If thrift were chic

"I encourage you all to go shopping more," the president of the United States counseled us in 2006. In 2008, it isn't just the administration that is touting an income tax refund to slow the pending recession. Some of the Democratic candidates also favor the plan. There is, however, some anxiety about it. what if, people don't actually SPEND the money? What if, perish the thought, we SAVE it?

Here's my question: When, exactly, did the national anthem become, "Oh say can we see by the mall's early light..."? I'm being literal. At least in Massachusetts, the Wrentham outlets opened at midnight on November 26th, setting themselves apart from the more humble 5AM openings of most of the chains. Here's the topper though: the midnight opening created a traffic jam on Route 495. Imagine, all those people stuck in their cars while the Christmas music pounded on and someone else got there first.

Let's think about this latest plan - creating an income tax refund to bolster sagging sales. With perhaps the richest natural resources on the planet, the United States has become a debtor nation. From where will the money for the income tax refund come? Maybe we can borrow it from China! U.S. companies have taken full advantage of Chinese labor and Americans have been busily purchasing Made in China products for the landfill. What are Chinese workers doing with their usually meager income? Sit down, because this may make you faint. They are SAVING more than 40% of it.

As anyone who has read my blogs knows, I'm part of the choir, a shopaholic. I just don't spend all that much money doing it because I shop from "the discard pile." Still, I shop for sport, recreation and meditation. I shop for that "hit" that isn't terribly different from the hit a gambler gets at the track.

There was a time when real thrift was actually chic. Yes, there was always an aristocracy but the rest of us actually valued the idea of, "making do."

Recently, I was delighted to find a little book, copyright 1886, called "Ten Dollars Enough -(Keeping House Well on Ten Dollars A Week How It Has Been Done How It May Be Done Again)." So, okay, at the very least we'll have to add a zero - Keeping House on a Hundred Dollars a Week. That isn't the point though. "Ten Dollars Enough" appeared serially in Good Housekeeping and after numerous letters to the magazine was published as a Riverside Press book by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. The copy I bought for a quarter at St. Vincent de Paul last week is an eighth edition so the book sold. Catherine Owen writes it as a story about Mr. and Mrs. Bishop, a young married couple who are living in a boarding house. Mr. Bishop thinks housekeeping would be more expensive and that to manage on his income, his wife would need to "stint herself in everything, to make both ends meet." He doesn't want her to "make a drudge" of herself. Mrs. Bishop wants her own home, she prevails and is able to manage very nicely on half of the $20 per week they were paying at the boarding house. Mr. Bishop is "lost in admiration" for his clever wife. The following conversation about living below their income ensues. Mrs. Bishop begins:

"It worried me very much; to live right up to one's income seems terrible."

"Not so terrible in our case, because I'm sure of a steadily increasing salary; and I propose we do not increase our expenses for some years to come."

"Oh, no indeed! Whatever the increase, it must be saved so long as we have health."

We don't think this way anymore. I'm not recommending that you try to buy a copy. It's mostly just recipes. At the risk of being labeled unpatriotic, I do think we need to think long and hard about our spending habits. There are signs -- at the grass roots, if not the national, level that it's starting to happen. As much as I don't want to see a recession, we're do for a correction, an adjustment in how we think.

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