Friday, June 18, 2010

"Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it do, or do Without."

My budget has been tightened down to frightening levels for a few years now. We have been so careful, sometimes we forget to make time for fun. We have worked so hard, always gone in when the job called, and for a long time (over a year) my husband was working six days a week. I long for free time and travel.

The reason for the tight budget now is a better financial future. We aren't nearly in as bad of debt as many Americans are. I guess that is one good thing about having a low paying job, you can't get as far into unnecessary consumer debt as others with better take home pay. We have been careful for years however we did make a few bad decisions in the past. I've been keeping track of our debt on my bill paying calendar, watching it shrink very slowly. I'm proud to say my student loan from way too long ago is finally paid off, along with a few smaller bills, and in five months I will be debt free.

We keep all of our household bills as low as possible. Showers are short, lights are off when not in use, and when the cable company raises their rates we call and complain and they reinstate the introductory pricing. A few months ago I discovered a program that helps with the grocery bill. My daughter told me about it and a few weeks later I read about it on, and then I read a clip in my local paper about it. They do the purchasing for you in bulk at a discount, you pick the packages you want and order online or at a host site. There are no income restrictions so everyone can participate regardless of salary. They accept cash or food stamps in person or debit or credit online at Since I started this I don't spend as much time looking for sales. Each box has a variety of healthy foods and none of it has gone to waste. The products are fresh and in date and there is even a fruits and vegetables box. You have to be available one Saturday each month to pick up the food from your host site.

All of this meandering brings me to my latest confession. I hate peas. I have never been able to eat a pea in any dish. My husband laughs at me when he catches me scooping them out of my soup and dumping them in a little pile on my plate. I had two bags of peas and carrots in my freezer from the Angel Food box. My son said he could use one and that left me with one bag. It would be really silly of me to pick through the entire bag. I had to figure a way to use them without making my husband eat the entire bag himself. I got to thinking, was it the taste or the texture that grossed me out? I wasn't sure so I decided to experiment. I cooked the bag of peas and carrots with three cans of diced tomatoes that I had in the pantry. When everything was soft I mashed it with my potato masher. I skimmed the watery liquid from the top and continued mashing. It was an interesting experiment so far, smelled delicious, but when you stirred it the spoon stood straight up in it. I had a marinara style sauce in mind but it was turning into a brick. I went back to the pantry and found a can of spaghetti sauce that also came from Angel Food. I added this stirred and mashed and cooked some more. My weird kitchen experiment peas and all made the best spaghetti sauce. I will definitely make it again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Choose Your Attitude

I work with the public, and I don't earn a fabulous salary doing my job. I put on my work face (a pleasant smile) each day and do what I need to do. The job is not difficult, and I have been doing some version of this sort of work for as long as I remember. Do I wish I was doing something else? Why certainly, quite often, but this is available and I know how to do it well. I really don't mind the job itself, there are several people that come through the line often and share their lives with you. You earn their confidences and share in their trials and triumphs. Often common ground is discovered and you bond in a way with your customers. Other customers are larger than life characters who earn nicknames that are never spoken aloud. A very few put the workers into a sheer terror when they enter the building. A few baggers know when to scatter if one customer enters. I actually hum the wicked witches theme song from "Wizard of Oz" under my breath when I see her. She must have Alzheimer's or something but she has called everyone that works there stupid and even loudly talked about how fat a worker was. Her poison does not end there she loudly criticises the customers in line in front of her as well. Many people have left their shopping and walked out so they didn't have to deal with her.

The other day I was finishing with one customer when one of my regulars walked by. My customer burst into laughter, wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and shook her head in disbelief and said "I am so sorry, but I could not do what you do. I could not handle this all day. I don't know how you do it!" The couple that shocked her so much was an elderly couple that comes in each week. She buys a small amount of groceries and he buys a few lottery tickets. The entire time they are in the store she is following him and criticizing him and telling him how stupid he is. She cusses loudly and walks up to every worker and tells them how stupid her husband is. She wants to make sure that no fault goes unnoticed by anyone. I make a point to remain pleasant with her and to be extra nice to him. I only endure them a few moments a week but they have each other for as long as they survive. I wish I had a magic wand to tap their foreheads with and make them happy.

You can survive in retail style jobs. First you have to learn financial skills that will enable you to survive on very low pay so you can avoid as much debt as possible. Next you must shield yourself from the negativity. The political style negativity of some work environments and coworkers and the personal negativity of your customers. If you can master these skills you can work anywhere.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Carrying on a Tradition

When I was writing my dad's obituary I kept reading what I had so far and asking for feedback from family. I wanted to make sure everyone was pleased with the final product. I said that he was thrifty but my niece said it wasn't enough and she fondly recalled tales of him showing up with ten cans of soup and four bottles of laundry detergent and giving it to a family member and saying, "I bought this for a quarter." She said he gave care packages to everyone in the family and friends and neighbors as well. He did this for me and for my brother but I didn't know he was the rebate king in Delaware as well. One of the neighbors who helped care for my dad towards the end said he went shopping with him a few times and he was very precise and organized ahead of time. While the neighbor would meander through the store my dad would go select what he planned to purchase and not look at anything else.

When my kids moved to their apartments recently I sent each one with a box of cleaning supplies and a box of food and a box of soaps and shampoos. They were happy not to have to spend as much on household stuff all at once.

My husband said I am carrying on the tradition. He really noticed it on my last shopping trip. It would have cost $95.00 but everything was on sale and I had coupons. It would have cost $45.00 but I also had a rebate. I ended up paying $19.73 for $95.00 worth of groceries and household items. It isn't always that extreme, but I never shop at full price. My average savings are at least 50% of the bill and often more than that.

In my younger (and less bright) days I thought this much effort was a waste of valuable time. I wish I would have learned this lesson earlier in life. Paying attention to the small details has enabled me to make a huge dent in my debt, to the point that I can see within a year possibly being 100% debt free. I can soon make some changes I've been contemplating. What would you do differently if you were 100% debt free?