Do We Have Too Many Choices?

Last week I asked you all what was the biggest obstacle to your frugality. I revealed that one of my struggles was lack of planning. I gave the example of being out of bread and running to the nearest store to pick up a loaf, rather than planning ahead, so I could hit the least expensive store.

Cfish made the following comment, which was very thought provoking for me.

I am 59 years old and grew up in a small town in the midwest. There was no fast food, and we didn’t have much money. When we went out to eat it was a special occasion that was carefully planned. My mother did not like to cook but made a hot meal for her family every night.
Currently, we live 10 miles from town. By the time we could drive in, I would have been able to make a simple meal, like frittata or pancakes or french fries with gravy. My husband, bless him, considers a batch of popcorn an adequate meal. That’s the way we were brought up. We eat out about 5 times a year.
Being frugal is not a choice for us; it’s just the way we live. I think the problem with younger urban and suburban families (and I hate sounding like a geezer) is that you have too many choices. No bread? Deal with it instead of running to the closest minimart.

I think she has a good point. We do have a lot of choices these days. Sometimes that’s a great thing. Sometimes, though, it hinders us.

The Way Things Used to Be

I love to read the Little House on the Prairie series. So much that my husband bought me the entire set of books for Christmas one year. One thing you realize when you read those books is how much our ancestors needed to prepare for the future. If you lived out on the South Dakota prairie, you knew there would be months where you couldn’t get to town, because of the weather, so you needed to have enough food on hand to last the winter. There was no other option.

When I was in high school, I interviewed my grandparents for a paper I wrote on the Great Depression. Before the advent of easy credit, if you had no money, you didn’t buy something. You did without. Again, there was no other option.

People had to think ahead. They had to be creative in dealing with problems. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we have more choices and opportunities now, but I think there’s something to be learned from the past.

What Happened?

I’m not an expert in history, but here’s my take on a couple of changes that got us where we are today.

As advances in modernization occurred, more opportunities arose. Cars made it easier to go places quickly. As the population increased, stores became available in smaller towns, and people didn’t need to go as far to get supplies. Eventually it was possible to make a quick run to the store.

And then credit became widely available. Suddenly people could “afford” things they couldn’t afford before. And then came entitlement. The attitude of “I deserve to go to a restaurant every once in a while.” The line between wants and needs was blurred.

What Can We Learn?

Though I have no desire to live like people in the 1800s with no electricity or indoor plumbing, I think there are things to be learned from the past.

We do have a lot of choices these days. It’s important to evaluate how these choices impact our lives and reject the choices that impact us in a negative way. We don’t need to have it all. We aren’t entitled to having it all. I don’t mean to say that in a preachy way, as this is something I sometimes struggle with, too.

This week I decided to experiment with not running to the store. I’m not super-organized (working on it), so I knew I’d be faced with needing something. Sure enough, I ran out of bread again. This time, though, instead of hitting the store, I realized I had all the ingredients for bread on hand. I made a yummy loaf of homemade bread that tastes much better than the stuff in the store. And it was cheaper than buying a loaf, even at the least expensive store in the area. Plus I saved money on gas by not driving to the store.

I’m taking Cfish’s comment as a personal challenge in my own life. Especially as I wrap up our homeschool year and have an opportunity to take time to get a little more organized, I’m going to try to live like I don’t have many choices. If I don’t feel like cooking (cooking isn’t my favorite activity), I’ll cook anyway, as if a restaurant isn’t an option. If I forget to pick up an ingredient, I’ll find a way to do without, as if there were no grocery stores nearby. I actually think this could be a fun summer project for the whole family. Maybe we’ll read through the Little House books, discuss them, and decide what lessons we can take from them and apply to our lives today.

One day I hope to get to the point in life that being frugal isn’t a choice for us. I want to be able to say it’s just the way we live.

So what do you think? Do we have too many choices today?


