Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In The Trenches - Baked Potatoes

My coworker Jeryne's husband went to the grocery store and in an effort to save money bought a 50 pound box of big potatoes at a very discounted price. This is a two person family and Jeryne knew that there was no way they could eat all these potatoes before they spoiled. So she came up with a great idea:

Have a party!

Actually it was a office potluck but we had not had one for so long it felt like a party. Jeryne brought in the big baked potatoes and we all brought the toppings.


  • Sour Cream
  • Butter
  • Bacon Bits
  • Green onions
  • White onions
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Shredded Cheese of any kind
  • Guacamole
  • Your favorite?

A couple of weeks later it was my last day at work.

A Taco buffet was on the menu:

  • Shells
  • Meat
  • Re-fried Beans
  • Shredded Cheese
  • White onions
  • Green onions
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Black Olives
  • Salsa

Both of these ideas are fun, economical and can be used to start your own get-together of friends, coworkers, church or club members, or family. They are potluck in nature but even less expensive. Combine it with movie night and your entertainment budget can be less than $3.

Who says that living In The Trenches can't be fun?

Originally posted May 18, 2010

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In The Trenches - Camping

Summer is almost here and with it the biggest camping day of the year. Folks flood from the city with their motor homes, campers, and tents. Since I have lived in a rural area for years I have seen them driving by on the highway. Even rural people love to plan a camping get together for family and friends and the barbeques and picnics are awesome. Compared to many vacations or weekend excursions the cost is minimal and doesn't have to cost much more than a tank of gas if you live close enough to the camping areas. If you don't want to deal with such big crowds weekdays can be much more peaceful. If you plan to stay at established campground make sure to make a reservation or you might find yourself with no place to stay. Above all bring the marshmellows.

If even a weekend trip is beyond your budget some of the most fun I had as a kid was sleeping in the backyard under the trees with my cat on the corner of the sleeping bag keeping guard all night. When my children were small my mother would invite them all over and they would all camp in the back yard. They didn't even realize they were not out in the woods until it was time to run in the house to use the bathroom.

Fun times and good memories don't have to cost a

Originally posted May 26, 2010

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Residential Real Estate Inventing - Part 3

This home was purchased with the idea that it was going to be our first flip. The home had originally been used as a small home church so the living room was exceptionally large with beautiful hardwood floors. When the owner moved she took what she wanted and left the rest. The inside was filled with stuff accumulated for years. There was no telling what was underneath but also no indication that the owner had abused the home in any way.

From the time the offer had been made on the home the market was showing noticeable signs of slowing. We decided that we would benefit from having a renter in the home in case it took longer than expected to sell. It turned out to be an excellent decision as the home was not sold for almost two years.
The home had been painted yellow for years so we wanted something different to catch the neighbors eyes so they would ask questions. The strategy worked and we had people driving by and talking to us. Small towns are like that. Yes, the picture below is the elk that came into the front yard every morning eat and grazed their way down the street. This street is one street over from the main road that goes through town. :)

Materials and Labor
All rooms paint 400
Cleaning 330
Refinish Kitchen Cabinets 130
New flooring 300
Dining room Light fixture 175
Laundry room Floor 225
Living room Take out paneling 0
Hard wood floors - clean and buff 350
Back of house Sheetrock two rooms 2,000
New floor covering in back half 600
Exterior Paint 600
Front door in dark accent color 30
Lots of yard work! 730

This was my preliminary worksheet and was done before the purchase of the home. We had originally done spreadsheets with a $5,000, $10,000, and $20,000 budget. We have found that this is helpful whether you plan to spend it or not because it helps to envision the house with different possibilities and then choose the most important items.

