Part of a series on being a Homemaker.
One morning this week I set Julian on the kitchen floor with some stainless steel mixing bowls and wooden spoons to entertain him while I unloaded the dishwasher. When I bent down to retrieve his scattered items a few minutes later I was disgusted to see how dirty the floor was. Quickly I swept, then filled the sink with hot, soapy water and sank to my hands and knees to begin the task of washing the floor.
I washed from the front door to the kitchen sink, then I began the perimeter of the kitchen. It seemed there had been a lot of spills! I even took the kick-plate off the bottom of the dishwasher and scrubbed what may have once been orange juice. I washed the baseboards and the lower cupboard doors and finally I moved Julian to a dry spot and washed the place where he had been sitting.
Pleased as punch with my efforts and feeling like I was on a roll, I decided to start a pot of soup for supper. After finding lentils and tomato sauce in the pantry cupboard, I gave one of the drawers a little kick to close it.
Two bottles of olive oil knocked against each other and suddenly there was oil pooling on my clean hardwood floor. An hour later, the pantry cupboard was cleaner than it's ever been, the floor was really shiny and the bottoms of my feet were remarkably soft.
But while I was cleaning I started to think "Why did we have two bottles of olive oil in the cupboard and one on the counter still nearly full?" It is not our way to buy in bulk, even when things are on sale. My dad once told me that he didn't think it was a good idea to have "a lot of capital tied up in groceries" and I guess I've always remembered that.
Nevertheless, we've always seemed to have cupboards that are overflowing with food. I think we've generally had about a month's worth of groceries in the house at all times. But in keeping with my plan to keep my homemaking more simple I've begun using up the excess food in the cupboards and freezer. I've even begun making a weekly menu and creating much shorter grocery lists. As a result our grocery bills have gone down from $1000+ per month to under $800.
I think that good money management is an essential part of homemaking. And one shouldn't need to live on rice and beans to cut the grocery budget! Although the term 'Home Economist' is no longer in vogue, I think it still applies to today's homemakers such as myself. My mother knew how to stretch a dollar: she mended jeans and froze vegetables and canned fruit and crocheted afghans and sewed curtains and bedspreads. It was all an act of love for her but she was also expected to be thrifty and skillful.
Nonetheless, there is a big difference between being thrifty--frugal, if you prefer--and being cheap. We have a friend who was invited to spend a long weekend at another friend's cottage--a frugal vacation, to be sure. He showed up with 2 bags of chips as his contribution to 3 days of eating and drinking. That's cheap.
We have a story in our family lore that illustrates the oint as well. When my brother and I were about 9 and 13 years old, my parents took us to Sudbury for a short vacation. My mother, in typical thrifty-ness, brought buns and muffins and fruit and juice boxes for breakfast for the 3 or 4 days that we were away. The evening meal was always at the hotel restaurant but between breakfast and supper, my brother and I were always hungry. One day we were at Science North and he and I headed to the cafeteria where my dad told us in no uncertain terms "This is just a snack" to which my brother responded with all the sauciness and incredulity he could muster "Do we not get to EAT on this trip?"
We try not to be too hard on my dad for showing his tendency towards cheap-ness. I think it's his intent to be frugal, but when the needs of those we love are denied for the sake of a dollar or two, sometimes the money needs to be spent. That's my two cents, anyway.
Since I don't contribute much to our family income, I feel responsible to be mindful about how our money gets spent. Saving money on groceries is something I can do just by planning better and the children don't even notice the difference. I can also save a dollar here and there by doing laundry during off-peak hours and using the clothes line during warmer weather. I save money on kids' clothes by accepting lots of hand-me-downs but I use the money I save to buy high quality winter boots and snow suits that can be passed from daughter to daughter.
We try not to pinch our pennies too much but we are mindful about where our money goes. And now that I've learned that olive oil makes a great moisturizer, I can save money there too!