Last month, Bloomberg published a now-infamous op-ed titled, “Inflation Stings Most if You Earn Less Than $300K. Here’s How to Deal”. Professor Teresa Ghilarducci suggests that to curb inflation, we should eat lentils instead of red meat and let our pets die instead of going to the vet.
The advice was rightly vilified. But the article touched a nerve as everyday Americans are paying the price for Washington’s reckless fiscal policies. Inflation is rising at the fastest rate in the last forty years, with the CPI accelerating to 8.5% in March.
Lately, I have found myself reflecting on a person who embodied the spirit of thrift and practical know-how: my great-grandma Millie. She grew up during the Great Depression and raised two sons alone while her husband was fighting World War II. She shared a lot with me – including a birthday and middle name – but most valuable were the life lessons she passed down to me. If Millie were alive today, she would have lots of advice about how to handle our inflationary crisis.
How I wish she could respond to the Bloomberg Doomer, but I will try to do so in her stead!
Be a producer, not just a consumer
Millie didn’t believe in planting trees that wouldn’t eventually produce fruit. Ironically, she lived in the middle of a desert. So, she planted lots of pomegranate trees, which thrive in the hot sun. And with her many, many pomegranates, she made pomegranate jam, juice, salad – and anything else you could make. In desperate times, she even found uses for pomegranate rinds.
The “pomegranate principle” can extend to many different areas. For example, if you make an apple pie – don’t just throw away the skins and core. With the scraps, you can make apple cider vinegar which has many uses such as facial cleanser, salad dressing, window cleaner, bug poison, and even wart remover.
With the rotisserie chickens you can purchase at the grocery store, you can make multiple affordable meals. And instead of immediately discarding the chicken carcass, use the bones and vegetable scraps to make chicken broth. It is nutritious and very easy to make.
Obviously, saving a couple of bucks on apple cider vinegar or chicken broth won’t really lessen inflation’s blow in the grand scheme. But that’s not the point. It is about shifting your mindset by making small changes toward self-reliance and finding crafty uses for what you already have.
The joy of local markets
When Millie spoke to me about the Great Depression, she always spoke fondly of the trades she made with her neighbors. Every friend’s name was ensconced in her memory with the family’s signature trade: “Becky, whose father was the neighborhood plumber…” or “Billy, who had the peach tree…” During those hard times, neighbors truly relied upon one another – and in that reliance built beautiful communities.
Are such idyllic relationships a relic of the past? I would argue they have merely taken a new form.
Facebook Marketplace is a fantastic tool. While rebuilding a backyard fence, I needed someone to haul the old wooden fence from my property. Instead of paying someone to haul it, I posted the wood on Facebook Marketplace. A local firefighter came to buy it. He used my old fence to build a beautiful mural in the city’s historic firehouse.
Children are expensive partly because they grow out of clothes so quickly. You can cut down clothing costs by going to consignment sales, which sell new or nearly new kids’ items at a fraction of the cost. Some of these pop-up events let you sell your items at the event. If you’re savvy, you could sell last year’s clothing for this year’s size. Essentially, the event functions as a huge trade between local moms.
Also – cut down your grocery bill by buying directly from local farmers. With gas prices soaring, you can save by buying oranges that were grown a few miles down the road rather than oranges that were shipped between three different continents.
Do it yourself
As a single mother during World War II, Millie had to learn a variety of practical skills to keep her home in order. And although somewhat uncommon for the time, she worked outside the home as a skilled typist. When I was little, Millie often lectured me on the importance of a woman’s education.
At its core, the do-it-yourself attitude is about education. Eagerly learning new skills when needed, be it anything from gardening to graphic design, is essential for true self-reliance. And unlike previous generations, we are fortunate enough to have “google.” Of course, proper cost-benefit risk analysis must play a part in decision making – but too many people rely on contracting out simple repairs or lack essential skills.
As costs continue to grow, times may get tough for Americans. Reflecting on the past will help us prepare for the future.
McKenzie Richards is a policy associate at the Pacific Research Institute.