Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hide the Toys, 'Age' the Soap And Other Tips for Tight Times

Who are we kidding? The end is nigh. Wall Street is in freefall. The deficit is so big it has its own gravitational field. We've been at war(s) for five years. And it seems like every weekend a hurricane washes away another coastal city. The question now is: What are we going to do about it?

I had lunch the other day with a guy who said all you need to survive the coming apocalypse is a shotgun, water and some rabbits. Of course, if you've got a shotgun, you don't need your own water and rabbits. You can just take someone else's.

But perhaps I'm being overly pessimistic. Where's that pioneer spirit that helped forge this great nation? Where's the sense of self-sacrifice that helped the Greatest Generation weather the Depression?

I found it last week on the fifth floor reading room of the Library of Congress's Adams Building. Eager to prepare myself for the recession/depression/downturn/End Times, I had requested books published in periods of previous economic turmoil. The books had such titles as "Ten Lessons in Thrift" and "Fifty Ways to Save Money."

There was a delightful book from 1937 called "Orchids on Your Budget" that offered this observation: "Even quite dull people can live smartly if they have plenty of money, and the money often makes them duller. A slight financial pressure sharpens the wits, though it needn't sharpen the disposition. But it takes an interesting person to have an attractive ménage on a shoestring and to run it with gaiety and charm."

As we watch our house values collapse and our investments evaporate, keep in mind the following tips, which I culled from "500 Ways to Save in Your Home: Household Economies to Help Win the War!" (published in 1942) and "How to Beat the High Cost of Living: 864 Money Savers for Everyday Use, Especially in the Present Stage of the American Inflation Cycle" (published in 1937). These suggestions might seem extreme to a generation that defines hardship as not being within walking distance of a Starbucks, but let's just think of them as helping to sharpen our wits.

" 'Age' your soap by buying a liberal supply, removing all wrappers, and storing away on a shelf for at least several weeks before using. Fresh soap contains much moisture, melts away fast. When well dried it takes just a little more effort to lather -- and each bar lasts nearly twice as long!"

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