How The British Tighten Their Belts

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The United States isn't the only nation suffering an economic downturn. But even though the British seem to enjoy a little nostalgic deprivation, they're still looking to save some money.


In Britain, unemployment is higher than it's been in a decade. The governor of the Bank of England has declared that the country is in a recession. Essayist Diane Roberts checked out the national mood.

DIANE ROBERTS: They like a nice bit of suffering, the British. I don't mean they look forward to cold sores or Lindsey Lohan movies, but hard times perk them right up. The pound is falling, banks are failing, and winter is coming. Yet the British are cheerfully turning down the thermostat and reusing their teabags. I think it has something to do with the war. On the other hand, this country invented capitalism. So even though the British enjoy a little nostalgic deprivation, they're also looking to make some money off it. Newspapers and magazines tell you how to insulate your house with old tires or feed a family of four for a week on one sausage. Publishers have brought out a long shelf's worth of books about managing your life cheaply called things like "Frugal Food" or "How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day."

"The Thrift Book" by Sunday Times columnist India Knight is the pick of the litter. It costs about 20 bucks in the store, though you can get it half price online. In it, India Knight exhorts you to drink tap water, which is free, instead of bottled. She informs you that clothes with a dry-cleaning-only label are almost certainly hand washable. And you know all that money you spend at the cosmetics counter on detoxifiers and moisturizers? Cut it out. Make your own facial mask out of crushed aspirin. Aspirin contains beta hydroxy acid, which is also in those $80 creams. It even exfoliates.

Now if you'd grown up chez Roberts, you'd already know all of this, except the part about the aspirin. My mother is a pure farm-raised Southerner, born during the Depression, and she knows how to not spend money. She knits, she sews, she grows her own vegetables. She fixes her own faucets. She never overheats her house. Put on a sweater, she says. Mama can make a Thanksgiving turkey last till Easter. Me, I'm good at recycling clothes from the 1970s, but I think I need to acquire some more sophisticated survival skills: canning, sock darning, and field dressing road kill. They're doing it here in Britain. And who can blame them? Their road kill is likely to be pheasant. At home, ours is likely to be possum.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts is pinching pennies this fall in London.

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