My life has been anything but ordinary. I began life impoverished, but with poverty came a street knowledge that I might not have found otherwise. It is because of my early years that I came to learn how to get something for free or next to it. Even though my story is quite different today, I still use these same strategies to save money and get the most bang for my buck.
I have been to the depths of financially disparity and I don't want anyone to have to suffer the same. I know what it's like and I have been there pinching pennies since I was very young. As my Grandmother always used to say, when she sat me on her lap to read me a story, "It's always best to start at the beginning." The beginning for me is my early years and how I learned at a very young age the value of a dollar.
I grew up in a very strange and mixed background as a child. On one hand I had very wealthy Grandparents (something I did not know about until I had graduated from High School), and a wealthy father (who I did not meet until I was 16 by accident). I rarely saw my mother who traveled a lot with her boyfriends and work. She barely had enough money to support my brother (who I rarely saw either) and I.
So what was my childhood like? My Grandmother was truly the light of my life. I was rarely given the privilege of investing time with her as she lived far away and we couldn't afford the gas for the four-hour drive.
However, once at my Grandmothers, life was always about music and magic. The stories she would weave about the magic gnomes in her backyard and the wonderful fairy-tales she would read of Benjamin Bunny and The Tale of Peter Rabbit, would capture my imagination and let me live as a child for the brief time I was there.
When I went back to my reality, my family was poor and I came home from school with a key around my neck. I 'cooked' my first meal for my older brother when I was five by pouring raw macaroni and cheese into a bowl of water and graciously handing it to him. I had seen babysitters do it in the past (except of course they had really cooked it); I just didn't know about cooking or directions!
Macaroni and cheese was what we were given to eat every night except when guests were over. When we had babysitters, sometimes they would cook it for us and let us eat it, other times they would eat it and make us watch them while we stayed hungry. Lunch at school was not available for me. I had no clue where the other children got their lunches from, and so I would play in the field at lunch or hide so I wouldn't stand out from all the other children who sat at the tables and ate. I went hungry most of the time.
Unfortunately, I learned to use food as my control device later on. These experiences taught me at a very early age to dream big about the things I wanted, but that dreaming wasn't enough. I learned that I had to have a plan and that money made that plan easier to achieve.
The Wizard of Oz and the Sound of Music were some my all time favorite movies and from the tender age of three I sang Over the Rainbow and Edelweiss with great hope for the future. By the age of 10, I was already buying my own groceries. My mom would give me $10.00 a week, drop me off at the store to shop for the following week and then pick me up later. Meal planning and working with leftovers to stretch the budget? I had no clue about that, so I would buy all apples and nuts or just a variety of yogurt, but I made the money work for me.
I had my first babysitting job, unpaid of course, for a friend of my mothers when I was four. My mom would drop me off, and leave me with her friend, who would in turn leave me with her one-year-old child for hours at a time. I would try to feed the baby, as she was left in a high chair, the food left open on the counter. The baby never liked anything, to my dismay; she would just spit it out. I figured out at a later age that I was overfeeding her, but what did I know?
I started working officially with a work permit at the age of 12 as a waitress and worked in various jobs from operator for an answering service (illegally overnight, as I was a minor), movie store rental clerk and housekeeper, all before I was 16.
By 15, I was supporting myself because I had dropped out of High School when the buses stopped coming to my area and I had no other way to get to school other than walking the 6.9 miles each way (it wasn't uphill both ways in the snow!). We lived in the backwoods country.
I earned some money from my music, but not a lot, however, that was my dream. I was going to be a famous singing star! (What I didn't realize at the time was that fame didn't equate to money, it just meant everyone else got your money and you may end up with nothing!)
I re-entered school and finished my High School career with no real hopes of college and only a distant dream. I was too poor to attend college, I didn't know about Jr. College and I didn't have the grades for an academic scholarship. Although I had dreamed of playing sports and even ran with the track team in their practices, sports had never been part of my life because I couldn't afford to pay the fees and so an athletic scholarship was not even a thought.
Because of my singing background, I was offered a $10,000 a year music scholarship at a prestigious music college, but the cost per year was $25,000 not including cost of living and I had never been told or heard about grants.
When I heard my classmates beaming about their plans for a future at a university or junior college, I finally had the courage to approach someone about the possibilities of me attending college and how I could make that happen. I mistakenly asked a school counselor (who was filling in for my counselor for the week) how someone like me could attend college. He told me that I was not the type for college and I should just get a job or get married because that would be the best I could hope for. I walked away believing him.
