North of the Border: The Blacksmith's Wage

by Pat Mestern


"You cannot live like millionaire on a blacksmith's wage, but you can be the wealthiest blacksmith in the County." I found this quotation written in the margin of a c1858 book. How true I thought, especially for people who are living well beyond their means, individuals who although surrounded by "things" are constantly in debt and persons who have everything but who still have not achieved happiness and financial success in their lives.

You can never live comfortably by spending beyond your means, but you can achieve financial success by excelling at what you do best. Put another way, if you are a mechanic, you cannot live the life of the business owner on the wage you are earning; but by working diligently and conscientiously you can be eventually be the wealthiest mechanic in your territory. By living simply you can begin the journey toward financial success and sustainable creature comfort.

How to accomplish this feat on a mechanic's wage? Everyone in the family must support change. Everyone must make a commitment to live a more simple lifestyle. You must be willing to sacrifice a little now to gain a lot later. Many successful millionaires are not born in the pot of gold. They start at the bottom and work their way up, just like you and me. They are willing to flip the burgers before they own the franchise. Do you know what steps you must take to begin your journey on this road to achieving your level of comfort and success? There are a few basic questions you might ask yourself. As it helps to see progress through the written word, ask and answer the following questions on paper. Write down all the pros and cons - all things you might change - all the pluses and minuses - all creative suggestions that come to mind. Do be creative. Abandon the North American penchant for tunnel vision. Think in circles, big circles. Look at the big picture through generous eyes. Dare to dream about the future. Now for the questions:

  • Am I residing in a home that is too expensive for wages received?

  • Do I need to maintain a home that is this large or this distance from my place of work?

  • Am I driving a car that is draining my bank account?

  • Should I consider living closer to work or should I find a job that is closer to home to save on commuting expense?

  • Do I need to spend as much on entertainment?

  • What alternative entertainments are available in my area?

  • Can I get serious about curbing my "vices" - smoking and drinking can eat holes in a pay check.

  • Can I dress creatively rather than expensively?

  • Can the grocery bill be lowered by purchasing fewer prepared, highly processed foods?

  • Can I learn to be creative in the kitchen with foods that are wholesome, in season and inexpensive?

  • Can I control the urge to surround my children with possessions and status symbols?

  • Can I control my urge to shop as a recreational pastime?

  • Can I control impulse purchasing?

  • Can I control my own need to be surrounded by status symbols i.e. new car, trophy home, latest electronic gadgetry and tools, market brand and designer clothes?

  • Can I divest myself of some of these status symbols now?

  • Can I forego the vacation to an exotic locale for one that is less expensive and closer to home?

  • Can I, by careful planning, save for my future first, even if it is only tucking away $5.00 per week?>

The first moves are always the hardest to take on your new path toward living more simply. Once you have taken your first few tentative steps and seen some progress, you will find that questions you might have will be easier to answer, and solutions to situations will be less difficult to institute. Keep foremost in your mind that freedom from financial worry and living more simply does not happen overnight. You must be willing to work at the task of renewing, rejuvenating your life. And it is hard work. But you are used to hard work, aren't you?

Now for some canny tips:

Company coming? Furniture needs a quick flick but you refuse to use commercial polishes that are expensive and highly perfumed? Here is a little trick that mother taught me. Baby oil makes a great furniture - and floor - "polish". Put a little on a cloth and rub, rub, rub. Not only does your furniture look good but your house smells great. Wooden furniture thrives on a "once-in-awhile" oiling. Visitors say that my house reminds them of their "childhood". Sure it does, it harbors a scent from their very early childhood when baby oil was rubbed on their warm skin. I use baby oil on my pine floors too. A little goes a long way. The key is to rub, rub, rub. This takes a lot of "on-your-knees" work, but is worth the effort. Even through my children are all grown up, baby oil is an essential "must have" in this household. I have used unscented mineral oil in a pinch.

Limed to death? Hard water is prevalent in our area causing problems with any appliance that heats water - kettles, hot water heaters. There are commercial de-limers on the market but I don't like to use them too often. After going through a series of electric kettles that succumbed to "liming", we reverted back to using an old fashioned, "boil 'em on the stove" kettle - and an oyster shell. The shell "lives" in the kettle and serves several purposes. When the kettle boils the shell rattles on the bottom of the pot telling us to come make tea. As it rattles and "hops" in the boiling water, it keeps lime from building up on the sides of the kettle. Once every two months I wash the inside of the kettle and the shell with vinegar water to remove what lime built up has occurred. The shell extends the life of the kettle. Our kettle is a hand-me-down and more than forty years old. I have seen pot disks on the market - a ceramic circle that "lives" in one's kettle and accomplishes the same end as the oyster shell.

Problems with wooden window sills and house plants that leak water? How about asking hubby to manufacture wooden boxes that fit nicely onto your sills. My wooden boxes are approximately are rectangular, 24" x 12" with 4" sides. Hubby installed small rubber feet and lined the boxes with plastic. Boxes are equipped with handles so they can be moved from one location to another, and placed outside during the summer months. I set my house plant pots in the box on a layer of pretty stones collected around North America. Now, I do not have to worry that the water is running onto the sill, ultimately rotting it away. Oh yes, I forgot to say that we live in a stone house with window sills that are more than 20" deep, but this suggestion will extend the life of any wooden sills.

Furnace ducts dirty and you don't want to call the professionals who suck more than your furnace ducts dry? Clean them yourself. Most dirt accumulates in the ducts right below hot air registers and cold air returns. Use a shop vac. Lift the register and stick the hose as far down hole/duct as you can. If you don't have a shop vac, borrow your neighbors? Actually, any vacuum cleaner with a flexible hose and good suction will do the job. Clean ducts spring and fall to keep dirt accumulations down. If you must, for various reasons, use the services of a professional duct cleaner, get three quotations. In our area, prices for duct cleaning vary greatly - $500 to $1,000 + taxes. Better the money be in your pocket than someone else's hose . By the way, some companies claim anything they find in your ducts. One company up this way kept a diamond ring that they found in a duct system. What have you lost in your ducts recently? Son #1 once accidently dumped an entire piggy bank of quarters down a duct. We heard them rattle from second floor to basement! And never, never contract with a duct cleaner over the telephone. You know the routine - "We will have a truck in your area next week. Can we clean your ducts?"


Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at mestern.net. Her latest work of historical fiction is entitled "No Choice But Freedom" which takes place in England and British Colonial America c1750.

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