Skip to comments.An 87-Year-Old's Economic Survival Guide
Posted on 02/24/2009 4:31:17 AM PST by Kaslin
An old Spanish proverb says, "An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy." I believe that value holds, in or out of a recession. And seeing as my 87-year-old mother lived through the Great Depression, I think her value (and that of those like her) will increase through these tough economic times because her insider wisdom can help us all.
Mother was about 10 years old when her eight-member family endured the thick of those recessive days in rural Wilson, Okla., which only has a population of 1,600 today. The recurring droughts across the heartland during that period dried up the job market, making it worse in the Midwest than it even was in the rest of the country. Over the years, my grandpa worked multiple jobs, from the oil fields to the cotton fields, and he was even a night watchman. The family members did what they could to contribute, but most of them were simply too young to play a major part.
In 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt took office, his administration, through the Works Project Administration, brought about the employment of millions in civil construction projects, from bridges to dams to airports to roads. My grandfather traveled about 90 miles for a day's work to help build the Lake Murray dam. But with a far smaller ratio of jobs to potential laborers, if Grandpa worked five days a month (at $1.80 a day), it was a good month.
Like most families, my mother's family didn't have running water or electricity. And Granny did her best to keep the outhouse clean, with Grandpa helping by regularly depositing lye to control the odors. (You can imagine how the hot, humid Oklahoma summers turned that outside commode into one smelly closet-sized sauna.) A "scavenger wagon" came by once a week and cleaned out the hole, which had a small chairlike contraption over it with the center punched out. (They once had a two-seater in there, which allowed for two people to enjoy each other's company and conversation. Mom told me that she always felt a little upper-class when she sat with someone else!) By the way, and I'm not trying to be crude, toilet tissue wasn't around, so they used pages from Montgomery Ward catalogs (and you wondered why the catalogs were so thick). No joke -- they preferred the non-glossy pages. I'll let you figure out why.
Got the picture? With that in mind, I turn to a recent conversation I had with my mother. I asked her, "How would you encourage the average American to weather the economic storms of today?"
Here's her advice, in her words:
--"Get back to the basics. Simplify your life. Live within your means. People have got to be willing to downsize and be OK with it. We must quit borrowing and cut spending. Be grateful for what you have, especially your health and loved ones. Be content with what you have, and remember the stuff will never make you happy. Never. Back then, we didn't have one-hundredth of what people do today, and yet we seemed happier than most today, even during the Great Depression.
--"Be humble and willing to work. Back then, any work was good work. We picked cotton, picked up cans, scrap metal, whatever it took to get by. Where's that work ethic today? If someone's not being paid $10 an hour today, they're whining and unwilling to work, even if they don't have a job. The message from yesteryear is don't be too proud to do whatever it takes to meet the financial needs of your family.
--"Be rich in love. We didn't have much. In fact, we had nothing at all, compared to people today, but we had each other. We were poor, but rich in love. We've lost the value of family and friends today, and we've got to gain it back if we're ever to get back on track. If we lose all our stuff and still have one another and our health, what have we really lost?
--"Be a part of a community. Today people are much more alone, much more isolated. We used to be close with our neighbors. If one person had a bigger or better garden or orchard, they shared the vegetables and fruits with others in need. Society has shifted from caring for one another to being dependent upon government aid and welfare. That is why so many today trust in government to deliver them. They've forgotten an America that used to rally around one another in smaller clusters, called neighborhoods and communities. We must rekindle those local communal fires and relearn the power of that age-old commandment, 'Love thy neighbor.'
--"Help someone else. We never quit helping others back then. Today too many people are consumed with their own problems and only helping themselves. 'What's in it for me?' is the question most are asking. But back then, it was, 'What can I do to help my neighbor, too?' I love Rick Warren's book 'The Purpose Driven Life,' and especially his thought, 'We were created for community, designed to be a blessing to others.' Most of all, helping others gets our minds off of our problems and puts things into better perspective.
--"Lean upon God for help and strength. We didn't just have each other to lean on, but we had God, too. We all attended church and belonged to a faith community. Church was the hub of society, the community core and rallying point. Today people turn to government the way we used to turn to churches. It's been that way ever since Herbert Hoover's alleged promise of a 'chicken in every pot' and President Roosevelt's New Deal. Too many have abandoned faith and community. We trust in money more than God. And maybe that's a reason why we're in this economic pickle."
