Balancing Thrifty And Fun

For as long as I can remember, my mother would have to scrimp to make ends meet. She divorced my father when I was in first grade, so was now home with 3 children, aged 6 and under. My Frugal LifeWe had lots of hand me down and thrift store clothes and toys, but rarely anything new. I know we had food stamps and medical coupons when I was in grade school, free school lunches too. There was never extra money for anything beyond the basics. Even going out for fast food was a treat.


Mom worked hard, sometimes nights and weekends. She always seemed to be jumping from one job to another, trying to make money and still take care of 3 (later 4) young children. She tried her hand at many types of jobs: key punch operator, tax accountant, secretary, etc. She was a talented musician but never got more than a few gigs. She was a wonderful artist and craftsperson, selling her work at juried craft shows all over the Pacific NW. She never made much more than the entrance fees and labor. She was forever trying to find a way that she could work for herself, not "the man".

As a kid, it didn't seem too bad. We would regularly go to the library; first to check out books, then to check out the video player and watch VHS movies in the AV room. I don't think my mom got a VCR until 1990 or so. Of course, we also would watch TV, but it was different from today. We got up on Saturdays to watch Saturday morning cartoons, because they simply weren't on any other time. You had a couple of hours of kid programming and if you missed it, you missed it.


My stepsister would come over on the weekends so we would have even numbers of boy vs girl. We would all play together: tag, hide and seek and other more exotic variants of other outdoor games. My siblings and I would ride our bikes around the neighborhood or walk to the nearest mall. Mom would take us to visit friends and relatives often and they would visit us. Every visit meant new kids to play with or new stories to hear.

Often we would have long term visitors; for a week, or a month or a season. Sometimes they were family or close friends, but sometimes they were just chance met acquaintances who needed a place to stay while they got back on their feet or went on their next adventure. Mom was always generous with whatever she had; money, time, a hug or a kind word. Everyone loved her and many returned the generosity.


Still, it gets harder and harder to be poor as you get older in school, especially for a girl in the fashion conscious 80's. I wanted to have the salon perm and the International News sweatshirt and the Guess jeans. I remember that my brothers had paper routes for spending money. I started babysitting as soon as I was old enough. My baby sister is 13 years younger than me so I had lots of practice. As soon as I turned 16, I got a job at McDonalds, where I also learned how NOT to eat. I was working 30 or so hours a week, plus high school. I spent everything I made on clothes.

After I graduated and moved out, I steadily grew used to regular paychecks and grown up life. Being young and single, I made unwise money choices; buying what I wanted when I wanted it. As I went to college, I started using credit cards. I would shower my mom and siblings with birthday and Christmas presents, money I didn't necessarily have. Later, I started learning about the joys of compound interest, bank overdraft fees and late charges. It was a rude awakening for my husband and I. Poor man, he inherited some of my bills when we married.

After the birth of my first son, money troubles began to ramp up. What worked for a young couple didn't work at all for a family. With my mom as a model, I started to practice those frugal techniques that kept us afloat in my childhood. We stopped using credit cards for frivolous purchases. I stopped bouncing checks every month by keeping a buffer in savings. I set up auto payments so I wouldn't forget to mail the bills. I watched for sales, bought in bulk and generally made do with what I had. We still spent too much eating out and on new toys for ourselves or the baby, but we were more aware of it.

When I became pregnant with my second child, we were able to buy our first house. This, in my opinion, was the best decision to date. Our mortgage payment is comparable to what rent on a 3 bedroom apartment in our area would be, we can write off all the interest from the mortgage on our taxes, and we can even get loans on the equity and write off that interest too! It isn't without risk, we have replaced windows, flooring and done substantial drainage work. But, for us, it has been well worth it.

I would love to say that I have no debt today, that I always pay everything in cash and reuse everything possible. But I don't. I love to buy pretty things for my home, I have a slight bookstore addiction and I still love to give gifts. Sometimes, I reach for that credit card when I really know better. I throw away baggies and tinfoil after they are used! But I try. Every day, I do a little better keeping the balance of saving money and being frugal with the fun of exuberant spending and self gratification. Being a part of ThriftyFun keeps me frugal, even when I feel a little more flush. It is harder to justify that morning latte when I know I can just make a pot of coffee at a fraction of the cost. And it reminds me of an appreciation that I learned from my mother at an early age, the ability to see beauty and potential everywhere.

Thanks to all for being a part of ThriftyFun. It is a wonderful community and I'm honored to be involved with it. As my mother has passed away and can no longer give me advice on varied subjects, I can always turn to ThriftyFun for the advice I wish I could still ask her. Sometimes I even see a post by her and it is like she is talking right to me :)

By jess

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August 27, 20100 found this helpful

Most honest and heartwarming essay I've read in a long time. It's so hard to admit our human frailties and short-comings, but when we do, we acknowledge the desire to grow and learn. We wish you every good wish Jess. You're one in a million and a credit to every daughter and mother on earth.

