Chapter 5: Things You Can't Afford (cont'd)
So when last I left off, I shared questions from the last of this chapter. Today I will provide answers. I didn't copy the answers word for word in every case but the gist of what Miss Hillis said in her explanations is very similar. I add my own observations in italics.
#1. Yes The unstylish friends would likely be uncomfortable in too fine a place and might think you were showing off, especially if you can't afford to. Choose one where the atmosphere is not too dowdy but the food is good. My son points out that in his business whether you are higher or lower in the supervisory chain they all use the same sorts of restaurants. There is a silent but mutual agreement that everyone will order a median priced plate of their choice and nothing extravagant. It's understood that for the men who are not salaried this is a treat and for the men who are supervisors this is good economy. So there is that to consider as well, I think.
#2. No The fact that a friend has a car doesn't make it convenient for them to carry you about. It's sponging...and I reckon this expands to any other form of sponging whether it's using electronics or borrowing clothes, etc.
#3. Yes What you save not buying a paper doesn't begin to pay for the irritation most people feel in having to share theirs. If someone is kind enough to share then by all means accept but make it the sort of kindness you pass on. Mama passes along her gently read magazines. I pass them on to Katie who passes them on to her mother in law.
#4. No Getting your shoes wet is extravagant and foolish, as they seldom look the same and keeping other people waiting is rude. Not sure anyone walks anymore, at least not in the towns I'm near but I thought the bit about keeping people waiting because you choose to economize is a point we should be mindful of. Tardiness is rude. Period.
#5. No If you do this at all, you are pretty sure to do it too often and one fine day will find that the new dress isn't so new or so smart and you've had scarcely any use of it. I found among Grandmama's things many a fine classic dress and like new shoes that were never worn and others that were nearly thread bare she'd worn them so much. Ditto for towels and linens. Frankly I couldn't help but think what a waste of money it had been to purchase them.
#8. No You probably won't have them made over and someone who needs them could be wearing them and getting the pleasure of having them. Not too long ago I was offered a pants suit with tags on that had been lingering in a closet. It was deemed 'too good to donate and to nice to give to just anyone.' I wasn't flattered by the gift as the suit was so outdated that I'd had to turn back the clock 20 years for it to be in current fashion. I couldn't help but think what a blessing it might have been to someone who really could have used it...twenty years ago! Besides this borders on hoarding...
#9. Yes This isn't stinginess. Everyone makes mistakes but you needn't pay for other people's. And I like Gramma D's point that it also means being sure to point out if you undercharged. No need to profit from a mistake that might cost someone their job or to have their hard earned pay docked.
#10. No Fastidiousness is a quality you can't afford to be without. fas·tid·i·ous (fă-stĭd′ē-əs, fə-) adj. 1. Showing or acting with careful attention to detail As well I found definitions that were less than flattering but the gist of what Miss Hillis is saying in this area is that being nicely dressed at all times isn't a sign of extravagance. And I feel even more reprimanded as I have let my nighties and my house clothes get in a horrible state!
#11. No If you don't know why, then you are stingy.
#13. Yes A harmless economy that comes in handy. I know many people don't save string or wrapping paper. I admit I don't either, but I will save a gift bag and reuse it. And tissue paper.
#14. No What you save by not eating lunch isn't going to cover the cost of the item you've purchased anyway, and being hungry come evening will only make you cross with family and friends. I suggest you have a splurge fund and if it's flush then spend. If not, then walk away. Better to go on to lunch than buy the new item you can't afford.
Chapter 6: You Have To Eat
The basis of this chapter is that we do indeed all have to eat. Miss Hillis suggests we forgo the complaining that goes along with meal preparations, that we eat sensibly and enjoy it and learn to prepare easy meals that nourish and please.
Miss Hillis goes on to add that we might learn to prepare meals as much ahead as we can and stop complaining about the drudgery of it. Here I thought of the many recipes for crock pot and freezer ready meals that abound on the internet. Most of these meals require minimal prep and some are referred to as 'dump' meals because you literally take the bag out of the freezer, dump it in the crock pot, walk away and have dinner 8 hours later with the addition of a salad and bread. In our defense of complaining over the drudgery, it can be daunting when we're flat out of inspiration but this can be remedied by adopting a formula or pre-set menu and just getting on with it. By formula, I mean as my niece does: Thursdays are always Mexican night. I know this because her husband told me so and she's got a repertoire of recipes that she makes only on Thursday nights. We've all heard of Taco Tuesdays and Pizza Sundays...That's the sort of thing I mean. Or even better sit down with a friend and brainstorm. It was so refreshing to share this duty with Bess as she had her own recipes and the meals were new to us and my meals were new to them. Between us we really enjoyed planning and preparing meals.
For entertaining Miss Hillis recommends you develop a few signature dishes that you serve to guests on a rotation basis. It doesn't have to be fancy nor difficult. I personally find a good roast chicken is almost always welcomed by guests and I can dress it up or dress it down to suit the occasion. I can practically make it with my hands tied behind my back and double the recipe at little to no cost. I just have to decide what sides shall go with the chicken and ta da! Meal is planned. And if we've already had the roast chicken, I have a few recipes that use cooked chicken that I've served repeatedly when we were having company and always with compliments for the cook once eaten. I also stick to a few tried and true desserts: Banana Poundcake, Killer Brownies and warm fruit Cobbler. I don't venture off that path when we're expecting company.
And as Miss Hillis suggests, don't discount the effect of plating nicely and serving beautifully. She mentions looking at magazines and cookbooks for plating illustrations and visiting the china/glass section of department stores to see how tables are set. Frankly I haven't seen a lovely table setting in a department store in eons and perhaps you haven't either. I do recommend looking at plates and finding something that is pretty and attractive and that you won't mind looking at upon your table for the next two years at the least. Even inexpensive stuff from the dollar stores can make up an attractive table.