Now that's conventional wisdom that should be shouted and posted in every corridor of government, every community across America, and every blog on the Internet.
Call me overly pragmatic, but I think a little practical wisdom and encouragement is what we all need about now. Mom always was good for that. She still is.
When was this published? If someone's not being paid $10 an hour today, they can't pay a week's rent.
I met an old man about 5 years ago. I asked him to tell me what life in the depression was like. He thought for a minute and said, "We used to eat grass."
Then his eyes lit up a bit and he said, "it tastes really good with salt!"
The other church ladies and I are planning garden and egg swaps this summer. One gal said she’s got a cherry tree and when she calls, come and get ‘em before the birds do. The kids loved the sound of that!
Maybe a slight silver lining? Working together?
My dad says his family used the Sears and Roebuck catalog when he was a kid. My grandparents didn't have indoor plumbing until the late 40's, but the good news was they had converted over from catalogs to TP around 1940.
Glenn Beck is saying the same thing on his weekly TV show with Fox News.
Good Grief! Talk about missing the point!
A person can WORK for ten dollars and hour, get government subsidized housing, food stamps etc. Churches and Civic organizations offer help. But, by gosh, at least do some work and earn something to contribute to your "upkeep"!
If you're single, you can afford rent on ten bucks an hour, but you have to have a roommate. In our area, you can rent an okay 2 bedroom apt (not great, but okay) for $700 a month. Split it with a roommate and rent plus utilities comes out to about 450 per month. That's just about a quarter of someone's salary if they're making 10 bucks an hour, and that's doable. (taxes on $20,000 a year are practically non-existent.)
Indeed, you have.
And as for your laundry list of solutions, it all sounds good in theory. Ever tried it?
Come to think of it, it doesn't really sound all that good in theory, either.
You could do that in most civilized American cities about 25 years ago.
The one that always sticks out in my mind is the one of her standing next to some tomato plants outside the boxcar her family was living in at the time.
She used to tell the story of her mother sewing underwear from the flour and sugar sacks. The sisters used to fight over who got the one with the brand label.
And she used to tell a story of one winter when there was no work and her mother took the last of the cornmeal to feed the wild birds. Her mother then caught them and that was their dinner.
I always marveled at how she “made it” from such humble beginnings.
I remember when after WWII my mother substituted stinging nettle for spinach which used to be my most favorite vegetable. She put flower on the nettles before she chopped them with the knife
My 7th grade math abd science teacher was a POW in Germany during WWII. He told us that at the camp he was at there were Russian POWs in a section next to them. He said that the Germans would not feed the Russians and that the Russians would pull grass boil it and eat it.
Oh, did this bring back memories of my dad. He died 2 years ago, but if he was still alive, he would have had one giant 100th birthday party this August.
His family also has a '2-seater' and many times he would reminisce at dinner about the Sears catalogue & glossy vs non-glossy pages, which always got my sons laughing.
In fact, when we met with the minister before dad's funeral, he asked us about our memories & that was one of the first. Did that bring a smile to my uncles' faces during the service!!
If spinach was your favorite vegetable then, clearly, you’re capable of handling a depression!
One, many of us already have cut spending to the bone, given up anything superfluous, and deprived ourselves of every pleasure that might be bought. Many of us are already baking our own bread, raising and canning our own vegetables, hunting our own meat. And we're still having a very bad time.
Two, I too have had conversations with survivors of the Great Depression: my 99-year-old mother-in-law and a 97-year-old cousin. Both of them emphasized that they were farm girls, were very poor in the sense that they had no money to buy objects, but they could eat because the family raised its own food and did not have to pay for food, water, or electricity.
Their expectations were lower: they didn't have central heat, and merely chopped wood to feed the woodstove or fireplace. This was free. Water was free. Health insurance was unheard of and medical care unsophisticated, so there was no money slated for it: if a child got scarlet fever or dad got a heart attack, he simply died. One didn't get bills for electricity, gas, car insurance, car registration. Property taxes and income taxes were minimal. Neighbors bartered goods for services.
