On Facebook this week, Mother Earth News asked readers to share their best tips for saving money. At least two hundred people responded, offering advice about growing their own food, line-drying their clothes, doing all their errands in a single trip, using stainless steel refillable water bottles rather than plastic, and so on. Sensible stuff, all of it. Yet it reminded us that, sadly, many folks in the world have to make an effort to be frugal. Here at the Perry Farm, frugality happens naturally.
Because we have no time to spend money. We are too busy figuring out how to make do with what’s here and finding ways to make up for what isn’t. Et voici. . .
Our Top Ten List of Ways to Spend Time (not Money) at the Farm
1. We leave good enough alone. Since we inherited the farm, we’ve made only minor—or absolutely necessary—improvements to it. Because it is well built and has been well tended, it is imminently habitable. But yes, the plaster ceilings have cracks in them, the water smells like rotten eggs and tastes like Alka Seltzer in a tin cup, the TV receives just three channels (one of which broadcasts Scandinavian Cooking 24-7), and the basement, garage, and outbuildings are full of family heirlooms (junk).
But so what? This is the farm. We spend more time outside than in, so making the place Better Homes and Gardens perfect is not a priority. We figure that the average age of the items in our house is about 65, which is WAY older than we are, and we were taught to respect our elders. So here’s to you, rotary mixer!
2. We wear hand-me-downs. Okay, they’re our own hand-me-downs: Any wearable item we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in public ends up at the farm, where standards are lower. My entire line of footwear was contributed by my daughter, who once thought it was vital to have a pair of Vans tennis shoes for every holiday, sports team, and fruit. Shirt lost a button? Wear it at the farm. Shorts so short that no one but Richard Simmons would be seen in them? Wear them at the farm. Keith has been known to sport coveralls his father bought in 1965, and I have saved a dozen of his mother’s aprons (including the sort that has to be fastened to one’s housedress with safety pins) for some good use, likely covering up the blouse that’s missing a button or the too-short shorts.
3. We spend a lot of time learning about the place we live in. That coarse, head high grass? It’s switchgrass, and when it takes over the farm, we can harvest it and sell it as a renewable energy. Those huge balls of algae that keep clogging up the overflow drain pipe? Put there by a muskrat who is trying to make the pond a nice safe place for the family he’s planning to relocate there. Right now we are trying to figure out why there are mosquitoes in our house when it is only 30 degrees outside. (See the last bullet point in #5 for a clue.)
4. We stay home and entertain ourselves. We embrace silliness. We look for absurdity. Last night alone, we burned about three hundred calories laughing about how funny we’d thought the name of that old restaurant at the crossroads was when we were teenagers. (It was called “Eat at the Y.”) This led to our projecting—as we listened to the Byrds sing “Turn! Turn! Turn!”—that David Crosby probably wasn’t expecting to grow up to be a sperm donor for a famous lesbian or make money just by crossing the street (as we believe he did–in the movie “The Mexican” with Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt. But we have no Internet at the farm, so we cannot check our facts).
5. We ride our bikes to historic places in the neighborhood, including:
— The graveyard where a Revolutionary War soldier is buried. Given that Illinois has been a state only since 1818, this would make all of Stratton Township swell with pride if it weren’t for the fact that this soldier was from a regiment in North Carolina that disbanded once it got to Valley Forge.
— The home of the man who shot another man for cheating at poker. This resulted in Keith making good money one summer by mowing the lawn of the wounded man, who ended up in a body cast and spent his summer watching Keith work and ducking whenever a car passed.
— The home of the parents of the weatherman on Channel 2 (one of three channels we receive out here).
— The home of the Easter Bunny, or where Keith used to tell his son the Bunny lived, a hobbity, weed-choked hut that is actually the poured concrete basement of some long-gone barn.
— An archeological site on our own property where, each spring, new finds wash up. They are small artifacts, most of them glass: a doorknob with brass fittings, an assortment of Caldwell’s medicine bottles, broken crockery, fancy pink pressed glass. I used to keep a row of these artifacts lined up on the kitchen window sill, until I discovered (see number 2) that my dig site most likely marked the spot where an outhouse used to stand, since folks used to throw trash in their shitters, too.
The clue to our mosquito source I mentioned in #3? That muck-filled bottle I brought in from the dig site yesterday and rinsed out in the kitchen sink…. (ew!)
6. We talk to people we don’t know. This is the extreme version of the country practice of sitting on the porch and waving at strangers. Here at the Perry Farm, we strike up conversations with anyone who’s on foot, on a bike, or is just passing slowly enough for Keith to prop his elbow securely on the driver’s window. And thus we made two new friends at the farm yesterday: A dishwasher who rides motorcross in his free time and once helped the reining national champion push his bike a mile back to the main road when his engine seized and his wheel locked up; and a checkout girl who needed to rest her driving arm because she’d developed tendonitis from playing too much Wii.
7. We eat whatever we have on hand. Generally, this is a good thing, since we grow our own organic fruits and vegetables and have neighbors who sell free-range chickens and eggs. Today, however, it meant that with our lovely greens (dressed with lime, virgin olive oil, and sea salt); and our plump blueberries (still sweet and juicy even after their hiatus in the freezer), we had salmon cakes. SALMON CAKES are words that strike fear into the heart of any child of the sixties who had to crunch her way through those little circles of vertebrae or choke down a swatch of shiny skin, both of which the label swears “are a good source of calcium and omega-3s.” It is no wonder that a 7.5 ounce can of salmon constitutes 8 servings: No one EVER takes a second bite….
8. We get to know our “family heirlooms.” For example, we’ll sort through the knife drawer, stuffed with old Case pocket knives that belonged to Keith’s Grandpa Perry and contributions from every boy who’s been in the house since. Or we’ll try out Grandpa Seidel’s Winchester model 1911. This, of course, requires my participation from a very safe distance, given this particular shotgun’s reputation as “one of the worst and most dangerous” ever made.” (In case you were wondering, Keith still has two eyes and two thumbs.)
9. We sit still. We sit on the sunporch or in the living room looking out, perusing our collection of 1920s National Geographics or Johnny’s seed catalogs when the weather is bad. We sit at the picnic table or in the hammock on the pond dam when the weather is good, watching the fish jump or the stars fall. We burn so few calories that our bodies go into temporary hibernation, keeping our food cravings at bay, even for delicious foods like SALMON CAKES. And we avoid accidents and injuries that might result in medical bills and higher insurance premiums.
10. In fine, we get so caught up in doing little to nothing that we never get to town to spend money. I can’t tell you how many movies we’ve never gotten to, how many stores we did not visit, or how many meals we did not buy.
Of course, there are times when one might confuse our frugality with sheer laziness. Just now, for instance, we are sitting in the breezeway, drinking hot tea and looking out the window. It is cold and sleety, and the birds are flocking to the feeder, the usual cardinals, nuthatches, and sparrows; the newly arrived grackles, starlings, and blue jays; and a bird we don’t recognize at first, both because she never visits the feeder but also because she is puffed up twice her normal size in the cold, which makes her tail seem shorter than it really is. It’s not the abbreviated bandit mask that gives her away: It’s her song—she can’t help herself—which starts out mimicking the watery warble of a red-winged blackbird and then moves on through her mockingbird repertoire: catbird mewl, blue jay screech, robin ADHD operetta.
And before we know it, thirty minutes have passed, we haven’t moved an inch, and our tea is cold.
And that, friends, is real pricelessness, the kind that doesn’t earn corporate America a dime.