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My husband and I had very different childhoods. He grew up in inner city St. Louis while I was raised deep in a rural Alabama valley. We do, however, share one common thread. We both grew up poor. Building a better life was key, not because we were ashamed but because we quite simply wanted options for our children and a little safety as we considered our retirement. If being poor as a child was hard, we guessed it would be much harder as we grew old.
We both knew that the only way up the mountain was to work our way up it. It was not easy but there was personal pride in watching our lives mature into a cautious sigh of relief. For years, we made careful progress, mindful to put some back for a rainy day. Just about the time we were at the top of our personal mountain, it began to rain. And it rained and rained and rained.
It was 2009. Three years earlier, my husband had kept his career of over 20 years by agreeing to work for the company that took over a contract for his job. Such change brought anxious times. But we had always believed hard work kept our foundation solid. We were wrong. One phone call ended a career in a mass lay-off. It's amazing how such a slow climb up became an incredible free fall to old, familiar ground. The savings we had slowly built vanished in a few short months. All that was left was a modest retirement account that we weren't quite old enough to touch.
All but the youngest one of our children were gone by the time everything turned upside down. In what seemed like a dream happening at the speed of sound, the house we had purchased with the idea of it being home for our family at the holidays or when they simply needed a safe place to work out their own lives was gone. Then the peripheral things disappeared. My husband's truck. Most of the furniture. Garage sales, items given to family members, trips to charities, and finally, what had not gone was bagged up and put out as trash.
We landed from our fall into a 750 square foot upstairs apartment. Even though most of what we had was gone, the little we had saved had to be crammed under beds or left boxed and stacked in two tiny closets. But I carefully hung our children's pictures on the walls. Home is where you hang your children's pictures. I had heard that as a child and it brought me familiarity and strength.
Though we both had developed serious medical issues, it was time to raise our heads and get back to work. The business of living is not for the faint of heart. It took months, but my husband finally found a job. Though it paid $30 per hour less than the old job, it was an income. Given the economy, we felt blessed. But the real blessing came from our early years, when we had learned and lived out of necessity. Those lessons would be our survival kit going forward.
My grandmother cooked every single day until her age and health forbade it. Our dinner is now on the table between 5 and 6 every afternoon. And like her, I stretch my resources so I can freeze or reuse leftovers. Nothing is wasted if it can one day go into a soup. And the real reward is, instead of everyone grabbing fast food or junk food as they run out the door, we eat together. We talk and we laugh. That time matters so much I wonder why it wasn't more crucial to us before. Instead of paying outrageous ticket prices we watch movies at home where the popcorn doesn't cost as much as two pounds of chicken. We keep faith with our priorities by volunteering at the animal shelter. Our groceries are bought using coupons, our clothes come second-hand, and I have gotten quite good, if I do say so, at cutting everyone's hair.
We made it very close to society's mountaintop. I won't deny that I still miss those short vacations in the Smoky Mountains with my husband. But we found that at the bottom of that mountain lies a valley. While supplies may be more limited, what you build in that valley is up to you.
By Carol W. from Lebanon, TN
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How good of you to share your story, a help to all those who are dealing with the same issues. A stroke and a heart attack changed our lives. The difference was we nearly had our home paid for and it was a low payment so we were still able to pay it which means we are able to live on our vastly reduced income. My advice to all is to keep a paid for home some place that you could live in if no longer able to afford the place you now live in. If your income permits an expensive home you should be able to afford the second one to use as an office, rental place or a home for an older relative. Even if it cost you some to own it each year regard it as cheap insurance against future disaster.
This was to be a prelude on the importance and appreciation of good, crusty Southern style biscuits, and more tips on how to make them. This 'prelude' became so lengthy, it turned into a 'story' in its own right. Read on.
Times were pretty tough for a lot of we children born just before "The Big War' (WW2), ended. The saving grace of it all was, we didn't realize how tough the times really were. Heck, we thought it was normal. We got one pair of shoes a year. That was when school started in the Fall. What's tough about going barefoot all Summer? We all did it and loved it. Well, maybe not the inevitable stone bruises one was bound to get. Boy, did they hurt! Oh yes, back then, we were referred to as 'children', not kids. Kids were and still are, baby goats.
The times weren't always tough. There were periods when things ran pretty smoothly. No strikes, no rationing, no short time or lay offs at the mill, no major illnesses in the family. It was during these times, I actually got a weekly allowance! Man, that buffalo nickle looked awful nice when handed to me on payday. Occasionally, I would earn a nickle by running an errand for a neighbor. One sweet neighbor lady always advised me to buy ice cream and not candy with my nickel. Others, when handing me the nickle, would grin sheepishly and say "Don't spend it all in one place".
There was no such thing as 'store bought' desserts in our home. Quite frankly, we couldn't afford them. If we could have afforded them, I seriously doubt they would have been preferred over Mama's homemade cakes, pies and cobblers.
