I learned a lot from poverty. As a child it meant not buying new things or learning to make stuff last longer, i.e. the bottle of ketchup. Mom would routinely add a drop or two of water and shake vigorously just to get a few more servings out. I welcomed the last splat of red water and was happy to let my fish sticks swim in it. And in my twenties I smiled when Ronald Reagan, then president of the United States, made an unintended joke about the nutritional value of school lunches, ‘isn’t ketchup a vegetable?’.
Several years ago, long before the economic meltdown, I watched my husband in the kitchen of our middle class home, trying to spoon water into an empty bottle of ketchup. I laughed at first but then told him to stop, “Did you grow up that way too?” Of course he did–there were five boys in his family.
I sometimes think of all the thrifty things I did as a young single mother. Little tricks and ways to get more bang for the buck, and for the first time in many, many years I feel comfortable enough to embrace those practices once again and even share them with friends and co-workers. Just last week I gave a lesson on how to make mascara last longer. The lesson came about after repeated comments on the tube of hand lotion sitting on my desk with the bottom cut off. You see lotion containers—like ketchup bottles– are not really empty when you can no longer squeeze out any product. I routinely cut the bottoms from tubes of lotion, stick my fingers in to reach the two or three more applications before discarding. I do the same thing with toothpaste. A similar technique can be applied to mascara. I stood with three friends at work, and passionately confirmed, “There’s so much mascara inside that you’ll never reach because of packaging. Mascara can cost what, six or seven dollars?”
“Mine cost $26” said my colleague with perfectly cut and colored hair that is never allowed to grow out or fade. I work with women who spend $26 dollars on mascara but today they eagerly wait for my demonstration on how to make those costly tubes last a little longer, “You see this little plastic ring that sits on top? Pop it off and you’ll have at least three more months of applications.”
While it’s no secret I’m the queen of thrift store luck, having recently acquired a Stressless chair for $25 dollars and a new pair of European walking shoes for five, I’m not so willing to share all of my secrets and I hope and pray I never again have to steal toilet paper from a public restroom.
I now work for a healthcare organization and earn a decent salary. Life as we know it is changing. My mortgage, like the bottle of ketchup from my childhood has too much water associated with it. The company I work for is over budget and will have to make difficult decisions. A can of V-8 provides a daily serving of vegetables and Heinz is loaded with anti- oxidants.
While I struggle to keep my sense of humor and make room on my plate for a watered down, burst bubble way of life, the little girl inside me roars, conjuring up her ‘ism’s and her spirit and keeping me hopeful.
Today my co-worker, in the cubicle next to mine, sits two shiny apples on her desk. “Wow, those are beautiful and so big,” I admire and watch her pick one up, seeing the fruit fill her entire hand,
“What’s up with fruit this year?” I ask, “Aren’t apple prices supposed to dip in the fall?”
“They’re not dipping.” she said, crunching a big bite and catching a bit of juice on her chin. Again I feel comfortable enough to share one of my practices. “I have a fruit rule,” I said. “I don’t buy fruit if it’s over a dollar a pound.”
My co-worker stops in mid bite and turns to me, smiling, “That’s noble” She quips. The apple between us gives off the most delicious, sweet, Honey Crisp aroma and I puff up a bit and fire back, “Are you mocking me?” I challenge playfully. “I would never mock you” was her most sincere reply,
“I’m just eating an apple and you are not.”