Sunday, February 12, 2012
I have been married 36 years and our family lived on a single income for 23 of those years. We had two goals: have enough money to pay our bills and be able to educate our daughters. We had two daughters in college together for 3 years. We wanted them to graduate without debt, so I worked the years they were in college. I didn’t have a car for three of those years but we paid their college costs: the last great gifts we could give our daughters.
It wasn’t always easy and we weren’t always sure we could pull it off. I made it my job to make the money go as far as I possibly could. He made it, I saved it. To me it was a challenge to beat the system and a game of sorts. What new way of saving could I find this week, month, year?
When I got pregnant with our first daughter, three months after we married, I started to watch every penny. We used the envelope system, dividing up the money into categories and never going into savings unless it was a real emergency such as a health related bill or a dead furnace in the middle of an upper New York state winter. I had been raised that debt is acceptable for your home, your health or an education. That’s it.
I remember in the early years being invited to cook outs where everyone brought steaks to grill. Others would have rib, porterhouse, etc. and my husband and I would have a marinated and pounded chuck steak. Really. I shopped stores according to the sales and with a top price in mind. If it wasn’t on sale or above my top price we didn’t eat it. Household items were bought used, on clearance or taken as much appreciated hand me downs. For years our kitchen table, and dining room table since we only had one, was a picnic table and benches dressed up with a table cloth and bench cushions made from sheets. Our curtains were made from sheets. Our shower curtain was made from a sheet. And those sheets, on clearance or from a yard sale.
The best thing I ever did was learn to cook from scratch. I figured if you could buy it in the store now, somebody had originally made it at home and if they could do it so could I. I canned and froze when I could get things cheaply. I never turned down the offer of free garden produce even if it was the 1 millionth zucchini offered to me. I made zucchini pickles, zucchini relish, zucchini parmesan, zucchini pancakes, just about zucchini anything. I also went to the local farmer’s market near closing and got cheap stuff the stall holder didn’t want to pack up and take home or if there were “uglies” no one else wanted. I commonly bought a case of cracked eggs, took them home and froze them. Much cheaper .
Our most challenging period was the year my husband lost his job, we moved and rented our former house and the renters stopped paying. Two mortgage payments didn’t leave a lot for other things. I bought 50 pound bags of potatoes and onions, searched out vegetarian and SUPER cheap recipes, couponed like crazy and got creative. For example, the outfits my daughters needed to go and see Grandma that summer I made using a borrowed pattern and remnants of some of the many afore mentioned sheets. They looked cute.
Now, we are almost to retirement and because we are frugal we have enough to retire. We did a lot of small things to save small amounts of money but that money added up to college educations and a peaceful retirement. It also added up to a good life. I wouldn’t change a thing.