Frugality and being a good steward of the household income are not impossible goals. However, what “frugal tips” are available to housewives these days rely on a bevy of unexamined assumptions that don’t apply to an average SAHM these days.
It is possible to make your own curtains, to store meat in small portions, to bake your own bread, to make your own household cleaning products and to keep a price book, to name some fairly typical tips one will run across on the old intertubes with a quick google. But frugality of these types is generally not compatible with the current domestic setups of most American housewives. They have no spare capital for a deep freezer, or to buy meat in bulk quantities to take advantage of sales or direct-purchase opportunities. They don’t have domestic help even on an occasional basis, so whatever they do has to be compatible with kids underfoot. And of course kids aren’t young forever, but how can good habits be established when it’s full-tilt survival mode when they are young? Teaching little kids to be useful or even to consider other people and obey adult rules about where and when to talk/run/etc. takes focused effort and isn’t readily done with a casual phrase here and there. That can be the way of it only after the habitual behaviors are in place.
Thus you have a pretty major obstacle to frugality early on, even if you are “saving money on daycare”. The other obstacle is pregnancy. A lot of frugal tips involve large amounts of ongoing physical labor that is difficult to manage during pregnancies. If you haven’t spent your years growing up doing that kind of labor, you are unprepared for the extent of it later in life. You’re also out of luck if pregnancy is hard on your body. And some women never get back to pre-pregnancy fitness/endurance levels whether it’s one kid or seven.
I come back a lot to the physical stuff because there’s a parallel unexamined assumption among conservatives (not just the male ones) that modern technology means no real physical labor is necessary for a housewife to expend. Pregnancy is always easy and quick to recover from, barely a speed bump, nursing is also no big, not even requiring extra food or effort (except of course many women switch to formula with “many” kids precisely because they can hand a bottle off and let the older kids feed baby so they can get stuff done). And even if all that stuff is a little bit difficult, KIDS R FREE. There’s a weird fixation on the infant and toddler years as being super-cheap by default among conservatives and this is used to extrapolate that children are extremely cheap to raise to 18-21 years because somehow breastmilk production costs nothing (not even calories, it’s like magic) and you can just rely on an infinite supply of thrift stores with appropriate clothing and insert all the rest of the stuff you hear from conservatives about how totally cheap it is to raise infants/toddlers, so therefore have eight. I guess they’re supposed to drink breastmilk and wear cloth diapers until they marry at 18 somehow? It’s a quirk I never really noticed until a recent clickbait article about tradeoffs appeared on some home decor site and conservatives tore into the writer of the article for being selfish and stupid, didn’t she understand kids aren’t expensive because BREASTFEEDING and CLOTH DIAPERS?
So, let’s recap some of the unexamined assumptions conservatives dump on housewives regarding frugality:
- Assumption of “traditional” domestic economy skills that actually date from the middle of the 20th century and rely on a pretty vast industrial infrastructure (including exploited labor by women and children in foreign lands) to be feasible as “economizing” at all.
- Minimizing the physical risks and stresses of childbearing and nursing, as well as the physical labor that is still necessary to run an “economized” household.
- Fixation on the early years as being so cheap that there are no real expenses added by having more and more children
- Parallel dismissal of the importance of child spacing or domestic support in being able to have children doing chores effectively at young ages.
- Dismissal of chaotic early years as a major obstacle to domestic tranquility and structure, while assuming that such structure is there (no need for a sitter while homeschooling, for example, because infants and toddlers and young kids will just play quietly while you instruct older children…somehow, or alternatively that older children will not resent the play of younger children who aren’t ready for academics partying in front of them because no big kid ever envied a little kid getting to play instead of write an essay or do math problems). Without structure, frugality is hard to consistently achieve.
- Assumption that the average housewife was educated in domestic skills by her mother, and if she was not, that she can instantly acquire these skills in a few days’ time via youtube and blogs and immediately apply them effectively.
Feel free to toss more into the comments. The core issue with having all these assumptions is that without them, it’s nearly impossible to economize systematically. And that means rebuying things, buying more expensive versions of whatever because you don’t have the skills or time to go with cheaper approaches, and stress spending. But to help people who need to be more frugal, the assumptions have to be dropped and conservatives have to start looking at the actual conditions people are living under, not the idealized conditions a small percentage of conservatives manage to live under. Here’s hoping!