As we got in to the project we found that I had over budgeted in some areas and under budgeted in others. This is not unusual but becomes more accurate as experience is gained. One area I over budgeted was redoing the kitchen floor. In the cleaning we found some extra tiles and were able to repair instead of replace. This saved a day in labor and the cost of the vinyl. In contrast, the yard and rubbish removal was much more time and expense than expected. The pruning was done in January. In the end the yard looked inviting and homey but I had a case of pneumonia. The temperature was 25 degrees and I did not want to get behind schedule. It's a good thing I enjoy reading.

The total planned expense was $6,100 and we came in way under budget. No other expenses were needed before it was sold since it was the residents who purchased it when the first time home buyer program became available. The project was extremely fun. I worked with two good friends and we talked and laughed so the days passed quickly. All provided ideas and suggestions for how to accomplish every challenge. When the project was finished I was ready to do another but we all know what happened with the housing market.

Originally posted September 2, 2010

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Residential Real Estate Investing - Part 2

My top keys for successful real estate investment in 2011.

Learn all you can. The library is the best source for this information. Yes, the Internet has good information but much of that is geared toward making money for the one providing the information and they often just tell you the good parts. The time and money involved in real estate investment is enough to warrant extensive investigation and research. In one year the value increase can be as much as any job so corresponding time should be allocated.
  1. Pick houses you would be comfortable living in. If you don't like the neighborhood, the schools in the area, or think the house is too dumpy than pass on it. You want to attract quality tenants and in the future a good sale price so if you would not be willing to live in the place yourself many other people also would not.
  2. Shop until you drop. Once you have your ideal scenario from a cost perspective work with a real estate agent, let your friends and family know, and check the multiple listings on the computer daily. or John L Scott both have excellent websites. The best deals often go quickly. On the other end there are houses that have been on the market for a long time that the owner needs to sell and will be willing to negotiate on price.
  3. Stairs. Although I would not pass up a great deal on a home with stairs I would choose a single story over a multi-level. It is surprising how many people have a difficult time with stairs and require or prefer to be downstairs. This would apply to a multi-unit complex or a single family residence. Of, course when you get into the condo or large apartments the story is often very different but those residences often attract a different group of the population and most have elevators.
  4. Always do a detailed home inspection. Dry rot and pests can do damage not seen that is very costly to repair. The inspection will reveal what may need to be done now or in the future before you resell. These costs should be included in your cost analysis.
  5. Obtain 30 year fixed financing with escrow for taxes and insurance. This will allow the lowest possible monthly payment. Extra payments or payment acceleration can be used to pay down more quickly. Low long term payments allow the flexibility needed if the roof needs replacement. As the market recovers property values will increase resulting in higher tax rates, plan on this now so you are not caught unawares later.
  6. Find homes that are as close to renter ready as possible. Ideally the most you would want to do is a coat of paint, clean the carpet, mow the lawn, and a few very minor repairs. Unless you get an outstanding deal you do not want to do upgrades until you are ready to sell. You cannot control everything about a tenants lifestyle so this is very important. I had just replaced the carpet and thought the new residents would be pleased and they were. But everyday the husband walked through the house with his work boots on that had red dye. After only a couple of months the carpet looked like it needed to be replaced again. Things like that are hard on the blood pressure as the deposit does not cover the damage and small claims court is a very big hassle and does not always solve the problem.
  7. Tenant selection is the number 1 key to your success. The fact is that one bad tenant can ruin years of profit or even worse if they are using drugs in some cases the home can be condemned. Not good. Many of the very worst tenants are charming, polite, and helpful in the beginning. There are those who make their way through the world by taking advantage of others. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn and I had a number of lessons.
  8. ALWAYS do a credit check. (and, if possible a background check.) Often just telling someone that you will be doing one will prompt them to tell you their life story. I always told people we were not looking for perfect credit. We were looking for things that would indicate an ongoing pattern of irresponsibility. There are times when medical problems or a divorce may cause a bad credit report and considerations can be made. On the opposite end, if a tenant trashes your place at times it is beneficial to do a small claims action. Even if you never get a dime it will alert future landlords to a problem.
  9. Month to month rentals. Leases are beneficial only to those who have the legal means to go to court if a lease is broken. For the small investor a month to month rental agreement provides the most flexibility if needed. These can go on indefinitely but you are not locked into them. You are not going to keep a tenant if they need to move anyway so why fool yourself.
  10. Maintain a reserve. Just like you would keep 3 months to a year in reserve for your personal finances the same should be done for each rental home. This then is available for repairs, vacancies, or other unexpected expenses. Let's say a tenant does damage to the place and leaves unexpectedly in the night. Without a reserve you lose both the repair cost and the vacancies because you are unable to fix the home so that you can rent it.
  11. Be sure the home has cost effective heating systems. We bought a wonderful home with propane heat. The cost to heat the home was astronomical. Electric heat is often the most convenient and cost effective system for both the property manager and the tenants. Older places may have baseboards but the new forced air boxes are more effective if you need to install something to keep you going. Do your research in this area as it varies depending on your location.
This is not intended to be a complete list but things that immediately come to mind based on good and bad experiences we have had. I have read and attended a number of real estate investment seminars and generally have not heard these items mentioned.

