The "budget heroine" who fed her family of four on just $12.50 a week in 1947

The 'budget heroine' who fed her family of four on just $12.50 a week in 1947



22:08 GMT, 26 July 2012

A Forties issue of Life magazine has revealed how a mother fed her family of four with just $12.50 a week.

In a collection of stories called High Prices, Atlanta housewife Ann Cox Williams was profiled as the '1947 heroine of the Battle of the Budget,' allowing herself $12.50 to buy all her groceries except milk.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' consumer inflation index, this is equivalent to $128.63 in 2012; to which the article noted: 'If American housewives had the spunk and ingenuity of this woman, inflation would be less of a swear word.'

Budget heroine: Mrs. Williams displays one week of groceries staying within her $12.50 budget

Budget heroine: Ann Williams displays one week of groceries staying within her $12.50 budget

The article continued: 'On [$12.50] she manages to feed herself, her husband, her four-year-old twins and even the family cat. The job takes considerable doing.

'Mrs. Williams is an avid student of grocery ads and shop windows. She limits herself to one shopping expedition a week, at which she weights every penny against the family’s full week appetite.

'She serves no meat at lunch and limits her evening entrees to such items as meat loaf, hamburgers and chili. Yet she manages to provide two desserts daily and such frills as cookies for a party.'

While more women work today, limiting their time for finding the best food shopping deals like Mrs Williams was able to, the basics of saving money haven’t really changed – cut back and spend less.

'Mom made all of our clothes – even our
winter coats and rain-wear. We didn't have a store-bought dress
until we were 11'

Doug Bachtel, a professor of consumer economics at the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, told Today: 'The more things change the more they stay the same. There is something ingrained in American society about penny pinching.'

He noted that many see the thrifty as 'wise people who don’t spend frivolously.'

He points out that U.S. consumers
today find it hard to emulate savers like Mrs Williams because of easy
credit; an endless supplies of unhealthy food; as well as television and
the Internet influencing people to spend excessively.

Frugal family: Ann Williams with her twin daughters Marcy and Kappy in an image from the Forties

Frugal family: Ann Williams with her twin daughters Marcy and Kappy in an image from the Forties

today get a $20 lunch box and want their mothers to stick in some
high-priced sexy food,' he said, 'not just a peanut butter and jelly

Mrs Williams'
daughter, Kappy Bowers, who was a toddler when she was included in the
Life Magazine photo spread, said the world has changed a lot since her
mother was profiled in the piece.

She said: 'I am distressed by the things now, living to get things as opposed living to enjoy life.


The original coupon queen: Mrs Williams can be seen scouring newspapers and magazines for discounts in further photos from the article

Cut price: Buying the cheapest-available meat. Mince, for example, was the basis for a variety of dishes including meat loaf, hamburgers and chili

Going the distance: Mrs Williams makes her week's meat purchase last longer by only serving it in the evening

Buying in bulk: In the image above, Mrs Williams can be seen with quantities of items such as salt that might far exceed a week's supply. But by buying larger quantities at a time, she was able to save more

Having her cake and eating it: Mrs Williams didn't deny her family their treats. A large bag of sugar was necessary for the two desserts she served her family daily

Keeping up appearances: She also used some of her precious sugar, butter and flour to bake cookies for a Parent-Teacher Association meeting

'Mom made all of our clothes – even
our winter coats and rain-wear. I don't think we had a store-bought
dress until we were ten or 11,' she recalled.

loved my mom dearly, but I learned to sew in self defense. Our prom
dresses were always marked down and somewhat remade bridesmaids dresses –
need I say more We were regular visitors to the Atlanta Junior League
shop for used clothes.'

She says her father, a high school teacher, was also an avid budgeter.

'Dad would gas up the current wreck
of a car we were driving and we would head out on Saturday and Sunday
afternoons to the rich part of town where we would check out the trash
at the curb for things for our home and the lake place,' she explained.

Williams’ Life magazine spread was recently resurrected in a story
published in Reminisce Magazine, and for some readers today, a frugal
lifestyle has become a way of their life also.

Melissa Garcia, known as the Consumer Queen online, has two children, aged 12 and 15, and a husband with a degenerative disease who is unable to work.

In her family she says she is open with her children, communicating with them when it’s time to stretch the budget for the week.

Some of her tips on purchases include buying fruits and vegetables in season; investing in a standing freezer to store things when they go on sale; and stockpiling things such as canned foods, cleaning supplies and even tooth brushes.

Most importantly, she said, is convincing yourself that living within your means and saving money an unattainable goal.

Even in 1947, consumers were shocked at Mrs Williams’ budgeting capability.

The Life magazine piece states that when her story was shared in the local paper, 'less enterprising housewives sent in letters of disbelief that any family could eat so cheaply.'