and clothe and house my children so that they would not be embarrassed, which was, I found, impossible. They somehow survived, but I'm sure not without scars. However, there is a happy ending to this story. My sons both happily look for thrift store bargains now, and are always bragging to me about what great buys they get. When we get together, which isn't often, since they live far away from me, we have such fun going to thrift stores and yard sales if possible, looking for the best bargains. Neither one of my sons is wealthy, and they live in a city (Chicago) where my older son says "being poor in Chicago is almost cool," so they aren't embarrased anymore to wear second-hand clothes and pinch pennies.


I still don't like asking for help from anyone, especially not financial. I recently had to ask my son for a loan, not because I could not make the money, but because of the delay between getting paid into PayPal and getting the money to my bank. Though he gladly helped me out, I will repay him as soon as is humanly possible, because he needs that money every bit as much as I do.

So while I'm recovering physically and financially from my move and broken arm, which put me out of work for a month and depleted my savings, I will keep on saving and pinching pennies, because it's what I have always done and what I will always do. I don't even pay for water now, and I find myself making sure I have a sink full of dishes before I wash, and only using the dishwasher to rinse. Yes, I know that dishwashers use less water (supposedly), but this one is old, so I would have to pre-rinse, which would use more water than hand washing. Besides, I like making sure my dishes are squeaky clean. I comfort myself in this small overuse of water with other water-saving methods I've developed over the years, which I won't go into here.

Even though the circumstances of your life may force you to become frugal, don't give up those habits when you are better off. The earth still needs you to recycle, reuse, and repurpose. You aren't doing it for you, you are doing it for the future of the children, and the future of the planet we live on.

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