Thank you for sharing your story with us.


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August 27, 20100 found this helpful

I too appreciate your heartwarming and very honest essay! So many of us here who love ThriftyFun try our best to be frugal 24/7 but there are times where we simply are human and really need a little luxury against better judgement. It's okay occasionally as long as we keep in mind that each luxury not paid for on the line will become due and hopefully in knowing this will make us even more appreciative of that luxury even more. I love the photo of you and your brothers and your Mama Susan did a really awesome job raising and teaching you all with values of love, caring, sharing and appreciation. :-)

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August 27, 20100 found this helpful

Check Target out for new books if you are a voracious reader. They have a good collection.

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August 27, 20100 found this helpful

Recently I have found new hardbacks at the Dollar Tree, of all places! Also check out used books at thriftshops & good used bookstores, you would be surprised at what you can get - I also check the book exchange shelves I encounter, put a few in, take a few out. The only new books I buy are those on the clearance table at Barnes & Noble!

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August 28, 20100 found this helpful

Hi Jess, What a great essay, you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from around the world from people who are like you, trying to be good but remaining human!

The world needs more of this pragmatic realism! You have a beautiful family and I'm sure they will grow up to be as realistic as their parents, so will go far in life.

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August 28, 20100 found this helpful


I joined ThriftyFun tonight just to answer your post. It's lovely and heartwarming. I've recently retired and will be on a fixed income so I think my membership is timely. Since you love books, ask your local library when they have their book sales. At ours, the hardcovers are $1 and paperbacks 50 cents. Don't forget that the library also lends movies on DVDs, movies on VHS tapes, CDs of music, books on tape or CDs and magazines.


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August 29, 20100 found this helpful

Thank you for sharing your down to earth soul warming story!

I feel the same way. :-) Being thrifty and frugal is wonderful, as long as you treat yourself occasionally to something that makes your heart smile!

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August 30, 20100 found this helpful

Thank you for writing this. m

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August 30, 20100 found this helpful

Thanks to everyone who left a kind comment and welcome to NosieRosie (Laura). I'm glad everyone enjoyed it :)

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August 30, 20100 found this helpful

Love it Jess! Your mama would, too. Love that photo of you guys.

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August 30, 20100 found this helpful

Great essay Jess! You should write more often! Everyone loves to read what you have to say. Boy we sure do miss our mama eh?

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September 5, 20100 found this helpful

For a moment I thought someone was writing about my childhood. There were 4 of us and dad decided to be MIA.

No running water, some winter nights we slept in the living room where the furnace was because the rooms were too cold.

Often we had other families living with us , that was fun to have all of those kids with us. I am now a mom and wife . We have 2 sons and they are being taught the very lessons that we learned. Gratitude, appreciation, love, patience and perseverance.

Mom crocheted and people bought her items, sometimes there was child support but we learned not to expect it. Mom sewed and made out clothes, we all did our share. I started babysitting when I was 11 so that I could buy what I needed. I will never forget the smell of my 1st pair of leather clogs. Ahhh.

Mom always made Christmas the best time ever and I still love the holiday. We never knew we were poor because we always had what we needed (not what we wanted). We had 1 tv and we all watched together or not at all. We were loved and for the most part taken care of, but best of all we had each other.

Thanks Jess for reminding me of that most precious things in life, are not things.

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September 22, 20150 found this helpful

Hello Jess , what a lovely story about your mom. I used to talk on line almost daily with her and our little group we had that started out as a gardening group. It was myself, Liz, Linne, Gill, and a few others. I remember her being very kind and helpful and full of information. I play in a bluegrass band and she asked for a CD she said she used to listen to it often ! she was my kind of people for sure. I remember her passing. We had our own little support group , and not only did she take care of you all, I know she also loved her pets that she took in. oh 2 of us are sisters Mary (me) and Liz, Liz has passed away from cancer as well about 3-4 years ago , my sis. met your mom on line and told me to friend her , Im so glad I did. Its nice to hear from you and your all still running the site. And I can tell that her is her in the picture. Take care , your mom definitely took good care of you all and did her best. she was a good person. Sincerly, Mary in NY.

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September 24, 20150 found this helpful

I loved and related to your very moving story. Thanks sharing. I was the Mom who was in a similar position. It was scary but made us all strong and I looked on it as a challenge. I started to sell my art all over the country and had a great career. I felt like I should send a thank you note to my ex for forcing me into a position where I had to use all of my resources to make a life for my family and it worked.

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