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?