September 03, 2009

On Being Frugal

People tend to think we're dirt poor. It will inevitably come up in a conversation that we use our dishwasher as a drying rack for our hand-washed dishes. Or that we don't own a lawnmower. (We actually do own a lawnmower but he's a composting mower with four small hooves and an attitude.) Or that I make our own laundry detergent, window cleaner, dog shampoo, etc. That my 99-cents-a-bottle Suave Clarifying Shampoo does double duty to easily clean the soap scum out of the tub. That we haven't had a "real" vacation the entire 13 years of our marriage - including a honeymoon that was simply a weekend at the beach nearby.

I have my hair professionally cut once every few years. I haven't had a professional massage in, well, ever. I've never had a pedicure at a salon. My nails are my own. They're always broken and often dirty - ewww.

We have chickens and plant a garden every year. I'm actually stealing time to write this - taking a break from canning bread-and-butter squash pickles. Want some yellow squash? Please take some! If you don't I'll leave some on your doorstep in the middle of the night. But don't worry, you won't be getting any big tomatoes. A downdraft from a small storm knocked them over so they aren't ripening as they should. Except the cherry tomatoes, which love us like stray cats do. We can't kill 'em. Want some cherry tomatoes? They're dee-li-shus! And next week I'll be canning green can't have any of those, we like them too much.

Anyway, when people get that uncomfortable or even pitying look on their faces, I explain that our frugality is by choice and I'm amazed how many of them are amazed. Some of them predictably blurt, "But why? If you have the money..." Bewildered by our choices. Thinking that we're just plain cheap (as if that were a bad thing?).

Most will say "I don't have the time to do that stuff" or "I want my yard to look like a golf course" or "I'd lose my mind if I didn't get away to (name your destination) every year". The women are very attached to having their nails done, their hair professionally cut/colored/styled and getting their massages. Most are too polite to comment about my fingernails or my longish toenails (ewww) or my shaggy long hair.

But a very few will figure it out and we'll see a light bulb come on.

The nosy ones who figure it out will say, "Wow, you must have some money in the bank?"

Well, we don't actually have much money in the bank - yet. We're trying to overcome years of poor financial choices. That's one of the reasons we choose to be frugal and our savings account is growing. But even if we were set for life we'd still make the same choices. OK, I'd probably have my hair cut and get a massage once a month (except in August when I'm busy canning). I'd definitely get pedicures. And we'd probably take a yearly vacation if we could find someone to look after our menagerie.

The wonderful thing about being frugal for me was learning how to be. It didn't come all at once. I started researching ways to go green and found that frugality was naturally tied to that concept. Being frugal just kinda happened over time, and it's still happening.

I had and still have so much fun researching all the things I can make myself! I had no idea I could make my own eco-friendly dog shampoo in two minutes using cheap ingredients. It works and doesn't injure the dogs' skin. Make my own laundry detergent? Cool! It takes maybe 15 minutes to make 4 gallons. And I'll never go back to buying it - the stuff I make does a great job, costs 1/10th of store-bought per load and doesn't have any icky chemicals in it. Plus it softens so I don't have to buy dryer sheets anymore either. (I could never remember NOT to throw a dryer sheet in with the towels, so by the time I switched they weren't very absorbent any more. Now they've recovered.)

And of course anyone who's ever had a home-grown egg will realize that those things you buy at the grocery are poor imitations. Yes, keeping chickens, putting in a garden and putting up the harvest is work, but one of the payoffs is having our own organic vegetables. The flavor and quality simply can't compare. Now if I could just find an eco-friendly, humane way to keep the squirrels out of my tulip bulbs...

Right now I'm trying to talk my husband into getting a dairy cow. Fresh milk, cream and butter would be oh-so-bad-for-us but oh-so-yummy, too. And there would be even more terrific compost for the garden. I'm being sneaky - if I ask for a cow I might get a goat. Max the mini horse would love some company. Plus I could make my own goats' milk soap with the excess. Did I mention I make our own soap, too? It's fun except when I screw up and get slurry instead of bars but that has only happened once (so far).

I could go on and on about how happy it makes me to be eco-friendly and frugal. Let's just say that I now take great satisfaction in knowing that I'm saving us money and doing our part to save the environment. Did you know that a gas lawnmower has a bigger carbon footprint than most cars? Ewwww.....

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