Thursday, January 16, 2014

Economizing with Dearest Eulalia

Betty Anonymous on a timely post-holiday topic...

Did you ever have to economize, or, in other words, have to scrape and scrimp, cut down on expenses, lay out your money with a careful eye?

Economizing with Dearest Eulalia

I don’t know how many times I have read Dearest Eulalia.  I know I had always read things the way The Great Betty had meant them.  But this time my eyebrows shot up with mounting incredulity, in utter amazement, in total stupefaction... – What was that, dear little red pen?  You think I’m overdoing it?  Nah! – penlike Snort!

With something like nostalgia, I remember my days as a student, "far away" from home (about 480 km/300 miles). – Ok, I had worked at a place more than ten times that distance from home before but that was different. – Anyway, I always had enough money during those days but I tried to keep expenses down to a minimum so I could afford the train ride home during holidays, between semesters, or for the odd weekend.  (Hey, that’s almost like a Neels heroine!)  I bought a lot of my groceries at discount stores, back when discount stores did completely without frills or brand names.  The cheapest pasta, the cheapest cheese, the cheapest bread... You get the picture.

If only I had known, back then, that there was another way to save money on groceries, a way that would help me keep up appearances and eat like a king at the same time...

But then, the book I could have used as a guide would not be written for more than a decade.

Eulalia‘s Shopping List

Earl Grey
cheap tea bags
the finest coffee beans
tin of instant coffee
Cooper‘s marmalade

Bath Olivers

farm butter
butter substitute
Port Salut cheese
a few slices of the finest bacon
streaky bacon
lamb cutlets, a couple
chicken breast
lamb’s kidneys
minced beef
some sausages

If this is what Eulalia buys when pay day is a week away and the housekeeping purse is almost empty, then I don’t want to see what’s on her shopping list on pay day and the days thereafter. In fact, I am no longer surprised their housekeeping purse is almost empty at this point.

"She frowned as she spoke; pay day was still a week away and the housekeeping purse was almost empty. The Colonel's pension was just enough to pay for the maintenance of the house and Jane's wages; her own wages paid for food and what Jane called keeping up appearances [...]

"'That's a mercy. Now, Miss Lally, you do your shopping; I'll hang out the washing—see if you can get a couple of those small lamb cutlets for the Colonel and a bit of steak for us—or mince. I'll make a casserole for us and a pie if there's enough...'

"Eulalia got her coat from the hall and fetched a basket and sat down at the table to count the contents of her purse.  A week to pay day so funds were low.

"'It had better be mince,' she said.  'It's cheaper.'  And then she added, 'I hate mince...'

"She looked up and saw that Jane was smiling — not at her but at someone behind her. Mr van der Leurs was standing in the doorway holding the coffee tray. 'Delicious coffee,' he observed, 'And I was delighted to meet the Colonel.'  [...]

"Mr van der Leurs, without appearing to do so, noted that she bought Earl Grey, the finest coffee beans, Bath Olivers, farm butter, Brie and Port Salut cheese, Cooper's marmalade and a few slices of the finest bacon; and, these bought, she added cheap tea bags, a tin of instant coffee, a butter substitute, sugar and flour and streaky bacon. It was the same at the butcher's, where she bought lamb cutlets, a chicken breast, lamb's kidneys and then minced beef and some sausages.  He hadn't gone into the shop with her but had stood outside, apparently studying the contents of the window.  At the greengrocer's he followed her in to take the basket while she bought potatoes and a cabbage, celery, carrots and a bunch of grapes.
"'We make our own bread,' said Eulalia, bypassing the baker.

"Mr van der Leurs, keeping his thoughts to himself, made light-hearted conversation as they returned to the house.  It was evident to him that living was on two levels in the Colonel's house, which made it a sensible reason for him to marry her as quickly as possible."

It is sooo sweet of Eulalia and Jane to scrape and scrimp just so that the Colonel won’t know how bad the state of their finances really is, to let him enjoy the creature comforts he is used to probably all his life.  I don’t know what I would have done in their stead.  I am very much afraid I would have been a bit more of a realist and would have introduced meals to the Colonel’s menu that would have been a little easier on the housekeeping kitty.



  1. My word, what a tough little car. No wonder The Great Betty chose the Mini so many times as the perfect wifely car for her heroines. Yesterday, a yellow Mini won the 2014 Dakar Rally.

  2. Eulalia's shopping list reminds me of shopping for our household when I was a student. There were three of us, two who supported ourselves on student grants and part-time jobs and one who just asked daddy for money whenever she needed it. Our household grocery budget was $30 a week, and our staple diet was boxes of felafel mix, loaves of sliced bread that we could freeze and eat a few slices at a time, lettuce and tomatoes and potatoes and carrots and peas and beans, milk and mincemeat -- all the cheapest you could find. We used to have to go shopping in pairs, because daddy's little girl couldn't be trusted on her own after the time she went out with the weekly shopping money and came home with two litres of gourmet ice cream and three organic corn-fed chicken breasts and very little else because she'd run out of money. We almost starved that week!

    I could go on: she came home one day with a pair of shoes that cost twice as much as a week's rent for the three of us, because daddy had given her money to buy something nice for herself. The rent was due the next day, and she still hadn't put her share into the envelope on the fridge... when I asked for it so I could go and pay the agent, she said she didn't have any money and could we cover for her until the next time she saw her father. She was a real Veronica!

    Betty van den Lurkdom

    1. Hilarious. I can't believe there are actually people like that out there in the world. What can she have been thinking. I hope you have been able to instill a bit of simple math and common sense into her so she does not have to run to daddy for the rest of her life. What did you end up eating during that week? Porridge, porridge, porridge? Pasta, pasta, pasta (with nothing but ketchup)?

    2. It was a long time ago now... I think I spent a lot of time visiting distant relatives I suddenly realised I hadn't seen for ages, in the hope of them feeding me! BvdL

  3. What I hate most, at present, is missing all the recent comments. Hate it. I hope blogger will come up with a solution soon. (Search This Blog is working again, yippee!)
    There have been a number of interesting comments in the past weeks. There is (at least) one Betty with an acerbic, er, pen who does not leave her name. Pity. I enjoyed reading those comments. (Even if I cannot agree with her, he he.)

    List of Recent Comments (probably incomplete):
    Jan 02
    Two Weeks to Remember

    Jan 03
    Cruise to a Wedding

    Note that whereas usually the title of the book appears in the address this address reads

    Jan 05
    Royal Wedding Before and After

    Jan 06
    Damsel in Green

    Jan 07
    The Course of True Love
    Welcome, Betty Nodelia!

    Nurse Harriet Goes to Holland/Tempestuous April
    Squeeeee! Betty van den Lurkdom is acquainted with a Dutchman. A role model for BN heroes. Squeeeee!

    Jan 11
    The Magic of Living

    Once for All Time

    Jan 12
    Winter Wedding

    Jan 13
    Tangled Autumn

    Jan 17
    The Hasty Marriage
    as deep as a finger bowl – ha ha ha!

    A Star Looks Down

  4. I was a little disappointed not to find the next instalment of "the Huge Rose" and then discovered the book reviews! What fun. Thank you for explaining it. I hadn't worked out what commic reading Betty really is. They do say laughter is the best medicine even if one is just chuckling at oneself.