Here’s a course series whose return is overdue: home economics.

In my childhood, when women’s careers were transitioning from homemaker and mother to teacher, nurse, and secretary, this formerly popular field of study took a back seat on the bus.

Struggling to hold on to study, middle class values, 4-H exhibits at the county fair and Girl Scouts badges were the venue to show off your savvy dime-saving techniques and home-canned or cooked products. Back then, your ingredients truly did cost less than the pie in the bakery. Your blouse truly was cheaper to sew than to buy.

My first home ec (shortened by cool and groovy kids everywhere) project was a blue-ribbon nutritious lunch box, complete with sandwich (probably bologna), cut celery and carrots, fresh fruit and snickerdoodles* (cookie recipe below), made by me, of course. There was something in my thermos – I don’t recall what drink. My lunch box had to be enticing and meeting the needs of the (then) four food groups (meat, grain, dairy, fruits/vegetables).

This is the first lunch box I remember.disney-school-lunchbox I carried it two years and switched it out for a Miss America lunch box with a magnetic game on the back – no more Goofy bus driver for me.

Times have changed, but I think we’ve raised a generation of people who are not as good at managing their home economy.

This is not a “la, how things are worse” article. We’re better at technology and we have to be. We’re better at travel, we have faster communications, we have made amazing engineering and scientific strides. I just don’t think we’re as good at making homes.

Brand-spanking-new is the currency of the day. DIY projects are so complex, you need to watch a video to pull them off. Our appliances can no longer be mended – you have to dump them and head to the store. While there is a foodie/fresh movement, the majority of Americans eat poor diets largely because prepared is easier and cheaper than fresh, especially if you don’t know what to do when your veggies are wilted.

I actually have a recipe for flat Coke cake. Agreed, it doesn’t make my 4-H nutrition list, but think of the ingenuity!

Along with preparing my visually enticing lunch box fair project, I had to cost out the amount of my food selections. What are you spending? Is your lunch affordable? If you eat this many lunches a month, what is your total lunch cost? To this day, this is the kind of math at which I excel, because it’s exciting to now I can come within budget.

My own kids swipe their debit cards and rarely balance their checkbooks. All three are thrifty and manage money well, but I think this is more a product of our unemployment and dire straights than a true mind for home economy.

There’s room for a new approach: how do you stop big box stores from owning you? In middle school, it could be how you avoid debt, pay back bills, side step the never-ending credit card.

In high school, students could figure out when you know you can afford a home. How much home? Is it better for you to buy or lease a car? How much will that baby cost? What are the best values to buy, to build, to make yourself?

And how do you sew on a button?  This is still a valuable skill.

Home economy is what enabled Bill and I to pay off our home, while he was in school and I was working for lower wages than I made just one year before. It is compromise, cost-cutting, and calculating.

While our population may have sophisticated jobs, they are often missing the basic skills of running a household. It’s a great project for teenaged students, who think they know everything. Let them run a house for a couple of semesters. We’d all be better off for it.


Post script: In the old version of Life, the job you landed determined the house you could afford, the paycheck you got and all sorts of home economies. The new one does not.


*Snickerdoodle Cookies (from my 4-H recipe card)

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream shortening and sugar, add eggs and vanilla. Sift dry ingredience together and add to creamed mixture.

Mix 3 Tablespoons sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl.

Roll cookie dough in balls and roll them in sugar cinnamon mixture. Bake for 10 minutes at 350° on ungreased cookie sheet.