Today, few people can do any of this. Our houses are often too big or too full of windows to be heated with a woodstove, even if we could afford to go out and buy one, even if we could find the constant supply of wood. We can't get our own water. A quarter-acre lot can't raise enough food for a family. We can't keep chickens, goats, or pigs in the suburbs or cities. Most people can't hunt, and mark my words, there are going to be a lot of ugly hunting accidents when ignorant suburbanites take their shiny new rifles out to hunt in the suburbs for their first-ever deer.
In addition, we have millions of dependent, helpless poor and illegals here, sucking up resources. We didn't have the huge population of illegals during the Depression.
Forgive my negativism, but I see that this situation could be far worse than the Great Depression.
In many places, no one, no matter how wiling to work they are, can get a job even for $8.00 an hour.
Go to Home Depot and see the employees they do have standing around with no customers to wait on.
Our Wal-Mart had empty shelves this week. The pet dept. had a sign on the empty shelves—trouble getting stock from suppliers.
I don’t disagree at all with this advice. But anyone who thinks there are jobs for the taking out there doesn’t see the whole picture.
Dough balls boiled in milk....(Gnocci)
Potato stuffed dough in butter (Pierogie)
Barter: Pie for eggs.....Beef for pork.....
These farm folks in Brockport NY didn't even know there was a depression.
$700 a month? In central PA you can rent a really nice house for half that! Yes, $350 a month will get you a house, garage, 3 bedrooms or more, plus most utilities — in a nice neighborhood. You can buy a foreclosure in Youngstown OH, Pittsburgh PA, Buffalo NY or Birmingham AL for ten times $350.
My mother used to invest in real estate and help people down on their luck, to relocate to places they could start fresh. She taught me that for most of them, the only thing really standing in their way was lack of imagination: when they think they can’t, they can’t, and when they think that where they are is where they will always be, it is.
These people are used to having tax payer slaves support them. When the slaves are gone and they have to work on their own, there's going to be big trouble, especially in the liberal cities. They'll feel they have the "right to steal" those things they're used to getting for free. This is where the social unrest will come from.
That's the root of this depression -- the drive for ever cheaper and cheaper labor for more than two decades, in an economy where 70% of economic activity is consumer spending (mostly U.S. consumer spending).
The disconnect is nothing short of insanity.
Viz. Katrina. People who grew up with the idea that the government would take care of them are going to be more than a little disappointed when America is one big Katrina.
I disagree. I think the problem is the grasshoppers have outnumbered the ants.
Our government depends on a certain number of voluntary slaves to keep things moving. The government is losing control. The feeders are demanding more, and the slaves are already pushed to the limit. That's the big picture. For example: The slaves can't afford to buy houses for the non working democrat base (and feed the entire world at the same time). The government has gone too far. The slaves are getting restless.
You make good points, but refer to my post 21. "...when they think that where they are is where they will always be, it is."
Last I heard, there are even places in this country where you don't have to pay car insurance. (New Hampshire and Wisconsin? I am not the human almanac in our house but I think that's right; plus Alabama isn't burdensome, and maybe Tennessee...) Also, if you don't want to pay more than the legally required amount of insurance and your record is good, you probably won't pay more than $20 a month for car insurance. Ask your agent.
We’re in Florida (Tampa Bay area.) Rents have come down, $700 gets you a two bedroom in a complex with swimming pool, and some amenities. Plus the area is close to beaches so that makes the housing/rents cost higher.
Even now, the dependent democrats are still collecting free rent or living in FEMA trailers. They're whining about having no other place to go. It's been years, and they haven't done a darn thing to help themselves. They're still sitting back and expecting someone to "save them."
Bless his heart, it’s not lye you use in outhouses - it’s lime. There was a sack of it in the girls’ outhouse on my great-grandparents’ farm, with a little beach shovel. You just always threw in a shovelful after you were done. I assume there was a sack in the boys’ outhouse too, but I never saw that one. With ten kids (Grandmaw was near the top) they had to have two outhouses, and the girls’ at least was a two-holer. In 1970 the relatives left on the farm put in septic and an electric well. I don’t miss the one-eyed owl a bit.
Yep, and the welfare crowd has been told by their politicians for decades that they could never survive without the governments help.
