I can sniff out a sweet-smelling bargain the same way that Australian Aborigines can smell rain on the far side of the horizon. I was going to depend on this talent sooner than I thought.
In the past few years, someone in my immediate family of 19 (we all live in Gilbert) has experienced the following: unemployment, loan modification, foreclosure of cars and real estate, and a business loss. Guess who was the biggest loser? It was I.
I felt sorry for myself for a long time. I didn’t feel like I could handle things anymore. I crawled into my bed like it was a coffin.
Slowly, slowly I began to recover. When I could think clearly, I told myself several things: “You have been both rich and poor, you know how to manage your life at whatever level, so get over it and change your attitude.”
When I finally arose and looked around at my new life, I was surprised by the relief I felt. Stress no longer had his boot on my neck, squashing my nose into the floor. My new, smaller house was wallpapered with a silver lining—cheaper to run and easier to clean.
After all, I had seen a model of resilience up close in my Grandmother Greenwood. She had raised her family during the depression in St. Johns, Arizona.
Her attitude? She chose to be frugally happy in spite of being poor. When she lived on 14th street in Phoenix, she adorned her property line with lush white blossoms, cultivated red canna flowers, and strung strings down from her porch roof so the sweet peas could climb up and perfume the air. Her doorway was a kaleidoscope playhouse wrapped in pink and purple and yellow flowers which allowed cool breezes to waft through.
Every year she painted her porch anew with deep-red paint. No dull gray for her. She dug her backyard garden with a shovel, washed her clothes with a wringer washing machine, and hung her clothes on the line to dry. She had free organic food at her doorstep and sunshine-sweet clothes in her closet.
When her teachers’ retirement was insufficient, she invented the concept of “working at home” by selling magazine subscriptions over the phone. Many times I watched her sit down at her desk, pause, look down into her lap and say to herself out loud, “I can do this. I can do this.” She willed herself into the right attitude. Then she’d sit up straight, firmly grasp her black phone, and dial it.
Recycling was a way of life. She saved everything: seeds, wrapping paper, half candles, string, jars, rubber bands, and booty from the alley behind her house. Those pickings were refurbished and put to use. One day she brought me a shiny, flame-colored dressing gown. I played Goddess and Destroyer in that thing until it raveled away. Can we practice that kind of cheerful frugality today?
Of course. Just check out the crowds at Goodwill on half-off Saturdays. Drive past Superstition Springs Ranch Market in Mesa and witness the over-filled parking lot.
Attitudes have changed. They have to. I used to think that second-hand clothing was somehow shameful to wear. Then one day the Hollywood stars starting dressing in thrift-shop threads. Diane Keaton was the first actress that I remember doing this. Thereafter, it was a chic thing to do. Well, hey now, I can do that too.
Haven’t you seen at least one tempting throw-away at the curb on bulk-trash day? Did you have the guts to take it? One time I saved a ton of money when I picked up pristine, cardboard moving boxes which we needed for our own upcoming move.
My daughter wanted to decorate her boys’ room in a beach décor. At curbside she found a light-weight surfboard, perfect for repainting and for hanging on the wall. My other daughter found a complete, oak bedroom set one day while jogging. The owners had tried to sell it, gave up, and put the whole set out by the curb. Both women were paying attention.
Well, I have been paying attention for a long time now, and I want to share what I know. Do I still get discouraged about our bad economy? Sure. Do I know how to solve it all? I wish. But I can absolutely control how I think.
Last night as I lay reading in my bed and trying not to worry about my problems, I dropped my book on my chest and began dreaming that I saw my grandmother smiling at me from the corner of my room. Her eyes shone like fireflies. She hesitated, then came closer, and then whispered, “You can do it. You can do it.” She leaned in to study my face, to see if I understood. Satisfied, she waved her hand, turned slowly away and faded back into the corner. Thank you, Granny. You are right. I can do it. I can change my attitude.
Linda Hutchings is a Gilbert resident and a life-long frugal consumer—uh, cheap skate. Please reach her at: email@example.com. Send her your penny-pinching ideas.