The story of why and how I learned to be frugally thrifty


Hi and welcome to another blog post at "The Happy Baby blog". Today I wanted to share my story on how I became thrifty. You see, my grandparents were middle-low class, since my great grandparents had quite a few kids. On my grandpa´s side there were 6 of them, and on my grandma´s side only 12 siblings. Mainly in the early 1930´s, they had to choose who would have a college education, and it was mainly for he boys, since women were expected to be housewives. Though understandable, both my grandparents were visionaries. They created their own business and raised to a higher class status. My grandfather was into construction and created the family business, and grandma was an artist who decided to give painting classes to people who could afford it.

A background in the economics of my life

By the time I was born, our family was in a good social status, and we lived well. We didn´t brag about what we had, because it all had been fruit of hard work and a vision. Times changed, economy changed, and unfortunately people that married into the family saw an easy way to take, take and take.
My mom was one of the first ones to suffer in this matter. She became the head of the family and had to work extra hard to keep us in the school we were at, and at least keep most of the commodities we had too. Even if we were still living good, I was taught to work hard for what we had. Yes, we got toys, good ones. But this was only on our birthday and for christmas. It wasn´t like now that kids get toys all the time. We were taught that if we wanted something, we had to work hard to get it. That made sense. I remember that I used to sell candy at school, and I was able to buy my own toys or things that I wanted without having to ask my mom for it. I had come with the idea by myself, and I was doing really good for a kid. I guess I had inherited that visionary business thinking from my grandparents.

My grandfather died in his early 60´s because of stress. He had a heart-attack. I was 4 years old and never got over it. He was my hero and until the day, I think of him almost daily and miss him dearly. It was hard on my grandma because it was unexpected, and he was the love of her life. It took her a lot of energy to take over the family business, and unfortunately trusted the wrong people, because she would loose it to one of her daughters-in-law 10 years later.

Life hit a really bad turn when I was 14, and my mom didn´t have a job anymore. We went from middle-high/high class, to being lower class. We had to change schools, and lucky for us we managed. My mom was always very clever and figured it out even if the schools had already started classes. We managed to survive for a year, but then things got really hard and we ended up being poor. Lucky for us we owned our house and didn´t have to pay for rent, but we barely had food to eat, and barely made it to pay utility services. I remember we had to do our homework as soon as we got back from school because we had to avoid turning the lights on as much as possible. We would have to go without light sometimes, without gas, and eat the same thing over and over. When you are a kid, this things are really hard to adjust sometimes. So when I was 15 and was able to start working, I was able to help provide for the family. Still, we didn´t have much, because I was also a student and had to keep up with my scholarship-grades. All I can say is that it was really hard, but I knew that there were people in worse situations and that being clever was the way to get through it and keeping it together. These were the times when my mom discovered "flea markets". Being able to buy good things, clothes that we needed, because both my brother and I were growing fast, and being able to afford them with our current situation was such a blessing. We are talking about Mexico, so usually people that give away their stuff doesn´t go to charity like "good-will" it goes to a poor family that lives in isolation or somewhere like that, and have no access to things. And that is only if people get rid of stuff. In our culture unfortunately sometimes we don´t know how to let go of things that easily. Anyhow, I will always be grateful to people who do. Let me explain why. Here in the United States, there are thrift shops and other similar places to buy used stuff or second hand things. People come from Mexico and buy things, go back and resell them in "flea markets". They are not as cheap as in the thrift shop, but they are still cheap. So thanks to people who donated to charity in the US, we benefited too.

So back to my story. So I was already in college, with scholarships when my mom was able to get back to work and we became stable once again. If it wasn´t through my grades, I was doing sports to be able to keep my college scholarship, otherwise, I wouldn´t had been able to afford college. It was still hard, but at least we were able to pay for utility services better, and we ate different things. One of my uncles who was doing really well, decided to hire my mom, since my mom was very good at managing business, and he always tried looking out for my mom and us, even if his married family was very difficult. However, his wife didn´t like the idea and made my mom´s life miserable. That´s what I meant with "the people that married the family" being complicated. Neither here nor there, my mom started working with helping my grandma rent to some people, life was stable again, and I could focus on my school. I would still work here and there selling stuff or working on retail, and only because college is really NOT CHEAP at all. As a woman to help provide for my family it was important for me to finish my degree.

