A human being should be able to
change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a
ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort
the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an
equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a
tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
We cover the harvest table with receipts, bills and scribbled calculations. I cancel the daily newspaper and, with only a little grumbling, we lose everything beyond basic cable, too. With the insane amount they charge for reconnection fees, this is actually cheaper than disconnecting it entirely, if we want it back anytime within eight months. With some juggling and further trimming, it still looks grim. Swallowing our pride, we hit up friends and family for minor loans, and it looks like we just might squeak through this month.
Then we turn a really critical eye on our possessions. Those Disney videos seemed like good ideas at the time, but what can we get for them on eBay? There's even a couple of boxes of memories from Jan's childhood we can hock - vintage Barbie clothes and an original Punkinhead teddy bear. An ad in the paper turns the old car seat into some cash. Every bit helps.
And one day I walk into the local grocery store with a mission - can I feed a family of four for a week on about $70? That's $2.50 per person per day. At first, the mere prospect terrifies me, but as I walk around, forgotten resources well up in me, and I enter a surprisingly zen calm. Truth be told, I haven't yet in this life been particularly good at making money. I work hard, I'm meticulous, and I have a real flair with a number of valuable skills, but some deep-seated self-worth issue I haven't yet surmounted often dogs my efforts to effectively market that brilliance. Lean times, though, summon inner resources I don't doubt whatsoever. When forced to, I excel at scrimping to live within my means. Twenty minutes later, I emerge with six dinners planned and $30 left over for whichever staples we run out of first, and it feels heroic. It helps, of course, that some of the foods our kids will be excited to eat are cheap crap. I served a Kraft Dinner analogue for the first time in a decade and Keefe was ecstatic. "This is great: you never buy this stuff!" We're also reacquainting ourselves with what the back wall of the freezer looks like, which feels rather nice. My obsessive-ness about diet has to take a temporary back seat to expedience.
I feel guilty, but not much. Like any parent, I wish for my children
never to know want. Want is instructive, though. Whatever frugal
instincts I have are inheritance from my mother's herculean efforts in
my own financially limited childhood. There will be a day, not too
many months from now, when I can again wheel around the aisles planning
gourmet meals without an aftertaste of stress, and I will be reminded
what a blessing it is. For the boys, too, maybe the gift of this
process will be some perspective. After all, we're still far wealthier
than most of the planet. Times of adversity inevitably draw people
closer together or drive them apart. Our family is strong and full of
love, and this transient trouble can only, in the final reckoning,
serve as glue. When you're counting your pennies, you've got to count
your blessings, too.
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