Tightwads everywhere try to show each other up on how much their organic garden has grown, hipsters dress exclusively in charity-shop finds, and it’s practically “New York cool” to make your own pickles. But for most people, these frugal activities are just a small corner of their lives, with the rest of their lives displaying a significantly less disciplined financial lifestyle. So how does one begin to learn how to live a truly thrifty life?
The new book Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree is a compendium of useful tips, stories, and recipes for everything from repairing flea-market lamps to hosting a low-budget, high-class cocktail party. In a way, the advice offered in this book reminds me of another book I love, Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During The Great Depression. For this Depression kid, frugality was simply the way things were done, without fuss or hand-wringing; Be Thrifty has much of the same tone – “This is a perfectly acceptable way to live your life, and no apologies are needed.” Being thrifty isn’t about sitting home in the dark wearing every sweater you own, smug in the knowledge of how many expensive gadgets you’re not buying. Being thrifty is about living your life in a meaningful and thoughtful way, looking at everything you buy and use and making it worth the cost. And the Depression maxim “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” could practically have been the chapter titles of this book!
In Be Thrifty, I particularly liked the section on food and cooking. This is an area that I have serious trouble with, for the most part because I’m a terrible cook and approach all recipes as chemical formulas that must be done precisely or the kitchen will explode. Nonsense, say the authors! Every morsel of food has multiple uses, and if you don’t have a use for it right now, freeze it or transform it into something else. I’m ashamed to say that it never occurred to me until reading this book that vegetable stock was made by boiling a bunch of vegetables. Shame on me. They suggest saving all the leftover bits, those carrot peels, the short center celery stalks, the zucchini ends, and putting them into a gallon ziplock bag so that you have vegetables galore when you’re in need of stock. Later on in the food chapter, they also provide a number of very useful suggestions for staples that all frugal cooks should keep on hand (beans, for one, get a Lifetime Achievement Award!) and provide recipes for these staples to give you some great ideas to start you off.
Much of the book also focuses on living simply. While some parts seemed a little over the top (if I need a new lampshade, it seems easier and cheaper to get one at a garage sale than to hot-glue one myself), the most useful parts of the book give you roadmaps to thriftiness that you can apply to your own life.
Of everything the book encourages, I think living more simply is the most valuable lesson you’ll learn from reading this book. Be Thrifty espouses the value of planning ahead, being prepared, and looking for alternatives. The subtitle is “How To Live Better With Less,” and it achieves this goal by advocating for a more down-to-earth, less fussy style of eating, dressing, entertaining, and existing within the modern world without bowing to the endless demands of a consumer-based culture. It’s not so much about making do with less, but about saying, “how is spending more making my life better?” Often times, the answer is that it is not making your life better.
Readers, we have a present for you! The publisher graciously sent along an extra copy, so we’re going to be giving it away to one lucky reader. To throw your hat in the ring for a chance at a free copy, please submit a comment with your best thrifty tip or advice. We’ll collect responses and choose a winner randomly from among the comments made. Get your comments in by the end of the week! This is a great read and will no doubt help you improve your financial lifestyle!