Posts Tagged ‘economy’

‘Tis the Season

December 3, 2012


The thrift store seems more crowded than usual. I push the shopping cart toward house wares in the back. I need some vases for the nursing home. I can buy used ones for fifty-five cents. One of the local grocery stores has donated five cases of roses for our residents. It’s Christmas time and people want to do something nice for old people who don’t have family.

I turn down the children’s clothing aisle and five people have to move aside to let me by. Past that, shoppers line the perimeter of the space filled with larger items. An ugly chair upholstered in a black and brown patterned geometric fabric squats next to one of those wooden crate sofas, popular in the seventies. It has no cushions. A  pool table with a tear in its felt stands at a tilt, and a toddler’s red race car bed is missing its mattress. Three mismatched dining chairs, a kidney shape glass-topped coffee table, and a leaning brass floor lamp complete the sad ensemble.

A small bent man wearing white patent leather shoes, skinny jeans, a shiny silver belt, and a plaid button down dress shirt pulls the white tag off the naked sofa and turns toward the cashier, saying to himself, “I think I can find some cushions down the road.”

As I load the cart with glass bud vases, I hear three little girls vying for their mother’s attention with their questions:

“I like this one, can we get this one?”

“No Mommy, this one, it’s prettier.”

“I like the first one. It’s purple. I love purple. You love purple too Mommy, don’t you?”

“Quit arguing,” their mother says. “Or we won’t get any of them.”

The three little girls point out other things, asking if they can put this or that into the cart. If they can take things home to play with. “No.” Their mother says, her voice rising. “We’re not here to buy things for you.”

I find six green vases, three clear, one heart-shaped, and four white ones. I won’t pay over a dollar for any. The largest ones are ninety-five cents.  With the bottom of the cart covered, I turn toward the book shelves. I hit pay dirt finding two books on CD, James Patterson’s I Alex Cross, and Fanny Flagg’s Welcome to the World Baby Girl. They aren’t priced, so they cost only a dollar each.

Over in the holiday decorations, I can still hear the three little girls talking over top of one another, listing things they want for Christmas, asking their mother what she thinks Santa will bring.

The line to checkout stretches halfway down the aisle of women’s blouses.  The cashier calls for backup. A woman in a blue uniform comes from the ninety-five cent bin section, steps to the cash register opposite mine, and the line splits. When I reach my turn, I find myself across from the woman and her three little girls. They surround the cart as their mother places a box of purple Christmas ornaments, several pieces of clothing, a glass bowl, a basket, and some sort of game in a box on the counter.

“We can open it when we get home,” the smallest girl says to one of her sisters.

“God Dammit, I told you No three times already,” her mother yells. “It’s for your brother for Christmas.”

The little girls stop talking, all three look up to their mother. People around them stop talking. The store becomes still and quiet.

“That’ll be six twenty-four,” the cashier says.

The woman hands over the money, takes her bag, and the three little girls follow her out of the store.

Searching for Savings

October 1, 2011

We’re on a race. It’s crunch time. The sale ends today and three of us are a few coupons short for the big deal at Harris Teeter. Spaghetti sauce is on sale, buy two, get three free. With the manufacturer’s coupon, we can save $2.53 on each jar. That’s a ninety two percent savings.

The craze has hit our community. It seems coupon clipping is no longer a hobby or drudgery, it’s a necessity. The downturn in our economy calls for measures, and a way of life embraced by my grandparents, frugality, saving, recycling, reusing, cutting back, cutting coupons.

Newspaper bin at the recycle center, here I come.

I remember when I was younger, shaking my head at the stacks of plastic margarine containers washed clean and saved in the cabinet under grandma’s sink. She and grandpa stacked newspapers in the smokehouse to have on hand to start fires in the woodstove to keep the house warm. Grandma canned rows and rows of vegetables in glass Mason jars to have on hand “just in case.” All that seemed unnecessary to me. My grandparents weren’t poor. They didn’t need to do that stuff. Who in her right mind washed plastic utensils after a cookout? Who stood at the checkout line, examining a receipt for mistakes leading to the savings of a nickel? Who sent shoes to the shop to be repaired?

