Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Saving Nine

The year we got married, my mum and dad made us a quilt. Isn't that nice? They did one for each of us kids around the time we all got coupley: and the weddings went as follows.

Eldest - 1995
Youngest - 1996
Middle - 1997

So it was a hectic few years. My dad was off work due to an injury (broken neck, believe me or believe me not) during much of that time, and spent a lot of his recovery quilting. I love that.

Anyway, I am not one of those people who redecorates their house every year or two and has multiple sheet sets for each bed. I can't justify the money and the waste. But, I hadn't realised just how well-worn this quilt was until I was inspecting the fall linens in preparation for the cold weather, and saw the edge of it up close.

Ten meters of 5/8" double-fold bias tape, a little bit of pretty stitch work from the Pfaff:

and Presto! the quilt is ready for another ten years of duty.

When I was folding it up after rebinding it, I noticed two small holes in the patchwork top. I'll repair those and show them to you next week.

But in the meantime, I'd like to reflect on the concept of stewardship. I think it's one of those things that became unfashionable around the same time as marriage did - during the decades following the Second World War, when people were tired of making do and women were tired of staying home. I recall a magazine article I read in about 1982, entitled "Are You a Supermarket Miser?" It had a little quiz where you could find out if you were committing the sin of trying to save money.....sorry, I mean "pinch pennies". One of the questions was "Do you use plastic grocery bags for the trash instead of buying proper garbage bags?" The whole article was smugly certainly got the impression that "Yes" was the wrong box to tick.

The article was written at a time when consumption was the height of fashion, when manufacturers were scrambling to make everything disposable. But you wouldn't have caught a pioneer family, or a Depression family, or a wartime family, throwing away a quilt that could be repaired for less than a half-hour's wage, or a towel that could be cut down into facecloths, or a facecloth that could be turned into a diaper, that could be turned into a rag.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about this in the last while, especially since my bike was stolen and we realised we can't actually afford to replace it. Living on one income is difficult with gas at $1.34 a liter (and we're grateful it's that low), and flour costing me $15 per 10 kilo bag. As expensive as the essentials are, though, they're not what puts us into the overdraft.

Being part of a privileged class in a privileged nation brings with it a certain carelessness when it comes to small luxuries. I remarked to my sister the other day that it would be interesting to save all our receipts for a month, then go through and highlight everything we bought that was nonessential. Every bag of chips, every tall nonfat extra-hot latte, every video rental. I think it would be a little shocking to see the total.

I have a lot of skills. I can patch jeans. I can make bulletin boards, and clothes, and muffins. I can even darn socks, though whole-wheat breadmaking remains a challenge. I may not be making a wage, but I can at least avoid spending a wage we don't have.

As I spend year after year raising my children rather than editing government audit reports, living costs climb relentlessly. Like the Elliotts, we must retrench. Part of that is fixing my quilt, sure, and part of it is buying too-short thrift-store jeans and letting them down, but most of it is attitude. There's a......yes, I would say almost a shame that comes with being careful with money, even when it's by necessity rather than by choice. I had to search, there, for a phrase that wasn't demeaning: the first things that came to mind were "cheap", "skinflint", and "miserly". It's interesting: I'm obviously a product of my generation, latchkey kids raised by two working parents who bought cookies and threw away worn linens.

Is it okay now, at the beginning of a new, expensive century, to value skills like patching and darning? Can I be proud of myself for having saved that $90 for a new quilt?

I think so. I think the world might be ready for a person who spent five years in university, then four years wearing heels to a government office and getting $60 haircuts every six weeks, to stay at home every day educating the children and patching quilts. I might not be Rosie Riveter, but I'm still doing my bit for the war.


Anna said...

But what you're doing is what we all should be doing--reducing consumption, valuing our resources. Until the last 5 years or so, my family were comparatively less well off than those around us (although we weren't truly poor). I think that it was really good for my kids to be stuck with me and homemade soup and camping trips. My son did not wear one new outfit until his 2nd birthday. Every latte and Beanie Baby we didn't buy was one less item of landfill and one more hour at home together. I say, you go girl!

Jo said...

Can you even guess how chuffed I am to have understood the Austen reference even before I scanned over the link?!!

I know what you mean about consumption being en vogue. Although it has slowed down, I think it does continue to some extent here. I still know people who *buy* new cars every two years. Me, I love shopping. Not buying. I love going to stores and touching and looking through things - especially bookstores - but we have a kickass library system and I would have to try really hard to think of a book I want to read it doesn't have.

