April 28, 2023

Is the way we are frugal changing?

I have been frugal since I first lived on my own as a teenager, which is nearly 50 years, and so have a lot of experience of how to save money and make the most of my resources.   Things I have done, my grandmother did, and she learned from her grandmother. However, things that have worked for all those years are now not working, or not as effective, I believe. The world is changing.  I look at some other frugal sites for inspiration but many are looking back to the great depression of the 30s, or the war years for ways to save money.  This got me thinking if we could just look backwards, or if we have to find new ways in this new age.  Some of the same thinking of the old days still applies, for example, no waste, make do and mend, forage, and grow your own food, but the world has changed and I think it is harder to make cut backs now and live as simply. Laws have changed which restrict how you behave, and foods that were once cheap, like milk, are now expensive.  I remember my gran told me that they kept a turkey and rabbits in their back yard and raised them for meat in a terraced house in a city, but that would not be allowed now. Looking for new ways to be frugal is what our generation are having to do, I think, as prices increase. Here are some ways that we used to be frugal that I think do not work as well as they used to.

  1. Putting cash into envelopes to pay bills.  Most bills are paid through direct debits or by a card now, and many cannot be paid with cash.   Companies also give a discount for bills paid by direct debit.  I always found it easier not to spend as much money when I used cash to buy things as I could literally see my money draining away.  Now it is so easy just to tap a card and spend money that you do not have.  It is also easier to get into debt with a credit card.
  2. Saving your coppers in a jar for a treat. I used to have an old coffee jar that I saved change in to buy treats for the children when we went on holiday. I would exchange it at the bank just before we went away, or buy sweets at the local discount shop with it and divide the sweets into little bags so that they had some every day.  Most banks have closed in my area now and many of the shops that I used to put the coins into on the self-service tills are now card only, and so it is hard to use the coins saved, not that I have many anymore as I often use my card myself.
  3. Using cheap cuts of meat and offal. A lot of offal is no longer available as there is no market for it, and the cheap cuts of meat, like belly pork, are now fashionable and so are expensive. Even sausages that used to be very cheap compared with other meats are a comparable price.
  4. Food. Food is still very cheap in the UK compared to a lot of countries but the staples have increased in price dramatically recently. Things like eggs and milk that would have provided a lot of our nutrition are now luxuries in our house that have to be rationed.  All the cheap foods that I used to use has more or less doubled in price.  My gran would often make egg and chips for my grandad when times were hard.  Eggs and potatoes are expensive now. For years I could easily feed my family for £1 a day, but now I am only able to do that using stocks of food that I bought before inflation really took hold, and through growing my own food, preserving and foraging.  During the war the government helped families stay aware of their nutritional needs through lots of free information leaflets and food was rationed and so everyone got the basics.  Now people eat a lot of processed food that does not have the same goodness and knowledge about nutrition is rare in some generations.  The processed food is cheaper and so this is impacting on our nation’s health. A bag of apples is the same price as two or three packets of biscuits.
  5. Making clothes. In the days of the war and the depression, people had the skills to make their own clothes. I had to wear home-made clothes as a child, and all my jumpers were hand knitted. Due to imports from abroad, clothes have become so cheap to buy that it was often not viable to make your own any more as it is often more expensive, and so those skills have been lost and not passed down to the next generation. Most people do not know how to mend clothes or darn a sock.
  6. Making food from scratch was always a lot cheaper and I like to make things from scratch as I know what is in it. However, due to the increased cost of staples it is now sometimes cheaper to buy pre-made things. Biscuits, Yorkshire puddings, custard amongst other things are all cheaper to buy now rather than to make from scratch.
  7. Mending the car. My father used to spend hours keeping our old car on the road when I was young. He was always tinkering under the bonnet.  Most cars have computers in them now and have to be serviced and mended at a garage.  Back in the days of the depression and the war most families did not have cars and the infrastructure of the public transport system was a lot better.
  8. Saving energy. A lot of homes would have coal fires to heat the house and that you could cook on them in the 30s and 40s. In fact a quarter of homes had no electricity in 1948. My gran used to burn all sorts of rubbish on her fire to stay warm. I am lucky that I have a wood burning stove as I bought it before I retired so that I would always have heat and be able to cook in my home, no matter how poor I became. There are laws now about what you can burn, and I worry that now Europe are banning wood burning stoves that we might follow suit in the next few years.  Most people are all dependent on gas and electricity and it feels like the only way to save money is to be cold and eat more cold food as prices continue to rise.
  9. Community help. Back 80 or 90 years ago there was a bigger sense of community and families often lived in the same street or area. Three of my aunties lived within 5 minutes walk of my gran and when she was busy she would send me off to bother one of them. There was therefore more support with childcare, the elderly, and in the community generally. Now we tend to lock ourselves in our homes when we get home and interact digitally. Many do not talk to neighbours and families tend to be more spread out over the country.  We often have to pay for things that family and neighbours would have helped with before.
  10. Cutting back on outgoings. There are more outgoings in the modern world. I remember when I was a single parent for the first time in the 1980s that I just had to find rent, bills and food (and that was hard enough).  It was easy to do without a phone as there were phone boxes, and the transport system was good and so I did not need a car to get to work.  Now we need phone contracts and internet just to be able to partake in society, and we all have higher expectations of what is essential.  We can not make cut backs by doing without as easily.
  11. Mending. The old adage in those days was to make do and mend and people lived without as many kitchen gadgets, or appliances in general. Those that they did have, lasted years. Appliances often did not use electricity. Now it is harder to get things mended, and it will often cost more to do so than buying new again, and so it is hard to make do and mend.  Even the material that clothes are made from is not as robust as the natural fibres of back in the day. My great gran had 15 children and the mended clothes would be passed down to all of them. They shared a few beds with children crammed into them to keep warm too, but that would probably be reported to social services as neglect nowadays.
  12. Ways of making extra money. It was easier to have a side hustle without incurring tax. I remember my Grandad made windmills with a little man that would look like he was turning it.  He would also put extra holes in people’s belts for a penny. That was his beer money and he would often bring home a treat or a luxury cooking ingredient like a piece of fish (they lived in Hull), or some boiled sweets (Yorkshire mixtures that lasted ages as you had to suck them or they broke your teeth).  My gran used to do embroidery on table cloths, handkerchiefs and clothes to earn extra money.
  13. Foraging. There was more countryside generally, and pesticides were used less often and so it was easier to forage. We had a lot of market gardens in the area that I lived and there would often be produce that had fallen off the tractor in the lanes.  Wild raspberries and strawberries grew in abundance in the hedge rows.  I remember snacking on fruit as I walked and cooking baked potatoes on an open fire in my den at about 10, and taking a cabbage home to my mum. A lot of the streets in my town had trees filled with fruit, and grass verges too.  You do not find those in new housing estates now.
  14. Transport was relatively cheap and we used to go for frugal days out with a picnic to the seaside in the 1960s. I felt spoiled if I was bought some paper flags to put on top of my sandcastles.  The expectations of children are higher now due to social media and television, and easy credit. A trip on public transport costs an arm and a leg for a family to get away, as does fuel in a car.  It was normal not to be able to afford a holiday when I was young.  Only a few people in my school class went away. Now there is more pressure on parents.