I’m beginning to understand the prudence of my grandparents. I didn’t live through a depression. They did. Every cent they spent had to account for something. Reuse and recycle was not a trendy fashion, it was necessary. Hand-me-down clothing may have been disliked by the child receiving it, but as long as a garment still held together by its stitches, that was one less thing to have to buy. Eating out at a restaurant was a luxury reserved for birthdays or anniversaries. Christmas for children meant a shoebox filled with fruit, candy, nuts and a small toy. That was an extravagance.

Grandpa grew an acre sized garden every year, even after the children were grown and all he and my grandma needed were a handful of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers to get them through the summer. The garden didn’t feed just the two of them, it continued to feed their children and grandchildren, the neighbors, and friends.

Grandma clipped coupons from the Sunday newspaper, and on Monday, she sent Grandpa to the grocery store with the little paper squares of savings and her list. “Don’t you dare get anything that’s not on that list. You hear me?” she’d call as he walked to the truck.


My friend Lisa and I hang over the edge of the big green newspaper dumpster at the recycling center. We’ve brought some milk crates to stand on because the dumpster doors are a good five feet off the ground. I’m taller than she is, so we’ve positioned her where the mound of newspaper is higher.

“Here’s one!” she calls to me, as excited as a child who finds the coveted golden Easter Egg.

I’m still searching.  I reach under a stack of sports magazines and pull out a Sunday supplement. I rifle through the inserts only to be disappointed. Whoever received this paper was a coupon clipper too. They’ve left the diaper coupons which I don’t need anymore, and the dog food ones. We have a cat.

 I keep looking, pushing the weekly papers aside, hunting for that fat Sunday paper or the glossy insides that house the eight by ten inch coupon booklets.  The one I want has apples on the cover. That’s the one with the spaghetti sauce coupon. Seventy-five cents, doubled, gives me a dollar and a half off the sale price of two, plus I get three free. I can use a coupon even for the free ones. The thought of those twenty-six cent jars have me sweating, reaching, digging, pulling, mumbling curses under my breath. There has to be one here somewhere.

I take my milk crate down to the next bin opening and search some more. I find other booklets of coupons and stack those beside my feet, but the one I’m searching for is illusive, hiding. I see a movement to my right.  Another coupon clipper, a red head in cowboy boots, has joined us.

“You here for the same reason as me?” she asks.

“Coupons?” I ask.

“Yep, glad to see I’m not the only one dumpster diving,” she answers as she flings a discarded phone book to the back of the container making a hollow echoing sound.

We dig around awhile longer in silence. Lisa has moved to the back of the newspaper dumpster where a new load has been dumped by patrons coming and going at the center.  She’s having all the luck. I hear little squeals of delight every time she puts her hands on the coveted prize.

Lisa stops. She has to get back to work.  I have the rest of the afternoon off.  I stay a while longer, finding a few more booklets, but none of the ones with the spaghetti sauce coupon in it.  As I drop down from my plastic perch, the red head says, “Hey there’s one more in here just out of my reach. I think you can probably get it. You’re tall.  If you reach it, it’s all yours.”

I go to her bin door and there halfway across the stacked pile of newspapers is my prize. I reach for it but I’m  six inches short. I lift onto my tip toes and bend over as far as I can, teeter-tottering on the edge of the bin opening. One wrong move and I’m swimming in newsprint.  I stretch just one more tiny bit, straining. Finally, with the fingertip of my longest finger, I drag the little booklet to me. I grab that sucker up into my fist. Dropping down to find my footing again, I let out a whoop and do a little dance of celebration on my milk crate. This one treasure makes the whole trip worthwhile. I kiss its apple adorned cover and hold the booklet to my chest, smiling.

I wipe the sweat off my face, gather my coupons and milk crate and head to the car. I have some shopping to do, but first, I have to go to my parent’s house. They dug sweet potatoes  yesterday and called me to come by and pick some up.

Family tradition lives on it seems. Grandma and Grandpa would be proud.