After graduation, I was headed for New York, where I had an apartment, a job and big dreams of being a Broadway star. Amazingly just before I left, I met my father by shear accident, having not seen him since I was a year old. He talked me into renting the apartment next to his in Pennsylvania.
My dreams of having a real family overrode my desire for New York and Broadway; I was so excited that I leapt at the chance. However, I soon found out that the reality was much starker when father left me abandoned without having anyway to see his side of the family. A few years ago, my favorite uncle (his brother) divulged to me and everyone sitting at the table that my father's only motive for wanting me near, and in his life, was to avoid paying back child support. It broke my heart, but I am better now.
When I lived in Pennsylvania, I was all of 17-years old and stuck in a little town in the middle of nowhere, living next door to a father who wouldn't give me the time of day. New York, my job and my apartment were long gone and too far away to even dream about.
At 17, I was working as a waitress and so poor and hungry that I ate out of garbage bins outside my apartment many times. I learned how to make lettuce taste like a gourmet meal by boiling it, baking or frying it usually with pepper and a lot of imagination because that was all I could afford. As a real treat, if I had extra money, I would buy cabbage.
Christmas can be a very lonely time when you have no family around and no money. I once took the money that was slotted for the electric bill, and went out to buy a dozen cookies from the baker, hot cocoa and peanut M&M's for a Christmas treat. I didn't have a phone so I couldn't call home and I was too far away in the dead of winter from any pay phones.
One of my neighbors lent me a fake tree, which I decorated with the few ornaments I had been given during my childhood. I sat gazing at the Christmas tree, gorging on food to fill my empty heart with hopes for a future that would include lots of money so I would never feel like this again.
While I could never count on money, I could always count on rent being due on the first, needing money for food and not paying the electric bill putting me in big trouble. While I could do without a phone, I couldn't live without heating in sub-zero temperatures.
When I finally cried "uncle" in that little town, I walked over to my neighbor's apartment and told her I was going to walk across America until I arrived safely home (I couldn't afford bus fare let alone a plane ticket). I thought that at least where I grew up; I would have family and friends around to help ease the pain and loneliness I had been suffering all this time. It was at that time my neighbor told me, that with her meager funds she had been purchasing a lottery ticket every single week in hopes of winning so she could pay for me to have the singing career of my dreams. I will never forget her, and she is one of the reasons I continued and am where I am today.
So I packed my things and headed out across America. God watched over me as my Mom called my Dad and he intercepted saying he was buying me an airplane ticket home and my Mom would pay him back. I paid him back. Every penny.
Once I was home, a new set of problems arose. While rent was less expensive and heating was included, I now had my family and friends, their birthdays and Christmas to contend with. At the age of 19, I was too embarrassed to say I didn't have the money for the extras when I could barely afford the bus fare to get to work and school.
By then, I had begun to attend junior college, and eating out or extra activities on the weekend with friends was a definite no. I had to learn to economize even more and figure out ways to give gifts without paying very much money and have fun with no money. I learned how to buy groceries without sacrificing my rent and pay for other essentials with not much more than sheer willpower.
That's part of my short story. Because my path was hard, I was inspired to learn how to save money and get something for nothing, but my struggle with money has been much like anyone else's. Either people have it or they don't. You are either in the 'have's' or the 'have not's'. Most often, I didn't have the money and was in the 'have not' category.
Like many, I worked hard, but something always ate away at my money. For Example, I was once hit by a car, had to learn to walk again and had medical bills beyond what I could have possibly paid, but somehow, I did.
I had botched surgery after botched surgery. I was in jobs that back in my Mom's day would be high paying, but in my day, at $12 an hour, was barely enough to pay basic living needs and I barely made rent. Of course, the list went on, as it does with most of us.
Because I felt the need to buy presents for birthdays and Christmas even though I didn't have the money and couldn't afford such luxuries, I quickly learned how to be thrifty, save money and get the most bang for my buck.
Back in the day, I was often asked how I accomplished buying the things I did when I was barely able to afford to eat. I was always happy to share my tips and strategies. I have been there, done that and figured a way out of my financial crises on more than one occasion.
