Frugality: Lessons from the Past

No doubt you have heard your parents tell you – on more than one occasion – that when they were your age they didn’t have a credit card, their home was repaid, and they had a healthy nest egg for a rainy day. Well, before you discount lessons from the past as irrelevant for the future, there are some frugal tips which can be taken from the lifestyles of the 1950s and 60s and applied to your finances today.

1 – Local seasonal produce

Fifty years ago, many people didn’t have fridges, and if they did it was a small ice box. So people would go to the market every day for the food they needed for the day’s meals. This meant that food wasn’t wasted, because you only bought what you needed, rather than what you planned to use and then forgot about.

If you do your shopping daily or every few days at the market, you can buy fresh local produce, save money at the supermarket on processed foods, and stop wasting money by throwing away unused food. Not to mention you’ll feel healthier and happier too.

2 – Buy only what you can afford

When your parents were growing up, most families didn’t have a credit card, so if you spent all of your money in a week there was nothing you could do about it. When you can’t buy on credit to get yourself out of a tight financial spot, you have to budget for all of your expenses and avoid those tight spots in the first place.

Take this frugal lesson as a chance to set up a budget and look at how your income really relates to your outgoings. Review your expenses, and aim to spend only what you can afford. Because you’ve surely heard your parents say, “If we couldn’t afford it we had to save up or go without.”

3 – Old fashioned fun

Few families in the 1950s and 60s had televisions, but that just meant they found cheap – or free – ways to entertain themselves. Entertainment costs are likely to be a large part of your budget at the moment. If you want to enjoy more frugal forms of entertainment, consider having afternoon tea on the porch with your neighbours rather than going to the mall for coffee, cake and a bit of impulse buying.

On the weekends plan a family Sunday drive, and if you’re rationing fuel, you don’t usually have to go too far to find a beach or a park to picnic at, and enjoy your home-packed snacks.

4 – Money was under control

As sexist or unbalanced as many modern women may think it was, money was under control 50 years ago when the man of the house worked and the lady of the house asked him for her expenses. This has nothing to do with whether men or women are better with money; the benefits came from the fact that all purchases were discussed.

An amount was designated for each purchase, and that is how much was spent. If not all of the money his wife received for the groceries was spent, the family could be treated to something special that week. In this scenario, both partners know where the money is going and what the family can afford. There is no notion of mine and yours, and couples are instead open and collaborative with their purchases.

5 – Do it yourself

If you list all the services you pay for, you will see where a large portion of your income goes. You can be more frugal buy doing a lot of these things yourself the way families did 50 years ago. For example:

  • Plan your meals so you can cook more often and avoid take-away.
  • Make your own lunch at home rather than buying it every day at work.
  • Set aside half a day each week, and you can take care of all of your cleaning rather than pay a housekeeper.
  • Walk your dog and you’ll save on pet walking costs while at the same time getting fitter.
  • Mow your own lawn and you’ll be getting fresh air and achieving a sense of pride in your home.
  • Wash and polish your own car as it won’t take very long, and after all, no one else cares as much as you do about how your car looks.
  • Use your family or neighbours as babysitters rather than childcare, and return the favour for them.

6 – If it ain’t broke

Something else you will hear your parents abhor is consumerism, so to be more frugal, try not to buy something new just for the sake of it. It is tempting to upgrade your car, your TV or your couch when a new model comes out, but if you use something until it is no longer useful, then you are able to get the most value from it.

Alban is a personal finance writer at Home Loan Finder, a home loan comparison website.

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