By , on Apr 7, 2010
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Meredith:

    I was at Target the other day wanting to buy a new mascara. It was not fun. 10 different brands. Waterproof or non-waterproof. Straight or curved brush. Brownish black, soft black, very black, blackest black, (Who knew there were so many shades of black?). Volumizing, lengthening, defining, or curling. And more. With all these options, there were at least 100 different mascaras total. UGH!

    I think mascara is a great example of having too many choices in everyday life. It probably took me 30 minutes to finally pick one and it was stressful–trying to determine (silly) things like, “Would I look better with soft black or very black lashes? Do I need 3x the volume or 5x the volume? (seriously, Maybelline, come on) and “Even after I decide on all these ridiculous factors, is this mascara still going to have smudged by the time I go on my lunchbreak? (no way to tell unless you buy it and try it.)

    Afterwards, I thought about how long that choice took and realized how insignficant it was. When it comes down to it, surely every mascara is more or less the same. Really, Is anyone going to notice if I apply curling mascara vs. lengthening? Very black vs. blackest black? No. As long as it makes my lashes a bit darker and fuller and stays on through dinner, I’m good. I won’t be wasting that much time again.

  2. Bev:

    And aren’t you amazed at how Mary, and Laura, and Grace used to be thrilled if in their Christmas stocking they got an orange and a piece of peppermint candy? And that was the extent of their Christmas presents!!!
    We work hard at being content and bringing our kids up to be content with much less than what is available to us, or what we can afford. As Americans we are so incredibly wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Contentment and thankfulness go a long way towards helping us make choices like doing without or baking our own bread etc etc. Great post!!!!!

  3. cherie:

    That was a great post!

    Immediately a memory popped into my head – when I was first visiting a friend who attended NYU and lived in the village, within minutes of my arrival she called the deli downstairs to send up a roll of toilet paper [1!] and a bottle of Diet Coke.

    I *still* remember this, although it was a) 25 years ago and b) I spent much time living in NYC myself thereafter. It’s simply not in me to do something like that – rather than walk down one flight of stairs. And she’s not a lazy person at all – it’s just more her nature than mine I suppose.

    I am within 1 mile of 2 grocery stores, 4 drugstores, 2 dollar stores and many other shops.

    I don’t do the ‘run in for one thing’ thing – but I’m going to take this post as a challenge as well – besides, staying out of the stores saves money in and of itself!

  4. AngelSong:

    This recipe has been a favorite for a long time. It came from a very OLD Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that belonged to my grandmother (the one who used the crockery bread bowl).

    Whole Wheat Bread (by hand recipe) Yield: 2 loaves Oven: 375 F


    1 package active dry yeast
    2 cups warm water (110 degrees F). [If you are using a compressed yeast cake, soften it is 2 cups of lukewarm water; 85 degrees F]
    2 Tbsp sugar
    2 teaspoons salt
    4 cups white flour
    1/2 cup hot water
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    3 Tbsp shortening
    4 cups stirred whole wheat flour
    3 Tablespoons gluten (optional; it gives the bread a better texture for slicing and reduces crumbling; omit if anyone is allergic to gluten)

    Soften the yeast in the warm water and add 2Tbsp sugar. Put this is a container that is larger than a 2 cup measure so that it doesn’t foam over. Allow it to sit a few minutes to proof, then pour it into a large bowl. Add the 2 tsp salt and the 4 cups of white flour.

    Beat the mixture until smooth. I use a wooden spoon for this, but you can put it in an electric mixer if the bowl is large enough. Put the dough in a warm place (82 degrees F) for about an hour, until it is light and bubbly. I turn on my oven to the lowest setting for five minutes, put the bowl of dough into the oven and turn the oven OFF.

    Combine the 1/2 cup hot water, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 3 Tbsp shortening; stir and cool to lukewarm. Add this to the yeast/flour mixture. Add the 4 cups stirred whole wheat flour, and mix until smooth. Again, I do this with a wooden spoon. If you use the gluten, add it now.

    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (I use a non-stick cookie sheet for this, but you can use a counter top).
    Knead the dough until smooth (about ten minutes). Again, I do the kneading by hand, but you can use an electric mixer with a dough hook if the bowl is large enough that it will hold the dough.

