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The priceless lessons of frugality

My parents were salt of the earth, hardworking, charitable people, but not wealthy.

My father ran the flower farm for his father and then inherited it. It was a hundred acres of exquisitely beautiful blue agapanthus, red hot pokers and red cluster roses. The daily labour of love involved tending, nurturing, fertilizing, weeding and the uniquely tropical task of snake-proofing so that he and his small crew stayed safe. Every day they would cut the day’s quota of flowers, load them on to wheel barrows and push them, manoeuvreing the hills and valleys of the farm to our house atop one of the hills. The small crew would collect their few shillings of fair daily wage and go off to their shacks on the farm.

My parents would bathe, eat supper and then start the next few hours of work on the verandah. The stems of flowers would be bunched together with ferns grown in my mother’s front garden and the bunches placed in buckets of water, dozens of them lined up along the verandah that took up two sides of the house. My older brothers helped and we, the younger children, hankered to help too. This work often went late into the evening, ending near 11 pm when my parents went to bed exhausted. My father woke up at 4 am to transport the buckets by small truck fifteen miles to flower stalls and florists mainly in town but also directly to the homes of customers who could afford the luxury of fresh flowers for their vases. In the segregated apartheid South Africa of the forties, fifties and sixties, these homes were of white memsahibs.

Growing up, we the children, watched this daily toil as well as all the other household chores that needed to be done by hand. Money was always tight and greatly respected. My four oldest sisters and our oldest brother were not educated beyond the local elementary school and all five were married by family arrangement. The rest of us received high school and some post-secondary with me being the most fortunate of all, having received a university education.

Providing us with education was a priority for my father and a mammoth financial commitment. Which is why, since I benefited from my father’s financial sacrifices to educate me, I never stopped studying even when I came to Canada. I worked during the day and studied at night, achieving my doctorate many years into my working life. 

So the lesson of frugality was lovingly etched, embroidered into our psyches and never left us. My oldest sisters became self-taught seamstresses and sewed to supplement their family incomes. Another sister, despite having to leave school at grade ten to be married, continued her part-time education and became the backbone support to the lawyers for whom she worked. My brothers became teachers, a mechanic and an industrial worker.

So, hard-earned money is treated with great care. The habit of donating to charities, especially children’s charities has been ingrained but caution about buying things for ourselves has been the main lesson of frugality. I now catch myself saying, “Don’t throw that out, there are so many people in the world who cannot afford to do that!” This mantra even guides how much food I cook because throwing out food is a complete no-no. Sometimes when I see a really good sale and buy two instead of one piece of clothing I fret and keep one new for months before I finally wear it, remembering to donate something from my wardrobe to a charity that calls.

As I write this I have finally given myself permission to go ahead and wear the few new things I buy. I figure I have reached a stage in my life when I can say, “If I like it today go ahead and wear it today”. Frugality has lasted a life time and has served my siblings and me well.

                                                                                                                        – Dr Vicki Bismilla


• Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and retired college Vice-President, Academic, and Chief Learning Officer.

Posted: Dec 3, 2019

May 2020

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

© CanadaBound Immigrant 2016