My Story: What I Learned

contributed by Margaret

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I was a community college teacher until a year ago, when at the age of 57, changes in the curriculum and my role at work became so stressful that I decided to take early retirement. This wasn't part of my plan, as I intended to go on teaching until the age of 65. I was used to living fairly frugally, as I have been a single parent for 25 years and brought up two children who I have put through university. I found the Dollar Stretcher via an Internet link, and became "hooked" on reading it. What I love about the Stretcher is the feeling that I am linked to a community of like-minded people who are basically trying to achieve the same thing, no matter what their circumstances. I really do applaud the number of people out there who are trying to make the most of what they have, especially those who are trying to raise a family on a very fixed budget. I know it is very hard for families when "everybody else" apparently has the latest fashions, technological must-haves, and so on. However, I learned a few things. Unfortunately, it was learned the hard way.

Don't feel guilty that you can't give your kids material things. My kids, both now in their 30s, look back to when they were small and remember all the fun we had and that I was there for them when they needed me. We did all the cheap stuff, such as sleepovers, picnics in the park, and reading aloud in the evenings. They don't remember the stuff I struggled to buy them.

Before your kids leave home, teach them to cook! This means you will have to eat some frightful stuff as they practice, but both my kids are really good cooks and has saved them a lot of money over the years. When they were at college, hardly any of their friends could cook and this meant they lived on an expensive diet that was a nutritionist's nightmare.

No matter how tight things are, remember that you don't live in a vacuum. Watching every penny can make you self-obsessed if you're not careful. Remember that there's always a lot you can do for other people that doesn't cost anything. You don't have to be rich to be generous. You can baby-sit for a young neighbor, take an elderly friend to a doctor's appointment, be there for a friend who needs to talk, or put your hard-earned skills to good use. In the past week or so, I made curtains (drapes) for my son and his wife who moved into a new house with their little son and ran errands for an elderly neighbor. I have also started seedlings for the garden, many of which I will give away.

Involve your kids in your financial planning. Don't pretend that you are wealthier than you are. As my kids reached their mid-teens, I used to include them when I did my monthly accounts. They were usually horrified at how little we had! There is no stronger argument than the economic one; we can't afford it because we can't afford it! Having said that, if we were lucky one month and had a little surplus, I would split the surplus three ways with my two kids.

Exercise iron control over your finances. This is the only way. There must be no frivolous or impulse purchases. On a tight budget, these represent disaster. Instead, program in some mad money. Everyone needs a break every so often, but plan it instead of just letting it happen. If you and your family have really stuck to a frugal budget, then giving one of those members £100 (about $175) to fritter away as they like is truly an awesome experience.

Remember why we are here. It is to help one another, love one another and grow in the process. I've always worked hard and never had a lot of money, but in terms of giving and receiving, I have felt blessed.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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