India Knight vs. Mrs Beeton

Now that I share my humble abode and the bills it generates with the chap, I don’t have to employ as many thrifty tactics as I once did during my time at University. And yet, the concept of frugality still interests me, because it is a useful tool to achieve ambitions in a shorter time frame. By employing thrift, you can save money for that holiday, event, item of clothing, whatever, faster and without too much difficulty. I have two charity-shop-bought books that discuss this subject, one of which I purchased a few days ago.

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Written post-credit crunch, India Knight’s book is a funny guidebook on a range of subjects stemming from the idea of thrift, including food, beauty and crafts, amongst others. I am only about half way through the book, but I felt she has made some interesting points in the opening chapters. Particularly her argument on using “value” range products;

“We’re told time and time again by fashionable televisions chefs that cooking is all about the spanking wonderfulness of our top-quality ultra-premium ingredients. This is true up to a point, but not nearly as true as they’d have you believe. Feeding yourself well is also about being a good enough cook to transform base into gold.”

This has long been the argument I have stood for. That eating well is not relative to how much money you throw at it, but rather what you do with what your ingredients. When looking at delicious dishes from traditional ‘peasant’ cultures, we often see basic ingredients (the only affordable items to these people) turned into amazing meals. And yet, Knight almost immediately contradicts her own argument by stating she only ever eats organic meat, eggs and vegetables. Surely when the choice is between eating well and not eating well, source is a very negotiable factor. Still, her book is certainly prompting me to be a more thoughtful consumer and has forced me to make decisions regarding free-range meat. On the other hand, I am finding her tone undeniably snobby in parts, particularly during a “sorry-not-sorry” moment about being middle class. When and why did class sneak in? Thrift should be an admirable trait in everyone, not just those who can afford to claim it.

Thus enter, stage right, Mrs Isabella Beeton, whose Book of Household Management is the original voice on home economy, virtues and values. I feel that Beeton uses her marital status as a title, on par with Duchess or Dame, to put gravitas behind her advice. Possibly she is using her husband’s famous name to attract attention, but surely Isabella Beeton would suffice. It’s the Mrs that makes all the difference.

Beeton argues; “Frugality and economy are home virtues which no household can prosper.” Instead of choosing to opt into thrift as an amusing hobby (a la Knight), Beeton declares it to be a necessity. I’m inclined to agree. Whatever the fortune of the family, living comfortably within your means is essential for a harmonious, debt-free life. I personally am fascinated by darling Isabella, and seeing as this current post has stretched on for too long, future posts on her advice and how it relates to households today will follow in the upcoming weeks. Would you describe yourself as thrifty?

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