In the late 1940s, Edna Eckles
became the first woman economist employed by the Australian
Government. She worked for the Federal Treasury, then the
Reserve Bank, for a combined total of more than thirty-five
years. By the time she retired in mid 1983, Edna was famous
throughout Canberra for her ability to balance
budgets and prevent unnecessary spending. After her retirement,
she became almost legendary in her local neighbourhood for her
ability to always get value for money.
Although value conscious by
nature, as well as by training, Edna had never spent much time on
shopping throughout her lengthy career. The demands of her job
had made it necessary to purchase whatever she needed from
wherever was handiest. However, after her retirement she
finally had time to be more selective.
Initially Edna shopped at the
local SSW store, both because it was only two streets from where
she lived with her husband Owen, and because SSW always seemed to
have plenty of specials. Until one day she stopped to query the
price of three items.
"I'm certain I saw them
advertised on TV last night as specials," she said.
"Sorry, but I've got no record
of it," insisted the sales girl. She carefully scanning her
list of weekly specials.
"But I'm sure that I saw them,"
With a long queue of people
behind her, she had to make a quick choice: to buy the items and
possibly waste money, or to not buy them. After a moment's
hesitation, Edna allowed the three items to be returned to the
That night she carefully
watched the television all evening and was rewarded by seeing an
advertisement for the three items on special.
"Oh it's at Woollies," said
Edna aloud, waking her husband Owen, who had fallen asleep in
front of the television.
Early the next morning, Edna
walked down to the local Woolworths store, pleased to be able to
save more money.
Then, for the next six weeks
she divided her shopping between SSW and Woolworths. Until one
day she received a weekly circular from Coles New
World, advertising specials which included items which
neither of the other two stores had on special. This time it
took her all of six minutes to realise that if it was cheaper to
divide her shopping between two or three supermarkets each week,
then no doubt it would be even more economical shopping at even
Fortunately after thirty-five
years in the public service, Edna was well used to being on her
feet all day. So it was no great problem for her to walk around
the neighbourhood for hours, investigating all the
She discovered that by
carefully watching the weekly advertising circulars and
television commercials, she could cut the cost of her weekly
groceries by one third, by buying nothing but specials. And
spending almost two full days a week, dividing her shopping
between SSW, Woolworths, Coles, Safeway, Payless, Tuckerbag, and
two or three other supermarkets.
The first three stores were
each within a few streets of her house, however, the others each
meant nearly a kilometre's walk. 'But what's wrong with
some good, healthy exercise?' thought Edna. 'Particularly when
it helps to stretch my dollar further.'
Edna's economies did not stop
there though. When working for the government, she had
purchased a large freezer, to store frozen-dinners for Owen to
heat meals for himself whenever she had to stay over in
Canberra. Now it was no longer necessary.
"Besides TV dinners aren't
really economical," she explained to Owen. So instead she used
the freezer to deep freeze meat and bread, so she could really
take advantage of weekly specials, purchasing these and other
freeze-ables in enormous quantities.
The one drawback was that
frozen bread never thaws out fully, so Owen Eckles would
complain, "I hate soggy bread!"
Edna would cast an icy glare in
his direction and insist, "A little dampness never hurt
"But why do we have to eat
soggy bread, just so you can pinch pennies?" insisted Owen. Who
obviously didn't know when he was already beaten.
Although a good Christian since
birth, during her working life Edna had never had enough time to
attend church regularly. However, the moment she retired, Edna
started to make up for lost time, attending church services two
or even three times a week, to the delight of their local lady
priest, who would enthuse, "It's so refreshing to see such
religious devotion. Particularly in these pagan times when
church attendances seem to be dropping off almost
Of course, the priestess chose
to ignore the fact that Edna always brought along one or two
large, white, plastic supermarket bags to church with her. Then
during the supper after services, she could stock up on cakes and
cream buns,, donated to the church by a local bakery.
Often late for church services
themselves, Edna was always first to the buffet counter
afterwards. To the annoyance of the long-time parishioners, who
had attended the same church for forty years or more, yet now
found themselves having to settle for the odd scraps left behind
after the food table was virtually cleared by Edna, who would
then rush straight home to refrigerate her spoils.
Edna's twelve grandchildren
loved visiting Granny Edna, since they knew she would always have
plenty of sticky cakes and buns for them. As they gulped their
fill, Owen would say, "In this house we haven't had to spend any
money on dessert in years. Except for Christmas, of course.
