Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Mean, Mean, Mean!

lilac treeApril is the cruellest month…breeding lilacs out of the dead land.

So wrote T S Eliot in The Waste Land.

Well he was wrong – all wrong – the cruellest month for me is August

billsAugust is the month when both motorbike & car need an MOT, the car needs to be taxed, the house insurance premium is due, the car breakdown cover needs paying, we have extra holiday expenses – and because there is no school, there is no work, and therefore no pay, for Supply Teachers like me.

And as we approach the end of the month, every year, I wonder how we will get through, and berate myself for buying frivolous things in the early summer [I didn’t buy that desk though] and I tell Bob yet again that the budget is tight, and there is no loose change for trivia.[ie gadgetry from Maplin etc]

I am not complaining – working part-time and therefore having a lower income is a ‘lifestyle choice’ for me. I want to have more time for other things and so that means less cash. It is all part of my Christian beliefs about being a good steward of my time and resources. But sometimes at this time of year I wonder if I have got the balance right.

faginThis year I have noticed even more blogs than usual referring to the recession, and making ends meet, coping with redundancy, student loans, paying off the mortgage, getting out of debt etc. There are many blogs just devoted to the topic of frugality – with titles that indicate their subject.

They frequently have such miserable names – TightWad, MiserMom, PennyPincher – those I find utterly depressing.

These ones are the same week in, week out. Typical example…

Monday – went to see Granny, walked 23 miles to save on fares. Found car tyre in skip and 50p on pavement. Brought both home.

Tuesday – spent day repairing worn out shoes with old car tyre. Granny died.

Wednesday – walked back to Granny’s place. Cleared it out, sold much of her stuff on eBay. Brought rest home in old wheelbarrow.

Thursday – No Spend Day. Stayed at home dressmaking.

Friday – Went to Granny’s funeral wearing new dress [made from old WW2 blackout curtains found in her cellar] and took bunch of  flowers [50p - reduced in Aldi - only slightly wilting]

Saturday – Walked up to the common, did lots of foraging – got 7lb of nettles and a punnet of blackberries.

Sunday – Made 8 gallons of nourishing soup using nettles, berries and 3 shredded telephone directories. That should see us through the winter

But many of the frugal blogs are really funny, and clever, and approach their financial woes with a positive outlook – and share their thrifting joys with us in a bright and breezy way that probably hides a lot of inner turmoil and many sleepless nights. [Scott Fitzgerald said ‘In the dark night of the soul it is always three o clock in the morning’] I enjoy those, and read them diligently -cheering when they find a bargain, laughing with them at the minor disasters along the way, commiserating with crises. One of them says “I try to live within my means” and I thought that was a good description of the frugal life.

Mean, Mean, Mean – some definitions

mean – to be tightfisted, miserly [that word has same root as mrs sew&sewmiserable!] No I don’t want to be like that – I want to be nifty and thrifty. Bright and cheery like Mrs Sew-and-Sew in WW2. And I want to reclaim the right use of the old word ‘prodigal’ – to be ‘lavishly abundant, giving freely’ – not hanging on to things for myself, but rather sharing all the abundance that is mine with others. Luke 6:38

mean- statistical term, a sort of average. No, I don’t want to averagebe ‘average’ either. I want to live the ‘life more abundant’ Jesus has promised us. Like Glen Campbell, I believe in the pot full of beans. But that doesn’t mean I expect to be  rich in financial terms. Ephesians 3

mean – to determine, to have an intention. That’s more like it! DSCF2237My intention is to use what I have been given wisely and well. To be a good thrifty woman displaying sensible husbandry [wifery?] of my resources. And find much joy in doing so.  Proverbs 31

A number of my friends are going into this autumn in what they used to call ‘straitened circumstances’ – anticipating lower incomes than this time last year. Let’s not fall into ‘recession depression’ – but rather encourage each other. So please do share some of your thrifty triumphs, and false economies* if you can – let’s have a laugh. But tell us glorious stories about how the jars of windfall plums are shining like jewels on your kitchen shelf – not how to make a Halloween costume with the grey fluff from the tumble dryer** [I kid you not – see here]

