We’ve Become a Nation of Softies

Compared to my grandmother, I’m a lazy bum. Instead of hiring others to do domestic services for them, she and my grandfather focused more on how much money they could sock away for emergencies and for their “old age.”


Both lived to be nearly 100. They never applied for Medicaid or government assistance* or needed a handout or financial aid. They lived in their own home (purchased with cash) until they died. They never had a car loan, but always drove a nice car.

Grandma dressed like a million bucks. She could knit and quilt, cook, bake, clean, decorate and entertain. She could as easily sew a winter coat as a new throw pillow for the sofa.

She was an elegant, wonderful lady with an eye for beauty. She single-handedly landscaped their backyard in Spokane, Wash., planting trees, digging flower beds, installing borders and flowers that turned a gravel pit into a botanical garden. She never owned a pair of pants, doing everything in what she called a “house dress,” complete with stockings and jewelry. What a lady.

My grandmother would be amazed by all of the things we hire people to do for us. And we don’t even think of these things as luxuries, either. It’s the way that our society has evolved over the past 50 years. We’re made to believe it is natural and normal to hire others to do the things we could easily do for ourselves:

Bake our bread; cook our meals; clean our clothes; grow our produce; wash our cars; change the oil in our cars; service our appliances; mow our lawns; clean our homes; cut our hair; manicure our hands; pedicure our feet; massage our bodies; wax our brows; polish our shoes; teach our kids; clean our pools; wash our windows; sew and mend our clothes; wash, groom and walk our pets; haul our trash; and drive us to the airport.

We’re going through a major financial crisis in this country that stems from one four-letter word: D-E-B-T. We’ve overdosed on living beyond our means.

Someday, things will turn around. How will you react? Do you plan to go back to the way you were, spending all you have and feeling fully justified to hire others to do things you really could do for yourself? Why? Do you really think that magically everything will just turn around and you’ll never have to be concerned about money again? What a silly way to think. Some might even call that insanity.

Sure we live in different times than my grandparents. But good financial principles are enduring. Just imagine how much money you could have socked away in the last 10 years if you’d focused on preparing for the future instead of thinking of all the ways you could get others to do stuff for you.

It’s not that Mamie and Billy Schwartz were financial geniuses. They were realists. They created a hefty safety net, and in doing so they found the peace and dignity of being self-reliant. No one could have ever accused them of being lazy.

Will your grandkids be able to say the same about you?

*U.S. Social Security is not government assistance. Those who pay into the system become eligible upon full retirement age, to get back what is theirs based upon what they and or their spouse has paid in.

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31 replies
  1. Sandra says:

    Living in Appalachia, I know many women spending more money than they make, in child care and gas, so they can work a minimum wage job or two. That sounded crazy but someone else said, “It’s so they can have a few hard dollars come Friday.” I suppose that makes sense, although it still sounds crazy to me but it’s their choice. I’d rather focus on spending less money and spending my time on family, home, friends. Yes, home and this farm are a lot of work but it’s MY work and allows me to live the life I want to live. I cut back by not having a garden and buying fresh garden produce from neighbors, then putting up that food. Other than helping family, friends and my community, I don’t do volunteer work. I feel sorry for people stuck in the 9 to 5 grind or several low paying jobs so they can make ends, sometimes, meet. It’s a gruesome, to me, way to live, always in harness.
    As I age, I’ve learned I cannot do it all and it’s stupid to think I can. After all, I’m the most important, expensive piece of equipment on this place and if I go down, everything crashes to a halt. Having common sense means using it.

  2. Beth Bach says:

    I so long to be able to live like that. But I’m one person running a household and working too many hours. I can’t afford to pay anyone to do most of these services for me, so many things just don’t get done. I’m handy and can sew, bake, etc. I just wish I didn’t work so much, but I lost 40% of my income during the last crash and haven’t been able to find a better paying job since then so I work two jobs. I’m grateful for what I have, but feel overwhelmed with how much there is to do just to keep my head slightly above water.

  3. Carole says:

    Mary, you have inherited your grandmother’s resourcefulness. In a different way of course, but that must be where your ability to start a great business came from.

  4. Olivia Calvin says:

    Lot of different people, diffferent situations but overall we are all seeking the same things. Peace, love and happiness. To achieve this we all need to
    1. Learn from our mistakes
    2. Make God #1 in our lives
    3.Love unconditionally
    4. Roll with the punches
    5. Pass our love of country on to our kids by example
    6. Keep our minds learning an seeking more knowledge than we had yesterday
    7. Accept things we can’t change, but work at it first.
    8. Read more
    9. Turn the other cheek
    10, Plan today where you will spend eternity and do something about it.

    • Chris says:

      Sorry, but I had to comment. .ironic that we should make God #1 in our lives, but you made that point #2 on your list! Thanks for the good laugh!

  5. Luisa says:

    Mary, you made some good points here. I agree that there are a lot of things we could do ourselves rather than pay to have done, and I understand that you are not saying that life in 2015 is the same as life was two or three generations ago.

