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,” insisted Edna.
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 supermarket shelves.
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 more stores.
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 supermarkets.
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 anyone.”
“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 day-by-day.”
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 the
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 toys.
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 the water.
“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
“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 milk powder.
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 it.
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 Edna’s house.
© Copyright 2010
© Copyright 2016 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.