    Place the dough into a well-greased bowl, and turn it to grease the surface. Cover the bowl with a dampened towel, and put it in a warm place to rise until it doubles in bulk. Punch the dough down, and cut it in half with a knife. Shape each half into a ball. Cover both balls of dough with a dampened towel, and let it rest ten minutes. Roll each dough ball into a 10 by 14 inch rectangle, and break any air bubbles that may be in the surface of the dough. Start at the end of the rectangle, and roll the dough toward you with your hands. Seal after each roll with the heel of your hand. Seal the ends of the loaves and fold the strips at the ends of the loaves under. I usually allow about half an inch to one inch for the strips at the ends.

    Place the loaves into two lightly greased 9 and 1/2 by 5 by 3 inch loaf pans. Cover the pans and let rise until double in bulk, about an hour. Bake at 375 degrees (F) for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven; let the loaves cool in the pans for about ten minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. I usually store this bread in the refrigerator (it has no preservatives, and this helps prevent mold) or wrap it tightly in foil and place in a zippered freezer bag and freeze it.

  5. Jean:

    Lynnae, quite possibly your best post ever! Thanks for the food for thought. My mantra lately has been “Simplify” and will challenge myself even more this summer with some of your thought-provoking words.

  6. Lisa:

    Yeah, I know what you mean about not running to the store for every little thing. We never did that when I was growing up. Then when my brother and I were in our late teens, sometimes Mom would run to the store for something. It always seemed strange, like, couldn’t she have gotten it earlier or done without? So I went into solo and married life with that mentality. Besides, I usually lived too far from the store to make a trip worth while. I mean, when the nearest store is a half hour away, and you can’t afford to buy at the convenience store, you plan ahead or do without!

    Now, we live within walking distance of both a grocery store and a health food store. I have taken advantage of that to pop over for something we need, but that’s going to change soon. We’re buying a house and I’m going to need to be very careful with my planning so that I don’t run out of essentials, like flour (or wheat to grind into it).

    Sadly, though, I can’t seem to get any more frugal than I already am. It seems that the more simple our food (lots of beans and homemade baked stuff like bread and cornbread and so on), the more expensive our diet is. That’s actually because my son has some severe allergies and eczema induced by a lot of minor ones. So even though he eats beans and rice twice a day (and usually millet once a day, which is also very cheap), he gets to drink hemp milk (about $.75 – $1 per serving, depending on whether I bought it on sale, or in bulk, or both, or not), and a nutritional supplement that costs $2 a serving (it’s supposed to help some of his food sensitivities–I’m hoping it will!), and considering that he’s only 15 months old, that’s about $3 a day BEFORE we add in the rice and beans, fruits and veggies he eats! And he has quite an appetite, too.

    And we like to have nice things once in a while, like coconut milk in something, and we use coconut oil for cooking, because it’s healthier… none of that vegetable or canola oil that is so cheap. So once again, even though we eat a lot of simple foods, there goes our budget…

    *Sigh* I guess I’m not looking for help, just a little sympathy. Maybe if I start buying bulk items in larger sizes, like 25 lb of beans, 50 pounds of oat, etc, I can save a little more. But I’ve got to have the money on hand first…

  7. AngelSong:

    @ Dena: I have a good recipe for whole wheat bread I would be happy to share. It does take practice, but bread making can be very enjoyable and healthful.

    • Dena:

      I would love a recipe AngelSong.I’m always looking for recipes that I can make without the bread maker.I could probably get one at a thrift store.But they are never there when I am.Thank you so so much :)

  8. Dena:

    This is a great challenge,You’re blogs are always so full of inspiration.I have been challenging our family for the last two months.It hasn’t always been easy,teenagers can be stubborn.We have been using up every thing we can before we shop for groceries.You’ld be surprised how many meals you can get out of the things you already have on hand.Bread is still my biggie though.I’m looking for a do-able recipe to make my own bread without the help of a bread maker.I tried it once and it didn’t turn out well.I will be watching this thread to see all your successes.Good luck………Dena

    • Lisa:

      Oh, I thought I’d mention, I have a bread machine and LOVE it. But I had to toy with the settings and the recipe a little to get it perfect. It takes some practice, and not all bread machines are good. Last night I put all the ingredients in and set it to start in the wee hours, and at 7:00 this morning, I had a lovely loaf of bread! Reply to me if you want the recipe.

