On poverty and pride

When I grew up, we were poor. My mom recently told me and my sisters that our family qualified for Food Stamps, but she and my dad declined to sign up for the Food Stamp program because it was a matter of pride for them.

Rather than use Food Stamps, we relied on being resourceful. Our home did not have central air or heating. Our home in the country was heated by two wood-burning stoves, one at each end of the house. On the weekend, our family climbed into dad’s old bomber truck and we’d spend the afternoon chopping and stacking firewood to keep us warm throughout the week. Mom made us a pic-nic lunch and after carrying firewood all morning, we’d take a lunch break and sit together at the base of a Cottonwood tree. At that time, I didn’t know we were poor. I thought this was how all families lived.

We shopped at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. We were always immacuatey dressed. Mom made sure of this. When we were old enough to work, me and my sisters got after school jobs and contributed “rent” money to help my parents pay the bills. One of my sisters actually lied about her age on her employment application (she wanted to work at age 14, but you had to be 16). She has always been a go-getter!

Growing up poor created some odd behaviors in me now that I’m an adult. For example, I will only buy clothing if it’s on sale. I never pay full price for anything. If there’s a blouse I’m dying to own, I wait until it’s marked down, and then I make the purchase. In my family, it’s practically sacrilegious to pay full price for anything. When I shop for clothing, I frequently buy an item for me, and an item to donate at Goodwill. That’s right. I buy new clothing and then immediately give it away. As a child, I recall how wonderful it was when I found a good outfit at the thrift store, and I want to give this experience to other girls whose financial situation requires shopping for used goods.

Another odd thing is that I refused to sign up for a membership card at my local grocery store. I took pride in the fact that could afford to pay full price for my groceries. But recently, a friend of mine said that I was nuts to not have a membership at the grocery store; she said I could save a boatload of money by being a member. So, I decided to give it a try. I signed up for the Smith’s Reward Program and am enjoying the benefits this membership brings.

Here’s how the membership works: Every week, Smith’s has certain items on sale, and as a member, I can purchase the items at the reduced rate. Non-members pay full price. Also, every time I shop at Smith’s, I accumulate “points” which means that on a quarterly basis, Smith’s sends me a coupon for $15 off one trip to the grocery store, as well as customized coupons for things I frequently buy (mascara, cat food, cottage cheese, etc.). I also accumulate “fuel rewards,” which means that every time I buy $20 of groceries, I get 5 cents off the price of gasoline at a Smith’s gas station. It’s really fun to redeem my fuel rewards!

Today, I used my quarterly coupon. I saved $27. I can’t describe the feeling I had when my grocery bill totaled $90, but after the clerk scanned my rewards card, the price of my shopping trip dropped to $67. Amazing!


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