Hard Lessons of Frugality

Aside from building a brand new life alone after the divorce, one of the most difficult lessons (rather, on-going challenges) is frugality. This is such an alien concept to me because I grew up as a privileged expat child who never had to worry about the cost of things. I learned to indulge in the finer things in life from an early age, as most expat children do, because Daddy could always afford it or the company paid for it. Saving up for something was never in my cards, because if my parents wouldn’t get it for me, grandmother would, or some other over-generous soul. In fact, the first time I bothered with an allowance was in college, and boy was that a rude awakening!

Learning to subsist and survive on my salary now and pay all the bills is a painful experience, and I am clearly not good at budgeting! Upgrading is a piece of cake, but downgrading is something nobody ever taught me how to do. So I pick up the pieces as I go along, learning that I can enjoy cut flowers on a budget if I do ikebana. I can’t afford a home with a garden, but I can have potted plants to make me feel like I am back in a tropical jungle. Eating out is something I never do alone, and ordering in is a luxury. Many of you reading this might think “duh, that is normal, isn’t it?” No, not to me.

Grocery shopping is a whole new experience now, going for the cheaper house brands, picking out the meat on sale for the week, making my own bread, and the days of endless supplies of junk food are a thing of the past. Europe is expensive for clothing as it is, but what effectively prevents me from going on shopping sprees is the fact that pants, skirts and dresses are all way too long for me, and I don’t want to spend extra to have the tailor adjust it for me. I lost track of the number of times I wished Mommy had forced me to attend sewing classes instead of art!

Cooking is a must because I have to eat, and I keep a portion of leftovers aside to take to the office the next day. I can’t possibly buy my lunch everyday! Speaking of cooking, a colleague recently wailed about how expensive food items have become, and asked how I managed on my humble salary. My response was that Asian cooking was one of the most budget-friendly cuisines, if you know where to buy your ingredients, and obviously, how to cook. I forage seasonal vegetables and spices from the small Turkish supermarkets and buy my five-kilo rice bag from the Asian store. Most importantly, revive the old recipes of my mother and grandparents. They were great cooks in their own right, and could whip up delicious meals on shoestring budgets. Same goes for my mother-in-law, who never let anyone at her table go hungry nor did you hear any complaints about the taste.

My grandmother got the family through World War II by sewing and mending clothes. Hand-me-downs were lovingly adjusted to fit nicely, and everything was immaculately clean and ironed. Frugality, she said, does not mean shabby or sloppy. The dignity with which you carry yourself will outshine the age of the clothes. Na sa nagdadala (it all depends on the person carrying / wearing it) my mother repeated over and over.

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