      • Dena:

        Please,please share! I would love to have the recipe to add to my arsenal.I remember grandma making the best bread.My mom didn’t and she had no interest in the time it took.Store bought breads can’t compare to the real thing.Thank you ((Lisa))

        • Lisa:

          Okay, here it is:

          1 cup water (I often use soy whey if I can, the liquid left over from making tofu–like I said, it’s hard to cut my budget down any more!)
          2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (can substitute some white, but we like the whole grain thing)
          2 tsp yeast
          1 tsp salt
          1 tbsp gluten flour (absolutely essential for 100% whole wheat)
          1 1/2 tbsp oil or butter
          2 tbsp liquid sweetener (honey or molasses or both–I use blackstrap molasses for the iron and for darkening the bread–adds calcium, too)

          You’re lucky, my bread machine is out, so I’m going to give you the settings I use. This works well with both my regular whole wheat setting and with the fast whole wheat setting. I use the fast one to save time and electricity.
          Sits for 5 minutes to bring stuff to room temperature (make sure the water isn’t cold, or this won’t be enough time)
          First kneed 5 min
          Second kneed 23 min (these are consecutive, with the first being jerky and the other steady, but alternating clockwise and counterclockwise; this one I increased I think 10 minutes to really work the gluten)
          First rise 30 min
          Punch down 10 sec (If I hear the machine at this point, I pause it and shape the loaf and take out the paddle, then start again. This morning it happened while I was blissfully sleeping, so the loaf has a paddle-shaped hole in it and is a little lopsided. But still tastes just as good.)
          Second rise 45 min
          Bake 42 min (for medium crust).

          Occasionally the bread will come out funny, even after using this recipe for a couple of years. We just eat it and try again.

          Just in case you’re wondering what bread machine I have, it’s a Breadman Ultimate. It was sort of given to us. As in, loaned and the owners moved away and never asked for it back because they had another one. The pan is shaped rectangular, which I like. My aunt has one that is square and deeper than mine, and I never liked the way the bread looks. Not that this recipe wouldn’t work in that kind… but she didn’t feel like trying.

  9. James:

    (I’m Angelsong’s Hubby:)Yea we do have to many choices, everyone having to rush rush rush to make choices . Do this do that choose this choose that. Granted I got bored more than enough times growing up with only 4 tv channels or two places to go; but look at tv today 500000000 channels and still nothing on or 500000000 places to go and you can’t make up your mind where to go since you want to go EVERYWHERE—I’ve been on a rave here for a few weeks now about people complaining about choices and multitasking–who’s fault is that??? trying to do stuff that requires 48 hours but only 24 in a day(so when do you sleep) and go here go there no over here nope over there. No wonder kids and young adults get burned out by the age of 20..well I could go on and on and on but I’m pretty sure my wife would want me to stop:) That’s my CHOICE:)

    • Lynnae:

      Nice to e-meet you , Angelsong’s hubby! I’m definitely guilty of trying to cram 48 hours worth of stuff into 24. Thanks for the reminder to say no to commitments, as well as to “stuff.”

  10. Caroline:

    I just discovered your blog a few days ago and I’m really enjoying it, especially this post! I love the idea of learning to “make do” from older generations—not that I’m very good at “making do”!

    AngelSong, your story about your grandparents brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing.

    Rebecca, the show on PBS was called “Pioneer House” and it is available through local libraries and on Netflix. There are also some other really good ones: “Colonial House” “1900 House” and “1940’s House”.

    I hope to read more interesting and thought-provoking posts like this one here. Thanks!