Yarn stores are a different matter - I love spending money there - so as a rule I try not to go there just for fun - and only when I need something they can provide.

knititch said...

maybe the reward will be that special book at a nice price. i am trying not to use much right now as i am looking for a new job and until then. when that is said i used an awfully large amount of money just the other day. but knitting saves me from going to caf's and such.

Anonymous said...

A word I quite like is frugal - to me it means mindful consumption and embodies the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle concepts of stewardship.

Cindy B

mel said...

Yes, yes! A beloved family item gets a new life and more years of happy use - good all around!!

I am so far from the ideal in this situation, but consciously working on it. Growing up, I had hand-me-downs and sewed dresses for dances and was quite happy... But once the family income increased we all got used to new consumption habits pretty darn fast. Getting out of school and finding that I could afford to buy things on my own quickly found me chasing the aesthetic of the young stylish professional woman, and us living beyond our means - Now we are consciously reverting back. Our one set of sheets (which is now almost worn through and truly ready to be replaced) will certainly get re-purposed; clothing I can still do better on - I have some T's and such that are waiting to be re-fashioned (really, just waiting for me to make friends with my sewing machine again). We are working towards the point where we can live on one income (or two half-times!) and have a more self-sufficient existence. It's so inspiring and encouraging for me to see the movement towards these ideals among my favorite blogs and flikr folks. I've reached the point where I care not one bit that I'm an anomaly in my workplace where everything is bigger houses (my co-workers can't comprehend that we would downsize, despite no children and not using the fairly modest space we have), swankier cars, etc, etc. But it IS so nice to have some camaraderie in all these things!!

Great post Shannon.
P.S. I have an old T of Rosie the Riveter... a hand-me-down from my mom :)

kate said...

As I'm sure you can imagine, I like this post. I like the word stewardship.

Mr. Kate and I have always lived that way, even when we were both full-time wage earners. Too much of our beginning was spent with low incomes, so we learned quickly to be frugal. I take pride, as should you, in my ability to reduce my footprint on this world. As you say, it is difficult when you are a member of this particular society (this town even more with all its toys - although that will be changing). And its not like we are frugal as can be - there is a line for every family and that is a personal decision of what non-essentials the family can do without. For each family it is different.

Interesting your allusion to Rosie at the end, just yesterday someone was telling me this town is becoming like a war town, with all the men going off to work and the women running the show at home. Obviously not in the war sense, but in that so many are going to Alberta to work.

Anyhow, I love this post. And I really love the quilts your parents made. Too sweet.

Gwen said...

Oh, my goodness. I actually cried at the end, at the picture of the WREN and the "doing my bit for the war."

I read the "Tightwad's Gazette" a few years ago, and, while impressed with the overall theme, just couldn't appreciate their glee at saving 2 cents per year by doing x, y or z. But now that I'm a few years older, I'm getting it.

Nowadays when I am reusing, patching and stretching, I feel very proud. My penny-pinching ways are serving the dual purpose of saving our money and reducing our environmental impact. Consumerism is so, like, five minutes ago. I'm all about retrenching.

Oh! I love this post.

freedomnan said...

It is interesting that you can feel "I'm obviously a product of my generation, latchkey kids raised by two working parents who bought cookies and threw away worn linens" when you were actually raised by a stay-at-home mum who made EVERYTHING from scratch and made table napkins from the good parts of worn out sheets!

clumsy ox said...

I am for Bath.

Ames said...

I hear you, loud and clear. Even though, we are quite the consumers in certain areas, I have shopped at Goodwill, re-used, mended, and gone without even when we had plenty of money. Goodwill is one of my favorite stores. I have often been embarrassed that we shop at there even though we were making a very nice income. On the other hand, I was proud of the fact we could go to bed at night and know we had no credit card debt.

Kristine said...


Remind me to go home and finish Grandma's quilt, that's been lingering for longer than I'm really willing to admit. Good to get the pins out of it, anyway, before Lu starts eating them.

I love every word of this, just like I loved it when sent me an article on how not to spend so much money on kids, and I was already doing all of these *revolutionary* things, like making my own baby food, using cloth diapers, breastfeeding.

Seriously. Wonderful stuff.

Kris said...

Great post Shan. I've been thinking a lot about this for the last few months. With baby#2 on the way, a move (most likely out of state) a few months later, combined with the upcoming purchase of a house, we are pinching every penny until it screams.

Some of the stuff is easy. Drop the latte (or mocha in my case) habit, stop eating out so much etc.

Some of it is not too bad given the result. Making my own laundry detergent at less than a buck for 3 gallons tops my list. Yes it is a bit of a pain, but I only do it have to do it every 6-8 weeks or so. I love hanging my laundry out on the line and foregoing a trip through the dryer.

