December 5, 2020 – The advantages to growing up ‘poor’.

I’ve talked a bit about growing up ‘poor’ and how that experience left me with a certain ‘mindset’. I have a hard time trusting ‘good fortune’ when it knocks at my door because it seems to have such a short lifespan. And growing up ‘poor’ has also made me think a great deal about the ‘what ifs?’ in life. The one that seems to constantly lurk in the back of my mind is, ‘What if something were to happen to my husband’? God forbid! I’m going to be up sh*t creek, that’s what! Why would I even think of such things? Because I’m a realist. And we’re human, not immortals. One of us is going to ‘go’ at some point, leaving the other behind. If I ‘go’ first, he’ll be fine (financially). If he goes first, I’m going to have to get ‘inventive’. Why is that? Because he’s always been the ‘primary breadwinner’ and I’ve always been the ‘dependent spouse’. And if he decides to ‘take the plunge into the great beyond’ first, I’m going to have to get real ‘creative’ in finding ways to make some money. Let’s just hope I go first.

Being inventive and/or creative isn’t such a terrible thing. In fact, I have found developing these ‘survival skills’ or ‘traits’ in myself has proven to be quite advantageous. And when you grow up with very little, you not only learn to be inventive and creative, you learn so much more! You learn to be resourceful and imaginative and patient. You learn how to get the most ‘bang for your buck’ by ‘squeezing nickels’ and ‘stretching dollars’. You learn ingenuity, practicality and humility. You may not have money, but you likely have time. What’s that old saying? “I have time but no money.” You can do a lot with time especially when you add some inventiveness and creativity along with some imagination. Other advantages of growing up ‘poor’? You learn to easily distinguish between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. You learn to have gratitude and fortitude and hopefully along the way, a good attitude.

My favorite saying in the whole world? “Guess how much this cost?!” I am serious. It can apply to virtually anything. Whether it’s applicable to how much I spent on a meal or an outfit or a vacation, I love to ask the question. About once a week, I’ll put a nice dinner together and pose the question to my husband. “Guess how much this cost?” I’ll ask. “How much?” he’ll respond. He always takes the bait. “Well, I got the hamburger on sale for $1.99 a pound, the spaghetti sauce for $1.49, the pasta for 89 cents, 3 pounds of onions for $1.99, a head of garlic for 45 cents, a 2 pound bag of carrots for 99 cents, a head of lettuce for 89 cents, a cucumber for 74 cents, a loaf of garlic bread for $1.99, ranch dressing for $1.49, a pound of butter for $1.79, and a partridge in a pear tree.” No! I don’t say the last part. And actually, what I shared is absolutely true, but I only told you half.

The other half? Oh, Lord. If you don’t want to read the remainder of this paragraph and see how obsessively my mind works when it comes to money, feel free to skip to the next one. You have my permission. Anyway, as I was saying, first I tell him how much I paid for everything up front, but then it gets so much better! Now I have to use actual math, primarily division and addition, to work out the rest. “So when you figure for tonight’s meal I used 3/4 pound of hamburger, all of the spaghetti sauce, 1/2 of the pasta, 1/2 of a whole onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 carrot, 1/3 of a head of lettuce, 1/2 of a cucumber, 2 slices of garlic bread, 2 servings of ranch dressing and 2 tablespoons of butter, the total comes to approximately (long pause) $5.25!!” “Do you know what that means?!” I’ll then ask. “What?” he’ll reply. “That means between the two of us, our meal only cost just over $2.60 per person!!” “No way!” he’ll respond incredulously. “Nice job, Babe!”

Sad to say, but this is the stuff that turns my crank. I’m always looking for ways to save, even if that means spending a little more up front in order to do so. You know how the grocery stores always put out a weekly ad featuring their sale items? Scouring those ads on a weekly basis, along with ‘clipping’ all of the digital coupons, is how I spend a lot of my time. I buy what’s on sale and then I look up recipes that correlate rather than the other way around. If chicken breasts are on sale, I usually buy a ‘Val-Pak’ which is usually at least 3-4 pounds worth of meat. When I get it home, I pull out my trusty ‘Saran Wrap’ and a gallon size freezer bag, and then I get to work portioning out the chicken, wrapping each portion tightly to ensure there are no air bubbles, putting each wrapped portion into the freezer bag and then once I’m done, into the freezer it goes! That chicken will now last for at least 3-4 meals and it’ll be handy the next time I make chicken ‘n’ dumplings or stir fry or breaded chicken breast or however I choose to prepare and cook it.

And I’ve developed quite a keen eye for sales. Anytime I see an extra sticker placed over the original sticker at a store, especially when it’s yellow or red or orange, I usually have to pause for a minute, at least long enough to take a closer look. If you’re shopping at a grocery store, the items that have been marked down can be a real savings but you have to be a little savvy before you place them in your cart. Food has a shelf life and oftentimes, the reason food is marked down is because it’s about to expire, but not always. And even when it’s about to expire, that doesn’t necessarily prevent me from purchasing it. But it depends on what it is. If it’s discounted meat and it still looks and smells good, I’ll put it in my cart. I’m going to freeze it anyway. If it’s discounted bananas. I’ll pass. I used to buy them for banana bread but I got to a point where I just couldn’t bake another loaf. Milk? Pass. When the kids were young and could finish off a gallon in a day, I would have bought it. Not anymore. I only buy a half gallon at a time now and if we actually finish it before it curdles? Let’s just say, that doesn’t happen very often.

All of the ‘survival skills’ I’ve developed because I didn’t have life ‘handed to me on a platter’ have actually been quite beneficial and helped me persevere during the lean times. And right now, I’m particularly grateful for them. And what’s incredibly gratifying is seeing that my own children have learned from ‘the master’ and are using what I taught them to help them in their own lives. And if they don’t have the answer, I usually get a call or a text or an email. “Hey, Ma. What’s the best website for hotels?” “Easy!” I’ll respond. “Priceline.’ “Hey, Madre. When’s the best time to take a vacation in Orlando?” “Easy. When school’s in session. Shoot for mid-January if you’re going to go.” Anyway, I think you get my point. My circumstances growing up didn’t make life easy, but they helped me learn so many things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

So what am I going to do if my husband ‘goes’ before I ‘go’? Well, I’m going to use a little inventiveness, creativity and a bit of imagination. If that means ‘parceling’ out my house and pulling a ‘Golden Girls’ (without the shoulder pads), then that’s what I’ll do. I don’t know anyone named ‘Rose’ or ‘Sophia’ or ‘Blanche’ but I know a few single ladies that probably wouldn’t mind renting a room from me. There are other options of course, but that sounds the most ‘doable’. And if it comes down to that and I end up with someone like ‘Blanche’ moving in, I’m going to make sure she gets the bedroom on the furthest side of the house (specifically, the furthest from my room). I’m sorry, my friends, but I need my sleep. And from the episodes I’ve watched, ‘Blanche’ is quite the ‘active lady’.

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