Meet My Frugal Grandmother, Marilyn Barz

Meet a Frugal Lutheran Frame

Today, I would like to introduce you to one of the most frugal Lutherans I know – my Grandma Marilyn Barz. Grandma, as a farmer’s daughter, Pastor’s wife and mother to seven children, has lived her life frugally – and joyfully. I have learned so much from her example. I don’t know how best to put into words all my Grandma means to me, so I thought I’d let her words speak for themselves. I hope you will be as encouraged and inspired as I continue to be by my wonderful Grandma. In her own words, here is what my Grandma wrote.

I was born when people were thrifty to survive the Great Depression economically. My parents had both been widowed in 1923 and two years later, they brought their nine children into one household. I arrived more than five years later and I was immediately an aunt to one nephew and two nieces who were one and two months older than I. My 95 year old sister still tells me, “We loved you from day one and we still love you.” How much better can life get?

Marvin & Marilyn Barz - With All 7 Kids

People may not have used the word frugal back in the 1930’s, but on our Iowa dairy farm, if we didn’t raise it perhaps we may have never seen it on our kitchen table at mealtime. Mom hatched baby chickens and raised them for eating and for eggs. We always had plenty of milk and were never chided for putting too much butter on our homemade bread because we sold cream to the Readlyn creamery where brother Arnold was the butter maker for many years. Besides chicken, our meals included pork and beef, lots of potatoes, and many kinds of vegetables from Mom’s big garden. The garden also provided work for the kids to pick and pod peas, pick and stem strawberries, pick and wrap apples for winter storage in the attic, and help with whatever grew on our farm.

During our 59 years of marriage, we started life together in an 8 by 32 foot mobile home while my husband was a seminary student in Springfield, Illinois. Although our family grew to include three children while we were still a seminary family, our house stayed the same size. During vicarage, we lived in an upstairs apartment in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduation, we lived in parsonages for 45 years in Ontario, Wyoming, Nebraska, Michigan, British Columbia and Kansas. It wasn’t until we retired in Cheney, Kansas, where we had a house built and become home owners for the first time.

Our town of 1800 people offers opportunity to walk and save in transportation costs. We live six blocks from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church where we worship, except when my husband is filling in for another pastor – so sometimes we travel more than 200 miles on a Sunday.  Besides walking to church and the grocery store, I can walk to the bank, the post office, the dentist, the hairdresser and the pharmacy.

The clerks at our local grocery store are surprised when I’m not walking because I usually use my nifty little cart on wheels which is a gift from my frugal grand-daughter. (Note: Yes, that would be me. I’m glad Grandma can use it regularly!)

When shopping, I clip coupons as our store still doubles coupons. I also make a grocery list from the weekly sale flyer. Our store is not a super market which cuts down on the temptations to buy things we don’t need. We are also given a discount of five cents for each shopping bag we bring and use.

There are many little things which may not add up much in dollars – but are still frugal things I do. For instance, the waxed paper out of cereal boxes works just as well as the name brand. Rinsing laundry and dish detergent bottles often provides another wash or two. Store brand items are just as nourishing as name brand. I save the Box Tops for Education and Campbells Soup labels for our Lutheran School. I rarely send purchased greeting cards but have chosen to write letters instead for birthdays and Christmas, saving special cards for special occasions.

Whenever I questioned if we could afford a family vacation, my husband replied, “We can’t afford NOT to take a vacation.” He was right. Our children traveled – sometimes reluctantly – from the shores of the Atlantic to the Seattle World’s Fair and around Canada, which was our home for 22 years. Renting a travel trailer for vacation fave us some interesting experiences. We cooked our meals, but we usually ate Sunday dinner in a restaurant, when everyone was dressed for church and given reminders to be on their best behavior. We often needed to by-pass places which required entrance fees, but we’ve seen a lot of historical and scenic places.

Sometimes, we need to decide if something is frugal or a good investment. Some years ago, a woman in Ontario told me, “I remember when you said you were investing in your daughter’s life by taking her with you to the Great Commission Convocation.” She liked that attitude and the couple has chosen to apply that thought in their own family. We also felt that our Concordia colleges were investments, even when the exchange on the Canadian dollars sometimes wiped away our smiles.

I’ve also learned that sometimes what seems too costly is actually a good investment. A salesman told me, “Your feet will thank you,” when I tried, and eventually bought, my first pair of SAS shoes which cost more than many other shoes.

Perhaps necessity has had the most influence on my thinking and shopping. While my husband was a student, our mothers sent canned goods home with us after our visits to Iowa. Mother Barz always sent meat from their freezer, and an aunt often sent a case of eggs, which I shared with other students. We needed to spend our money on necessities. Our home was small so we needed to get rid of something if we bought anything new.

I sewed many clothes for our girls and for myself as well as mending clothes. I have baked most of our bread since we were financially challenged in Wyoming in the 1960s. The higher altitude was a great place for bread baking because it raised quickly and well. Recently, I went to buy, instead of bake, a loaf of bread. I was shocked to see there was a loaf priced at $4.16, and most were over $3 a loaf. I knew I could buy 10 pounds of flour for $3, and Becky (my daughter) bought 2 pounds of yeast at Sam’s Club for $4.63 and so I am back to baking bread. (Note: Nothing tastes better than Grandma’s fresh baked bread!)

On a final note, nothing is more certain than the Lord’s promise in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus.” This promise was true when our children were growing up and it is still true today in retirement.

Barz Family Reunion 2012

Here is the extended Barz family (minus 9) from this summer’s family reunion. We are indeed blessed with our strong Lutheran heritage – and our frugal example – from Grandma and Grandpa.

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  1. What a fantastic, virtuous woman! Thanks for sharing her story and helpful hints. I had never thought about using the bag from cereal in place of wax paper!

    1. Isn’t it clever? I have started doing it again, and it really does work great! I think my Grandma is very special, and I’m glad you agree. Thanks for stopping by Jen!

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