Mama was born in 1914. By the late 1930’s she had 4 growing boys. She and Daddy were trying to feed and clothe my oldest brothers during a really dark time in America. My parents were actually fortunate during the Depression. Daddy had a steady job with Ford Motor Company. He also took on jobs for overtime that most men refused; he’d clean the steel pits which, according to Mama was a truly awful job. Nonetheless, raising a young family at that time wasn’t easy. She learned a lot during those days and these are the lessons my mama taught me about money.
- Don’t have debt. If you’re in debt right now get out of it as quickly as possible. Give up other things (which I’ll cover in this article) to pay down your mortgage, car payment, and/or credit cards as soon as you can. If you have credit cards, take them out of your wallet and cut them up or at least lock them away in an inconvenient place.
- Stash cash for emergencies. Of course you may have to wait until you’ve paid down some debt but it’s a good idea to have an emergency fund. You may not be able to pay for every emergency with cash but anything that isn’t put on credit saves you much more than just the cash you use.
- Eat at home. Restaurant meals and even a morning stop for some fancy coffee add up more quickly than you realize. Learn to cook if you don’t know how and eat at home. Brown bag it for lunch. Even cakes, cookies, and other treats can be made less expensively and will taste better if it’s homemade. An occasional meal out for an anniversary or birthday is fine as long as you’re paying cash.
- Use what you have. We’re bombarded with ads to buy new things. Many of those things are the same as items we already own. Just because a company says their product is newer or improved doesn’t mean you need to replace a perfectly good item for which you already paid. If you’re tempted to buy a replacement for something you own put the money toward paying off your debt instead. I even re-use plastic freezer bags and aluminum foil if they’ve been used for things that can properly washed away.
- Don’t replace it; fix it. My stove is 20 years old and some folks have suggested I get a new one. There’s nothing wrong with my stove and it has the added advantage of only having 4 things that could possibly need to be replaced. I’m not talking about the knobs or other cheap things but the real nitty-gritty of it. New stoves have lots of fancy electronics and can be incredibly expensive to repair. If you do have something that needs repair try going online and getting instructions on how to do the repairs yourself. If you’re afraid to do that, try calling a repair service. When the thermostat on my oven gave up the ghost I called for a repairman and he told me I could do it myself for far less than it would cost to have him fix it. He told me where to get the part and exactly what to do to change it out. I saved over $150 way back in 1990. Imagine what that would cost now! If you need repairs on electrical service or gas appliances it’s best to have a professional.
- Make it yourself. A lot of things we use every day can be made at home. Everything from laundry detergent to baby wipes can be made at home for far less than buying it at the store.
- Do it yourself. You can pay someone else to do your chores like lawn mowing or cleaning the house but you’re burning money by doing that. You can accomplish everything you need done if you are careful about spending your time as well as your money. If there’s something you truly hate doing consider bartering with someone who doesn’t mind doing it. Maybe you can cook a meal to pay for having someone give your dog a bath.
- Buy used. Many things from furniture to prom dresses can be purchased used. I’ve mentioned Habitat for Humanity stores for furniture and baby items. Resale shops have become more and more upscale in recent years so you can find everything from accessories to evening wear that’s in great shape for a fraction of the cost.
- Get things cheaper. Before you buy anything check both local store ads and online to find the best price. Many stores offer price matching and price protection. This means if another store offers the same item for less the store will match their price or, if you’ve already purchased it and another store offers it for less within a specified time the original store will refund the difference. Amazon is one place that offers price protection for 7 days. You have to check back and request the refund but it can definitely be worth the time.
- Get it free. We spend a lot of money on things we could get free. We rent DVD’s when our local libraries usually have a great selection. We pay for services like babysitting when we could barter with a trusted friend for it. Use your imagination and, instead of paying for a dinner out and a movie for the family go for a picnic and flying a kite instead.
- Think before you buy. I love to bake so I often find myself looking at everything baking related. I sometimes dream of an expensive stand mixer with all the attachments but the reality is I have a serviceable stand mixer right now and I’m not going to start making my own sausage anytime soon. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in glitz and glamor. This applies to pretty much anything you consider buying. Ask yourself if you really need it or just want it because of its famous name.
- Save, save, save. Whether it’s saving up for a special night on the town or saving money on meals to build your emergency fund, you should save as much as possible. Even $5 a week adds up over time. Let your children know that you’re saving money and why. It teaches them the importance of saving and that instant gratification isn’t necessary.
As Mama and Daddy got older they splurged more on themselves and the kids they still had at home. Their youngest son was born in 1944 and my sister and I came along in the 1950’s so, by the time my sister and I were in high school, they could spoil us. But I never forgot the stories my mama told me about the Great Depression and the things people did to save money. I use many of those lessons to this day. Thank you, Mama.