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Embracing the frugal lifestyle? Shadow a senior

Greetings to Truck News blog readers!
I haven’t been an active contributor for awhile, but am returning ‘somewhat’ from working the part-time fringes to add some commentary here and there.
You’ll notice I may not directly address trucking industry issues in all my entries. In my opinion, that blog space (blogosphere?) is already well serviced.
But I hope nevertheless that you’ll find my commentaries relevant to everyday life, family, society and the observation thereof.

Embracing the frugal lifestyle? Shadow a senior
If the current economic crisis has done anything, it has definitely shed light on the huge generational gap that exists, in terms of philosophies about money and spending.
I’m talking about the difference in financial philosophy between those who lived through hardships, like the Depression, wars, and long periods of post-war adjustment and financial uncertainty , and subsequent generations who’ve embraced a culture of instant gratification.
The most sickening aspect of today’s ‘economic downturn’ is without a doubt the vulture culture and opportunism that descends among the people who perhaps will never have to define ‘need vs. want,’ and who will probably just never ‘get it’.
The vulture takes many forms, but the most obvious is, “Sure, there’s a recession on, but what’s in it for me? Where are the sales? Why won’t the car dealers give me a better deal? Who’s going to ‘look after me if I lose my job?”
While there are always ‘opportunities’ in downturns, to ‘buy cheap stocks’ or to ‘sweep up a few reasonably priced bungalows’ (I swear I recently talked to someone who said this), I feel strongly that the lessons that ought to be learned out of what happened with this economic crisis might just miss some targets.
One of the popular themes in newspaper lifestyle sections today is ‘how to slum it’ and make do on less luxury than usual.
Food columnists, for example, now offer up gourmet recipes that aren’t meant to take a bite out of the wallet.
One experiment I read about recently took at couple with a $300 a week grocery bill (how the heck? I asked, unless it’s for organic dog food and imported condiments) and got them down to less than a third of that for a ‘nutritious’ week’s worth of meals.
Yet unsurprisingly, while some of these recipes may use cheap ingredients like cans of sardines and a bag of pasta, they also require a toss of high priced Modena balsamic vinegar and a shake of rare sea salts as a garnish. This sort of disqualifies them in my eyes.
Prior generations, and especially today’s older seniors (less so the newly minted ones) in contrast, sure knew how to make good use of their grocery dollar.
If I’ve heard the story once, I’ve heard a hundred times how my grandmother made a Sunday roast of beef or turkey last well into the next week, reconstituted into leftovers.
That was back when my grandfather’s salary as a public school principal was a pittance compared to what starting teachers make today.
Grandma, the oldest of seven kids, would march back to the Dominion at Yonge and Lawrence in Toronto, where my mother grew up, and demand a refund for meat that wasn’t the freshest, or milk that had soured.
Today most of us just cut our losses and toss the mouldy contents away.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to ‘shadow’ a senior, a distant relative of my mother’s who just became a widow. By ‘shadow’, I mean that this lady needed some help with errands and driving around to various appointments, and my mother volunteered me on one of my days off.
Everywhere we went, and for every transaction, this lady took cash. She did not, I found out, own a credit card, and if she ever had, she had never used it.
Now while most of us today would find this inconvenient in the extreme, just for the fact that to transact on anything you need a credit record, this lady had made it to age 87, paying cash only, including for her car and for a recent furniture upholstery job.
Saving cash was an elementary lesson she had learned growing up as one of a family of 13, living through the Depression.
It was somewhat nerve-wracking to know that she was walking around with wads of bills. I started looking over my shoulder as we went on the errands.
But it was also refreshing to think that, at the end of the day, no paper trail of amounts owing was going to follow her around several weeks later.
And while there are many advocates today for living frugally, there aren’t that many ready and willing to actually execute it.
My mother tells the story of my grandfather, as a young married student at U of T, walking downtown to the campus during the Depression to save transit fare. He ran into a beggar who demanded change. My grandfather said he had none.
The beggar didn’t believe him, so my grandfather shook out his pockets. The beggar shook his head and said “You poor man. Walking all the way downtown? Let me cover your fare,” and handed him some change.
But there is a downside to the sense of insecurity that develops over long term financial insecurity.
Those who have been affected sometimes have a really hard time spending, even when they safely can.
A relative of my husband’s lived super frugally for years, having come to Canada as an immigrant with very little to his name. His wife whined that she was still watching a black and white TV, five years ago.
And yet when this relative died, his sons found (rumour has it) half a million dollars hidden in a wall safe.
I also recall the lady who was my very first financial advisor of sorts. She was totally debt-averse, and
had shrewdly saved enough to purchase a now-pricey house in Leaside, Toronto.
“Now you’ll need a credit card,” she would say disdainfully, practically choking on the word ‘credit’, “but don’t charge anything on it that you don’t have in the bank.”
But apart from her one vice of smoking, she wouldn’t buy herself a thing. The one time she did splurge, three days later, she took the item back to the store.
She later died of brain cancer and her money went to charity, which, depending on how you view charities, was either a good or bad thing.
Difficult to say these days when and if you’re truly safe to go on a spending binge. But it’s definitely more guilt-free if the cash is there in the first place.

Julia Kuzeljevich

Julia Kuzeljevich

Julia Kuzeljevich is managing editor of Motortruck magazine, as well as sister publication Canadian Transportation & Logistics and With nearly seven years’ experience writing for the Canadian transportation industry, Julia specializes in human interest, in-depth news and business articles of interest to the trucking and logistics sectors. Julia has a degree in languages with a postgraduate specialization in journalism, and work experience in the air transportation industry.
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