14 August 2005


I'm pretty good at it, in some ways, though not in others. My grandmother taught me a lot about how to get along on very, very little, yet still enjoy life. After my grandfather died, she didn't have much income. She did house-sitting and watched children now and then. I remember how surprised I was when I asked her innocently how it came about that she did it, and she said simply that she needed the money.

By the time I knew her, those days were past. Her savings, stock dividends, and social security - which my grandfather, all agreed, determinedly lived just long enough to qualify for - provided what she needed, and enough extra for occasional treats like nice presents for me, her only grandchild at the time. Grandmother had the gift of giving incredibly practical presents that were still full of charm and value. (Where IS that gene when I need it??)

But, all her life, she was careful with her money. I learned from her to walk right by the temptations hung on the end of grocery aisles, and to this day hear her "You don't need that" as I walk through stores or shop on line. Now, if you read that and heard a scolding voice in your head, it wasn't like that at all. Grandmother's "You don't need that!" wasn't a reproach. She said it cheerfully, affirmingly. It was a "Aren't you lucky? You don't need that gazingus thing!" Although, in truth, she never used the word gazingus. I ascribe it to her, though, because if she'd known that word, she would've loved it - and the book where I learned it, Your Money or Your Life. That's a great book. It's one of the few which Changed My Life, Permanently.

There is something of an art to frugality - the joyful variety, that is - and I think a lot of it has to do with merely waiting. The time goes by so quickly; will you really miss that thing, that object, that must-have item in two weeks? That's my way of managing those impulse buys: I simply wait. When I do, finally, purchase something, it's because I want and/or need it. I've thought it over, done my research, and made my plan to pay for it.

These days, I'm fortunate to have enough money for good food (meaning, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables), a decent if neglected house, and a trusty old Volvo. Due to a change in my family situation, I'm having to be extra careful for a while. Due to a change in the engine of the aforementioned vehicle - a total rebuild due to a timing chain failure - "careful" has meant No Discretionary Spending Except for Orchids. Trader Joe's has beautiful orchid plants for exceptionally reasonable prices. I award myself one about every month or so, Just Because.

The rest of the time, I'm just - careful. Sometimes, though, I have to just bite the bullet and take care of myself. Shoes: I waited a long time to buy new shoes; now I still only have a few pair, but at least they're not completely falling off my feet. And today - what brought on this whole meditation - I must - simply must - order some new clothes. One particular necessary item in my wardrobe has, through attrition, dwindled to the point where I cannot make it through a week without washing. So - I shall buy something today - a rare enough occasion that it gets mention in my blog.

It would be great to have more money to throw around. I hope someday I will. And, when I do, I'll spend and donate more. One just does. But I'm grateful that I somehow managed to learn that there are a lot of things I don't need to have Right This Minute. That, in its own way, is as much of a gift as the thing itself and the means to obtain it.

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