* I will share some of my disasters – there have been many

**if you are being thrifty, you should not be using a tumble dryer


  1. Oh Angela - halloween costumes from tumble dryer lint, whatever next? They'll be stuffing pincushions with belly button fluff!!! I try to be economical but with two growing teenagers eating me out of house and home and one still only just teenager drawing on the Bank of Mum and Dad regularly at uni I can see I shall have to save that dryer lint for something!!!

    ps does recycling charity shop shirts into quilts count at all :)

  2. Btw - with regard to the car costs in August, although it will cost you a little extra initially why don't you only tax the car for 6 months this time then at least the tax is out of sync with the other car costs - helps to spread it a little

  3. Car breakdown cover, annual pre-paid prescription certificate and KL's birthday this month (K's last month).KL will be 16 on Wednesday and wanted some bunting to decorate the house - the stuff in the shops was expensive plastic tat so I made my own.She now has 10 yards of lovely bunting made from saved or thrifted fabric- old pyjamas, a pillowcase, Mum's old gingham curtains, an old throw and a piece of fabric which cost 30p at the charity shop. I even made my own bias binding to stitch it to!

  4. Oh Ang, how well you rise above it all. There is nothing more depressing than a month where everything comes at once, I know.
    But, unlike many, including one of our family, you still have a job to go to, long may that last. Keep looking on the bright side.

  5. However "tight" things are it's not the depression of the 1920s and 30s, the gruelling poverty of the Victorian slums or the desperate conditions of the Developing World in the 21st century. As you say, anyone who runs a tumble dryer can't really be that hard up. Despite it's well documented short comings, we in the UK are very fortunate to have a relatively free health service. Nor do we have to find school fees, unlike so many poor families in Africa. And we still have a free Library Service in most parts of the Country despite the efforts of certain County Councils.


  6. The beauty of blogging is we identify with each other - so dont worry - we are all pulling in the spending. The main reason behind our kitchen re-fit was fuel costs. Dxx

  7. We do not have a choice in the winter, we have to use the tumble dryer for sheets and towels...no hanging outside here in minus 20C!
    We are having to spend money on renovations in order to save money in the long run. We'll all get there, with a sense of humour and sharing our stories...beats watching TV!
    Jane x

  8. This made me smile! I'll be back to see what others have to offer.

  9. I think the way to tell if thriftiness has turned into meanness is how do I feel when I give something away? If I feel "ouch" then I'm getting mean. If I think "Oh good, I saved on that and that so I can do this; I'm so glad I can give this away" then I think I've got the balance right. We love making jam and chutney and give at least half of it away and it's so good to be able to do that. Mind you, I always say, "Do you LIKE..." so it doesn't get wasted!

  10. Thanks for all these comments - apologies if some of my remarks were not clear -
    Jane - my tumble dryer comment was addressed to people who DO have an alternative and ignore it. Your frozen situation is rather different!
    And I know that sometimes it is necessary to spend money NOW to replace and renovate in order to save MORE in the long run- I have great admiration for those of you like Jane, and Denise, who do so much of the labour themselves.
    thanks again for all you've said. blessings x

  11. Don't worry ,Angela, I knew what you meant...just thought you would like the vision it conjured up!
    Jane x

  12. I love your meditation on Mean. And August is almost over. Here's wishing you lots of windfalls to shine like jewels!!

    I am not very good at thrift--find it too time-consuming. I wonder if Christians should be encouraged to start creative home businesses to generate resources rather than be thrifty with the resources they do have. I have tried both ways, and the former suits me far more!!

  13. I know what you meant, but I'm not sure everyone realizes how bad it is out there for many. It gets pretty depressing. They have no one to tell, so they just spill it to blogland. Frugal therapy. There are many days I have to talk to myself mightily to remember that God did not put us here now to wreck us later. Life is fragile.


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