The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Economics 101

We are in trouble. We are watching the news on television and the Internet, and we are reading the papers, trying to be one jump ahead of tomorrow's news, trying to save ourselves from the fate of the numbers: unemployment has reached levels it hasn't reached in years; foreclosures are rampant, prices are up and optimism is down. If your car isn't in the driveway in the morning, it is more likely repossessed than stolen. Times are hard.

With a tendency to anxiety, I feel it, too, burrowing into the center of myself, but I am probably in better shape financially than most. I don't have a lot, but then, I don't need a lot. Years ago when Simplicity was all the rage in bookstores, I actually read The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs, who also publishes Simple Living Journal. I wasn't an immediate convert to all Luhr's ideas, but I did digest the principles, and they have been serving me well. In many ways, I am better off than many people I know in this time of crisis.


But for a student loan, I owe no one. I am disabled, living on Social Security Disability (a fixed income if there ever was one) and if I can get one part of the US government to listen to another part, the student loan will be 'forgiven' due to my disability. I would feel bad about that, but for the fact that the student loan has more than doubled on fees and interest during the time I have been disabled - which is outrageous - and the number of telephone calls I get from the party handling the loan, harassing and threatening to have payments taken out of my Social Security Disability check every month. I've offered an amount that I can afford out of my monthly budget and been refused. I have no doubt that it will be resolved in my favor, so when I think of owing money, I do not consider my student loan. The paperwork is pending.

I live in a building filled with people much like myself. I've come to understand there are some things I will never understand. I live with no pretenses. I am in no way trying to impress anyone or keep up with the Joneses, Jacksons, or the lady on the fourth floor. I could probably qualify for an electric wheel chair or scooter, as many of my neighbors have, but at this point I do not want one, and hope to hold off on that particular item as long as possible.

I have a car (such as it is) while many of my neighbors do not. That means I also have gas and upkeep and auto insurance payments per month. The gas prices haven't really hurt me. I still put a budgeted amount of money into the gas tank each month. I just go fewer places in my car, and when the gas runs out, I stay home. My car (such as it is) is paid for and requires only regular maintenance. It will not survive my trip to Wisconsin, though. It has no back window (I cover it with tarp and bungee cords when rain in forecast) and looks like it has psoriasis, but it gets me where I need to go and no one is going to steal it.

I don't spend what I don't have. It's called "living within your means" and I have done it for as long as I can remember. I do not get manicures or have fake nails applied because I don't have money to spend on such things. I won't spend large amounts of money on shoes as some do because I am hard on shoes, due to unfortunate degenerative factors, and I am certainly not a clothes horse. I suppose I could get my hair cut more often, but as I've gotten older my hair is doing amazing things - it's curling! - and at this point I want to see how long I can grow it and still hold a curl. It will have to be shaped, though, and I have a coupon a friend gave me that will get that done for me free at the very good local stylist school. I prefer the look of well buffed fingernails to suffocating nail polish that chips and demands closer attention, and I think I can splurge the small amount at that location to get a proper manicure.
I do enjoy nice things, and I've been known to save to get them. Fortunately, my taste runs to the charming, and "pretties" that are charming can be had for a song at certain thrift stores. Please call me frugal, the polite word for 'cheap.' My grandmother used the word 'mingy.' Last week's great find was a chamber pot. (For you young folks, a chamber pot was used at night instead of the outhouse, back before there was indoor plumbing. ) It's perfect. If it had two handles, it could be a soup tureen, but it has one. It's a chamber pot. I plan to plant oats in it for my cat. Oats are a soft grass with nutrients and flavor enough that just may keep Liberty away from my houseplants. Oat seeds are not expensive. Houseplants can be. But preparing for my move to Wisconsin, I am taking cuttings and seeds from many Florida plants to be houseplants in my new home. If the oats work and Liberty doesn't eat them, that is.

What I am is creative, and you may find things (like my chamber pot) in odd places in my home that are serving purposes for which they were never intended. When a friend offered me her old computer desk, which has a drawer and nicer shelves than I had in my current one, I took hers for my computer and moved the old one into the kitchen where it houses my microwave. The pull out keyboard drawer is perfect storage for plastic wrap, waxed paper and aluminum foil. Removing the CD holder from the top of the computer stand, I have a place to store upright the many trays I use. I will be going off to get a nice enamel (low scent) paint soon, and a good sealant, and top coat of polyurethane to keep it pretty. I am thinking a dark rust color. I've discovered the cheap furniture that you put together can be made more useful and longer lasting with a light sanding and a good finish. In the old days, I think this was called "making do."
The main thing is, I think, to decide just what is important in one's own private world and what really isn't. It's too soon for making resolutions, but not too soon to decide how one wants to live. It should be a lot easier to decide now what one can do without than to have circumstance take it away - and in the times in which we live, circumstance has a broad definition. Income, outgo - too little of one, too much of the other, and the ship can sink, seemingly overnight. The lighter the cargo, the more likely it will fit in the lifeboat...




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