I have picked blackberries and sold them for 50 cents a gallon. Today's price at one 'pick your own' blackberry farm: $15.00 a gallon. A price cannot be put on the ones I brought home. Yes, the ones Mama lovingly turned into the best blackberry cobbler you ever tasted.
Mama's cobblers were delicious, not fancy. No lattice crust here, too time consuming for a Mother of nine. A solid layer of dough was placed on top. The point of a sharp knife was used to make several slits in this layer of dough. Just before putting the cobbler in the oven, the top was sprinkled with sugar and dotted generously with real country butter.
Here's where things really get good, people.
Earlier, I had gone to the wood pile, gathered and brought in an armload of wood, and built a fire in Mama's Red Mountain wood range. Yep, those delicious cobblers were baked in the oven of a wood stove.
Electric stove? We didn't have one. No one I knew had one. We had one electrical cord hanging from the ceiling of each room. A fitting for a light bulb was attached to each. That was our complete electrical wiring. When we listened to The Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night, we had to run a 'drop cord' from that vacuum tube radio to an adapter on the light cord hanging from the ceiling.
(Pardon me for rambling. Back to the good stuff).
Mama was always so busy with two or three things at once. Many times she would have to leave the cooking to feed a baby or such. At these times she would call to me. I can hear her, now. "Doug, stir the beans. Doug, turn the bread. Doug, see if that cobbler's about done".
Checking to see if the cobbler was almost done was about as rewarding as eating a big dish of it topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. Opening that oven door and getting a big whiff of that aroma was pure heaven. And the eye appeal was just as rewarding.
That once flat crust had now risen to glorious heights. Not evenly though, it had lots of hills and valleys. The hills were a mouthwatering golden brown, brought about by the heat of a wood stove and the melting and lightly toasting of that smattering of butter. And the sprinkling of sugar was now a thin, lacy candied glaze.
The valleys. Oh, the valleys. The blackberry juice, enriched with lots of sugar, had reached the simmering point within the cobbler. It had risen up to the slits in the crust. As it made its way through the slits and continued its journey, bubbling and seeking its own level, it combined with some of the butter and sugar glaze.
By the time this juice/sugar/ butter mixture reached its final destination, it had coalesced into a sticky, almost chewy confection, and its destination was just about everywhere atop the cobbler.
Take a big serving spoon, cut into the center of the cobbler. You'll withdraw lots of delicious blackberries, lots of delicious juice and crust. Nothing could be better. Right? Not necessarily.
Go over to a corner of the cobbler and dip your spoon in there. That's right. You'll get some berries and some juice, but mostly crust. That beautiful, crisp, golden brown crust drizzled with sticky, caramelized juice, sugar and butter. Say what?
No, you haven't died. You're just experiencing a bit of Heaven On Earth.
Anybody with any sense knows the best part of a cobbler is the crust.
I'll save the biscuit making tips for another submission. In the meantime, just remember, If properly made, the crust of a Southern Style biscuit will be almost as delicious as that of a blackberry cobbler, especially when served piping hot with butter and home made blackberry jam or jelly.
Pictured above is 'Mama' as she appeared during the years she was making those delicious cobblers. To her right stands an elderly neighbor we all cherished and affectionately called 'Granny'. The child is my youngest sister, Charlotte.
What wonderful memories your story evoked in many I'm sure. I'm a Baby Boomer but the story of that cobbler had my mouth watering. My mum made the best apple pies. She was one of those fortunate people who could make any pastry perfectly. Sadly I didn't inherit that skill from her though I have often wished I had.
I struggled for years to put myself through college. When at last I was employed, and besieged by credit card offers, I was not very wise. I had lived so lean for so long that the temptation was too strong; and I went under.
It seems as if others are learning for the first time how to be frugal and enjoy it, which I have known all along, but now that prices at the pump are at an all time high, I am so happy I know how to save money!
My immigrant non-schooled Mom and jack-of-all-trades Dad supported a family of 5 with no-nonsense and common sense when it came to money.
I have been honing my frugal skills every since I left college, years ago. My first frugal research started with an old book entitled "How to Save on Everything", written in the late 40s. It had all sorts of interesting ways to reuse, remake, and recycle.
Remember the satisfaction you felt at being able to extract that last bit of toothpaste or shampoo or cold cream? Remember how long it took? Each day you thought there couldn't possibly be anything left in that tube, bottle, or jar, but there always was.
I have been frugal all my life. When I was young, it was called "living country". You saved everything and found another use for it. To this day, I don't know if we would have been considered working poor or not.
My husband is a penny pincher and that is great. He has helped our family pay off our house in 3 years. The trick is paying separate to the principal and the amount will drop fast.
When I look at some of the great pleasures of my life, I find that most of them are free - or very nearly so.
