It seems that frugality is not what it used to be

We all think we struggle to make ends meet and it’s harder all the time. Many complain about the economy and the price of everything. Still, I see big lines in front of eating establishments most of the time and I’m guilty too. At the grocery store there’s no shortage of high dollar items in shopping carts.

Now I’ll probably anger a lot of people with this column, but I remember as a child we saved everything. My family wasn’t rich but we certainly weren’t impoverished either. Yet my parents saved and sacrificed like every nickel was our last.

We never wasted food. Nobody did. I remember eating leftovers several times until they were gone. When bread or some similar starchy product got stale we didn’t throw it away. Mom made bread pudding and we kids considered it a treat. Food dropped on the floor was rinsed and eaten.

I don’t think we ate at a restaurant more than a couple times a year, and if something was leftover it went home with us. Sorry if that offends local restaurant owners, but it was just what things were like fifty years ago. We didn’t have a fast food restaurant on every corner. The closest one was in Bangor, and that was ten miles away. I doubt there were fifteen percent of what we have today.

Most people had gardens and if you had any produce leftover you canned, froze or pickled it. If you still had excess you gave it to your neighbors or left it on a bench by the road with a sign for passersby to help themselves. I don’t remember too many pumpkins or cucumbers being smashed on the road either.

My grandmother probably set the record for frugalness. She used to save the wrappers from margarine quarters in a shortening can and use them to grease pans.

We all wore hand-me-down clothes although after I was through with them they usually went in the rag bag to be used as patches, quilts, rugs or something else. People back then never threw away zippers or buttons. My mom had cans containing buttons of different sizes, styles and colors. She even traded them with her friends.

When outfits got ripped my mom patched them. One time I caught her wrath when I wore my favorite pants in public. They contained more patches than original fabric but that’s another story.

When things were broken we fixed them or had them repaired. Now it’s a throwaway world and I admit it’s largely not our fault. Oftentimes now it’s cheaper to buy a new television than fix the old one. Of course back then we had only one and not one in every other room.

I know we still remember how to be frugal, at least I know I do. At my cabin in Maine there are no amenities or services. My dad originally built the place largely with straightened nails and reused lumber and shingles. We separate all our garbage and try not to use too many cans since they can’t be burned. Any trash that can’t be thrown on the fire must be carries back up the hill and into town. Then you might have trouble finding a public trashcan. When you get down to it, the challenge of frugality can be fun.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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