Life unexpectedly took another turn when my grandmother fell and broke her hip. No-one wanted to take care of her and they left her at my house. We had already told my grandma some time before she fell that she had to come to live with us, or we had to move in, because she seemed to be having issues with the way she was walking and could end up in a bad fall. Well, it did happen, and she ended in our house. Don´t get me wrong. My grandma was like my second mom, and we couldn´t be happier than to have her with us, but you have to understand that economically, we couldn´t afford to take care of her. So I had to take a very hard and difficult decision and leave school to work and help my mom take care of grandma. I cried, and screamed, and threw fits for a while. Yes, I did all that. My college education was the most important thing for me, the only thing that was truly mine, and just like that, 4 years went goodbye.
I was lucky and blessed that I found a job really quickly. I was able to finish the semester, and do summer school to finish some credits to have more than enough to finish my associates degree at least, but you know how it goes, it just never happens the way you think.
Anyhow, I had an opportunity to work for an airline, which was waiting for me to work for them since I was 18 years old. I hadn´t really considered the job before because I was a committed full time student. They were happy to have me on their team, and I was happy to have the opportunity to try to make my grandma´s stay at home less struggling. She had a lot of things to deal with after her fall, and my mom was really depressed on how things were unfolding. She really wanted me to finish school, but I guess the priorities had changed and life is like that.
Work was good, really stressing but good. It paid enough for us to live good again. My grandma had what she needed, and we did too. I found out that going to the flea markets was still fun and a relieve to save as much as possible in case of emergencies as life had taught us.

So by then, I had gone from High class, to middle, to low, to poor, to low-middle, to middle-low, and then to middle again.

Even my uncle that was doing really well when he offered my mom a job, had lost everything because on a trip to Playa del Carmen, to try to start a business for his daughter, his wife stole everything from him, and told all his clients that he had died, therefore keeping them for her to start her own business with all of my uncle´s resources. My uncle´s story is similar but he lost it all from one day to another, then got cancer, and though he beat the cancer, his family became his new cancer and ended up killing him when he was trying to recover. The good thing is that we were able to help him when he had nothing, just like he had helped my mom at some point. He stayed at home while we took care of grandma, and he was for a short period of time, like a father that I had never had before. It was nice to have a paternal figure saying that they are "proud of your accomplishments" at such young age. Oh this was because I wrote a novel when I was 21, and though I have not published it, when I got the copyrights, he realized it was more than what his kids would ever accomplish. (His words, not mine)

My grandma died on February 2006, and my uncle on November of the same year. It was really hard. I saw two people I loved so much be taken away and faded in the hands of social-economic devotion. The people that lived with my grandmother before she fell, weren´t taking care of her. They figured that if she died, they could keep her house and belongings. (Which unfortunately happened) And my uncle´s family kept on demanding of him more and more, from the little he was trying to rebuild after his wife had taken everything from him. He was tenacious I´ll give him that, and he thought he could rebuild his empire. I am proud that he tried, but his kids were in their own little world and ended up killing him from demanding actions, and stress and not taking care of him properly when he was in the hospital.

When this happened, I was in a better working position and was able to provide more to the household. I was able to take my mom on a couple of trips to distract her from the pain of the past few years. Loosing my grandma and uncle was really hard, sad and depressing so being thrifty helped a lot with distractions. I was able to take advantage of my discounts working for the airline, and other perks. I even took a trip to Ireland, which was my dream since I was 17 years old. It was like a dream come true, and it only costed me $300 dollars round trip.

Life was still lonely without our beloved ones, but economically it was better. I would take my mom out for lunch or dinner all the time. We would go to the movies and watch like 3 to 4 movies in a row. I would even invite my brother in between movies to catch up with us and watch some movies with us. (Long story short, my brother lived with my father half of his life).

I continued trying to plan something good for life. I really wanted to focus more on having a better quality of life and worrying too much about money. Yes I know that money is important and unfortunately is what makes the world go round, but that doesn´t mean that you can´t figure out ways to make your money stretch enough to make it work on your favor, rather than turning it into a ball and chain that you have to drag for the rest of your life.

