Frugal Simple Living Tips

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If you run out of hay and money during the winter, goats can be fed tree bark and small twigs.

My wife and I were married on September 16, 1946 (celebrated our silver anniversary a while back). We’ve had quite a few discussions of our experiences in this period of over 25 years . . . and when we read many of the letters that appear in MOTHER EARTH NEWS we’re amazed by people who are giving up nice homes and good jobs to live a life of so-called simplicity.

We’ve been living the Simple Life ourselves for quite a time now, but only because we were forced into it by discrimination. Frugal and simple living was more s matter of survival than a choice we made. Here’s the story: In 1948 we had one child and an apartment in Columbus, Ohio where I was then working. When my wife became pregnant the second time we were asked to move, and the only place we could find was in a little town about 50 miles from the city . . . so I commuted.

Then that woman got pregnant again, and our benevolent landlord requested that we get the hell out before the child was born. We saved every penny we could, borrowed the rest and made a down payment on a run-down farm only 55 miles from my job. OK, so I roomed in Columbus and went home on weekends.

Probably due to the week-long separations and the happy reunions that followed, my dearly beloved was soon expecting once more. This time I quit my city job and found work (at slave-labor wages) in the little town near our farm . . . because in her condition my wife couldn’t possibly take care of three children and bring in the coal and start fires. That, my friends, was only the beginning. We wound up with eight youngsters. Living simply with children, especially several children, is a challenge.

Now we come to the Simple Life bit. About a year after I started my new job I was laid off in what was termed at the time “Eisenhower’s economic readjustment program”. My unemployment compensation was $30.00 a week, and our living expenses $40.00. This discrepancy meant that some bill collector was going to have to use a little pressure to get his money. First the phone went, then the car, then the unemployment compensation, then the electricity, then some of the furniture. Lo and behold, we found ourselves with all the conditions that today would be considered requirements for living the Simple Life. At the time, though, we were under the impression that we were flat busted.

I won’t bother you with the humiliations of that experience, though there were quite a few . . . usually from relatives, and from people we had at one time thought were our friends. Hard times, I’ll admit, do separate the true from the false. They also teach you a great deal about scrounging. Here are a few tips for frugal and simple living:

[1] Growing children need lots of protein, so if you live in a backwoods area as we did, keep a .22-caliber rifle handy; you can find game to feed them. Hunting for meat (cheaply) will vary by season and region, but in the summer there are generally groundhogs. In the winter, try to team up with the local coon hunters. They don’t usually care about the meat . . . they just want the hides and the chance to brag about their dogs. Humor them.

[2] Another source of cheap meat is slaughter sheep at the stockyards. A 200-pound animal–which dresses out 50%–used to sell for $5.00, so the cost of the mutton worked out at about five cents a pound. (Current local prices vary. Here in western North Carolina sheep aren’t handled in any volume at the stockyards, and a local farmer who sells them privately gets $30.00 for a critter such as William describes. Even so, 30-some cents a pound looks pretty good in 1974. – MOTHER.)

[3] A few tips on livestock management: If you don’t have enough money to fence your goats and chickens away from the garden in the spring, build a compound and stake out the milkers. (This compound is also a safe place to keep your children while you’re working in the fields.) Kill off all goat kids and old hens and can them by May, so that your feed costs will be low during the summer. Our enclosure was 80-by-80 feet, made of 6-foot chicken wire and built onto the back of the house for convenience. At that time it cost us $18.

[4] You can save quite a bit of money on transportation by adding diesel fuel to your automobile’s gasoline and adjusting the carburetor. The vehicle won’t run as fast and you’ll have to clean the plugs more often . . . but if you have more time than money, give the idea some consideration.

[5] In the winter I used to make a little cash by picking corn for farmers, sawing fireplace wood for quality folk and taking any other jobs I could get. In the summer we usually picked blackberries and sold them along with some of the vegetables we raised.

 A tip for selling home grown vegetables: If you have children, by all means let them sell the produce. A housewife usually can’t say “no” to a cute-looking youngster. Even if she does, the child learns to meet rejection by trying someone else (a valuable psychological experience, I think). Your answer to competition from a big roadside market is to station a child with a wheelbarrow full of vegetables down the road from the stand . . . and to keep that barrow filled.

[6] If you run out of hay and money and you’re feeding goats in winter, chop down some trees and let the critters peel off the bark and small twigs. When I felled a tree I had to keep our milkers in the compound until I had it down, because they came running whenever they heard an axe hit wood.

As you can see, I’m a Simple Liver of some experience . . . and I’ve corresponded over the past 20 years with quite a few people who have gone the same route. My conclusion is that the statistics are against it as a permanent way of existence. Most of the experimenters I know are happy to have had the experience, but have returned to the nine-to-five routine and commute to their old homesteads on weekends for a little gardening. I myself have worked in factories for the last 24 years. If you’re thinking of going back to nature, then I’d advise you to have some idea of what you can turn to in case of failure or dissatisfaction with your new life’s realities.

Our own try at Simple Living was — as I’ve said — a matter of survival. Nonetheless, the experience has left its mark on the whole family, in the form of confidence that we can live through a failure and come back again.

We lost that farm in the woods to the bank, by the way . . . but as soon as I got back to work we saved every penny we could, bought another place and paid it off the first year. We’ve learned the first lesson of survival: to have your shelter and your land free and clear, to thank God for each day and each blessing and to help others as much as possible without interfering with their lessons in life.

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