In the difficult financial times that many of us have found ourselves in over the past few years, giving up two well paid and secure jobs to take up one reasonably paid one in a new start up company in another country may seem a pretty strange proposition to put forward.
As a teacher, off for the summer, I am especially focused on frugality. This is a time for me to review where my money has gone and why. What spending gave satisfaction? What would I do differently?
A few years ago, I was out a job from my third oil company layoff, and decided to move from Houston to Galveston to get away from big city blues. That saved me a lot right there - moving to a smaller city, only an hour away! But there were fewer jobs here, all vastly lower paying, so I had to economize. Here are some of the things I did:
I'm an old lady now, but I guess my upbringing is what led me to always be inventive and saving. Dollar bills did not multiply without a lot of making do and doing without!
I have always tried to live a frugal lifestyle. Sometimes that frugality was a matter of choice and sometimes living frugally was a necessity rather than an option. This year has been one where frugality was a necessity, not just for me but for many people.
We started our married life with only one electric fry pan, that we cooked EVERYTHING in. When we got an apartment, I started going to tag sales. Just about everything we had we got at them.
Year after year, my husband says "don't spend any money" and I make lists of things we "need" and then go about getting them. Next, I sell a bunch of what I call JUNK at garage sales every so often. See a pattern here?
Here I am at home, between jobs, 57 years old and looking for ways to save money. I am one of the fortunate ones; I have had a small amount saved against this possibility. That doesn't mean that I'm not watching every cent.
I use coupons when I go to the store the money that I save off my coupon I put back and save. When I get up enough I will use it and go out to eat somewhere that I like or buy myself something I don't regret it because its money I would have spent anyways.
I usually use coupons at the grocery stores and also buy their saving specials. When I get home I put the money I saved in my savings account...
As a single mother, money can get very tight at times. I was tired of living paycheck to paycheck so I knew things had to change.
I save money using coupons, but I also put the amount of money that I save into a savings account (minus the cost of the Sunday paper). That amounts adds up very fast.
An easy way to keep track of how much you are saving is to hold onto your store receipts. Major grocery stores show how much you save by using their customer card, plus you will have all the subtractions from coupon savings.
I've lived on my own for the last 7 months, and having been around the world, and having attended a community college, I wasn't the least bit frugal with my spending habits!
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Just out of curiosity... Has anyone tallied up what money they actually save with their frugal efforts? (e.g., flourscent bulbs, off-brand milk, popcorn instead of chips, air dry clothes, etx) I hear about how some frugal behavior saves loads of money, but it's hard to see it when the savings is so small. I guess I'm looking for encouragement.
I haven'at really done this -- tallying up -- but since I've been going to the thrift store, garage sales etc. I can figure out what it would have cost me to buy new ....would I have bought it new at the store, no but when when a name brand shirt that looks great is 50cents, you buy it if you need it or not.
Our discount grocery store tallies up the savings on the bill and mine is usualluy 50% (it will say I paid $45 and saved $50). I used to work for the local NBC affiflate in adversting and they were my account so I know that went into the stores and checked the prices. Now they do it online.
Saving money and really thinking before I buy something has made my life simplier...I work less and spend more time with my family....can't put a $ value on that :)
I shop at a discount food store for myself and my 17 yo son. I don't buy new clothes, I just decided to lose weight so I could fit into all those clothes that have been sitting in my cupboard for years. I stopped buying expensive moisturiser for my face and leave in products for my hair. I buy coconut oil instead and my hair and skin are better than they've ever been.
I buy generic brands of everything. I don't have a car, so I use walking or public transport to get around. I dont socialise much and I don't drink or smoke or gamble or any of the other money wasting past times. I knit a lot, but only buy on sale. It keeps me busy and I have something beautiful and useful to show for my time and effort.
I borrow books from the library and only buy them if I really like them and then only when they're on sale. I don't indulge in any of the scam artist traditions like gift giving at xmas or easter or valentine's day. I have a xmas club account so at the post xmas sales, my son and I buy what we like at discount prices.
I grocery shop every few days and only buy what I need to get me through the next few days for food. It comes out of the grocery budget and I find I'm saving money because no food is wasted. This has also cut down on snacking which is money saving in itself.
I don't know how much money I've saved from doing things this way. All I know is there is usually money left in the bank by the time the next pay day rolls around, so I automatically have a little more money in the bank each pay. The extra goes to pay off my one and only credit card which will be cancelled when it's all paid back. After that I have a Visa debit card which will get used. So if I don't have the money, it doesn't get purchased.
I have an emergency fund where all loose change plus a percentage of my money goes into every pay. I put the passbook away in my wardrobe so I can't see how much money is accumulating and that stops me from spending it. When time comes to update the book (about once a month), I send my son into the bank and when he comes out with the book, it goes straight back into my handbag so I can't see it. Around xmas time this year, I'll take it out and see how much money I've saved.