Friday, March 05, 2010

The Underground Economy, Part 2

As I mentioned, the book (whose title still hasn't come up but thanks for trying) which first taught me about the "underground economy" had a huge influence on my thinking since I read it in my late 20's.  It went completely against what we were being told from every other mainstream source but instinctively I knew it was right.  The very bad recession of that era did have others advising people to live simpler and more frugal lives but no other author I read had actually changed (and improved) their life as much as this family.  (Later we would find a similar family with the Tightwad Gazette books.)

I've said before that a good friend of mine used to say she believed God allowed us to go through some of the bad times so we could share what we learned... thus, the reason I originally started this blog.  Well, that and to talk about books and coffee and tea parties... but that was all I could get in the title.  Everything else falls under the "Me".  :)

At first, gaining knowledge and skills was more on the level of a hobby but I came to realize how invaluable they were.  Later, when we went through two separate years with no income (and other years we had to take a pay cut), they were invaluable.  To be honest, I begin to enjoy life more when I gained the skills which were known by generations before me.  I didn't learn everything at once and I still have much to learn but I came to realize time and/or money spent learning skills was a good investment by being able to do rather than having to pay when needed (or just because I enjoy the doing).

Just as I say deepening the pantry is having insurance you can eat, gaining new skills and learning how to utilize the underground economy is insurance you can use.  Even if I don't bake bread every week, I still make it once in awhile to keep my skills updated (what you don't use... you lose).  After cooking frugally and from scratch now for decades, it doesn't take much thought to throw together a cheap but nutritious meal or soup or stew or dessert... or stretch a chicken to feed a crowd as Edith Schaeffer taught in Hidden Art.  :)

Each family is quite individual in what skills will be beneficial but learning as a family (or with friends) brings everyone together and makes it more fun.  It is never too early to learn many skills.  My kids were both quite little when we would go to garage sales and they learned how to quickly walk through and note quality and if there were objects we were looking for at the time (each was given a couple of dollars to spend only at garage sales when they were young).  Stephanie excels at slowing down as she passes a sale to take it all in for needed items (they're called "tag sales" where she now lives).

Christopher went through growth spells since we have been living on S.S. Disability but everyone comments on how well dressed he is... Goodwill.  Our store has great selections.  He has had to purchase slacks when they go on sale at the department stores but has managed to find great sales.  Instead of complaining about living on little money, if the parents are keeping a positive and faith filled attitude, kids will be better able to learn important frugal life skills (which I believe are going to be skills they thank you for later).

Both of my kids had to go to work at age sixteen (part-time) to purchase clothing and any extra "wants and desires".  At first I felt guilty but now I can see how "all things truly work together for good".  Those early lessons of earning their own money certainly have been beneficial.

Of course, all of this skill learning was done a day at a time and not knowing what the future held... days which could be stressful and busy with plenty of other things to do.  As I look back, I wish I'd made the time for all of us to learn more useful skills (especially veggie gardening, which I am just now learning).  However, as we lived one day at a time... imperfectly but usually doing the best we could... we all have become good at many items and excel in others... those skills which have been used over and over as the years progressed.

Other skills were not used and would have to be refreshed... like sewing and quilting... although I never could make clothing.  I didn't get the sewing gene, neither did my mother or daughter.  I suppose if I'd kept at it as I did with other skills, I'd be pretty good today but it was not something which came easily... the making of clothes that actually fit, that is.

While my husband did not leave a job on purpose, as did the author of the book, he did have periods of unemployment and then had to take an early retirement (S. S. Disability).  One does not have to jump off the mainline economy completely to be helped by learning how to live off the financial grid... whether completely or as part of a family economy.

The thing is... becoming part of the underground economy is a lifestyle... just as is homeschooling is more than education... and deepening the pantry is more than buying extra groceries.  I'll chat more about that next as we will need to go to a Part 3.  :)

Picture: Home Making:


Vee said...

That final paragraph makes me want to know what's coming next! I really must find a good Goodwill. Perhaps a larger city would be the place to try next. Actually, Kim provided some excellent advice on Goodwill shopping on a recent post at Daisy Cottage. I learned things that I had not heard before!

Jean said...


Could it be any of the works of Helen and Scott Nearing that first introduced you to this lifestyle? They left NYC for Vermont during one of the darkest times of our economy.

They were a great inspiration to me and others when we lived in Vermont.


Mrs.Rabe said...


We are working toward gaining skills that will benefit a simpler life...we have no debt except our mortgage which we pay extra on every month. I like the idea of knowing where my food is coming from, where it is grown or raised and to be able to be self sufficient. We will need to work hard to learn these things but it can be done...

The Pleasures of Homemaking said...

I'm with Vee! I want to know what part 3 is all about!

Thank goodness for Goodwill but mine just got renovated and the prices went up a bit. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy clothes at the end of season sales in department stores than at Goodwill!

Brenda, I can't imagine being able to make it through TWO years of no income! I don't remember you writing specifically about what you did to make it day to day. I'm sure alot of people would be interested - I know I am!

Hope you're feeling much better!


Anonymous said...

I also was going to suggest Scott Nearing. Living the Good Life? It was a book that greatly influenced my husband (who was from upstate New York) when he read it in college (late 70s).

:-) Susan (DE)

Linda Nichols said...

OK I have to try my guess at the book: Living on Less and Liking it More?

Remembrances said...

I am enjoying this Underground Economy series. I started subscribing to Mother Earth News when it first came out, and learned so much from it! I was fortunate to have grandparents and parents who were not only skilled in certain areas, but who also encouraged my wanting to learn those skills. Now I pass some of that knowledge along to the younger people in our church - such as sewing, knitting, cooking from scratch, etc. It is a shame that our schools dropped those types of classes, but I am sure many of us try to fill that gap where we can! I can't wait to read Part 3!! Karin

Sharon said...

Excellent post as usual.:)I too am extremely interested in part 3 as well as learning about your 2 years with no income!Maybe another post real soon?:)Blessings~Sharon

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog from Like Merchant Ships. I like what I'm reading so far! Thanks. A book that is coming to my mind that I read pre-Tightwad Gazette is "How to Survive without a Salary" by, I think his name was Charles Long. Good luck with your book search.

Deanna Hans

Christy said...

Thanks for your post! We shop almost exclusively at garage sales and Goodwill. We've been doing it for a few years and now can hardly stomach paying "retail" for anything...even when its at WalMart on clearance! Once you get used to how little you CAN spend on clothes, I think it becomes a fun challenge to spend less and less! We have a toddler and folks are always commenting on how cute his outfits are. I just smile every time and think about all the bargains he's wearing. Thanks again! Love hearing about this topic.

La Tea Dah said...

Excellent post, Brenda. I look forward to what comes next. . .


Marsha said...

I see that another commenter suggests Charles Long's How to Survive Without a Salary. That was my first guess.

Another thought is "Living Lean" by...I don't remember. June something and Kari something else. They're friends who evidently co-housed in the Finger Lakes region. I'd say the book dates from the late 70s/early 80s. Very interesting and worth seeking out if it's not one you've read already.w