LIVING BENEATH OUR means is one of the best habits to develop if we want a secure retirement. Like many others, I learned this sort of thrift from my parents and grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression and, by necessity, had to avoid waste.
Not only did our forebearers survive the Great Depression, but also the Second World War came right on its heels. These were years of conserving materials—such as metal, rubber, paper and food—to support the war effort.
My mother saved a food ration book from the war that still had some stamps in it. When she shopped, she had to hand the grocer stamps when buying meat, sugar, butter, cooking oil and canned goods. The number of stamps handed over depended on the scarcity of the item purchased. For instance, if bacon was 35 cents a pound, you might have to give the grocer seven stamps.
Once the stamps were used up for the month, people couldn’t buy any more of that food until new stamps were issued the following month. I wonder how many young people today know that, in this land of abundance, food was once rationed, and that thrift in itself can be a source of remarkable household revenue.
Mom also saved a booklet from the war years that gives information about saving or conserving just about everything—food, clothing, house furnishings, appliances, utilities, cars, even insurance. People found artful ways to scrimp on just about everything. Nothing was wasted.
We could all benefit from the advice in this little booklet. Here are 10 of the more memorable passages that appeared at the bottom of the booklet’s pages:
I’ll add to this list a quote from the 30th U.S. president, Calvin Coolidge, which seems apropos: “Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.”
Coolidge kept track of the grocery bills for the White House kitchen, and drove costs down over the years. He was also one of the few presidents who left office with a federal debt far smaller than when he entered.
A footnote: To get the flavor of what life on the home front was like during the Second World War, watch Woody Allen’s film Radio Days, which can be streamed free on the Tubi network. It’s worth watching for the tender and evocative songs of the 1940s, and it may be Allen’s finest movie.