Two years after the loss of my relatives, I met my husband. We were just friends, and though he lived in the United States, and that was something I wasn´t really considering at all as a future home, things happened and it became so. I found the perfect man for me. Someone who loves me, cares for me, and most importantly for me, would be a good father. I wasn´t really counting on falling in love for him, but it happened, and I feel blessed to have him in my life. The only thing is that I was raised that "wives" go to where the husband is, and as mentioned before. I had never considered moving to the United States. To be honest, as a Mexican, I was a little afraid of living in the States. I wasn´t moving to this country for hopes of a better life, it was more of a risk that I was willing to take to find happiness aside to the love of my life.
Economy as you all may know, was terrible during 2008 and 2009. Because of how jobs were so unstable in the United States and this was affecting my husband. My mom didn´t think it was such a good idea to move. The reality is that, even though I did have a stable job in Mexico, my husband, not knowing enough Spanish, wasn´t going to be as lucky as I was, and I didn´t want to go back to being the head of the family. I didn´t want to have that role anymore. If life asks of me to do so, it is what it is, but I really wanted to play the role of the "wife" and focus on raising kids.
The happiest day of my life came, but soon after my husband got laid off from work. I didn´t have a job yet because I was "over qualified" for the common jobs, but "not qualified" enough for the jobs that I was used to. I was stuck in the middle without being able to help my husband. All I could do was: Be positive and hopeful, moral support, be frugal and thrifty and be a good wife.
We had an agreement that until we were economically better, we weren´t going to get pregnant. It was a hard decision for me, since I wanted to have kids right away. I always thought I was going to be a mom before I was 30, but I guess since the trends are now after 30, it would be fine.
Husband found a job, and we both started to go to school for ROP programs. He became a certified phlebotomist, and very good at it, and I was also enrolled in a medical program.
Because of school and internships, there were times that husband had to be off from work, and me not finding a job, made it really hard economically for both of us.
This lead me to figure out how to be better. It was hard to consider that I was doing well, and then after marriage, things went south again. Then I would remember that usually that is the way it is when you get married, the only difference is that we weren´t that young.

I brainwashed myself that I wasn´t going to let money be the anchor that makes my life feel stuck without being able to advance towards my goals of being "happy"

Life getting to a better place

Thankfully because of my husband´s working background and his new acquired medical knowledge/experience, he got some good paying jobs that have helped us recover and start planning ahead.

Since then I have learned that you don´t have to sweat to death to have good things in life. And though I know that things are just things, and many people live a simpler life just to forget about the worries of life itself I just can´t do that.

Because of the ups and downs, and the culture I come from, and call it genetics too. I was raised thinking that what you have is what you have built in your life. Things that in a bad situation you can always re-sell and have something to survive. So having nothing for me is not an option. I went from a good social economic class, to being poor, and to going up again with hard work, I have to be honest. I like things!

So I had to learn, research, and be clever. Use coupons, savings, discounts, sales, thrift stores, flea markets, bargain stores, and my favorite "giveaways".

  • We have pets who are our family, and whom we love very much and we are blessed to have them in our lives, and they were adopted for free. 
  • I feel that as humans we have the right to choose to eat right without having to spend a fortune, and so we started growing some of our own food organically, and found good ways to eat organically but for half the price or less.
  • We are lucky to have two thrift shops in our block, so I can walk there and find clothes, and things that we like and or need.
  • There are a few bargain stores close to our home, with good quality products. We eat about 90% organically.
  • We enter giveaways and eventually win things that otherwise it would be hard to purchase.
  • And we give to the community. I worked as a volunteer at the local hospital for about a year, and I know that I helped a lot of people while I was there. And now my husband and I have a youtube gardening channel where we share our experience while growing food in a small garden, and what we´ve learned from that, encouraging people to start growing their own food too. I believe that giving to the world in a way or sharing what you know, always compensates you back.

