Monday, October 15, 2012


Sorry for the long delay. My precious children are such good sharers... even when it comes to cooties. I think I'm over the cold now, though.

I have been thinking of the value of patience lately. It applies in so many ways with regard to thrift.

I'll give an example from just this past week. I've been hankering for an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator for a while now, probably a year or more. This is the one I wanted. I've looked online, seen various retail prices, scoped out Ebay, peeked on Craigslist from time to time. I've found 5-tray models. I've found lots of 9-tray models but way more expensively than I was willing to pay. Finally, about 10 days ago, I blundered across a 9-tray model (without timer) on Craigslist for $140. The not-so-squee-worthy part was that it was down in Connecticut.

Now - remember the post about asking for help when you need it? Being willing to be blessed, without concern about keeping score? The ad for the dehydrator stated that it was located in the same town in Connecticut as one of my best friends. Donna is another thrifty, creative type, and I know if she needed my help, she'd ask me. So I called her, immediately. Within 24 hours, the Excalibur was in Donna's hands, waiting for me to come get it. (I hope and trust that it has been thoroughly tested in her kitchen in the meantime)

I also think about the value of patience in the garden. Hands, now -  how many of us have put out our tomatoes earlier than we should have, hoping that it'd all work out ok, and lost them to a late frost? How many of us have sown seeds that have rotted because the soil was too cold and wet? Put in our seed potatoes and had NOTHING come up, because they turned to mush in the garden? Yeah, I thought so.

A friend of mine is buying his first house, and is incredibly excited. He took his time, and found exactly what he wanted, at a price that worked for him. He was describing it to me, and we got to talking about clothes lines. He said something about how great they are, except you need a dryer for when it rains. I recall looking at him kind of oddly and saying simply, "I don't do laundry when there's rain forecast." While I do have to invest some brainpower in planning my work, honestly, it's not that hard (most of the time, barring August 2011-type weather, when we got 18 inches of rain in 6 weeks) to make my laundry chores work the way I want them to work. It can require patience, though. My children are well acquainted with being told, "No, I won't be doing laundry today; the forecast isn't good."

Patience can also apply to routine shopping. It's just not that hard to wait until Baker's chocolate goes on sale before stocking up. Most folks shop around for weeks when looking for a car or a house - why should smaller expenditures merit less care? I'm not advocating tying yourself up in knots over every little decision, just suggesting that being willing to hold out for what's important to you can really save you a lot of time, money, frustration, productivity. It's all part of living a thrifty life. Try it!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

thinking about thrift...

I was reading on yesterday and the writer offered a definition of thrift. I'll copy and paste it here:
"I think it includes:
  • earning and saving a portion of money and keeping it over time
  • establishing an emergency fund
  • thinking before buying
  • differentiating between needs and wants
  • evaluating the quality of what you buy and sometimes paying a little more
  • seeing if an item you now own can be repaired and deciding if it's worth it
  • paying with cash, not with a credit card
  • giving generously to worthy causes instead of being stingy
  • appreciating people who agree with the above"
I'm not sure I agree with her entirely.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary (unabridged!) offers this definition of thrift: "Savings accumulated through frugality... careful management esp of financial affairs, good husbandry, wise frugality in expenditure," and provides the origin for the term, which came out of Old Norse via Middle English: well being, prosperity - and refers us to the Modern English word thrive.

Any of you who know me well know that I'm a total language geek, having studied Classical and medieval Latin, Old English, Old Norse, Middle English, and several modern languages. I think it's often very useful when seeking to understand a concept to dig into why the concept has the name it does. That's certainly true with thrift. I mean, seriously - thrive? "To improve steadily, prosper, flourish" - that all sounds good to me! (American Heritage Dictionary)

So - thrift. Ms. Blatzheim's discussion is largely about what thrifty actions might look like, with a dash of the sort of attitude behind such actions. Her article got me to wondering about wants and needs - and where the line crossing into greed is found. 

Back to Webster's - I need glasses just to see the entries! - greed: inordinate or all-consuming and usu. reprehensible acquisitiveness esp. for wealth or gain: extreme or voracious desire esp. for food or drink. It comes from Old English/Old High German for hunger, or 'to long for.' 

