The Postwar Scrimping Squad

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"The postwar scrimping squad" by Charlene Rack (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 Charlene Rack. All rights reserved.

Are you an astute and stewardly mom? Can you make do with the things at hand? Do you consider yourself a frugal and crafty problem-solver? Well, listen up, modern moms: We got nothin’ on the moms of the ’50s and ’60s! Back then, moms knew how to improvise and economize like nobody’s business. They had grown up during the Great Depression, with penny-pinching skills forged on the pyre of privation. Comparatively speaking, we are a bunch of pampered pulers, with all kinds of handy-dandy conveniences at our disposal (puns intended!). Those seasoned moms of home-washed diapers would laugh at our modern-day complaints, and rightly so. Let’s take a look at some of the homespun practicality of ages past to inspire us on our own paths to wisdom, thriftiness, and annoying the daylights out of our kids.

From what I’ve seen and heard, moms back then were professionals at washing out and saving any and all emptied “containers.” Pringles canisters, plastic ice-cream tubs, milk cartons, spice jars, bread bags, bakery pie tins, and food jars of all sorts from pickles to peanut butter. These were hard-core women who bought chlorine bleach by the barrel, and wielded that wicked germ-killer like it was rainwater. They also scavenged things like wooden Popsicle sticks, sheets of paper still blank on one side, pieces of string and yarn, and similar, otherwise useless items that could be relegated to the craft drawer. Out of necessity, these moms had highly methodical reuse/repurpose skills long before it was trendy.

And pennies … those were also a thing to save back then. All of us kids were trained to spot pennies on the ground from several feet away, and dive for them. Every friend’s house I played in had a penny pot of some sort. At our house, it was a giant “canning jar.”  It was nearly two feet tall, and when the penny pile was getting close to the top, it was my job to get them into coin rolls so that mom could take them to the bank. I usually got a friend to help sort through the pennies and pocket lint, and then repaid the favor when their jar reached maximum capacity. We always got a cut in the payoff, maybe a couple of bucks apiece.

Moms knew how to plan for family trips, too. My mother could pack for a station wagon tour like a disaster preparedness expert. One of my least favorite tricks in her repertoire was damp washcloths in a sandwich bag, stored in the glove compartment (this was before packaged, moist wipes had become a household staple). The washcloths were great for the first few days/clean-ups. However, they quickly grew stale. We would beg our mom to take them into the gas station bathroom to rinse and refresh them, but in those days, gas station bathrooms were places that wise mothers avoided like the plague. However, the absolute worst was when Mom finally decided her washcloth wipes were maxed out. That was when the spit baths took over – a tissue which my mom got wet in her mouth and then used to wipe my face. “Gross, Mom! Why don’t you just lick it off like a mama cat?!”

I asked some friends of mine for other good examples of sage mom solutions, and below are few stories that they were happy to share … as long as I protect their identities!

“Mom would send the kids out on their bikes, every week, to the various grocery stores to pick up the ‘loss leader’ sale items.”

This assignment could be counted on, no matter the weather or the temperature. It took them an hour or more, riding from store to store, filling up their little bike baskets. Their mom got help with her thrifty “cherry-picking,” and she got the kids out of the house for a while. This was one smart woman!

“My siblings laugh about this all the time. I had nine brothers and sisters. All summer long, kids were coming in the house getting drinks of water. She had twenty cups and glasses in the sink all the time. One day, she had had it. From then on, we got one drinking cup for the day (one to share amongst all ten of us!). Usually it was one of those brightly colored aluminum ones. Yuck! But it sure cut down on dishes.”

I’m thinking that it also cut down on water consumption, dish soap use, and trips into the house to use the bathroom. With those tactical maneuver skills, this mom would have made a tough Army sergeant. But who am I to judge? My mom made me drink out of the garden hose!

I have saved the best example for last. Just don’t over-think this one (and, remember the bleach factor!). Focus on the ingenuity, frugality, and entertainment value involved:

“I was the youngest of eight children. One day I noticed that my crayons had been covered with what my mom called ‘holders.’ They were pink, plastic, and cylindrical, and the perfect size. I happily colored with my “new,” unbreakable crayons. As I later found out, the ‘holders’ were the plungers from tampons!”

As far as I’m concerned, this mom wins the prize. No more tiny pieces of crayons that the kids won’t use. No more buying new crayons every six months. This is “big Catholic family” creative thriftiness at its knee-slapping nonpareil, and I can guarantee you that this mom was exceedingly proud of her ingenious idea for these “crayon-savers.”

Take a bow, frugal and clever moms of the past (may they rest in the peace!), and thanks for the inspiration. Your shining example of management and resourcefulness still guides us today, and we are grateful for the love behind your actions, the sacrifices you made, and the laughs we still enjoy at your expense (you owe us a few, anyway!).


Copyright 2019 Charlene Rack

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About Author

Charlene Rack is a wife, mother, retired homeschool teacher, and traveling grandma, who grew up in a small town in Ohio; met a cute, Cincinnati Catholic guy; moved to Cincy; got married, converted to Catholicism; raised three daughters, and has, along the way, stored up quite a stockpile of sagas to share. Charlene blogs at Grandma's Coffee Soup.

4 Comments

  1. This is a great article. We thought that we had doing pretty well using home (and sometimes hand) washed cloth diapers for all of our kids (who are now all teens and 20 somethings) but there were some really frugal moms out there. We could definitely learn from these ladies. That last one is hilarious!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Michele. I’m sure there are many things us moms are able to do better these days, but the moms of yesteryear had a homespun, survival-type creativity that I think is lacking these days. It was fun to look back on the (sometimes borderline crazy, but alway ingenious) ideas that they came up with! I was a little bit worried about that last one, not wanting to weird people out, but it was just so funny! 😆

  3. Very informative and inspiring! Thank you! Maybe if we can just slow down and be more purposeful with housekeeping, we can save not just money but also the environment. I wonder how Mary practiced frugality in her home at Nazareth…

  4. You’re welcome, Marcia. Good to know that you were inspired! We have so much available to us today, by way of goods and services, it’s easy to be distracted by all of those temptations. Let’s ask the Blessed Mother to fill our hearts with longing for the things of God, along with the gift holy stewardship. That should get us on the right track!

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