When you can’t afford to be frugal, or unexamined assumptions conservatives have about frugal tips

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!

Labor itself should not be a positional good

Pointless labor as a status symbol is fatal to the healthy functioning of a society.  An obsessive fixation with efficiency and automation robs people of the dignity of work.  No, this doesn’t mean we all need to bust sod to be fully human, but we do need to labor and have that labor be connected to our necessaries of life.  Instead, what we have is elites on both the right and the left using labor itself as a positional good, a status symbol to lord over the poor, chronically unemployed and mostly not-white masses.

It’s a ridiculous setup.  It’s derived from the egalitarian Scandinavians, who use pointless labor to obscure wealth gaps.  Don’t look at my mansion, I wash my own car while being a top anesthesiologist!

But their egalitarianism derives from their warband history.  America wasn’t founded by warbands who need a rough sort of egalitarianism to not turn on each other.  And a focus on pointless work that can be dropped at any time just reveals a deep selfishness and fleeing from the responsibilities that used to come with wealth, status and privilege in favor of a false idol of meritocracy where someone “earns” their cushy indoor job publishing policy documents that never get downloaded or read.

It would be better for society if the middle and upper classes went back to hiring a cook  instead of cooking badly as a “locavore foodie”, poorly arranging and preparing one’s expensive, locally sourced organic ingredients and posting the crummily photographed results to the internet afterwards.  But instead we have those same terrible cooks trying to fight for make-work jobs “teaching” poor people to follow their terrible cooking advice and awful recipes.  I use cooking as an example a lot because it’s very time consuming to do correctly for any kind of normal-sized family.  And it’s work one can excel at without “testing well”.  There is a lot of work like that, but it’s being subsumed into “lifestyle” LARPing by the kinds of people who “test well” and have jobs trying to keep women like me from staying home and telling everyone else what to do without the least bit of empirical experience or evidence.

It’s not dignified for people to be denied real work because they aren’t glib SWPLs.  And the glib SWPLs are not dignified when they reduce craft to a caricature of practice and effort while lording their leisure time over the rest of us as “hard work”.