I came across this book by doing a random search for “frugal” on Google. It’s written in 1841 by an American woman who dedicates the book to “Those who are not afraid of economy”. Well, that’s me! Only 170 years later . . .
I found it as a full-text book on Google Books. For those not familiar with Google Books, it is a search tool for books, old and new, in copyright and out. You can search words, phrases, etc. Most newer books will show your search phrase in context, but you won’t be able to read beyond that. Still others will allow you to read a limited number of pages. But a few of your results will give you the option to read the whole text of the book. Even easier than the library! You can download a PDF to read at your leisure, or add it to “my library” which is saved in your Google account.
That is how I found The American Frugal Houswife.
The book is written as a series of tips, or instructions, for running a household economically. It’s a bit ADD to read, with tips running from keeping up with mending once a week, to always keeping meats “under brine”–and that’s just on one page!
You can imagine, it would be more than a little antiquated. It knocks me out to hear her tips on using an Ox’s gall to set the colours of calico, and using “rotten-stone and rum” to clean brass “andirons”. I have no idea what these things are! There are also several hints which involve using quicksilver, “black lead” and turpentine, which we now know lead a slow but sure path to death’s door.
But for all that out-dated amusement, this book carries within it a real kernel of truth about living frugally, especially her insistence on living within your means. She says, “If you have two dollars a day let nothing but sickness induce you to spend more than nine shillings. If you have one dollar a day do not spend but seventy five cents. If you have half a dollar a day be satisfied to spend forty cents.”
In the quote I have pictured above, she discusses how a family should never throw anything away that can be useful to someone because “many a little makes a mickle”. (I’m guessing it means “lots of little things adds up to a lot” but I’m quite enamoured of her expression and will probably baffle a good half-dozen of my friends and family members by quoting it to them before I get sick of annoying them.)
She also reminds readers not to over-spend with the desire to get into better company, and not to “let the beauty of this thing and the cheapness of that tempt you to buy unnecessary articles” when furnishing a home. Take that, Ikea!
I’m still making my way through the thing, and it is a truly amusing and instructive read. How could Mrs. Child imagine that her book would end up being read on a crazy picture-tube 170 years in the future! Next on my reading list is another bestseller by the same author, this one entitled “Hobomok” . . .