The number #1 issue is don't let your enthusiasm overextend your knowledge. Be wary of any get rich quick ideas you may have. Yes, many have in fact gotten rich with real estate investing through sound business practices. Many others have lost. I recently attended a real estate investment seminar put on by RICH DAD POOR DAD who was one of my original motivators to get into real estate. I had to laugh when I read someplace in their information that the success stories they share are NOT typical. They can be with proper forethought, planning, and information. As I mentioned in part 1: I love it and so might you. In part 3 I'll share some of the information about one of our rehab projects.

Originally posted August 31, 2010

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Residential Real Estate Investing - Part 1

If you have thought about real estate investing now may be the time to do your home work and be ready. Prices have continued to drop and interest rates are low. We are just about to the bottom (hopefully) as the second dip hits (yes, it was coming). There is an old axiom "Buy Low, Sell High". If that is your goal then this is your time.

This investment period differs from the mass flipping that occurred during the real estate bubble when everyone was buying, rehabbing, and reselling. This new strategy is to buy and hold. In order to do this you will have to consider being a landlord. If this has no appeal or you do not want to do the research than pass right now or find a property management company that you can work with and expect to pay a fee for their services. Not everyone is cut out for direct involvement and I admit that I made mistakes along the way. It is from this experience that I will be sharing some important lessons and tips that I have learned.

My role in property management was everything from start to finish for 9 residential properties. I did everything except supply the bankroll. This included:
  • Property Selection
  • Rehabs
  • Prep for Renting
  • Tenant Selection
  • Rent Collection
  • Monthly reporting to owner of income and expenses
  • Tenant Eviction
  • And, Sale Preparation.
There are other sites that will tell you all the success fantasies. I will do my best to tell you to hang on, the ride might get bumpy, and, if you fall learn from it and get back up. Please be reminded that the information is not to be considered as professional advice but is my opinion based on seven years experience.

Ok. I've probably scarred off 95% of the readers. That's probably a good thing because real estate investment, just like everything else is hard work. There is an element of risk. That is absolutely why it is one of the number one ways to make big money over the long term. The market may go up and down, the house may even burn down, but it is the land that remains. Unless of course the river floods but that is a different topic.

I love real estate property investment! There is absolutely nothing much more gratifying than seeing a young couple start their lives together in the cute home that you have carefully picked and they are renting from you until they can buy their own. I am a firm believer in the American dream. I've lived it and loved it and hope that it never dies from the heart of the people. Being able to play in your own back yard and sleep in your own bed at night is the closest it gets to heaven on earth. If lawn mowing is not your thing condos and apartments provide a home with convenience and hopefully a good view.