    Both my grandmothers worked most of their lives, starting when they picked cotton and tobacco at eight or nine years of age, as did my grandfathers. They did a great many of the things you mention along with working full time outside the home. They also tended gardens and raised chickens and livestock to feed their families. My paternal grandparents took their four parents into their home as they aged and cared for them, while also taking in boarders. My maternal grandparents had as many as four relatives living in their two bedroom house with them and their three children during the Depression. They canned and froze food that they grew. Along with all of this, my grandmothers created things that I still have in my house, like crocheted afghans, embroidered pillowcases, and needlepoint samplers.

    Like you, I do not suggest that a return to those ways of living is desirable. I just think that if those astounding women could do all that and more in 24 hours a day, I could cut my own grass, or grow a small garden, or paint my bedroom.

  6. Bookworm says:

    Good post and good comments. I can only add that my problem was that I wasn’t taught how to do much of what I needed to do, but looking it up on the Internet has been my salvation. There are instructions for everything out here!

  7. Maureen says:

    I think if you look around the web today, most definitely Pinterest, you are seeing a shift towards simplicity. In my line of work I see a large number of patients over 80 years of age, many into their 90’s, most still fairly healthy, agile and independent. Whenever I ask what their “secret” is, the answer is always similar. Enjoy life, work hard, eat well and enjoy a drink now and again! In my heart I believe that if my husband and I had started out our married life cultivating a lifestyle similar to our grandparents we would (A) not have any debt (B) be more content and (C) eat a much healthier diet. I am however, glad that we have recently made a shift to a slower, more hands-on lifestyle and are greeting each day with anticipation!

  8. Candace Medina says:

    Hi Mary, I always enjoy your blogs, but this one kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I wish we still lived in a society where the wife could stay home and care for the house, husband and kids. We live in Northern VA right outside of DC and it’s hard to make ends meet without both parents working in this area. We have little to no debt, invest in our retirements and have a large amount of savings. Since we both work FT (50+hrs a week) there’s no one home to clean on a daily basis so we’ve invested in a cleaning lady every 2 weeks and I don’t consider myself lazy. I would rather spend my weekends with my family than cleaning the house. You also have to keep in mind that many parents are raising kids these days by themselves probably unheard of during your grandparents era.

    • Stephanie Flagg Hanley says:

      I was just thinking this. I love to bake, sew and knit and the hubby has a fantastic green thumb. But we both need to work full time jobs which leaves little time for those things.

  9. Beck says:

    I agree with you. What gets me is how much time I see people wasting on the internet when they could do many of those items in the time they spent surfing the web or FB. On the other hand many of us have had to move for jobs, been laid off, and were not able to live by family the way the older generation did often even having several generations in the home. Back in the old days many worked the same job for 30 or 35 years maybe longer. Job security was so much better then. My grandmother worked and still did most of the things you talked about plus always found time to help out at church.

    • Chris says:

      I think it’s judgemental to say they are “wasting” time on the internet. Maybe they are reading about how to do something, maybe they are researching prices for something they need done. You don’t know. Unless you are standing over their shoulder watching them…in which case, you would be wasting time! I’m just saying, don’t assume, you don’t know what a person is doing unless you ask.

  10. eveh says:

    When we were talking about marriage, my husband to be ask me if I would just stay at home and create a nice welcoming place for him to come home to when he came home from work. His MoM always worked and his sister in law worked. He went home with his Brother after work one day and was so depressed by how quiet, cold and dark the place felt.
    I said heck yeah I’ll stay home. My Mama had showed me how to do so many things to save money. She was frugal. I knew we could do it on one salary.
    We’ve never had a new car, buy used when we can, went through three home flips to get the place we have now, fun by the way, and now at retirement, we have no debt, not a lot of money with just one SS check but we know how to manage. We have an emergency fund, a Hurricane fund for hotels and food if we have to leave for a few days, we live where Hurricane Katrina hit and lost our home, but we picked up the pieces and rebuilt. We are frugal and we can survive. I think because we learned how to do for ourselves, it saved us a lot of money and most of it was a lot of fun. I’ll tell you one thing, we were never bored! Life is good! Here’s wishing you a frugal future and for Gosh Sakes, never turn down the chance to learn…….now where did I put my manual on how to make fire and purify water. : )

  11. Cherie Randall says:

    I have to comment on your footnote that Social Security is not government assistance. Generally, most people will withdraw everything they put in in 5 years or less. If they collect longer than that the check they receive every month is coming straight out of the pocket of current taxpayers. Don’t even get me started on Medicare.

  12. Toast Points says:

    Back in those days, upkeep for a wardrobe didn’t take much because folks didn’t have more than two or three pair of shoes. Maybe a coupla sweaters. One coat. Not more than a half dozen “house dresses” and maybe a couple of church outfits. They only had one toilet to clean. Life was at a much slower pace. My mother was a teacher, so she did have her ironing done by a woman down the street. Me? I don’t iron and I don’t hire anybody to do it either. Today’s wash and wear doesn’t require ironing. Mostly, comparisons to the old days and now don’t mesh. It’s like comparing persimmons and cucumbers.

