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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 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.
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. I had to contact a debt settlement company and retrench.
The most difficult thing about returning to a no-credit-card, watch-every-penny life was my mindset. Two problems beset me. One was boredom: when I am bored, I either shop or eat. But I learned that thrifty people are ACTIVE people. They don't sit staring at the wall where the television used to be. They are rummaging through closets to find materials to make a tablecloth, or figuring out what kind of casserole they can make out of ramen, a hotdog, and some wild carrots they found by the highway. They're always cleaning, cooking, creating, or organizing something. There is no time for boredom.
So I devoted myself to making sure my apartment was as clean and organized as I could get it. This serves three purposes. One, it keeps me busy. I'm not out spending money; I'm discovering how much lint can accumulate behind the oven. Two, it reminds me of what I have. Most thrifty folk know exactly what they have in the house. They don't go buy an extension cord only to discover a box of extension cords in the linen closet later. Three, it gives me a fresh look at the things I'm not currently using. This can spark your creative juices.
For instance, I sorted my leftover paint and two colors I had plenty of were white and dark blue. I decided to paint a mural on my kitchen wall! Now, I'd never painted a mural in my life but I had little to lose, since I could always cover it up again. So I took out my paint and thought: "What is white and blue, simple, but very beautiful?" Mykonos, that's what! Picture those cubist white churches against the dazzling blue ocean and sky! I found a photo on the internet that looked simple enough and started mixing my white and blue to make various shades. And I did it!
This reminds me to point out that another element of being thrifty is courage. You cannot be afraid to mix strange ingredients, or to paint something yourself, or trim your own bangs in the bathroom. Just take off one-half inch and STOP. If in three days you want to trim again, go for it, but not till after you've washed and dried them at least twice.
My other mental hurdle to overcome was a tendency to look at my disposable income as a lump sum at the beginning of the month and think "Oh, I can afford this rug, after all, I have $XXX in checking." Sure, but $XXX had to last another 3 weeks. The next thing I knew, I had 10 days left and no money. Again.
Now I do what I call "Beverly Hills on $30 a Day." (I'm literally 100 paces from BH.) On payday, I pay the bills, and send as much as I possibly can toward my last credit card bill. The remaining money is what I have to live on, and I divide it by how many days it has to last. I start each month with $30 a day. This is for bus, groceries, laundry, shopping, everything. I write down everything I spend in a notebook and keep a running tab, every single day, of how much I have left. If I splurge $70, I come back home, subtract it, and recalculate. Okay, now I only have $26 days. I tell myself, "You can either go to $26 days, OR you cannot spend a penny tomorrow. Then that will bring you back up to $28 days." If I can refrain from spending until I work my way back up to $30 days, great. That's the goal. I don't always make it, and sometimes those last four days are $11 days. But at least I am not flat broke.
My goal is to be debt-free. If I am very careful for one more year, I will be. I've come a long way, and have developed a better mindset about money. I hope something in this essay can be helpful to someone else out there.
By Bethanie from West Hollywood, CA
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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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
When I look at some of the great pleasures of my life, I find that most of them are free - or very nearly so.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fluoro bulb and dryer cost savings can be found on power companies websites - if a dryer costs x number of $ per hour to run and you use your's for 5 hours per week that's how much you've saved if you line dry. On our group, (FrugalAussies), we have a couple of ladies who are brilliant at adding up their savings. Just start small - with the little things you've done - e.g. using a generic brand of breakfast cereal, and multiply by how many packs you use a week/month/year. Jot these down in a note book and watch them add up. Your own savings will be much more meaningful to you than someone elses. Also, one of our group set us a $1 a day challenge. If you save 10c, 20c, 30c, etc. by buying cheaper, or making do with something you already have rather than buying something, add up your savings and try to make at least $1 every day = $365+ a year with very little effort. The other motivational thing you can do is actually save that cash in a jar and watch it mount up - put it towards your credit card bill, your mortgage or use some of it to treat yourself.
Here's a site to help you calculate your current energy costs and how much you can save with improvements.
This also allows you to target which improvements will have the best cost/benefit to your situation. Over the course of 5 to 10 years, a lot of improvements can pay for themselves.
FuelEconomy.gov has a nice resource for comparing vehicles and how much you can save on gas by using more fuel efficient cars.
When it comes to other gas saving strategies and savings is pretty easy to calculate. If you start a carpool with four people, you cut your gas consumption by as much as 75% (atleast commuting costs). Every gallon of gas you can save is 2 dollars in your pocket.
In terms of paying for utilities, shopping for groceries, clothing, and other items having a budget is very important. That way you can track how much money you are saving. The budget provides proof that all these these things you are trying are in fact saving you money.