Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Production versus consumption: when the bottom line's more than just dollars and cents

I followed a link the other day to the blog frugal hacks. I don't consider myself the most frugal person, but the article on sacramental frugality really struck a chord with me. It mentioned this idea of being a producer rather than a consumer and this is something my husband and I have been discussing for a couple of years now.

Our American economy produces very little. We are predominantly consumers. Oh and we provide services. You know when they talk about "goods and services" in Economics 101, what we lack in the "goods" department, we make up for in services. Hey, I don't have anything against the service industry. My husband is a pastor. My dad is a lawyer. I was a teacher. My father-in-law sold insurance. My mother-in-law was a realtor. My mom has been many things, but none of us has ever produced anything. This is in stark contrast with my grandparents' generation. My nearly 86 year old granny sews, embroiders, knits, and crochets. She has in the past designed and made purses, kept her grandchildren in pajamas, provided my mother with beautiful window treatments and table cloths, and at one time had her own kiln and turned out ceramics like nobody's business. She gave up the kiln a few years ago. What can I say? She's slowing down now that she's entered her 9th decade! My grandpa was no different. He was a skilled wood worker, though not by trade. He made me a beautiful hope chest and for his other granddaughters bunk beds and even an outdoor playhouse. I remember when my grandparents visited, my mom would always have a list of projects ready for my grandpa to get to work on. He made large wood planter boxes to flank her front door and a pair of beautiful benches to go on her front porch. He made table toppers and end tables and went around the house fixing everything that was broken. My grandpa has been dead nearly a decade, but his labors of love live on bearing testimony to his dying generation of producers.

So it was a couple of years ago that Big D and I realized that although we have diplomas from expensive private universities, we basically have no survival skills- you know pertaining to food and clothing. This is not to say Big D's without skills. Just the other day he completely rebuilt one of our toilets for $12 in parts. It took him about 30 minutes. This is an example of where being a producer can save you big money compared to the poor sucker who has to pay a plumber. I called a plumber one time early in our marriage. Two hundred dollars later my husband made me promise that I would NEVER, EVER do that again. How was I to know? My mom was married to a Harvard educated attorney who wanted her to call the plumber. It never occurred to me that people actually fixed things themselves, well other than my grandparents. So, yes, Big D has skills that save us money, but he was concerned that should we ever need to actually grow our own food we'd be in trouble. You can probably guess what came next. Big D decided to take up gardening.

I resisted at first, thinking about the bottom line in terms of dollars and cents. When he rented a tiller for a day I protested that his garden wasn't going to save us money. When I saw the receipt from Home Depot that showed how much he spent on seeds, plants, soil, and fertilizer, I protested again. Big D took it all in stride. It became a sort of a joke. I'd bring home produce from Walmart and he'd ask how much I paid for it then proceed to moan and groan over the futility of his labors for a bit until he rallied to the next task. ("You got 4 ears of corn for a dollar?!! I can't even grow one and if I did I'd want a whole lot more than a quarter for it!") Oh, and he cut down an apple tree in our side yard in order to plant his garden. I had a hard time getting over this irony. The fact that we didn't want to mess with the rotten apples accumulating in our yard should show what kind of farmers we make:) Anyway, Big D experimented with this and that and the result was we ate fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, butternut squash, beets, and red cabbage for months. It was really a lot of fun. My favorite garden ancedote is when I took my 3 youngest children with me to the UPS store last summer and was surprised to look up and see my 3 yr old pull a green onion out of his pocket and begin munching on it- like it was a carrot or something that you're supposed to much on. Strange, but funny.

The long and the short of it is, Big D and I decided that his garden experiment was a huge success, even though it didn't save us any money. Perhaps the problem was merely one of economy of scale. Or maybe not. This year Big D is planting a bigger garden, but he also decided to buy a tiller. I'm pretty sure the shiny red tiller that now resides in our garage means our garden will not turn a profit for, well, ever. But you know what? I'm still glad Big D is gardening. Sometimes there's more to the bottom line than just dollars and cents.

To be continued... (Wait til you hear about my attempts at gaining survival skills:)


  1. Hey!
    I am so, so, so happy that my husband is a Mr. Fix-it. That has saved us a ton of money throughout the years. He fixes all kinds of things that I would have just thought were ready for discarding! He also buys all kinds of outdoor equipment to have on hand to fix everything! Like your tiller!

    I have never thought about the producer/consumer/provide service kind of thing. Wow. I guess my husband spends his time as a service provider at his full time job (cardiologist), but he is definitely a producer at home! I can't think of anything that I produce.....except children! Ha! All I do all day is provide services! :)

    You are right, earlier generations were producers. My girls produce all kinds of hand work.....
    This has definitely given me something to think about today.

  2. hehe...welcome to what i refer to as "mini farmer mans land". it's a novelty...i hope it doesn't wear off for ya! every year, in addition to cukes and beans and peas, we plant tomatoes...70 plants. and i can tomatoes in the hottest part of the summer. and actually, i enjoy the canning. lol

  3. SHHHHHH! My husband is a plumber........

  4. Then you've got it made in the shade Jennifer:) Seriously, nothing against plumbers- they have to make a living, too. I'm just glad we don't have to pay for their services! Actually, my husband pretty much built our 1,000 sq ft addition himself with a little help here and there from friends. He knows how to do it all from framing to finishing work. He didn't when he started, he just kind of figured it out. (Except the electrical- we did have an electrician friend make sure all that was up to code.)

  5. Oh, well... electicians... now thats another story. J/K. NO offense taken at all.
    Hey, if you can fix it yourself, great. A small amount of the jobs he does, is actually fixing other peoples mistakes.
    Its great to have a handy husband.

  6. LOVED THIS POST! I've been thinking about it all morning after reading it.

    I, too, married a man who prefers to call and pay for the help. I grew up in a home (and come from a legacy) of producers. I'm suddenly feeling so inept!

    We've raised a garden and loved it. But it is a T-O-N of work and expensive!!!! I confess, sometimes it's just easier to go buy my stuff.

    And yet, I don't want to raise children with the mindset that it's ok to just go buy everything. I mean, what do we really PRODUCE anymore? My little guy produces a lot of diapers, but that's about it! And I do produce some wonderful scrapbooks, but I'm behind by four years, so even that is failing.

    I produce in the kitchen with produce that I've not produced myself. Ugh! I really gotta step up our production over here!

    Thanks for your inspiring post!



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.