Friday, October 8, 2010

Blame it on Bach, A Scatterered Mind and Life at the Bottom

I'm reading "The Salmon of Doubt" by Douglas Adams in little snippets on breaks and in the car when I am waiting on someone. I've saved this read until now because it is the last Douglas Adams I will be able to read. He died way too young. In this book are all of his brief writings, introductions to other books, magazine articles and such. One of these is his ode to Bach's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto and that is the tune that has been running through my head for several days. What does this have to do with my blog? Well nothing really, but it does describe the scattered state of my mind. Every time I start to have a thought, here comes Bach.

Paula at Monroe on a Budget had an article this morning that's been on my mind all day.
see story here
The article is about how stores are gearing their sales to coincide with the food stamp shoppers who seem to shop all at once when their benefits are placed on their cards. Some of the shoppers wait around in Walmart until midnight so they can make a purchase the very moment they get their money.

I work in a grocery store and I do notice people seem to come in all at once. I had one customer today who shopped with her two young daughters. She handed me the empty containers to scan first because they ate a bowl of fruit and drank a soda. One girl handed me a yogurt and asked me to hand it right back because she wanted it now, and her sister handed me half a block of cheese with teeth marks in it so I could scan it and hand it back. I laughed because I see children all the time acting like they are starving because they are in the store. My own kids did it and I bet yours did too. This afternoon this story was on my mind and I wondered if maybe they had gone a day or two without before their benefits kicked in.

I personally know what it it like. I received food stamps decades ago when they were paper. I never shopped all at once and went without at the end of the month because I have always cooked from scratch and had a pantry most of the time. I was on them because I had to at the time. I wasn't forever but it felt dreadful. It was very little and it had to be stretched very carefully.

You used to have to stand in a long line to pick up food stamps. There were no snazzy cards back in the dark ages. One time the line stretched out the door and along the side of the building facing the highway. There was an older man in front of me and in front of him was a woman leaning on her crutches with bandaged arms, wearing a neck brace, with a cast from foot to upper thigh. Someone leaned out of their small brown pickup truck and yelled "Get a Job!" The older man and several others murmured "I wish I had a Job." I'll never forget the look on the woman's face as she twisted painfully on her crutches to look at the vehicle.

Being poor may suck but being even poorer sucks worse. It's not so bad being a member of the working poor. I've been worse off in the past. Don't know if I can bring myself to write about the dark times, but I will say things can always improve and it won't always be like this. The hard times may pass but we must remember what they were like so we can remind ourselves to save and keep a frugal mindset so we can prosper in the future.


  1. Being broke or down on our luck is bad enough. But for people to judge us for being in need is just not right.

    How hard would it be if we all just loved one another and offered helping hands?

    I admire you more than you know, my friend.

    Mother Connie

  2. Every time someone snarks about "welfare families," I think about the people I know in real life who are receiving public assistance.

    And every person I know who is, or has been, on school lunches, food stamps or WIC, needed that help at that time. They were all working poor or in between jobs. And these days, unemployment is a huge part of the picture.

  3. WP: A very moving post. Everyone needs a hand in life: sometimes it's food stamps, sometimes it's just a kind word that gives someone strength to go on. Sometimes it's Bach.

  4. WP, you can always be counted on for really thought-provoking and interesting posts!

    Well, I never opened packages in the store and let my son eat....that's because he was already filled up on freebies like a cookie from the bakery and samples of fruit in the produce department!

    I'm not surprised to learn that families start shopping right when their food stamps are available---Because my husband has a steady job and I do the exact same thing with his money! Don't most people? He gets paid every two weeks on Thursday nights and usually I have run out of food by Wednesday. I know I can go to my fave grocery store and pay for my groceries with a check that will not be put through until the following week *after* he has gotten paid. The big box store loses a lot of my dollars this way, because they put checks through automatically at check-out. It's nice to have this cushion of old-fashioned banking to rely on with my store. I'm pretty sure they have it figured out that people do this and that's why they don't do automatic withdrawals from checks. What do you think, WP? How does your store work?

    I love the fact that reading about this trend made you notice some things with the customers you serve. You have compassion and a kind heart for people.

  5. After your last two posts, you've got me interested in reading news and feature stories about the economy and I'm surfing around right now. Have you heard of the online mag It has a section called "Pinched" that features unique stories about how the economy has affected people. Thought you might be interested in it. :-)

  6. We don't have food stamps in Canada (to my knowledge). I think there is some kind of program under the welfare system where you can get $20 worth of food vouchers at a time though.
    Twenty years ago when my oldest was little, when the food ran out, I made sure there was enough for my little guy until the next time I got paid and I just stopped eating. I was quite fashionably thin back in those years. Not a diet I would recommend however - well, maybe for supermodels. I'd know how to make things stretch better if I had to do it today but I was just a noob back then.

    As you said, it's not something I've forgotten. I wish I could.

  7. Jacq, ouch, that's the hidden truth that people who make nasty comments on news stories don't understand. For many poor there are no savings, or a stocked pantry, and they simply do without. I'm glad you are past your difficult times.

  8. I remember being a kid and people would stare at the person buying groceries with food stamps. It is so much nicer now because it is more 'private'. Scan a card, and you are good to go- that is how it should be. It is hard enough to be poor, you don't need humiliation to go with it.

  9. Everyday Tips, What a difference that card made!

  10. I too am the working poor, and I find it to be more than a blessing when I can actually put 50-80 dollars in my savings account in a months time. God bless the ones on food stamps and public assistance, my hope for them is to be able to dig out (eventually).

  11. De-ette, It's so much harder to save on a small salary, but I think we can get such a feeling of accomplishment when we do.

  12. WP, you've got me thinking... When I look at USDA-like food plans and know that it's possible to meet or beat the "thriftiest" option, I wonder if it's a good idea for me to give a bunch of 'stretch your food dollar' style cookbooks (eg. More with Less) to the food bank to give out to struggling families? I usually just give $ so the FB can buy perishables, but like I said previously, I didn't really know how to stretch a grocery buck when I was younger and would have been better off if I had.

    More importantly, once you learn the skills, you have it forever and it becomes a way of life and looking at value for $$.

  13. Jacq, That is an amazing idea! I'm going to go through the stack of cookbooks I was going to donate to the library and see if any would be suitable for the food bank.

    You are right, most people don't have frugal skills when they need them. Very few young adults start out thrifty. They learn these skills after some struggling.