  13. crabbyoldlady says:

    I agree with everything Chris said. Now that I am retired, I may have time to do those things, but my body is no longer cooperative for heavy duty gardening, etc. Yes, my grandmother baked bread every day and invested hours doing it. I don’t think a dollar loaf of bread that lasts for over a week is going to break me and frees me to pursue other artistic endeavors that I have earned the right to.

    • eveh says:

      Cultivate friends who have gardens. We are constantly being given tomatoes although I grow a couple of Creoles for us. I freeze the others. Everyone grows too many eggplant, squash, peppers, cucumbers etc.. And there are day old bakeries all over the place. Friends with persimmons, figs (here again I have a fig tree) but I freeze them along with kumquats and berries from the woods. A friend gave us a big bag of blueberries and pecans are usually free if you pick them up from people’s yards. Just have to keep your ears open and ask around. You’d be amazed how much surplus people have. I live on the Gulf Coast so my foods may be a little different from Northern things that are available but I ll bet you could find someone willing to share. : ) day old bread can taste like fresh if heated in micro. I do some container gardening which is easy for herbs, cherry tomatoes etc.

      • crabbyoldlady says:

        Do you realize how lucky you are to be surrounded by all that bounty? Here in the frozen tundra of Minnesota our growing season is so short. We have a black walnut tree so nothing grows under it, not even rhubarb. I do love our day old bakery, but our neighbors don’t grow anything much and there’s never any excess. Please don’t suggest harvesting the black walnuts. Nasty, smelly messy to harvest and no one wants them anyway.

      • eveh says:

        You are right. They are so hard to deal with but I do love black walnut ice cream. : ). I know we are blessed to live in a warm climate where we garden almost year round. I can appreciate the difficulty you have. . There are a lot of things I can’t grow here that I love. Brussels sprouts, rhubarb, asparagus, apples, peaches, cherries are hard to grow in our climate.

      • crabbyoldlady says:

        Probably because they are nasty, smelly and labor intensive things to harvest. I like the taste of them but no one else in my family does. I once spent days and days working on them, stained my hands black in spite of the rubber gloves (went right through them), used a vice to crack them and no one would eat them. I don’t care enough to go through the trouble. Now if it was a pecan tree…..

      • crabbyoldlady says:

        ….and there is the fact that black walnut roots, leaves, etc are toxic and kills everything else that grows under them or anywhere near their root system, except grass and some hostas.

  14. Cherie Randall says:

    Your Grandmother didn’t have to hold a job as most women do today in order to get by (if married) or to survive if single.

  15. TraderSam says:

    I remember my great grandparents and grandparents being the same way. Also, my father was an engineer by training and he re-plumbed our entire house. I never knew him to call a repairman, although there was one hilarious incident with a furnace where he was left without eyebrows for several months.

    I do many things that I can do for myself, but many manufactured products are made to be difficult for the consumer to repair. Thank God for the maker movement. I love their principles, that products should be easy to fix and made to last, just like in the last century.

    As a copywriter I have to look at doing household tasks on a cost basis. Can I make more writing the sales letter I’m working on? Will it actually save me more money to let the plumber fix the broken pipe in the basement? In most cases, copywriting–a pretty lucrative undertaking–is a far more efficient means of strengthening my bottom line, but for the average nine-to-fiver, it makes sense to start doing things by themselves, especially with the crazy rates they charge for labor these days.

  16. Phyllis Thomas says:

    Last year, I paid $80 every time I had my yard mowed. This year, I got off my bum and started mowing myself. Every time I mow, I put away that $80 in a ‘lawn mower fund’. I think that I’ll have enough in 2 summers to pay for a new zero-turn mower. By that time, my lawn mower will be 15 years old, and I’ll still use it for a backup.

  17. NF says:

    Unfortunately, we’ve been taught to self indulge by media and marketing(watch mad men and u’ll see how these subversive ploys evolved). My grandparents, who raised me, had very humble beginnings. They worked very hard, started their own business, did all of their own housework, repairs and maintenance(until the latter years) and managed to accumulate a very comfortable retirement nest egg. They accomplished this during part of the Depression, later stock market crashes and other economic declines. I did not appreciate what they had done until my spouse lost his very good job of 30 years. Thank goodness, their advice and guidance had stuck somewhere in the back of my brain. When my husband and I had to financially regroup, we were able to build ourselves back up using old-fashioned common sense and self reliance. We’re not rich, but we can pay our bills, buy food and have some money socked away. We live on 1/3 of what we used to and we’re comfortable.

    Thanks to the parents and grandparents who taught us well.

  18. Chris says:

    I agree with most of what you say, but remember that it wasn’t that common for women to work outside the home then. And there weren’t the number of single moms we have today either. So having someone to do some of those things is necessary these days. Most can’t work 40 hours a week and still do all the things you mention. We have to have some help so we can work and help support the household. I am fortunate, I work part-time, so I can manage to get those things done (for the most part), but there are some I don’t know how to do, or would rather have someone do for me, and it’s worth the cost (if I shop around and find the best deal) to have it done for me rather than take time away from other things, or my kids, in order to do them.

  19. Cassandra Laurence says:

    THANK YOU for calling a spade a spade, Mary! And for having the courage to comment about relying on others for what we can (and should!) do for ourselves.


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