Investing in residential real estate provides something new everyday. Do you like:
  • Looking at houses?
  • Comparing prices and crunching the numbers?
  • Mowing lawn?
  • Cleaning?
  • Meeting new people?
  • Are you a handyman (or woman)?
  • Finding creative solutions to problems?
  • Managing a rehab project?
  • Painting?
  • Carpet cleaning?
  • Dealing with bankers?
  • Working with hired people to get a job done by a deadline?
  • Watching the market for prices?
Though you don't have to like these things to be successful, you will save you money if you do. The day to day operation includes all these things and more.

The next part will cover what I think are the top things for success in owning and managing residential real estate. In many areas of the country houses are half the price they were even three years ago. Those who already investing in real estate suffered a major decline in the value of their portfolio and many had to make extremely difficult decisions about how to deal with the situation.

Prices are down it is an ideal time to consider if this is a worthwhile time to consider real estate as a long term investment.
Getting these homes back into the portfolios of individual investors as their private residence or investment property will go a long way toward rebuilding the economy.

Originally posted Aug 25, 2010

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm just not good at handling money!

Warning. This entry is not for everybody. Just those who have either said this or thought it, or more obviously have been told it by somebody else.

Are you over 18? Then you can't use that excuse. Sorry, it's just part of being an adult. If you don't know or are not good at managing money, it's time to learn. It's strange that there is more instruction on how to drive a car than there is on how to handle finances. And, not only does that lack of knowledge affect the individual but it also affects their spouses, children, and our social structure through the welfare rolls, bankruptcy courts, and credit card defaults.Sure it maybe does sound harsh and maybe we should just ignore it. But, the first step to any change is to acknowledge the truth.

What are some of the signs you are not good at handling money?
1. No savings account.
2. Credit cards that are not paid off at the end of the month.
3. Out of money before the next paydate.
4. Having to borrow from family, friends, or businesses just to pay non emergency expenses.
5. Even when you have a job you still can't pay for your basic living expenses such as food, shelter, and clothing.
6. You are over 18, living with your parents, and are not paying for any expenses and still don't have a savings account full of money.
7. You are living with another adult and they are paying the bulk of the living expenses. Marriage can be a great place to hide financial incompetency but even that will not go on forever and is one of the leading causes of divorce.

Of course there are exceptions for the sick and disabled, students, or the temporary inability to do these things due to life changes (Temporary is the key word here).

It's true, our education is sadly negligent on the basics. How to handle money, how to raise children, how to take care of the things we use, and lately how to cook and do laundry. We are expected at age 18 to know all these things but we may never have been taught. I know that I sure have made a lot of mistakes in the last year and have found many weak spots in my own thinking and doing.

The good news is: wherever we are at right now we can learn more! And, we all can learn together! It's time to grow up, take responsibility, and improve the economic health of our nation one adult at a time.

Originally posted August 2, 2009

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The future of the American economy.

Everybody wonders what is going to happen next. Most want to think that the decline in the economy will be over soon. Some predict by the end of the year. Here’s my viewpoint:

Everybody, by now, has heard or experienced how bad the crisis is. With millions of homes foreclosed and huge unemployment rates The government has pumped billions of dollars into the economy to try to resolve the situation. Americans have responded in two ways. Some are taking every possible effort to streamline their lifestyle and spending and have learned from their mistakes and change their ways so that it doesn’t happen again. The others are expecting the government to fix it all and will just be happy when the hard times are over so they can get back to their old ways and forget that the problem ever happened. I suspect that this could be at least 75% of the population and includes both individuals and businesses.

Once the government money runs out I believe there will be a second and bigger downturn in the economy primarily because of the actions of the second group. It will be like the aftershock of the earthquake. Those who have refortified their lifestyle will be ok and those have not will collapse. And the collapse will be harder and bigger because all of the reserves have already been used.

This sounds like such terrible news, even as I write I think who would even want to consider that it might be true? And, who would want to believe my gut felt ideas? But, what if I told you it will probably rain? What would you do? There would be two choices. Grab a coat or go out without one. If it rains you put the coat on and be dry or you can get wet. If it doesn’t rain you can just carry the coat and you haven’t lost a thing.