I understand that many people go through the same things with their money. We all suffer from unforeseen circumstances. As a young woman, I had to file bankruptcy after a failed required surgery. The procedure went bad, my insurance ran out, and by that time, no insurance would cover it. I had to pay for all the subsequent surgeries by myself.
I remained in debt, paying large monthly credit card bills from a relentless stream of "fix it" surgeries and when there was still no end in sight I gave up with $179 thousand more to pay (the rest I had already paid for). I just couldn't do it anymore and I cried all the way to the bankruptcy table.
With the desperation of today's economy, many people are struggling just to meet basic needs. Unfortunately, for the first time in American history, we are living off accumulated debt. Most people aren't worth even close to what they owe.
As an added pressure to our economic insecurity, we are importing our goods from other countries and even though most won't admit it and it's not showing the worst signs yet, I believe we are losing the economic battle to stay afloat in this country.
With wages not commiserative with the cost of living and jobs being taken away right and left after they are shipped overseas, the crunch is on to just survive. The 'American Dream' is fading fast with families working two or three jobs a day to get ahead and barely survive.
The widening gap between upper and middle classes makes those in poverty-stricken areas even more desperate to survive. We are all in trouble.
While back in the day it may have been possible to have the 'American Dream' if you worked hard, it doesn't seem possible anymore. So how can we support our families and get back to the 'American Dream?' By saving money and learning to be frugal consumers.
You can get out of the darkness and you can begin to see the light at the end of the financial doomsday tunnel. It's all about taking the time to use what little you don't have and make it work. It's time to make your money work for you instead of only working for your money!
Example. I have fed seven adults on less than $10. How? I used an entertainment book I had purchased through an elementary school and hit up all of the free or buy one-get one free items. We had leftovers and it was a lot of main courses as well as several side dishes!
With that same entertainment book, that originally cost $10, I have received free oil changes, dry cleaning, roses, eye exams, chiropractic, food, car wash and a lot more. One year I counted my savings and by using the book diligently, I had saved over $2,839.89!
I have filled an entire truck with top-name brand gifts and goods, thousands and thousands of dollars worth for under $400. How? By buying everything when it was 75% - 95% off and then applying for the card each store offered and using it. That added another 15 – 25% off at the various stores. In many cases, all I had to pay was sales tax! I had incredible gifts for two years for every event including Christmas! The trick to that one is to pay off the credit card as soon as the bill comes so there are no interest penalties then cancel it. Because the bill was less than $400 total and I had been saving $27.00 two times a month all year, I had the money, plus the interest I earned off the money in my savings account and an additional $300 leftover once the bills were paid!
There is hope.
Here are a few more ideas to help you get on your way and begin living life and saving money.
How can you eat, drink and shop for free at restaurants and stores in your neighborhood? Sign up as a mystery shopper – I still keep my hand in the field, even though I tour all over the world. Its fun and I get paid! Tip: Never pay any company money to do their work. They are supposed to pay you!
Never put off tomorrow what you can pay today. While you don’t want to pay bills too early, did you know that companies rely on people forgetting just past the date a bill is due and then you pay a high penalty? They can make thousands of dollars a year just from that little mistake on one person. That’s money you can put in the bank!
Ping your vegetables and smell them to make sure you are getting what you paid for and do look in the vegetable and fruit portion of the market as they do have coupons available from time to time, that will discount your price!
Very Unusual College Scholarships for Those Who Haven't Had Huge Academic or Sports Success
College is very expensive, even if you are attending a junior college for the first two years. There are so many weird and whacky scholarships available and not just to those who are academically or athletically inclined. Do a Google search to find more information on them. (I have hundreds of scholarships, their websites, requirements and deadlines listed in Shop for a Day with Jaci Rae – How to Get Almost Anything for Free or Next to It and due to space I cannot list everything I would like to here.)
Here are a few examples of fun and whacky college scholarships available to anyone:
David Letterman Scholarship
Stuck at the Prom Scholarship
Jennifer L. Duke Memorial Scholarship Fund
The Horatio Alger Scholarship Program for Overcoming Adversity
Great Clips Scholarship
The Brick Awards
In conclusion, saving money doesn’t mean you’re cheap, it means you are smart. The rich didn’t get rich by spending every last dime to impress their friends. Trust me! Please join me in May and June at the Learning Annex (you can attend live or online) for a three hour intensive course on how you can save money.
Remember, Life is Expensive, But Living Doesn't Have to Be! You have this one moment in time, live it to the fullest!