Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Teves 5762 - December 19, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Everything from Almost Nothing
by Rosally Saltsman

People who don't let anything go to waste, not even bathwater. People who save money by NOT going out to work...

"I have everything," this lady repeats for the tenth time in the conversation, "but it's not fancy, not new and not gorgeous." There's a wonderful story called "Something from Nothing" which is about how a grandfather gives his baby grandson a blanket and over the years, the blanket becomes frayed and torn. The little boy doesn't want to give it up so the grandfather takes out his scissors and makes it into something else. First a jacket, then a vest, then a tie... until there's nothing left. I was reminded of this story when I spoke to a woman who was suggested to me as a good source for information on saving money.

The lady, who chose anonymity, learned to be frugal from her mother, who lived on the East Side of New York, at a time when things were tight and there was very little. But there were always guests in the house and food to feed them. Her father would take people off the boat and bring them home. The family knew how to manage and the children felt good. It's the attitude about money. "The main thing," she says, "is that you're satisfied with what you have."

When she was growing up, "We lived in a very wealthy community. But my mother taught us to be happy with what we had. A home should be a happy place. If parents are good to the children, children want to be good to the parents. If they're happy, they won't need so many material things." Today, her many children are grown and following in her [happy] footsteps.

All the women in the family sew their own clothes. "We don't always aim for the best; we try for whatever's practical," she says. They take advantage of used clothing. Skirts get turned into aprons, aprons into bibs, sheets get turned into pillowcases [Tip: To add new life to flat sheets: if they're worn in the middle, rip them down, sew the ends together and hem the new sides]. Everything gets recycled. Buttons are saved from old blouses, trimmings and elastic are cut and saved.

The method is to reuse everything, down to the last drop. Hashem gives us resources and we're meant to get the most out of them; the key is attitude. The parents have to relay a feeling of joy and satisfaction in doing it, a feeling of "We have everything we need." Love and warmth before materialism.

The same thing goes for food. Good healthy food is important but if eggplant is cheap, she'll buy a lot of eggplant and use that: make a lot of dishes, freeze/pickle them and eat eggplant for a few days. They eat well by taking advantage of what's cheap.

"One time we were thinking of buying a new couch, and then I was afraid I'd be nervous that the grandchildren would mess it up or the children couldn't diaper a baby on the coach, so I just covered it with a sheet, washable, of course, and everything was fine. It doesn't bother anyone.

"I give small presents. I don't think a present has to make an impression; it has to be practical, and thoughtful." She gives presents to her grandchildren that cost only a few shekels. "I don't think it is educational to give expensive things." Her husband gets seforim wholesale from a dealer for bar mitzva presents. Her wedding presents are inexpensive, as well, but useful. "I don't think my relationship with people is dependent on what kind of present I give them. If a person doesn't have money, they don't have to buy a present." At least, not an expensive one.

She doesn't advocate scrimping on tzedoka, though. She says her children who have given a fifth of their incomes to charity, as opposed to a tithe, see the money come back.

She's taught her family to reuse everything. Bathwater is reused for hand laundry, to wash floors or water the plants. [You can pour it into your top-loading washing machine for the first water.] She's afraid people might think she's crazy, but in this water crisis, people are going to extremes to save water. If you can save money at the same time, what could be better?

"A lot of my children learned to fix their own things," she says. "When we came from America, we took the wooden boards from our lift and made closets and shelves. That was 35 years ago and the closets and shelves are still there." Her daughter hangs her clothes on a makeshift closet made out of a broomstick on two bars... twenty years.

"My daughters and I bake challos every week. It's a matter of chinuch, besides the actual mitzva. I look for places that are cheaper. You don't need to buy all your children new clothes for Yom Tov. You can buy just new shoes, or new stockings or even new barettes. We make our own simchas at home. I'm old fashioned. I don't go out. When there's a big family, there's always something going on at home, and there's plenty of diversion or entertainment, call it what you like."

She says, though, that she saves a lot of money because she doesn't go out to work. She can cook and bake from scratch, shop economically, sew, clean, do arts and crafts with the children, wear simple clothing etc. If a woman works, she needs a vacation. "If I'm tired, I can just spend a few more hours in bed." She believes that parents need to be at home, not going out to earn money to buy things the children don't need. They need a parent at home.

"We have everything in the world." All this saving pays off. Her children have their own apartments and she and her second hand furniture occupy two floors and seven rooms. The kitchen has two refrigerators and a freezer. That's in contrast to the two shelves without doors that stock her dishes and food supplies. "I'd always be opening and closing the doors, anyway," she jokes.

I tell her that my son has a thing about saving matches. Whenever I light Shabbos candles, he always tells me to reuse the matches. He's discovered that they'll burn longer if you dip them in oil.

"It's a pity to throw things out. I save all the egg cartons, toilet paper rolls and coke bottles and we make things with the children. We get a lot of satisfaction from it."

This would all seem a bit extreme if not for the fact that it works. The children do really have everything they need as well as things that not everyone can afford. [And friends like to come over, too.] It's the result of being able to differentiate between the ikkar and the tofel. They don't have a new sofa, but they do have two well stocked refrigerators. They don't have new store-bought clothes but they do have their own apartments.

Many people don't have patience for all this (it takes time and effort to save money) but maybe all this teaches the patience that we need to have for our families. Learning to appreciate what we have, to use Hashem's resources sparingly and wisely and be happy with our lot are all important attributes and outlooks to perfect. If the children feel loved and capable and the pervasive atmosphere is warm and loving, that certainly is worth more than an off-the-rack dress [which will be out of style next year] and expensive toys.

"I have everything," this lady repeats for the tenth time in the conversation, "but it's not fancy, not new and not gorgeous."

You can have it all, but, "You have to be a little resourceful and ingenious."


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