Did I see the last one coming? Those of you who know me know that I have talked about it for 20 years. Am I an expert? By no means. Could I be wrong? Yes, but there is no harm in being prepared. (I guess I did learn something from my mother).

Here’s what I suggest and you can add your own ideas:
1. While the interest rates are low ask your bank if there is any benefit in refinancing. Get your payments as low as possible so that if your income drops you can still make your payment. (Watch out for scams)
2. If you rent, find the cheapest place you can. Once you save some money try to buy on a first time homebuyer plan. There are some great low down and low interest loans available right now.
3. Start a food storage program. Start building a supply until you have 6 months to a year of food. Include all bathroom, cleaning, and female products.
4. Quit using your credit cards. It’s time. Pay them off as quickly as possible. The credit card companies can continue to change your rates for another year and whatever sounds good today could change tomorrow.
5. Start saving all your change. If things ever get really tight you will have something to buy a loaf of bread without breaking a $20. This will be really important if you don’t have a $20.
6. Continually go through your possessions and sell what you don’t need. Or better yet, give it to someone in greater need than yourself. You will be able to live in a smaller home and if you need to move for a job relocation or other reason you will be more ready.
7. Make sure everyone in your family has their dental work caught up and a new pair of glasses. Then if you can’t afford it for a year or two you will be ready.
8. Think about cutting back any of your habits that cost money like smoking, drinking, the daily cappuccino. Save the money if you can,
9. Sell any cars you are not using and change for more fuel- efficient vehicles. Walk if you can.
10. Don’t get any more pets. They need to be fed too.
11. Start reading books, reading articles, having conversations to give you ideas for managing economically. In The Trenches will be out soon. Email me if you would like to receive an email when it comes out.

The economic crisis was caused nationally by the greed of our biggest corporations, putting fast profits above common sense and long term outcome, and an American public that was willing to spend and much as they had available. Although these tips are well publicized there are many of us who still have room for improvement. The goal of all this is to get your necessary expenses to under 50% of what you are now making. Yes, under 50%. Save the rest. No, not in the stock market, not in some investments that could lose it all. Just save it. If you are the kind that has a hard time saving than it is time to learn. If you still have trouble than pay three months ahead on the bills you know you will have to pay such as car insurance. Don’t go farther ahead than this because if you have to relocate or loose a job you don’t want money tied up in a specific location and want to have the cash available.

Does this all sound radical? That’s why it’s called….In the Trenches.

Originally posted June 3, 2009 - Was I close?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Keep the best. Sell the rest.

Learned this saying from a lifetime farmer and wish I would have learned it earlier. I used to raise poultry. I had up to 30 peacocks and ornamental pheasants, but, our mainstay was ducks and chickens. At one point I had about 50 chickens so I placed an ad in the paper to sell them for $8 each. A man came and I told him he could take his pick. He wanted to buy about 30. He chased and caught, chased and caught, and when he left gave me a check.

I surveyed what was left and what did I find? He had picked through and taken all the best of the birds and I was left with the too small, too old, too young birds. My prime laying stock was all gone. Of course it was! He was not stupid, I was!

Everytime I reflect on this situation I want to hit myself in the head. I had set myself up so splendidly. But, most interestingly is that we all do this to ourselves when we walk into or get put into a lower income situation and do not have a plan. We can end up loosing our best house, or best car, or best anything because we have not structured ourselves to prevent it. We either try to pay everthing and end up late on it all or we pay nothing and end up late on it all.

Doing an inventory is the first step when confronted with a downturn. Realize that everything is at risk and make some decisions up front on how you will handle it. If you need help read books, go to consumer credit counciling, talk to people over 70 who went through the biggest depression and get their advice. Their experience is priceless.

Then, keep the best and sell the rest.