  11. I absolutely LOVE the Little House Series. I just reread them again last year. I loved how they lived and would like to live similar to them. Except w/ a few modern inventions. So many stores nearby, and restaurants w/drive thrus really eliminate the use of our creativity. But last week, I wanted to make pizza and I didn’t have any tomato sauce, so I definately did not want to run to the store b/c that would be a 30 min. round trip and I hate doing that, what a waste of time. So I combined some tomato soup and purred some basil/garlic seasoned tomatoes, add a bit of Italian seasoning and came up w/my own sauce… it tasted really good….

  12. marci357:

    I think people(in general) have basically just gotten a lot lazier and less organized. It’s “easier” to run to the store or eat out than it is to plan ahead or make do with what’s on hand. Most people have “something” in the cupboard – but won’t just “make do.”

    There is this notion that a bowl of ham bone and beans with biscuits is no longer a meal…. as it used to be. We’ve allowed our kids to be finicky and dictate what they will and will not eat. People can’t be bothered to go pick greens from the yard for a free salad (dandylion leaves and nasturtiums etc) if they are out of salad fixings. Basically, people (in general) have gotten spoiled, a sense of entitlement, and lazy.

    In my opinion only – and no reference to anyone in particular. Just an older woman looking back….

  13. Michelle H.:

    PS I said “Springfield, MO” I meant Mansfield – it’s not too far from Springfield, though.

  14. Michelle H.:

    Great Post – I too love Little House books and feel we can learn so much from them. We even visited Laura and Almanzo’s homeplace in Sprinfield MO. It’s so interesting and even has a museum where many of Laura’s things are stored. Things she talks about in the books, like Pa’s violin. I’d encourage any Little House lover to go see it!

    • Lynnae:

      Ooooh! I would love to visit someday!

  15. I can’t wait for my daughter to be old enough to read the Little House series with her (she just turned two…and I CAN wait, but it is something I am looking forward to!). I definitely think we have too many choices. The town where I went to college was a small town that would barely have been a dot on the map if it wasn’t for the smallish state university there. There weren’t a ton of options for shopping, eating out, etc. Really you had to drive 45 minutes up the highway for the bigger city. But I totally didn’t mind. Now that I have every fast food place within walking distance, 3 grocery stores within two miles, and on and on, I just feel that it is so easy to just “run out” for whatever it is I think I need at the moment. I know a lot of it is self control. Just because I have all those options doesn’t mean I have to use them, but still, knowing I have limited self control, I sometimes wish they weren’t all there, so close…

  16. AngelSong:

    Yes, there ARE too many choices…Like most three year olds faced with having too many toys,and not being satisfied with any of them, we can easily become overwhelmed by so much choice.

    Good for you for making your own bread instead of going to the store! I do it all the time, by hand (my preferred method) and every time I use my grandmother’s crockery bread bowl, I think of her, on a farm miles from town, doing the same thing to feed her family. She told me a story once that I’ve never forgotten. They did not have much money or food, and she did not know what she was going to do. My grandfather fished and hunted, but he was not able to provide fish or game for the table at that time. She said she was really concerned. She prayed, and set about doing what she could early in the day to find something for their evening meal. My grandfather walked in a while later, with a sack of flour on his shoulder. She asked where he had gotten it, since they didn’t have much money. He told her he was walking down a country road, and came upon some men who were digging a grave for a funeral. He offered to help them in exchange for enough money for a sack of flour. My grandmother told me she cried when she heard this, “because someone died so we could eat.” They had biscuits and gravy for supper, and were glad to have it.

    Now, I try to do with what I have much of the time out of choice. They did it out of necessity.

    Your idea for the summer project is an excellent one!!! Please do it and let us know how it goes. I found this link for Little House Recipes: http://www.laurasprairiehouse......index.html

    • Lynnae:

      Thanks for the link! I’ll be checking it out for sure!

