Wisdom from The American Frugal Housewife

by Katy on November 23, 2011 · 14 comments


The following is a guest post from The Frugal Girl. Thank you very much, Kristen!

I got this free kindle ebook quite some time ago, and while I was on the plane flying to Chicago recently, I used the time to jot down some of my favorite quotes to share with you.

This book was written in 1828, and is full of advice for women on managing their homes…there are recipes, home remedies, and general household management advice.

What fascinates me is that even though much of Child’s practical advice is outdated (I’m not going to be making soap from my fire ashes, or doing anything with pig’s feet, thankyouverymuch), the principles she shares are just as applicable today as they were in 1828. Sometimes we think that overindulgence and overspending are purely modern problems, but clearly, these vices were alive and well in 1828!

Here are a few of my favorite snippets from the book.

-On saving, even when you have only a little to save:

“Every man and every woman should lay up some portion of their income, whether that income be great or small.”

-Advice for those who have recently moved into a new house:

“If you are about to furnish a house, do not spend all your money, be it much or little.  Do not let the beauty of the thing, and the cheapness of that, tempt you to buy unnecessary articles.”

-On thinking DIY is too much work:

“Make your own bread and cake. Some people think it is just as cheap to buy of the baker and confectioner, but it is not half as cheap. It is convenient, but those who are under the necessity of being economical should make convenience a secondary priority.”

Lots of good stuff in that quote. Homemade IS almost always cheaper even than relatively inexpensive prepared food (reference my comparison of uber-cheap squishy bread and homemade bread).  And while convenience is lovely, it should not be a higher priority than living within your means.*

*I’m not saying you must bake bread.  The principle here is what’s important.  See also, You Don’t Have to Make Yogurt

-On keeping up with the Joneses:

“No false pride of foolish ambition to appear as well as others should ever induce a person to live one cent beyond the income of which he is certain.  If you have one dollar a day, do not spend but seventy-five cents.  If you have but half a dollar, do not spend more than forty cents.”

-On why we ought to save:

“The man who is economical is laying up for himself the permanent power of being useful and generous.”

(Dave Ramsey says we should live like no one else so that we can give like no one else, but apparently Lydia Child was saying that long before he was!)

-The last one for now…Child anticipates that some will think her frugal advice is over the top.

“If any person think some of the maxims too rigidly economical, let them inquire how the largest fortunes among us have been made.  They will find that thousands and millions have been accumulated by a scrupulous attention to sums infinitely more minute than $0.60.”

If you’ve got a Kindle and some time to kill, download this book…it’s an entertaining read.  And if you don’t have a Kindle, you may be able to find the paper version at your library.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelley November 23, 2011 at 6:43 am

It’s good to be reminded of these values. I love reading books about frugality even though I’m already quite frugal – sometimes I learn new tips and other times I’m just inspired to keep on keeping on.


Jenni November 23, 2011 at 7:32 am

This sounds like a neat book. Thanks for taking the time to share some of the quotes. It’s fascinating to me that things really haven’t changed all that much. (except for using pig’s feet)


Jacquelyn November 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

Sounds great – I love timeless wisdom! Although, I must say, I think producing your own lye from your fireplace ashes for soap-making is a good idea! And I have pig’s feet (trotters, if you will) in my freezer right now from the half-pig we bought this fall. So that advice is not necessarily outdated, just, let’s say, ‘selectively useful’. 🙂


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land November 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I was just thinking that I should Google to see if you can make soap from raccoon fat. Is that in this book?


Judy December 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

Actually, Laura, I just did that very thing. I even used ashes from the woodstove then scented it with a bit of cedar oil. I’ll know tomorrow how it worked out.


Madeline November 23, 2011 at 7:54 am

Katy,thanks so much for this recommendation–I downloaded it to my kindle too! I love reading old housewife books.. I love BEING a housewife! Of course I enjoy my other roles too.. but happy housefrau is my favorite..

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours… I love your blog, it’s one of the two I read every day–the other being Suzanne McMinn’s Chickens in the Road (In my dreams I am a farmer!)


Madeline November 23, 2011 at 7:56 am

PS: my grandmother used to do something or other with pigs feet and as a young girl I recall visiting my friend’s home, whose Mom always had a pot of something on the stove with two large chicken’s feet,toes and all,sticking up out of that pot. eeeww.w… but good soup,I must say.


Curt November 23, 2011 at 9:28 am

You can also download to your PC for viewing. Think it is Kindle PC version. There are a lot of pre-1900’s books of farming, gardening and building on Amazon for free.


Silverlotus November 23, 2011 at 11:16 am

This looks like it would be a great read. Unfortunately, Amazon says it is unavailable for people in Canada. I did find a free version (and one for $4.19CAN!) on the Kobo store. I’m opting for the free one, of course.


Sarah November 23, 2011 at 11:19 am

There is a free version for Kindle and for Nook, as well as an HTML and other versions at Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13493


Emily November 23, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Amy Dacyczyn mentioned this book in the Tightwad Gazette–I remember the quote about bread and cake. It hadn’t occurred to me to look for a digital version. Technology is so much fun! Thanks for the idea.


Ella November 24, 2011 at 12:50 am

I like this articles and those valves. To be frugal is some kind of habit. It is very important in our life. I am a frugal person and I like to hunt for frugal tips . Thanks for sharing this! I often shop things with free online coupons and save a lot. I am wondering whether shopping with coupons is a frugal tip or not.


Kayla K November 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm

This book is so much fun! I used it during my internship at Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa. The “Cup-Cake” and “Wedding Cake” recipes are tried and true!

My copy of the book was purchased from the “General Store” but I am happy to see it available in a Kindle version. Ms. Child would be pleased. 🙂


Kristin @ KlingtoCash November 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I just downloaded the free version for my nook. Can’t wait to read it.


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