Originally posted August 1 2009

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

High Yield Investment - Steak again?

Like most kids, mine would pound through the door and ask "What's for dinner?" After receiving the answer I would often get the response of "Steak again?"

Not too long ago I surveyed the freezer and realized that we had almost $5,000 worth of organically grown beef in our stuffed to the brim old chest model. The upright held the overflow. How much is almost 1,000 pounds of beef? We had fillet mignon, prime rib, t-bone, rib steak, porterhouse, sirloin, round steak, rib roast, rolled roast, and hamburger that was as good as steak. We didn't have to wonder how much the fat content was because there was no fat content, it had been cut off and now we had to add oil to the pan when we cooked it. It tasted as good as steak because it was steak, since we had more steaks than any person could want we threw those in also and ground them with the other cuts. All this for well under $1 a pound.

Who would argue that an investment that multiplied more than 4 times in two years was not a good return? And, no matter how the stock market bumped and dipped there was still meat in the freezer. The best news of all is that this does not have to be a deal that only country people can take advantage of though they do get the best return for the money. If you live within driving distance to a rural area a once a year trip to the country can provide many of the same economic and health benefits of the small farmer.

We have heard the horror stories of the main steam cattle feedlot and many have become vegetarians in protest of the conditions in which these animals are raised and the health issues that mass greed production has inspired. The life of small farm animal is not the same.

We raised two or more beef animals at a time. They were raised from birth or purchased at three to six months of age. From there they had all the pasture they could eat supplemented with hay in the winter months. Some farmers supplemented the feed with grain to produce a richer meat and higher fat content but we preferred the leaner less marbleized beef. Breed had much to do with the meat as well and Black Angus is known and idealized as a good breed for producing some of the best steaks. Their temperament is more feisty than others so are not often the choice for the small farmer who prefer the more mellow breeds of Simmental, Limousin, and others.

After raising a number of different animals we decided on the Dutch Belted which are pictured in the lower left hand corner. These animals are mellow and both good milk and beef stock and are almost extinct. Their origin was Europe and they were known as the breed of kings. The reason was that the belt around their middle is dominant and genetically passed on to their offspring. In this way the king was able to recognize his own cattle and punishments were stiff for those who were caught stealing them or raising them as their own. It was our hope to help increase the population of this wonderful animal who was said to be the original producer of Tillamook Cheese and Ice Cream.

So why would a city person want to know all this? Food is an investment. An investment in ourselves, our children, and our nations economic structure. Just as importantly, so that you can select the best steak you can buy from the best conditions. Some study the stock market pages whose return is risky at best, livestock on the other hand has a more expected and predictable pattern of growth and return on investment.

Brief soapbox message: I make no secret or no apology that one of the purposes that I hope to convey with this blog is the hope that the city man in the $1,000 suit will be able to interact and shake hands with the man in the overalls and that they both may be able to recognize and acknowledge the contribution both is making to our way of life and economy. To not do so is at our own peril as we get farther and farther from even knowing the source of our own food supply. By taking it so much much for granted we run the risk of having it changed, altered, or controlled without our knowledge. To learn more about agriculture and the challenges faced pick up the Capital Press and you can amaze and astound your friends. We are all on the same team striving to rebuild our nation's economy therefore it is important for the right hand to know what the left is doing or why. It's really not about politicians and Washington D.C. It's about us, the people, our way of life and country. Isn't food on the table our number 1 priority when it gets right down to it?

Back to our beef investment topic. Even if you live in a city high rise condo there are ways to take advantage of the best opportunities to invest in beef for yourself and family. Buying a whole or half a beef from a rancher will not save as much as growing your own but cuts out many of the middle men who jack up the price and often reduce the quality all along the way.

