"Remember, a patch on your coat, and money in your pocket, is better than a writ (penalty/fine) on your back and no money to take it off."
- Benjamin Franklin
The other night when I heard Garrison Keillor tell his radio audience why outsiders don't move to his mythical "Lake Wobegon," I thought he was talking about my actual town of Milo, Maine.
"Folks don't understand people who wash out their Baggies or smooth their tinfoil to use over and over again," Keillor said, "but Norwegians are a thrifty lot."
Well, Garrison, so are New Englanders, especially my grandmother. If Baggies and aluminum foil had been invented when she was still alive, I'm sure she would have added Keillor's rinse and smooth tactics to her already long list of "make-do" rituals. In fact, she not only would have fit right in with that Norwegian clan, she'd have taught them savings tips they haven't thought of yet.
Why, just yesterday, I had a big case of guilt pangs when I threw away my empty oatmeal box - you know, the round kind you could use to mail cloth items or rolled up papers so they wouldn't crease. I can't tell you how many Christmas and birthday presents I got wrapped in cereal boxes. They're just the right size for a child's sweater, or a couple pair of woolen socks. I still don't ever throw away a paper bag. Makes the best outer wrapping paper you ever saw.
Scotch tape wasn't invented back then, either, but Grandma had the solution for torn paper dolls right on her desk.
"Take this envelope, honey, and tear off the sticky part. Then lick it, stick it on the tear, and that little paper doll will be as good as new."
You know, it was.
Grandma also knew how to save money on medicine. Pepto Bismol? Nah, we wouldn't have bought that even if it was available. The grown-ups always drank "a half teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a half-glass of water," while we children - eagerly - drank her "half-cup of ginger tea."
I confess to carrying on those traditions to this day - on the rare occasions I need them. Considering my normally ache-free stomach, I'm wondering if there was also some immunization going on back there in Grandma's kitchen.
I'm guessing there may be a little of my grandmother in me, but I see very little of me in my granddaughter. She wasn't at all impressed when I told her my matching set of round, ribbed juice glasses once held the Glade-scented candles I use instead of aerosol spray in the bathroom. (Memo to Al Gore: If you're still saving the ozone layer as well as the soon-to-be incinerated earth, please note that in the former crusade I was on your team before you were.) The sticky-edged envelopes and ginger tea didn't do anything for my granddaughter, either.
My father, however, took after his mother. He liked his coffee black - no expensive cream or sugar for him - except when he drank it in a restaurant. "I have to get my money's worth," he would say, knowing the price of a cup of coffee is the same, with or without the condiments.
Good, old thrift-preaching Benjamin Franklin must have been related to my grandmother, or maybe they just shared a similar era, give or take a century or two. Of course, when he needed something he was as likely to invent it as skimp on what he already had. That may be why we have rocking chairs, bifocals and even electricity.
But one thing he shared with his contemporary, Thomas Jefferson, was a strong aversion to debt. "Indolence and extravagance," it's been said, greatly irked the former president, who believed "the abolition of all credit" was the remedy for both. Franklin, however, "invented" a number of thrift-producing maxims, including:
- Rather go to bed supperless than run in debt for a breakfast.
- Be always asham'd to catch thyself idle.
- For age and want save while you may; no morning sun lasts a whole day.
- The art of getting riches consists very much in thrift. All men are not equally qualified for getting money, but it is in the power of everyone alike to practice this virtue.
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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