Hillbillies, Housewives and Homeschooling

It occurred to me that anyone reading my last post would think I’d gone out of mind (too late!). But it was neither insanity nor a masochistic fit that had me baking like a madwoman on Sunday morning.

It was the memory of a $300 grocery bill.

When my oldest kids were little, I was able to feed a family of four breakfast, lunch and dinner on a budget of about $50 a week. But since my income has increased proportionally with their ages, I’ve found myself eschewing things like generic canned green beans and fruit cocktail for items such as fresh asparagus and mangoes. And it all came to a head about a month ago while I watched in mounting amazement, then horror, as the total on the register just got higher and higher.

After being chided (gently) by my husband who pointed out that I didn’t cook half the things I bought and that we were in danger of being brained by falling cans and jars every time we opened the pantry while strange, green, fuzzy things thrived in the back of the refrigerator, I reluctantly decided it was time to make a change. The memory of endless bologna sandwiches and bowls of ramen soup is still with me, along with the realization that while such a diet may be perfectly fine with my 13-year-old, the rest of us might like a little more variety. It was time to do a little research on the subject. To the interwebz!

What I found surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. There is an entire subculture out there of people who are dedicated to living well as cheaply as possible. The lengths some of them are willing to go to is astounding (more about that in a moment), but if there’s one universally held belief it’s that anything you can buy can probably be made much more inexpensively, and the food we eat is as good a place to start as any. So that’s where I started.

As with any subculture, there are sub-subcultures and people dedicated to living frugally are no different. There are coupon swapping consortiums and women who make all their own clothes – there are even people who make their own pet food (something I don’t get – I wish I could eat as cheaply as the dog and care as little about it). But the most fascinating group, at least to me, is a group of women who are intensely religious housewives. They homeschool their children, cover their heads when they leave the house and don’t wear pants. Well, they wear underpants – and in the case of at least one woman, homemade bloomers – but they don’t wear jeans or slacks. They’re sort of like the Amish, only with electricity and without the notoriety.

The one website I’ve found that seems to sum up this group of women is The Hillbilly Housewife. The site is a veritable goldmine of tips on how to save money, even if some of them do seem a little extreme (there is a section on how to make your own sanitary napkins…I don’t think so). The site is run by Suzanne. It used to be run by Maggie, but Maggie turned it over to Suzanne, saying it was taking up too much of her time. However, no sooner had Maggie turned over the site to Suzanne that she began an entirely new site, Frugal Abundance, in addition to her Christian homeschooling site Old Fashioned Education (her sample letter on how to let the local public school board know that you’re going to homeschool your children is interesting, to say the least).

I don’t entirely believe Maggie. Why give up one website you don’t have time for to run two more? I think her reasons are a not quite what they seem. You see, on her new site – the frugal site, not the homeschooling site – Maggie states that she and her family have decided they need to eat more healthily and have adopted a mostly vegetarian diet that includes moderate amounts of eggs, dairy and fish. I believe the powers that be revoke your hillbilly membership when you begin bandying words like “ovo-lacto vegetarian” and “pescatarian” around, and stop offering tips on how to julienne hot dogs so you can put them in a stir fry.