So, what is different now that helps?

  1. We have apps where we can find free or cheap food that is going out of date, like Olio and TGTG.
  2. We have a better benefit system in the UK. Back in the 1930s families could receive unemployment benefit for 6 months and then they were left to their own devices.  If they could not pay the rent their possessions were removed and taken and the family were literally thrown on the streets. Those on benefits now can also get help with energy costs, food vouchers, childcare and many more things.
  3. We have food banks and community hubs to get free or cheap food.
  4. We have very cheap clothing compared to the 1930s and 1940s. You can get a winter for £10 still.  Back in the 1980s the cheapest winter coat that I could find in a sale for my 4 year-old was £31 and I had to borrow off friends to buy it.
  5. We have more charity shops now and so it is easier to buy second hand, though the jumble sales of the past were probably cheaper.
  6. The internet means that if you do have a side hustle that you can advertise and sell your wares to a greater audience and over a wider area.
  7. We have websites like freecycle where we can find free furniture, clothes and items for the home. When my youngest set up her first home after leaving university, she nearly furnished it with free items from freecycle sites.
  8. We can learn new skills from the internet for free. I have increased my knowledge in foraging in this way, and I hope to learn to knit next winter.
  9. It is easier to access pulses and other ingredients, and we are now have access to more spices and recipes from other countries that can make cheap and tasty meals.
  10. We have frugal groups on places like Facebook and YouTubes where we can all support each other and share ideas and what is working for us.

Even though there are probably lots more ways that make surviving and being frugal easier during this present time (I just wrote this off the top of my head when I was pondering), I am finding it harder than I have in the past to keep costs down.  I am really having to think outside of the box.  I think people had to be more independent and had lower expectations in the past, and they were definitely used to more hardship.  Scraping the ice off the inside of my windows during the winter was normal when I was a child, and even in the 1980s I lived in a flat with my children where the shampoo would freeze sometimes.  With the prices being more stable over the last decade (even if wages were reducing in worth), and credit being easy to obtain, all our expectations have increased. We now have a lot more help from the state than during the 1930s and war years, (and even during the 80s and 90s) which is good in some ways, but we also have a lot more rules and are more dependent on energy firms, the government, a few brands of shops, phones, and the internet.  However, free services that developed because of the hardship and inequality of those past times, are disappearing, like easy access to free health care, free higher education, free milk for every child, and the transport infrastructure has disappeared.  On holiday I often walk along tracks that used to be railway lines.

I don’t have all the answers as I am having to learn to adapt myself, but I am not despondent. I believe that whichever obstacles we come across in life, we can always find a way to overcome them if we think outside of the box and don’t give in to fear.  Are you finding that some of your old frugal habits are not working anymore?



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  1. Sandra Nix April 29, 2023 at 5:54 am - Reply

    What an excellent post. You are correct a lot people’s expectations nowadays. I was a child in the 1940/50s and would be considered below the poverty line today, but we were all the same then, no great divide which there is now. I don’t know the answer but hope kindness and positive thinking win out. Sandra Nix.

    • ToniG April 29, 2023 at 7:30 am - Reply

      Thank you. Yes I agree, most of us were in the same boat. I believe that we need to remain positive too, and have found that most people who are genuinely frugal, and want a simple life are very kind, supportive and generous. Thanks for commenting x

  2. Eve May 6, 2023 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Great Post Toni and food for thought. Living a simple frugal life nowadays is not so easy your right. I have eliminated many things from my life that I consider not really necessary. I grew up during the 60s and my mum must have worked really hard having 7 children quite close in age and money very tight. I have adopted many of her frugal ways and very thankful for that. I love my simple life though as on the whole it gives me so much peace in the knowledge that I can get by (so far) on a very small income. I do have people I know that just dont understand how I can live without certain items eg TV ,dishwasher , tumble dryer, car , smartphone etc. I love the challenge of voluntary simplicity.

    • ToniG May 8, 2023 at 12:30 pm - Reply

      I am a child of the 60s too and we lived very frugally. Yes people think that it must be miserable being frugal but I love the challenge and make a game of it. There is so much less stress in living simply (except when the internet goes and I can not use my internet!). I am glad that you enjoy it too. Thanks for sharing

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