Who do you know in farming communities within reasonable driving distance from your home? Maybe this is an opportunity that has always been available you have just not taken the first step to bring it to pass. There are some restrictions that apply in buying directly from the farmer so this is something to discuss with them if you want to pursue it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Gone Fishin'

Hi Everyone,

I will not be writing new posts for the rest of the month of May.  Will return in June with new adventures and experiences to share.  For the remainder of the month I will be sharing older posts that you may have missed or check out the blog lists on the right side for tips you might have missed from other of my favorite financial blogs .  God Bless.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In The Trenches - A Reader's Story

One of the all time favorite posts was submitted as a guest post by Linda from Practical Parsimony.  It was first posted on September 22, 2010 and it seemed like a good time to share it again for those that may have missed it the first time.  If you feel like you have it rough or need some encouragement this will give you that boost you need to keep moving forward:

One of my goals for writing In The Trenches blog has been to have a feature where readers could share their stories.  Recently I posted U.S. Poverty on Track To Post Record Gain in 2009 and one of our readers comments looked like the perfect opportunity to  begin.   I contacted Linda, the writer of Practical Parsimony , and she agreed to share her thoughts and family experience of the Great Depression and the impact it has had on their lives. Here is her story:

I write Practical Parsimony, a collection of miscellany about my thrifty ways. Much of my thriftiness or frugality comes from my parents who lived through the Great Depression. Carol has graciously invited me to write a guest post. If you like the guest post, please visit my blog.

From my present perspective, my parents told me little about the Great Depression. But, I cherish what I know. Of course, when I heard about it through their eyes and filtered though their experiences, I did not have the questions I do now. I just listened. Okay, maybe they told me things I forgot or just ignored. It’s too late to ask.

My mother, Tommie, was born in 1921 and graduated from high school in 1938, one month after she turned seventeen. She talked about their life—three children (she was the youngest of four) living with her widowed mother, Ruth, and her grandmother, and my great-grandmother (Sally) during the Depression. Less than a year before my grandfather was shot and killed, my grandmother gave birth to a son that died within a few months. Six months after my grandfather, Tom, was murdered, my mother was born.

My mother never knew her father since he died before she was born. Yet, two women kept them all together and well-fed on a 90-acre farm in north Mississippi, affectionately called “the Old Home Place,” even to this day. My great-grandfather, Eli, came across the mountains from North Carolina and bought the land and built the home my great-grandmother, grandmother, and my mother lived in all their lives.

By the way, my great-grandmother, Sally, was college-educated in a time when not many women went to college. She entered college in 1870. I have copies of the college opening sessions for four years, all with her name in the student list. Eventually, she bore 12 children and raised 11. The legacy of education can still be seen today in the speech, lives, and mannerisms of the family even now, one-hundred-forty-years later.

I can only aspire to be as self-supporting as they were during the Great Depression on their Mississippi farm. Think about it—there were no unemployment payments, no food stamps, no social security payments, and no disability payments. Would we band together today as they had to? On the other hand, how many people who needed help back then were neglected?

They lived on a farm they had to plow, often without a mule. My mother agonized over the sight of her own mother pulling a plow while her small son (my uncle and my mother’s brother), guided the plow. I could tell by the quiver in her voice and the dimpling of her chin as she pressed her lips together that over 50 years later my mother was wounded still from the memory of her mother’s inhuman toil.

They raised meat, chickens, and crops and had plenty of milk and eggs. (Mama still could wring a chicken’s neck, dress it, and have it in a frying pan for us to eat.) I never heard of them getting any help from anyone, but surely the community shared resources.

When my mother (called “Cotton Top” because of her white hair) was six-years-old, she was walking through a field. A rattlesnake bit her on the leg. She ran home and told her mother and grandmother. No one believed her even though she was persistent. Finally, they believed her when her leg was double the size of the other. She spent a week in a hospital, near death for part of her stay.

When she was thirteen, she went to the spring for water. As she lowered her hand, holding a dipper near the water to dip water into a bucket, a Cottonmouth Water Moccasin bit her. She ran home and was immediately taken to the hospital for another stay.