  17. Laura:

    I enjoyed this post. I too read the Little House books years ago, and have forgotten how much I enjoyed them. We do have too many choices – all for the sake of “convenience”. Do we really need 5 fast food burger restaurants within a 2 mile radius? Isn’t it possible to survive without a drive through? What about cell phones – remember when there was no such thing and if you had to make an EMERGENCY call, you found a pay phone? I hope to find a copy of the Little House books (library, or perhaps a garage sale) and re-read them. This is a terrific challenge for each of us to embrace…and how much simpler and happier we would all be for just being content with what we have. :)

  18. Loved it Lynnae! I agree!! One of my favorite all time shows was Little House on the Prairie. I loved the simplicity of their lives.

    Several years ago there was a show on PBS, I can’t remember the name, but they took 3 families and created a world back in time. There was no running water, no plumbing. They all had to work the land to get the things they needed to survive. The teenage girls had to learn to live without makeup and revealing clothes, the boys had to learn to use a pitch fork instead of video game controler. All of them lost fat and gained muscle. And they learned how to communicate as a family again. It was fabulous and I wish I could pack my bags and go live there! LOL

    But yes I often find myself without something to make dinner complete and just head to the nearest fast food restaraunt for dinner. I will do my best to make do with what I have at home now and buy more for my needs rather than wants! Thanks for the reminder!!!

    • Lynnae:

      I watched that series! Fascinating!

      • Lyn:

        I think it was called Frontier Family? They filmed during the summer/fall of 2001 — that part I remember, because they decided to break the rules and tell them about outside life.

        Great show~!

  19. I seem to be the only one who disagrees. I don’t think we have too many choices. I am cool with 10 or more different kinds of milk at the supermarket – full, skim, 2%, lactose free,….. All these choices allow us the comfort of our present times. Humans have always tried to make life comfortable which is why humans have always built shelter, storage facilities, etc. The milk choices are just an outgrowth of this human desire to create a more comfortable life. Now we even have the comfort of the internet that allows you to write a post that makes us, your readers, aware of the multitude of choices we have these days, which I also find awesome.

  20. Trudy G.:

    Glad to see the insightful posts again! I agree that we have too many choices but I don’t stress out over making a decision and wondering if another option would have been better. This post really makes me want to dig out my Little House books and re-read them with an older and hopefully wiser viewpoint. I think I still have them in storage with all of my other books from when I was young.

  21. I believe we do have too many choices. I know personally that when I have to choose between a wide variety of things, I feel anxiety over that choice. I weigh all the pros and cons and make my choice but can’t help but think one of the other options may have been “better”.

    As for buying odd things here and there from the store…that’s all too easy for me since my husband works at a grocery store. (sigh) Still, we are working hard at growing our own food, shopping at the local produce stand and health food stores. We try to limit our grocery store purchase and we rarely eat out.

  22. Simple in France:

    I’ve begun to do something similar–especially with the not going to the store.

    I like the discussion of maybe having too many choices. But as you point out, we don’t have to always chose to do the most convenient/expensive or impulsive thing.

  23. Excellent post. Last time my family ran out of bread, we had a conversation about whether DH would stop at the store (on his way home from work) or we’d do without. He decided to stop because it’s on his way, but neither of us would have made a special trip for bread.

    On the other hand, when I open my refrigerator door, I see three flavors of jam, two brands of mustard, and three varieties of salad dressing. Too much choice?

  24. Wow, great post! YES we have too many choices today. The authors of The Paradox of Choice would also point out that these choices even lead to more unhappiness. The more we have to choose from, the less happy we are with the outcome and the more anxiety we experience doing the choosing.

    If I run out of bread it’s too easy to ask hubby to get it when he’s coming home from work. But with 5 kids and 1 on the way, I don’t DO the “running to the store” for one item. It’s way too much trouble. LOL!

    I also love the Little House books. Caroline Ingalls made the most simple meals but they always sound mouth watering! I remind my children all the time that kids who lived back then (and even their grandparents) simply didn’t experience things they get every week or even every day.

  25. Excellent reminder, Lynnae. I fell off the planning wagon a little while ago and for at least this week I’m forcing myself to cook from the pantry. I’ve reached a point where I can’t see what is there, when there is plenty.
    I fully expect a revolt today, we’re out of deli meat. Oh the humanity!

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