Frugality: How Much Do You Cost?

Frugality: How Much Do You Cost?
Grace Coolidge: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Middle School
Time Required:


“Silent Cal” Coolidge was known as a very frugal man; frugal with his words and frugal in his daily life.  President Coolidge thought the twenty-one gun salute was too expensive and as a result the Star Spangled Banner was played instead when he arrived.  Perhaps because of his frugality or, perhaps, because of his view of women, President Coolidge forbade Grace Coolidge from being involved in anything that had to do with managing the White House.  Instead he managed all household activities including grocery shopping at the local Piggly Wiggle.


In this lesson students will gain an appreciation of the cost of everyday experiences.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.


Ask the students in your class how much they think they are worth and write the amounts on the board.  

When all students have stated how much they think they are worth, ask them how much they think they cost and write the amounts on the board.  

When all students have stated how much they are worth, tell them that they are going to determine as close as possible the exact amount of what they actually cost.   

For homework, have each student must determine what was bought for them this school year, but not how much the items cost. 

The following questions can help students in this process:  

Did you get new clothes for school this year?  If so, what specifically.  How many pants?  How many shirts?  Did you get new underwear, shoes or socks?

For one week, keep of list of everything you eat.

What school supplies were bought for you?  Don’t forget to include computers and computer equipment.

What personal hygiene products were bought for you (even those you share with others? ) Make sure to include dish soap, laundry detergent, tooth paste etc.

What about extra curricular expenses?  Did you need a new pair of cleats for soccer?

What about pleasure items such as video games, television, cell phones, etc.?  

During the next week, take the students to a computer lab or have them research on their own the cost of the items on their lists.  

Once costs have been determined, students must divide and multiply where appropriate.  For example, any items shared by family members should be divided by the number or people in the class and multiplied by the approximate number of times the item must be bought over the course of a school year.   

When all students have determined their cost for a school year have them add $15,000 divided by the number of family members for housing and travel.   

To complete the project determine the range of costs for students in the class.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, assign each student a decade between 1800 and 2000.  Have students determine how much they would have cost during that decade using an online time capsule and timeline of inventions to make their determination.  If an item did not exist during that decade they must determine what, if anything would have been in its place.  For example, if they watch television depending on the era, it could be substituted with a radio; but if they have a personal cell phone there is no replacement.

Sources & Resources:

   Clive, Madeline.  Pinch a Penny Till It Screams: Everything You Wanted To Know About Frugal Survival Skills But Didn’t Know Where To Look. Minneapolis: Lucerna Publishing, 2006. 
   Dacyczyn, Amy.  The Complete Tightwad Gazette.  New York: Villard, 1998. 
   Long, Charles.  How to Survive without a Salary: Learning How to Live the Conserver Lifestyle.  Lynchburg: Warwick House Publishing, 2003.  
   O‘Neill, Barbara.  Saving on a Shoestring: How to Cut Expenses Reduce Debt and Stash More Cash.  Chicago:  Dearborn Trade, 1994. 
   Rommey, Edward H. and Romney Ed.  Living Well on Practically Nothing.  Boulder: Paladin Press, 2001. 
   Taylor-Hough, Deborah.  Frugal Living for Dummies.  For Dummies, 2003.Edison: 
   The Editors of Yankee Magazine.  Yankee Magazine’s Living Well and a Shoestring:  1,500 Ingenious Ways to Spend Less for What You Need and Have More for What You Want.  Contoocook: Yankee Books, 2000. 
   Wysocki, Lisa.  Don’t Waste Money, Spend It!:  Come Join Renowned Tightwad Lisa Wysocki in Her Madcap Adventures in Thriftiness and Frugality. Lincon: iUniverse, 2004.
Credits: This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University