Monday, October 20, 2008

Hard times

When the going gets tough, the tough get mauled - in the stock market. Financial markets have been like a roller coaster lately. I shredded my 401k statement this week without ever looking at it. I’m not sure my heart could have taken the strain.

Sam Walton didn’t let ups and downs in the financial markets bother him. He waxed philosophical when he said, “It’s only paper.” Of course, old Sam had more money than anyone else on the planet so he could afford to take the high road when the bottom fell out.

My mama, bless her heart, taught us how to weather hard times. For instance, when you don’t have money for gas, you should use the sneaker express. “Walkin’ ain’t crowded,” she explained. This is good stuff. You save on transportation costs and get exercise too. What could be wrong with that?

Another recommendation she offers is to reduce food costs by eating a lot of butterbeans. I think we had some kind of beans every day when I was growing up. The good thing about beans is, if you don’t eat them all, you can throw them in the fridge and they are just as good the second day. Mama didn’t waste a lot of food. Only when leftovers started growing green stuff off of them would she consider throwing them out to the chickens and dogs.

Here is something Mama preached - baloney is as good as steak when you’re hungry. I’ve only been really hungry a time or two in my life, but by George, she was right. I always keep a few pounds of baloney in my freezer in case times get tough.

Here’s a unique way to save a bundle on clothing for teens today. Instead of paying high dollar for holey stonewashed jeans, you can buy regular blue jeans for the teens. Then put the kids to work until they wear holes in the knees. That way their jeans are like an investment. As they wear more holes in the seat, they become more valuable. A good pair of worn out jeans is like a vintage guitar or a bottle of fine wine.

There are a lot of folks around Walker County that know about hard times because they lived through the Great Depression. They know what it’s like to go hungry and they learned to survive. Everyone had to use their heads and they had to work. It would never have occurred to these folks to waste anything. My mother-in-law, as long as she lived, reused aluminum foil time and again. When she used a piece to cover a bowl of squash in the fridge, she washed the foil when the bowl was empty. I don’t remember her ever tossing one of those plastic margarine containers. When she used all the margarine, she washed the container and stored it under the sink. When she had leftovers, or sent a piece of chocolate cake home with you, out came the plastic containers.

For years, my mother kept her money in a coffee can in her freezer. She used banks later in her life, but she never grew to trust them completely.

I think we as a country have grown fat and complacent. The younger generations have enjoyed many years of prosperity so coming to terms with hard times is uncharted territory for most of us. The fact is, things could get a lot worse before it gets better. We may all have to learn to do more with less. I think Mama could teach us a thing or two.

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