Mama was real good at money. She could get as much out of a dollar bill as a lot of people could get out of five dollars.
She taught me how to save up to get what I wanted in life and it has turned out to be one of her most lasting influences for me.
I remember as an elementary child that Daddy would go out to feed the cows after breakfast. He’d come back through the kitchen on his way to the truck to drive into town to his auto repair shop. There, on the kitchen table would be a Sunbeam loaf bread wrapper with three biscuits and ham or sausage in them. He picked it up and that’s what he ate on until he came home for supper. Often, he brought back the loaf bread bag for refilling.
Then, I didn’t understand but later I came to know that the two of them had made a pact: Daddy wanted to buy additional farm land but it would be tight to make the payments. Mama studied on it for a bit and said, “If we cut back, we can do it. Buy it and I’ll see that we cut where we need to and we’ll make the payments.”
Thus ended Daddy’s diner lunches and began years of eating leftover breakfast biscuits and ham. They paid for the farm.
On a shelf, Mama kept a china bowl with a lid. Inside that bowl were her important papers, dollar bills she saved and checks that folks had written her for sewing or alterations. She kept a careful accounting of what she brought in and with this money, she paid for my college. Every quarter, she gave me checks to pay for tuition and books. I graduated with a double degree and no debt.
Thank you, Mama.
When I was 11, I wanted a dark green winter coat that I saw at Sears. It had beige fake fur around the hood, and I thought it was the beautiful garment I had ever seen. I rarely had store bought clothes so it was really special.
“Well, save your money and buy it,” she recommended.
It cost $100. I put it on layaway with $10 I had squirreled away and then spent the summer babysitting to earn the money. There was an incredible feeling of achievement the day that I made the final payment and took home a coat that saw little use in our mild winters.
The power of saving a few dollars at a time was heady. The anticipation of working toward something was exciting. And, finally, the enjoyment of having it when it was paid in cash was fun. I discovered it meant more when I had really worked for it.
This learning that Mama put on me came in good recently when we had a sudden and extreme avalanche of unexpected expenses: a plumbing leak that caused a good bit of damage, a new pasture fence, a washer that blew up, trees that fell. It was costly.
“We are cuttin’ expenses right now,” I announced. “No more eatin’ out, no extras until we’ve saved up more money.”
Tink nodded. “That means we’ll need to cut out the Peabody and our annual trip to Graceland.”
I swallowed hard. “That’s right,” I said through the lump in my throat. I thought about it. Later that afternoon, I said, “I’m goin’ to figure out a way to make the extra money to go to Memphis. I can’t give up Elvis and the Peabody.”
Just like Mama taught me, I went to work. I cut corners. I took on speaking engagements that I knew would sell a lot of books. I had a garage sale. Twenty dollars at a time, I saved the extra money for our trip, and I kept an accounting of it.
Again, it was a feeling of tremendous achievement. Thank you, Mama.