Cheaping up the place

February 16, 2012
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Skimping and saving is a measure of our new modern culture.

Rob Hardy

Silhouette Staff


It’s not until very recently that our evolution as a human race has finally allowed us to begin enjoying a life of relative material wealth – one where death by starvation or exceptionally poor shelter are no longer the norm. Though that level of poverty is still the case for many countries around the world. Gone is the era of Dickensian school days where much of the class arrived in rags and sat hungry in their seats. (Though, to be fair, one in five American children are still living in poverty.) But what is different about today’s age, what perhaps partly makes officials and economists hesitate to label us approaching anything close to an economic depression, is the fact that society is absolutely swimming in “stuff.”

Back in the Great Depression of the last century, as many lives were thrown into tremendous economic devastation, one of the maxims of the days was “to make do” – and for some this meant literally scrounging for food scraps in the streets of New York. The rise of consumerism during the 1920s began to shame more frugal types who refused to give up making their own clothing, not spending some extra discretionary income simply because it was available for the time being. For those with that attitude, the “Dirty Thirties” saw no cessation of quilting bees and ingenuous ways to make your dollars go further. The end of the Second World War, however, saw yet another increase in consumerist attitudes that have never really ceased.

Faced with the prospect of financial annihilation in our current hard times, as many have already experienced, the face of frugality and preparedness look much different today. One of the benefits of the times we are living in, despite a slash-and-burn job market, is that even though money coming in may be tight, resources and strategies for being in the black are abundant.

Recently, shows like Extreme Couponing have shown that by sacrificing all your spare time and storage space, you too can buy three cartloads of groceries for nearly nothing. To be serious, though, as much as some of these families “pay” in other ways for their hard-earned goodies, the idea of sacrificing and doing the leg work to get a better deal often mean the difference between living well or maxing out your credit card. Though retailers on this side of the border are allergic to the concept of double-coupon days, there is much wisdom to be gleaned from these tales.

Taking it to the next level, Extreme Cheapskates focuses on those who not only want to save money at the store, but to avoid going there at all cost. Message boards regarding this program are buzzing with tips and discussion on how to best scrimp and save, though also when being cheap simply crosses the line. One man dries his paper towels on a clothesline inside to reuse. One mom avoids the tissue aisle completely: her brood uses washable cloths she throws in the washing machine to save $20 a month on toilet paper.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, it’s clear that a lot of the things we throw away today are actually useful in themselves. Oftentimes, we are already getting two-for-one deals on much of our purchases. Margarine comes in a useful container that you can save for something else later, and bread bags can be washed out and re-used for other things, so you can bypass paying another nickel (six cents when you add the tax) for more plastic bags you don’t really need at home.

One of the less pleasant Canadian traditions from days of yore that’s rarely ever mentioned is the stacks of Sears catalogues that used to stock outhouses from coast to coast. Given the new trend in scavenging for needs by looking for what’s already available instead of flushing cash straight down the john, one might view that stack of fliers delivered to your door every week in a whole new light.

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