Christianity and Judaism both condemn greed, though I did not find a definition for what constitutes greed: Psalm 10:3 He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. Proverbs 29:4 By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down. (still timely!)  Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

I guess what's bothering me right now is where that line is. If I think I live thriftily, what am I using for my comparison? I think it's generally agreed that as a nation, Americans have more, and want more still, than any other People on earth. If I'm thrifty compared to other Americans, well, that's hardly a great accomplishment, is it? 

Oh well. I don't think I'm able - and certainly not willing, Lord forgive me - to live like a resident of a third-world country. It might come to that in a generation to two, but I'm not there yet. So, going back to Ms. Blatzheim's list - I think the most salient point there is about differentiating between needs and wants (though thinking before buying is certainly good advice). How much of what I think I need do I actually need? At what point is it morally wrong for me to have more than what I genuinely need, since my consumption has such wide-ranging effect on everyone else on the planet? (note: I disagree with the bit about not using credit cards... but I agree that cards MUST be used responsibly, for items you would purchase anyway, not for impulse buys, and they MUST be paid off in full EVERY month! Surrounding yourself with like-minded folks is nice, but not mandatory, especially if they're hard to find)

I don't think I'm going to try to reach a conclusion to this post. It's more about the thinking than the conclusion. I welcome thoughts from everyone, though - how do you define thrift? Is it purely economic, or is there a moral aspect to it? If you think about such things, what's your approach to having and not having?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A time to every purpose under Heaven

I had so many possible titles for this post - "Make hay while the sun shines," or "Semper Gumby" (always flexible) were the other top choices. But I figured, hey, an awesome classic song could only make things more fun - and I'll never turn down a chance to quote Scripture. To wit:
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 -King James Version

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Yeah, ok, so what?

This goes back to my menu planning ideas - it's really, really helpful to have a plan, to know what you're going to do and when. And, at the same time, it's also really useful to plan to be flexible rather than rigid, so that when things come up (and when don't they?) you can accommodate the disruptions. If you refer back to your Laura Ingalls Wilder, you'll see that her Ma taught her the classic scheduling mnemonic -
"Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday."

It's incredibly liberating to know what to expect when. Now, I don't follow the traditional schedule - but I do check the weather every morning, so that I know whether and when to plan to do the laundry. This week, I washed clothes yesterday, and won't do so again until Thursday, due to rain in the forecast in between. It's especially tricky in spring and fall, when days are short and cooler, since I often need two days on the line to get everything dry.

In my regular weekly schedule, I should be heading over to Northampton this morning to get my allergy shots, and to run any errands I need done while I'm out. However, my eldest wasn't feeling well last night, and is still asleep this morning, despite the other three getting off to school and intermittent barking from the puppy. He's been asleep 13 hours already, so he must need the rest. I hope he's just tired, and not actually coming down with the flu, which I was thinking last night. I have a back-up plan, though - if I can't get over for my allergy shots today, I can go on Friday morning.

Having flexibility is useful in other ways, too. Say you've got a garden, and you've got regular times scheduled to tend it. (if you do, I commend you - with a bit of envy!) Then let's say that there's a frost forecast for tomorrow night. If you're so rigidly scheduled that there's no 'give,' you might not be able to get out into that garden to bring in whatever's ripe or almost ripe, or to cover your tomato plants and that row of green beans.

The saying "Make hay while the sun shines" really sums up what I'm trying to say here. By all means, you should be planning to make hay - but when the forecast shows you three or four sunny days in a row, be flexible enough to be able to use that window of opportunity to make the hay.

This relates to thrift in so many ways... it's about canning extra tomato sauce when you happen upon a cheap source of extra tomatoes. It's about making time to go pick up a dozen free laying hens. It's about staying late at work if a chance for overtime comes up. And it's about having a backup plan for when things go awry - like my allergy shots being postponed due to my son's illness. See, thrift isn't only about money. It's a way of life, of making the most out of what you have.

[digression: I think this is a large part of the failure of the 'austerity measures' in Europe at present. Imposed thrift, without the internal attitude I hope we all share, can't succeed - it doesn't feel like thrift (a choice) but like privation (imposed from without). God bless our European brothers and sisters who are struggling, and may we plan ahead well enough to be spared that pain!]