Last year, my husband and I decided that next year we have to get pregnant. Learning from the medical field, a 35 year old who is going to be a first time mom is considered "high risk" even if you are healthy. I am 33 now, and will turn 34 by the end of the year. This means that even though we waited to get pregnant until economy was better, it took so long, that having kids is going to be expensive anyways because I will be considered "high risk". So one way or another, you have to play it by ear in life, and risk it.

So since last November, I have been visiting thrift shops, or using craigslist, giveaways, and special sales to start purchasing baby-related stuff. I think it is a smart plan, that if possible, to start buying things little by little, so that when you do get pregnant, the expense won´t be as stressful. I am in no way saying that having kids is cheap, because it is not. But never does it say that you can´t figure out how to make it work and still live good. I go to thrift shops and buy things with tags on them. Sometimes people get gifts in baby showers and the baby was the opposite sex, or grew too fast to fit in their clothes, so they get donated. And lucky for us, instead of paying 16 dollars, you pay 2 and donate to charity at the same time. Only in blankets and onesies, I have merchandise worth about $545, while only spending about $80 dollars on it as I have been buying it little by little for the past 6 months. Most of it in good shape and about 20 % new with tags. This is not considering other things that I have gotten like; hats, socks, baby-towels, cloth diapers, among other things.
Yes I also know that there are things you do not buy in thrift shops like things that go in your mouth, mattresses, underwear, and things like that specially if they are used. Or you don´t buy baby cribs, car seats, and strollers in thrift shops or craigslist, just because you want to be sure they are in good shape and safe for your little one. Sometimes there are recalls, and you don´t want to be stuck with one of these recalled baby gear, since it is illegal to resell, and it is unsafe to use. Luckily, you have other options to hopefully obtain those.

Brands always offer ways for you to win their products. You can either enter to a giveaway that they are sponsoring and someone else is running, or offer to be a tester.
Now the second one doesn´t always work, but if you have a blog and a good social media crowd, they might consider. I had a previous blog to this, nothing fancy and only for 1 year writing here and there, and I have had offers to review products.
You can also let people know about what your hobbies are or things that you are looking for. Some people have something they´ve never used really, and is just gathering dust. They might be willing to sell it to you for a fair price, or even give it to you for free. I´ve gotten some nice furniture this way, nothing fancy, but it works and it has been in good shape.

Take extra advantage of special sales like those from holidays, black Friday, Christmas, and anniversary sales. Enroll to your favorite brand´s facebook, twitter and/or blogs. You can also become an affiliate with certain brands and be a brand ambassador. Not only is it fun, but you get to share with your friends and family the benefits of using a particular product, while enjoying it yourself.

Before running this baby-planning project I was very into collecting dolls. I love my dolls, they are like my treasure and I hope that one day I can pass that to one of my kids. But I also know that if the time came and an emergency happened, I have something of value that I can sell and get out of the puddle with. When I lived in Mexico and was working. One of my passions was to buy musical instruments. I learned to play the piano when I was 4 years old and have always had a passion for music and playing different instruments. I am not an expert in any, but in my time I learned to play the cello and clarinet too. Back at my mom´s house I have a few instruments that when situations get hard, I know that if I sell them, everything goes back to being okay. Or I know that if I have something that someone needs, I can pass it on, or trade it or so on. That´s what happened to our crib, our nephews(my cousin´s kids) enjoyed it. And my electric guitar went to another of my nephews, because he did very good in school. And like him, I know how it is when you work hard in school and economy is not good enough for you to have something to enjoy. (Even though school for me was enough incentive).

So yes, it is good to have a simple life. But yes, it is also good to have things to enjoy and things that will one day bring you more joy by passing them down. And most definitely YES, you don´t have to cut an arm and a leg to live a comfortable, enjoyable, happy life.

A big thank you to those of you who donate. A big thank you to you brands that sponsor giveaways, sweepstakes and contests, and who also offer "ordinary" people like me a chance to test your products. A big applause and my admiration to those parents that have to manage themselves to raise your kids in the most harsh of economic situations, specially if you are a single parent. This admiration also goes to the kids who help their parents get over those hard times in life. But the biggest thanks right now is to you "reader" for taking your time to read this long story about how my life has been, and how I learned to become frugally thrifty in order to push in the focus of my biggest goal in life, which is: "To be happy".

You may also like

No comments: