What Would Ma Ingalls Buy? My Fall Shopping Critique

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Earlier this year, I decided that Big Brother was ready to try chapter books for read-aloud. On an impulse, I decided to start with one of my childhood favorites, Little House in the Big Woods.

He LOVED it. When we finished, I asked if he wanted something different, maybe with a boy in it. Nope. “More Laura and Mary.” So it was on to Little House on the Prairie, and then On the Banks of Plum Creek, in which we have recently been traumatized by an actual, historical plague of locusts.

If you aren’t familiar with the Little House books, they are semi-autobiographical novels about the author’s experiences as a pioneer girl in the second half of the nineteenth century. (Caroline Ingalls, or “Ma,” was a real person, but for my purposes, I am talking about the fictionalized character.) Wilder goes into great detail about topics ranging from cheese making to log cabin building to travelling by covered wagon. When they move to a new place, which is often, they leave behind all their furniture (homemade) and load up the covered wagon. When they arrive, they build a new house, build some furniture, and there they are. Their sole decorative possession is Ma’s china shepherdess; you know they’re settled in a new place when the shepherdess is installed on a shelf.

Reading these books has made me feel lazy, wasteful, and generally useless. I can’t make cheese! I don’t make all my clothes! I own more than two dresses and several pairs of shoes! I complained that there weren’t enough Starbucks in Kansas!

I’m not saying Ma Ingalls had it better than me–she would probably change places with me without hesitation. But there is something appealing about the simplicity, and I have found myself asking, when I buy something, “What would Ma think?”

I seem to have been on a bit of a shopping spree this fall, with an unusual number of brand-new purchases, so let’s let Ma Ingalls critique my acquisitions.

Raingear for me

Why buy: I take my children to school by bicycle. Got soaked the first time it rained–three times. All my pants are cotton and I owned no waterproof jacket, so I had to change after drop off, after mid-morning pickup (Little Brother), and again after afternoon pickup.

Why new: I am hard to fit and need special sizes. My rain pants (which I will also wear for playing in the snow, over sweats) are youth size 18 (I got these LL Bean ones and the jacket, also from LL Bean, is petite. I needed to be able to try it on and return it if it didn’t fit. Plus, now I get a lifetime guarantee!

What would Ma think? Well, she pretty much never buys anything for herself and would be puzzled as to why I now own seven coats. (In my defense, three of them date back to the 90s). On the other hand, I’m sure she would approve of protecting my other clothes with the appropriate outerwear. Staying dry is just better.

Kids’ uniforms and school supplies

Why buy: Well, the school said I had to. They gave me quite a list, and they won’t even let three-year-olds in the door without uniforms (school-purchased short-sleeve shirts with undershirts and pants in prescribed colors).

Why new: Obviously, I can’t buy used construction paper. I was able to get a couple pairs of pants for Little Brother second-hand, but after two thrift stores and one consignment sale, I still couldn’t find long-sleeved undershirts or the remaining 6 pairs of pants. Had to buy new. I asked on NextDoor for used uniform shirts but struck out, so I had to buy them, too. (You can image how I felt paying ten dollars for one polo when I usually get them at Goodwill for $1.99.)

Then I splurged and bought them school sweatshirts, too, mostly because all the other kids had them.

Big Brother is especially delighted with his sweatshirt and the front pocket.

Big Brother is especially delighted with his sweatshirt and the front pocket.

What would Ma think? A former schoolteacher, she made sacrifices to send her children to school and I’m sure she would approve of the school expense. She would probably be puzzled as to why my kids start school at age three instead of age seven and why they need four sets of uniforms–her girls had one school dress each. That was in the back of my mind when I purchased just four uniforms, which commits me to every-other-day washing (one uniform on the child, one at school in case of accident, and two in the washing machine). Many children have six!

A Crock-Pot

Why buy: My existing slow cooker, which came out of Grandma’s FP’s laundry closet circa 2010, had two main drawbacks: It was not programmable (had just 4 cook time settings) and even at its longest settings, could not produce really soft beans. I wanted to be able to make recipes that call for shorter cooking times and I liked my beans fully cooked, thank you.

Old and new lined up on the counter. I can't actually bring myself to get rid of the old one, which is now in the basement.

Old and new lined up on the counter. I can’t actually bring myself to get rid of the old one, which is now in the basement.

Why new: Well, I use a slow cooker several times a week. I wanted something to meet my exacting specifications. Also, they were on sale at Costco and I do like to enjoy a lifetime guarantee.

What would Ma think? First of all, I’m sure she would think that a slow cooker is a brilliant invention. It lets me work as a librarian (and she valued education, remember) while still looking after my family. She would, however, have kept using the old crock until Pa bought her a new one, like when he bought her a new cookstove for their new house in On the Banks of Plum Creek.


More room on the bottom for chicken breasts! I should also be able to comfortably cook a full two pounds of beans, not the measly one and a half I’ve been limited to.


I can set it for any amount of time I want, and it even counts down!

I’ve never been as self-effacing as Ma and my husband knows that–he tends to assume that if I haven’t bought it for myself, then I don’t really want it. I really wanted it, so I bought it.

There are other things I’ve been considering purchasing this fall, like yoga pants. Then I think of Ma Ingalls. Would I get as much joy out of yoga pants as Ma got when Pa bought her some pretty calico to make a new apron? No. So I decided not to buy them. By the same token, I mended my pajama pants rather than replaced them and decided to keep wearing my old fleece. I want a black or gray fitted one; what I own dates back to perhaps 2005 and is rather large and a cream color that always looks dirty. But… it’s still warm. And if I don’t want to wear it, I can wear one of my six other coats.

What are you buying or not buying this fall? And who else loves Laura?


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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

4 responses to “What Would Ma Ingalls Buy? My Fall Shopping Critique”

  1. David says :

    At this point I’ve read the books about 4 times. I haven’t read them but my sister enjoyed the Rose books, which were written by (I think) Laura’s granddaughter.

    • frugalparagon says :

      I looked them up, ’cause I’m a librarian :-). I’m assuming she meant the “Rose Years” books, which were ABOUT Laura’s daughter (no grandchildren–Rose was a childless jetsetting sort) and written, evidently, by a protege of LIW.

      Have read them way more than 4 times. I’ll be curious to see how far we get in the series–I’m sure they would not be into “These Happy Golden Years,” which is largely about dressmaking!

  2. Tarynkay says :

    I had a baby 2 weeks ago and just decided to keep wearing my maternity pants for the next few months rather than buying interim pants. Of course, part of this is my inability to imagine taking a newborn thrift store shopping and being unwilling to buy new (hopefully temporary) pants online. I don’t know what Ma did about maternity clothes. Do you think she took that corset off? That’s what kills me about Ma. Not only did she make cheese, grind wheat in the coffee mill, and fight off plagues of locusts, she did it all in a corset. I can’t even deal with an underwire bra.

    • Frugal Paragon says :

      Major congrats on new baby! I also made do with yoga pants and under-the-belly maternity wear, although I did eventually buy some larger sizes in shorts–I really was 9 months up, 9 months down. (Fun fact: 2 days after noting that I was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans, I was looking at another plus sign.)

      I hear corsets aren’t that bad–it’s all those layers of petticoats! And I suppose she just let her dresses out when she was in the family way. You know, by hand, with a needle and thread.

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