She makes a good point that a prettily set table will make a fine meal out of the simplest fare and she's quite right. In our poorest days the burgers might have been more than half stretched with bread crumbs and mashed beans but the table was always attractive and no one ever seemed to notice how hard the meat was stretched to cover all the plates. Here's another truth that Miss Hillis had no need to mention in her day and time but I'll mention for our day and time: paper plates and napkins are fine if you've a huge crowd over for a barbecue but for economizing you can't beat cloth napkins and real plates and glasses. Napkins and table cloths can be as simple as repurposing a flat sheet into a matched set or something you've picked up at thrift stores. I know of one thrift store that abounds with linen placemats and napkins that have never been put upon a table and are low priced
as any you'd find at Walmart and often a good deal less expensive!
Neither do plates have to be expensive. I used to find pretty melamine and stoneware at dollar stores all of the time a few years ago and you most certainly can mix and match pieces from thrift stores to create a pretty and interesting table setting.
Miss Hillis recommends making a point of eating less expensive cuts of meat and serving with fresh, in season vegetables. Sound advice there, too. She goes on to suggest you make it a habit to try international dishes at home that are economical to make. I've been seeing dozens of recipes of late for Shushuska which is simply poached eggs in a tomato based sauce. And making a habit of seasoning well will push any simple food into gourmet, as Miss Hillis rightly points out. Nothing the matter with learning which herbs complement which foods, or discovering what a splash of sherry and a pinch of oregano can do to kidney beans...
The chapter continues with a number of suggestions for entertaining during meals. Buffet suppers, brunches, barbecues and something I'd love to see become more common: afternoon teas...you get the idea.
Chapter 7: Do It Anyway
Frankly I feel I live this chapter over and over again in one way or another. The title isn't meant to urge one to expend what they haven't got but to figure out how to get it despite the lack. There are suggestions for home businesses and seasonal businesses to boost the income. There are helpful hints about getting the taste of foreign travel via international films, ethnic restaurants, lectures and art exhibits. Entertaining inexpensively and gifting are also addressed. It's a very short chapter and I won't lengthen it with long additions of my own. Suffice it to say that this 'Do It Anyway' is just one more version of my current motto, "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."
Chapter 8: Almost Balancing the Budget
I'll take issue with this chapter as it was written in the most confusing and teasing manner. I do think this is an important area and while I've never expected to live right by my budget I've always felt it was a good road map of how to get from here to there without too many extra miles added, or in this case misusing too much of the hard earned income. There is a vague reference to an envelope type system that involves flat silk purses and the necessity of at least looking at the financial forecast once a year.
A budget isn't something to be dreaded nor something to be used as punishment. You must have a clear financial picture of where you stand at the moment and what it will take to get you to the next place you want to be. We didn't knock out our debts by standing on the side of the road with thumbs up hoping a ride would come along. We had a plan and we stuck to it. We didn't always find our path an easy one to travel, sometimes we had to take a detour when unexpected things came up, but ultimately we found ourselves debt free...
And by the way, if you ask my husband, he'll tell you he absolutely loathes budgets but it was his idea to become debt free and our sticking to a budget that got us there and our budget that keeps us from a wolf howling at the door now!
While I find the chapter completely useless overall, Miss Hillis does make the point that one must plan their orchids into whatever budget they have and I'll agree. John loves his music and new strings and copy paper and picks and tuners and tuning keys must be part of the budget as perfume and good hard back books and a pretty trinket of costume jewelry must be part of mine. We choose to buy those things from our allowances and gift monies we receive rather than the main income stream but if we didn't have those we'd buy them, too we'd plan to purchase them and that's the point.
Chapter 9: Nine Old Ladies
This chapter is mostly made up of case studies of older women who found themselves living on limited incomes and how they made them stretch to cover their 'orchids'.
Chapter 10: When You're Really Broke
Here Miss Hillis states something that I wish many people I currently know understood: there's no shame in needing a helping hand. The shame comes when you assume someone else owes you something because you don't have what they do. As Miss Hillis puts it the world doesn't owe you a living, 'you owe it something worth paying for.' And with this I must agree. As well as her further supposition that you must own your own actions which landed you in this spot in the first place, whether it was a failure to set any money aside, trusting those you oughtn't or carelessness in spending overall.
Remember my post from long ago, "Never Poor In Their Minds"? Only once was there a circumstance that was no fault of their own where Granny had no money at all. It was when Grandaddy died of emphysema and every last cent they'd saved over the years had been used to pay his medical costs over and above insurance payments. Granny came to Daddy who loaned her a sum of money to tide her over. She paid back every single penny just as soon as she could get her feet under her. A lesser woman might have suggested she couldn't, that there wasn't enough money for the month as it was, but Granny did it.
Miss Hillis points out in this chapter that getting help is sometimes necessary but one should accept the responsibility for one's own living and get on with it. It's a tough chapter in this day and time where everyone seems to think that the rich should 'spread their wealth' and give it to those who've done nothing to earn it. And that's spoken from one who has been poor and isn't ashamed to admit to it.
"It's the person who feels certain that the circumstances are temporary, circumstances that might happen to anybody, and never let anything shake their belief, who are out of the woods the quickest."
"Being broke may be a desperate experience, but it's most desperate when you begin to be resentful of the people who aren't broke...If you never lose your determination to make good, given time--then being broke will be a profitable if not pleasant experience. You will have learned that having life by the tail isn't a matter of dollars and cents; it's a feeling of power that can master an emergency. Once you have that, you have Something."
Sound words indeed and sensible ones to apply to any life.