It's such a pity the bakery doesn't donate any Christmas cakes to
Edna would go about her
business, pretending not to have heard, yet thinking, 'Isn't that
just like a man, not to appreciate economy. Yet he'd be the
first one to complain if we had to go without!' Not that
there was much chance of that happening, since Edna's economies
allowed them to live comfortably off the interest from her
government superannuation and Owen's pension, without ever having
to touch the capital.
Owen and Edna were an unusual
match. Whereas Edna had a university degree in economics, Owen
had been a cabinet maker during his working life. He kept
himself busy in retirement by making stuffed animal
Edna tolerated the expense of
the hobby, because eight dollars worth of materials would keep
him busy for three or four days, building a single toy, and she
had calculated that it was much cheaper than allowing him to join
a bowling centre or other recreational club.
She might never have taken
Owen's hobby very seriously, except for a chance remark by her
granddaughter, Lisa-Marie. Wondering where her granddaughter
was one day, Edna ducked her head into the lounge room and saw
the little girl sitting on the floor, surrounded by a small
mountain of toy koalas, dogs, cats, and other animals. Seeing
that Lisa-Marie was all right, Edna started to return to the
kitchen, when the little girl said, "These would cost at least
$50 at the supermarket."
"What was that, honey?" asked
Edna, wondering if she had misunderstood.
"I said, these would cost at
least $50 each in the shops," repeated her granddaughter. She
held up one of Owen's stuffed animals.
'$50 each!' thought
Edna. She did a quick mental calculation and worked out that
this meant more than $40, or five hundred percent profit on each
To his amazement poor Owen
found himself with an unwanted helper from then on, as Edna
offered to do anything possible to help speed up production of
the cuddly little money-spinners. At first she was more
hindrance than help, however, she soon became proficient at the
less skilled part of the work, stuffing wadding into the leather
bodies, allowing Owen to do the designing, cutting out and
stitching together. But even this sped up manufacture enough so
that from then on all of their grandchildren found themselves
with cuddly toy animals for Christmas and birthday presents, and
Edna and Owen were able to save hundreds of dollars on the cost
of presents each year.
Not that their twelve
grandchildren minded at all, since the toys were of a higher
quality than most store bought equivalents, and were decidedly
more attractive than the current trend for Cabbage Patch Kids and
other "Ugly Wuggly dolls" as Owen called them.
By the second year of joint
production, Edna became skilled enough so they had a large
surplus of dolls, which she was able to sell at the monthly fund
raising stalls at her local church Opportunity
Shop. She reached an agreement with the lady priest whereby
Edna donated two dollars to the church from each toy sold.
Which still left them with around $40 profit.
Although generous to her
grandchildren with cakes and buns supplied by the church buffet,
Edna economised as much as possible when feeding them anything
else. One of her "special treats" was a "tall glass of
cordial", which consisted of a glass of tap water, with just a
faint swirl of flavouring added. Enough to show up under close
scrutiny, but not enough to override the taste of the fluorine in
"That's all you really need,"
Edna would insist, handing over a glass of "streaked water" as
Lisa-Marie called it. "There's no need to have it so strong
that it burns off your taste buds."
"But it'd be nice if it was
strong enough to taste," Lisa-Marie would whisper to her mother
Glynis, who would quickly shush her.
Another of Edna's "taste
treats" was her long, cool glasses of milk. Although milk was
often on special at her string of regular supermarkets, Edna
discovered that it was much more economical to buy Bonlac instant
Of course there's nothing wrong
with that, since milk powder is just milk without the water.
Add water to the powder and you get good, natural milk. That is
as long as you mix it strong enough. Unfortunately Edna's milk
was mixed almost as weakly as her cordial. So that it was
nothing more than water with a pale, whitish tinge to
Around the time that Lisa-Marie
was ten years old, Bonlac started to advertise their milk powder
on television. The commercial highlighted the fact that, unlike
normal milk, you can alter the taste and creaminess of powdered
milk by simply increasing or decreasing the amount of powder
added to any container of water. On the commercial people who
liked non-creamy milk only added a tablespoon or two of milk
powder to their water, while singing, "I'm a two-spooner," or
"I'm a three-spooner", and those who liked rich, creamy milk
would add four or five spoonfuls of powder, while singing, "I'm a
four-spooner", or "I'm a five-spooner".
Little Lisa-Marie would sit on
a cushion on the floor in front of the television, clapping her
hands to the rhythm of the advertisement, happily singing along,
"Gran's a teaspooner!" Although her mother Glynis had to warn her
against singing the teaspooner song when they were at Granny
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