Posted on August 30, 2012 12:26 pm under Family

Growing up in the lean years of the Great Depression, my parents learned frugality. How they chose to spend money, however, was as different as natural cheese and processed cheese food. Literally.

For my mother, frugality meant buying items at the lowest price or getting them for free. She didn’t buy clothes, if she could get hand-me-downs. She stretched milk with water, always bought oleo and served sandwiches made with slices of the bright orange grease that attempted to masquerade as cheese. She loved saving Green Stamps to purchase free items from their catalog. She justified her frequent impulse purchases by pointing out how much she saved. “Yes, I have enough baskets, but this one was 60 percent off.”

My father didn’t indulge in impulse purchases and he was willing to pay for quality. When he did the shopping, we spread real butter on our toast and enjoyed real cheddar or swiss on our sandwiches. With clothing, his penchant for quality didn’t always work in our favor. My brother recalls the corduroy trousers that he had to wear for three years. He was in a slow growth period and the pants just wouldn’t wear out. He longed for narrow-legged chinos, which were all the rage, but the voluminous corduroys defied destruction, despite his best efforts.

One evening after a square dance, my parents visited a local ice cream shop with friends. One lady longingly eyed the strawberry sundaes, but settled for sharing a single dish of ice cream with her husband. My father shook his head. “They’re worth more than a million dollars, but can’t even enjoy their choice of ice cream.” My mother nodded sagely and replied. “They must have been what their coupon was for.”

2 Responses to “Cheesy”

  1. Pat Says:

    Your mother’s comment at the end made me laugh a lot! My parents also grew up during the depression (Mom-born in 1918, Dad-born in 1919). My mom’s father was a doctor at Henry Ford Hospital (Detroit), chief of staff several times, and the family had a housekeeper (cleaned, cooked, ironed, polished the silver, made the beds, etc.) and her husband who did the outside maintenance and was the chauffeur for my grandmother. So, needless to say, my mother did not experience the depression. She was a debutante, they were members of the country club, etc. My dad’s father, however, was an alcoholic and a gambler and was mostly unemployed; thus he drove his family into even worse debt than most people in the 1930s. Before he met my grandmother, he’d spent time in Fort Leavenworth military prison for embezzling from the army when he kept books for them. My grandmother had to get a night job cleaning seedy hotel rooms in Denver to make ends meet. They were evicted from at least one rental house. Some nights my dad and his sister only had a potato to eat for dinner. My mom tried to be frugal–learned how to sew to make dresses for us girls, but she tended to buy brand names of food she liked. She loved instant and frozen foods because they were easy to prepare. She rarely bought anything for herself in the way of clothes. My dad was pretty frugal. Our family never went out to eat for dinner–always ate dinner at home. Once my mom and dad retired, they loosened up about spending money as they had good retirement plans. Wow, I do go on and on.

  2. Jim Says:

    Yes, the generations are different in being frugal. It all reminds me of the Little Red Hen story (the baking bread one) or that of the Ant and the Grasshopper.

    My parents didn’t have money to pay the doctor who was to come to our house to deliver me. Was that poor family planning?

    But never mind, the Lord in a drought year provided a potato crop in their large on-the-farm garden like they had never had before or did after. There were enough potatoes for family use for the following year AND enough to sell for money to pay the doctor’s bill.