Beets - they'll be lucky if they get beets and lard from the government to eat this time.
Stone soup! Famous Russian entree.
Most people are only renting their living quarters now, and monthly rental fees aren’t likely to go down before all else does.
Have asked my agent, and shopped around. I have two old cars since we live far from any bus line, and my daughter (away at school) and I both work. Total tab = $175 with excellent driving records. Much is dependent on your zip code, but I’m told this is a very very good sum for a family with a 20-year-old. I don’t think anybody is going to move a thousand miles away, at enormous expense, just to have lower car insurance rates.
The point is, we have expenses today that many people did not have 75 years ago. Our lives are constructed around the concept that people should be dependent on infrastructure, (having electricity and running water, for instance) and now that the real estate market has collapsed, they can’t escape. Many would not have the moxie to farm, hunt, fish, etc. even if they could get away from the ‘burbs.
The modern interpretation is, "Don't be too proud to be a parasite."
Yep, subsidize it and there will be more of it. Especially grasshoppers!
We are headed for “locust years.”
That’s the root of this depression — the drive for ever cheaper and cheaper labor for more than two decades, in an economy where 70% of economic activity is consumer spending (mostly U.S. consumer spending).
The disconnect is nothing short of insanity.
“Insanity” is the perfect word. You are exactly right. How is the American Consumer going to keep on consuming when he doesn’t have a good-paying job?
An EF3 struck the city, many of the houses in Holly, and some outside of town, were completely demolished.
Very true. Most of us will be in bad shape if the electricity, gas, and water utilities don't function. However, people who are determined, and say, "I'm going to ..." rather than "I can't ..." have a much better chance of making it through any serious trouble.
Ask him again, if you’re saying you pay $175 a month. I know lots of people who pay about that in a year.
He’s an agent. You may have to grab him by the necktie and holler down his throat, “LEGAL MINIMUM.” You may have to repeat it a few times. I am serious.
I mean, if you want to cut costs to what the govt demands to leave you alone, this is the way to go: legal minimum insurance. You won’t have much coverage, but you could save over a thousand dollars in a year.
I’ve been to Youngstown, OH. Your ammunition budget for personal defense would be more than $350. IMHO
That may be. Here in our little section of central PA you don’t have to lock your door when you go out, and you can get a great house with a yard and two wonderful neighbors for under $20k. If it’s a foreclosure, half that. If it’s rent-to-own, figure $250-400 a month.
It is also a very gun-friendly state. :D
I'm one of the determined ones; my neighbors already think I'm nuts because I'm the only person in this neighborhood of professionals who actually cuts and chops her own firewood; some of them don't even know how to build a fire when the power goes out, and they end up at my house huddling by the fireplace. Point is, the vast majority of people are going to be helpless. Freepers are deff in the minority.
And I would like to reiterate my warnings about suburban husbands with their first guns.
We don’t have a fireplace, but we have coats and sub-zero camping gear ;-). Hunting is just not going to be a possibility for most people, even if it were legal.
Twenty years ago, when I was toward the end of a high-risk pregnancy, we had a major ice storm. There was no electricity for five days, and no way to drive out of the neighborhood because so many trees were down across the roads. I could hike out due to my pregnancy—I was very awkward anyway, and could not risk a fall.
It was very cold because we didn’t have a fireplace or woodstove. My husband hiked out and brought supplies back with great difficulty, but I was really miserable. I swore I would never again live in a house with no independent source of heat. And I have kept my oath.
Good for you!
You are right to be pessimistic. There are a whole lot of people who don’t know the first thing about hunting for food or dressing it once they kill it - or how to grow their own vegetables, or God forbid not have a tv, computer, air conditioning, etc. Wonder how many people don’t even have a tent? So much of being prepared for the worst is plain ol common sense -
You had seperate out houses for boys and girls? You were rich!
Greenspan and others had (and still have) the idea that wage inflation was the number one economic enemy to be fought. Fortunately, the unfolding deflationary spiral is likely to take asset prices and rents (but not food nor gasoline prices) down faster and harder than wages will fall, so things should ultimately normalize a bit at a lower level.
Your mother is a wise woman. That was an excellent read.
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