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How to fight a recession with a bottle of shampoo

We’ve adopted a new frugality around our house, which includes turning paper clips into necklaces and doing away with the robotic vacuum.

By Janine Wood / February 13, 2009



Last week, I poured my family’s shampoo into a liquid soap bottle, the kind with the little pump on top. I remembered reading about the substantial savings gained from using a container with a small opening.

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“Mom, I’m not using that shampoo,” my teenage daughter shouted from the shower, knowing full well it was the same shampoo only in a different bottle.

“Isn’t this the least we can do in these hard eco
nomic times?” I shouted back. “And, while you’re at it, I’m timing your shower,” I said.

Using a little less shampoo seemed a small price to pay for a life without student loans. I began to
catastrophize. (If you don’t know what that means, you aren’t spending enough time in the self-improvement section of the bookstore.)

How would my children manage if things really got tough? UGG – how would she get along without those boots?

In a frenzy of frugality, I planned my new lifestyle: I would turn paper clips into necklaces and use cloth napkins. I would clip coupons, buy in bulk, and re-use zip-lock baggies. I pictured wet baggies scattered about my butcher block countertop (plans for granite, definitely out).

When my daughter stepped out of the shower, I lectured her on the Great Depression. I told her about my mother, who played in garbage dumps on Chicago’s south side. I told her about my grandmother who welcomed strangers off the street. I explained Hooverville, left a copy of “The Grapes of Wrath” on her pillow, and downloaded Woody Guthrie songs onto her iPod.

My daughter said most parents would protect their children from such a bad economy. And anyway, she wanted to know, what would I be giving up? She had a point. We still seemed to be living a pre-downturn lifestyle. We dined out and ordered in. I lectured her on the Great Depression while sipping Starbucks coffee.

I needed to do more. So, like Luther, I posted a list of things I was getting rid of on her bedroom door:

1. That new luxury washing machine with the clear lid – I’m returning it. Yes, my husband enjoyed watching the clothes spin while waiting for the arrival of his Netflix DVD (delicate was his favorite cycle), but hard times call for drastic measures.

2. The private driver’s ed teacher I hired to tutor our daughter on three-point turns is as gone as a golden parachute. (Downside: I’ll be in the passenger seat while my daughter is at the wheel. Upside: We’ll spend more time in that parallel conversation that experts say works so well with teenagers, where you talk without ever looking at each other.)

3. No more IAMS. Let our dog eat Purina.

4. The robotic vacuum never could find its way back to the docking station: Why spend the money to get it fixed?

5. The high school B team will have to suffice. Private basketball lessons ... not a chance.

6. No more endless ACT, PSAT, SAT tutoring sessions. Oh yeah, no more endless ACT, PSAT, SAT test taking. Oh yeah, no more ... college.

Janine Wood is a writer and homemaker in Deerfield, Ill.

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