You noticed? In 1936, they still carried water from a spring, their only source of water. A dipper was used to dip water from a natural spring, and put it into a bucket to carry to the house for any water need.

Memaw (my grandmother Ruth) worked in the school cafeteria and was allowed to bring food home at the end of her day. Mama said they needed the food. Sometimes, the food supplemented what little they had, especially in the late winter, I imagine.

By the way, my friend from Kansas thought lots of grandmothers were given the name—“Memaw.” She was so surprised to find out that is just what some of us call our grandmothers in the South. “Memaw” is not a given name. My grandchildren call me “Memaw.”

My grandmother sewed for people during the Depression and was paid little. When Mama was a senior in high school and wanted a new short coat as was the newest fashion, my grandmother showed Mama how to shorten it, a tailored coat with lining and lots of detail. My mother passed the skill and love of sewing to me. I have supported myself sewing at times.

Mama started school in a one-room schoolhouse. In the first grade she learned all the second-grade lessons and completed all the second-grade homework and class work after she finished first-grade work, so the teacher promoted her to third-grade.

Mama said she wanted to go to college in 1938, but could not afford to attend. People offered to pay her tuition and help her go away to college. She did not think she had the right clothes, so she just would not. This, she said, was the worst mistake of her life. She regretted her decision, and told me to attend college, no matter what I had to endure. I did.

Because she so desired to “learn more,” she enrolled in the twelfth grade for a second time. My mother’s cousin told me that other kids in school thought my mother was crazy to want to attend for another year after she graduated. My mother’s reply was, “I want to learn more.” My mother’s eighty-nine-year-old cousin remembered this statement and related it to me four years ago.

Mama said the only thing her family ever took from the government was one pair of shoes for each of the three children. She implied that others took what was offered. That was a source of pride for my mother who felt the lonely, outsider state of fatherlessness more acutely than did her older brother and sister. Other people in the community needed and received more from the government. Or, maybe they were just too proud to take anything else and took less like my mother’s family did.

My aunt, Ganelle, my mother’s sister said none of them suffered in their community because they were all poor before the Depression and stayed poor. They lived in the land of Faulkner and in his time, so if you have read his novels, you might know how life was in the stories I have heard of my family in the nineteenth century. Faulkner and my grandmother were born and died within a year of each other and about ten miles apart. Not much changed in the early twentieth century.

When still a young eighteen-year-old girl, Mama moved to Memphis, TN, and worked in a Ford automobile plant that had been converted to a “war plant” to make airplanes for the war. Her job was to make ball bearings. Out of her check, she rented an apartment with another girl from the same town, supported herself, and sent $6 each week to her mother back in Mississippi.

Mama did not go to college, but she joined the Women’s Army Corp in 1942, serving in Des Moines, Iowa. Of course, the Depression had ended in 1941. Even though the Depression ended, the effects lingered.

I was born September 11, 1946, one of the first Baby Boomers. Knowing my great-grandmother attended college and hearing my mother’s anguish over her lost chance, I was driven to attend college, eventually earning two B.A.s, an M.A., and a teaching certificate. Through great personal adversity, I prevailed in my quest for education. I only lack the Ph.D.

My parents taught me things that were necessary skills in the Depression. That is another tale to tell. Mama could “make do” with the best. She taught me how to look around and find a way to make things we needed. Now, I am still frugal. I “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Okay, I am not as parsimonious as I could be. But, I am definitely a product of the Depression since my parents came of age during that time.

Thanks Linda!

If you have a story to tell I would love to hear from you and share it with our readers.  Whether it is a brief "how-to" of something you have learned through the experience, memories of stories passed down through the generations, a recipe, or a picture, these stories and images serve to encourage us and bring hope to those now going through financial hardship, transition, and change.  Email me your story at inthetrenches {at} live {dot} com.  It is my hope that we can make this a regular feature as it is the fabric from which this country was and now is woven together.  Carol