I remember the 70’s well. I remember the ‘Save-It’ campaign that encouraged people to, among other things, turn off lights in rooms that are not being used; not just households, but businesses too. I remember being urged not to fill the kettle to capacity, but only to boil as much as you needed. I remember my mum making her own bread instead of buying it (something which she continues to do to this day – at nearly 80 years of age!)
My mind returned to all those frugal tips a few years ago when the recession first loomed upon the horizon. I had long had a hankering for a Rayburn/Aga type cooker; maybe it’s an age thing, but how much more sensible would it be to have one of those running the central heating system in the home. Then, since the oven would already be hot, you could be simmering a casserole or a stew virtually for free. My grandmother used to have one when I was growing up, and there was always a kettle of water heating on there, with the amount of tea I drink I’m sure that would save me at least one mortgage payment a year!
While I can’t take advantage of dovetailing my central heating with making our dinner, I am very frugal when it comes to cooking. For example, any casserole that cooks for 2 or 3 hours has to provide at least four portions – two for now and two for the freezer. In addition, I won’t contemplate having the oven on for any length of time and then cooking the accompanying vegetables on the hob – I usually either make a tray of roast root vegetables, a creamy potato gratin or boulangerie potatoes. I always pop the peas in the microwave to cook, just as they are, as they only take 2 minutes.
Unfortunately, we are coming at this recession on the back of 20 years of plenty when we didn’t have to think about being frugal. Our homes today are not designed to help us live frugally. All new-build houses are fitted with ovens with a combi-grill. Why can’t they be fitted with double ovens, where the small oven doubles as a grill? That would be far more economical for cooking than heating up one large cavernous oven to cook a shepherd’s pie for two.
How many new-build homes today come with a fireplace fitted as standard? Yet on those chilly autumn and spring evenings how much more economical would it be just to turn the fire on for a few hours instead of heating up the whole house.
We’ve also lost the skills to stretch a penny to two like older generations used to take for granted. In those days the fire wasn’t lit as a matter of course like it is today. People dressed warmly indoors during the daytime instead of having the heating on. Until my husband started working from home our heating was only on for half an hour in the morning (to take the chill off the house first thing in the morning) and then for around 4 hours in the evening, always going off at around 8.30 pm – partly for economic grounds but mainly to allow the bedroom to cool down for me to sleep ...... it’s an age/stage of life thing! Now that he works from home, as he’s deskbound all day he needs the heating on. It’s something of a culture shock for me though, I spent all last winter in skirts and t-shirts as I was so warm!
We’ve also lost the skills, or the will, to make the most of the more economical cuts of meat. Oxtails, offal, skirt, clod or shin beef. They all make the most delicious stews and casseroles. Kidneys alone make a delicious dish that cooks in half an hour – how easy is that.
I guess I’m lucky, I learned frugality at first-hand from a grandmother who kept house through the last depression and with the rationing of war-time. I’m well equipped to deal with this one in my stride.
What about the younger generation though? Are they equipped to deal with leaner times? Have they got the skill set to see them through?
What about businesses? Are prices higher because we, the consumer, are paying the price for their profligacy in having lights burning all night long and stores heated to the degree that staff are wearing sleeveless blouses in December while the poor shopper is sweltering in her outdoor coat?
I don't know what the answer is; but sadly I foresee lean times for quite a while yet.