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.
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.
So proud of you for keeping strong in tough times! Yeah! That gave me hope, I thought, "if she can be strong then so can I!" I loved reading your story, thank you for sharing it all with us!
What a story! I remind myself in our little apartment, that some people downsize on purpose & not just because a house is too expensive! Hubby & I went to the movies yesterday on a gift coupon we had received & what a treat!
Thank you for the inspiration. So many of us our in rough situations now, and not just in the United States. Just about the whole world is in recession now, and worse. World wide, the common people are scrabbling to survive. It is so wonderful that some people keep on going - and take time out of their struggle to help others. That's what you did when you wrote to all of us here. Thank you. I am struggling to keep a roof over my head myself due to becoming disabled suddenly. You remind me that I am not the only one, and to "keep on keeping on", as we used to say. So thank you, Carol. I appreciate it.
It serves my heart well to hear that some of you have taken something worth keeping from our story. Life may seem tedious at times, but in the greate scheme of things it's really very, very short. It's not the years that mean so much, it's the moments :) God bless you all, and may He bless you mightily. - Carol
My eyes are very, very watery. Not from sadness, but joy. This was my Sunday morning sermon. Just the kick in the okole (rear-end) I needed.
Hello everyone - since this was written in 2011 - it would be nice if an update was posted - hope everything is just as good or better than is was when this was written.
Carol, I do admire you and your husband with the faith that God gave all of us to always push on when it seems like all has fallen.
My husband passed away, the children were grown and gone and the 5000 sq ft home also gone with cars, business. I had an old vechile and was lucky to find three jobs which was a stroke of luck as the schedule worked out to keep all three and yet pay off some of the debts.
I cut all expenses to almost nothing, the lights were not turned on unless I was in the room or would watch tv in the dark. If I wanted something or needed it then would have a qt jar to put my change in and when there was enough then I got it. Resale shops or good will was my shopping center. I lived on tv dinners and popcorn as a snack, only cause one of the jobs was in a theater and I got the left overs. It has taken me 10 years but am finally at a point where I purchased a small home and can survive on one job. I will be able to retire in a few years.
Thank you so much for encouraging those of us who are in that valley. I so often feel like I "have" to make meals from scratch, dry all of my laundry on clotheslines year round, never go out to eat or to the movies, and buy meat only when it is on mega sale. But I need to remind myself that even if I had a gazillion dollars, those are things that I should be doing anyway. Meals made from scratch are usually MUCH better for you. Drying your clothes on the clothesline saves wear and tear on your clothes and it better for the environment. Going out to eat all the time is just lazy and there aren't many movies worth going to see anyway. And buying grain fed meat that is steroid free is what is best for you. Be encouraged! We are just doing what our grandparents and great grandparents did as a way of life.
Thank you for your encouragement. I have grown up with a simple life, not a lot of frills and so has my husband. We have grown up with working for what we want even when it is hard. My husband has been out of work since May 6th of this year but he had a good job, even if it was contract for 7 months. We are praying for permanent work with health insurance! We were blessed with him having permanent work for the years my two girls were itty bitty, so it is manageable now! Always look on the positive side! We do a lot of movies on netflix or borrowed from the library. I have not seen a movie at the theater since BRAVE at the $2 theater. It costs too much to pay full price. I hear you there and there is not much out there worth full price. I have learned to make homemade gifts for the girls to give as gifts to give their friends for birthday party gifts! The gifts are much appreciated too! I also cut their hair and have made some of their clothes or we coupon or wait for Target sales for clothes and buy a head a season! Little tips! May God Bless you in being frugal and thrifty! It is a gift too and a great one to pass on to your kids!
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