Some is down right painful, but we are all doing it. I am planning on getting most of DS's shirts for winter at second hand shops. I hate the more limited selection and somewhat poorer quality, but if I can save 50% it will be worth it, especially when I know I will have to buy even more pants for him. (Just what does that kid do on his knees to shread them like that...)

We are also planning on cloth diapering when the babe arrives and I've managed to purchase quite a stash through Craigslist at 50% off or more. This excites me to no end, knowing that for less than the cost of a year's worth of diapers, I will be able to diaper 2 or more kiddos!

D-Ann said...

A very thought provoking post, thank you!

Jenny said...

Awesome article Shannon!!
I'm a coupon cutter. I don't buy anything that isn't on sale,BUT, I have fallen into the materialism of this world. We drive 2 new vehicles. Have the latest gadgets,toys...etc.
However, I do know that the reason I can be "materialistic" is we do make sacrifices. I live in a nice home, drive nice vehicles, have toys,but we don't eat out all the time(twice a month...unless it's a girls nite...who cares about budgets when it's a girls nite!), I meal plan, cut coupons,hand my boys clothes down the line,etc etc.
So I feel I am caught in the middle. I have the guilty pleasure of the nice things, but can pat myself on the back that I only buy things on sale and save a couple of bucks here and there...
Oy...didn't save myself did I???

Jenny said...

I meant awesome "post"...I always feel like I'm reading a magazine article with your posts!

Christy said...

I love this post Shannon! Since Chris and I got married 6 years ago, there have been many times that I have had no choice but to be "frugal". And now it actually excite's me to save money,clip coupons and get good deals! I feel like my husband is the one that brings in the money and my job is to make sure that money get's spent wisely! I still have lot's to learn and one day I may learn how to sew! Woohoo!

lizbon said...

Yes, there is a word for it: thrifty.

Thrifty (note that it rhymes with nifty) has always had, to me, a very positive spin. It's an everday-superhero sort of word. A word that describes someone who can make something new and useful out of materials that have already had one life as something else.

It's a Depression-era word (maybe that's just a US thing), and during that time people who were thrifty were able to make a real difference for themselves and others.

I always admired those folks.

Annalea said...

freedomnan's comment struck a chord in me . . . but in reverse. My family was poor--my dad farmed and my mom stayed home. We had second hand and home-made clothing, except for a new outfit and occasional necessities before the new school year started.

And yet, I feel very much that I'm a product of my generation. That I was influenced and scripted just as much by the school children and staff there as I was by my own parents.

I'm at an interesting point in my stewardship. I've just come out of a long, dark time in my life, emotionally. I think back to all of the things I bought, only to throw away later . . . from useful things to food that had spoiled simply because I hadn't gotten around to preparing it . . . and I have to try hard not to get down on myself for it, as that serves no useful purpose now. To not think how all that money, if still unspent, could help us now, as we face a possible boot-strapping crisis in Vern's company. I've gone from not being emotionally capable of saving money to wanting to very, very much and working hard at it . . . and it might not be soon enough to help.

stephanie said...

Love it!! An inspiring post.

Tabatha said...

Great Post Shan! Convicting.

Jodi said...

Lovely job rebinding the quilt! What a precious heirloom.

Wow, that article really did come out at the height of conspicuous spending and overconsumption. My parents have always very committed to frugality. I'm not nearly as interested in saving a dollar as they are (I'd rather buy higher quality items in small quantities), but it's definitely a mindset due for a comeback.

Gwen said...

ooh! You're popular.

Knitsonya said...

Letting down jeans! Sooooooo my childhood. And the knee patches that ironed one. And the haircuts and home. I've reacted to that a lot in my life and my choices, but I cannot stand that manufacturers have the built in obsolescence thing down pat. I am part of your revolution - but I will be passing my kid's thrift store jeans on. Nooooo hemming.

Rachel said...

Late to comment, but I enjoyed this post...and I have to say a resounding YES to can you be proud saving $90 for the quilt. I grew up in a fairly poor household and we pretty much sustained ourselves with a huge garden, some cows we bred for beef, some acreage that allowed us to grow our own hay to feed the cows...all the bread, vegetables, fruit etc that we ate came from our land. Eventually the folks got better jobs and we didn't have to do that anymore, but it always stuck with me and I've always remained 'frugal' whether I had to or not. At first it was just a fear of not having money when I needed it, but for the past 15 years or so, it's been more with the environment in mind. Whatever reasons you do it, whether you 'have' to, or because you are simply trying to stop the consumerism cycle, I applaud you.

Salar said...

Way to be moneySMART!

I remember as a kid my dad turning off a light my mom had left on, "didn't you learn to turn off lights after the depression" he complained.

"Who had lights?" she asked