Making The Most Of What You’ve Got

retrochick.JPGIvy says:

My dad and I were talking yesterday about some less obvious effects of the economy being in the crapper. People are freaking out all over the place, but it seems like everyone’s freaking out in different directions. I think this is a hard time for a lot of people, emotionally. After all, it is scary not knowing if there will be a next paycheck.

My dad recounted the time he lost his job during the “Rust-Belt” recession of the 1980s, on one hand many people were in the same boat, but others were still doing quite well and it was hard not to be incredibly jealous. Dad survived and came out on top, he credits the people who surrounded him positive attitudes and his miraculous conversion to Christianity. He can look back with the wisdom that comes with age, and still feels a tinge of sadness. His advice to me was to help people look at the little things that are still joyous in your life, and try to make the mundane special.

He’s right, of course. Many of you may not know this, but several years ago, my husband and I were ridiculously poor. Like, not having quite enough money every month to cover all the necessities poor. Like, driving a car that has 800 things wrong with it and is twice as old as your oldest kid and being glad to have it, poor. Like, beans and rice and beans and rice and beans and rice and beans and rice and for special occasions, rice and beans, poor. Like, living in the ghetto and considering cooking up the ham that the hood rats threw at your door, poor. When I think back on those times, I realize my dad’s advice was part of what carried us through those times. That, and our faith in God and the help from our families.

So, now I feel perfectly qualified to sit here typing at you today- you, who have lost jobs. You, who have had pay cuts. You, who have struggled in this time of rising prices and stagnant wages and aren’t quite making it. I’m not going to sit here and preach the thing that I think carried me through the most- faith in God. That’s not what I’m here for, but I do think I should at least mention it.

No, I’m here to sing from the rooftops that making the most of what little you have is going to help carry you through these times. Remember where your real treasure lies- your friends and family- and make the most of that. It’s the little things you’ll hang onto and remember, and the same will go for your kids.

I remember when I was a kid in the 80s and my dad had lost his job, we were having spaghetti for the 700th time that week. Nobody was happy about it and everyone was complaining about it. Finally, mom said, “Fine. We’ll have a spaghetti picnic.” We put a blanket out on the living room floor and had a spaghetti picnic. It was still dumb, stupid spaghetti, but somehow just the act of eating it on the floor made it better.

Or, when I was a single mom, my son and I had a tradition (started, actually, by my mom’s dad with them and carried on when I was a kid) of having “midnight snacks”. On payday Fridays we’d go out and grab hamburgers late at night and then nosh on them while watching whatever movie we had on hand, or happened to be on cable. My son and I carry this tradition to this day, when time permits since he’s a busy teenager.

It’s a tough thing to swallow when you’re down and out financially. But do the best you can, cover your basics first, and then try to make even the mundane special. Appreciate what you do have and try not to be jealous of what others have. Remember, someday it will be your time in the sun.


  1. aoifeclancy on March 19, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    i grew up in a big, poor, poor, catholic family. and all we had was each other. there is something to be said for learning to value experiences and not stuff. stuff is replaceable. memories and people are not.

  2. Sharon Zink on March 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Thank you for this post. I remember being unemployed in the ’90’s in spite of having a college education and my husband having a college education. It seemed that we had done everything right and were still poor. It wasn’t fair. And I couldn’t land a decent job.

    Then I thought, “OK, but I have a cat, and a good book, and lots of yarn.” And I knitted and crocheted, and loved my cat, and read book after book. I finished my Master’s degree, and we got good jobs, and we finished raising the kids, and now we are “rich” (to us.) But even now, in the midst of my “wealth,” what I love most (next to family) are a cat, and a good book, and lots of yarn. It never gets any better than that.

    Oh, yes, and faith in God. How much I have learned about Him in the bad times! And how much I love Him. He is true to every one of His promises.

  3. Celesta on February 26, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Thank you for this. The Tomato Pie recipe led me to this blog, and the rest is amazing! I was laid off from my job last Monday. I really feel the “little things” angle; yesterday I took a hike with my dog, and it did me more good than a pricey therapist could.

    Keep it up!

  4. Gigi Griffis on February 25, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you for this post, it is filled with great words of wisdom that we all need these days. I love this site and have just recently started coming here.
    Many Blessings

  5. caryn verell on February 25, 2009 at 11:39 am

    during the summer of ’64 my folks moved the family from illinois to missouri….while daddy was looking for work we signed up for commodities and practically lived off of pancakes, scrambled eggs, and creamed chip beef on toast… i was thirteen years old but i don’t remember being unhappy during this very hard time. daddy finally got work as the elementary school janitor and mom got a job working nights at the nursing home. soon, daddy got hired on at the lead smeltering plant and mom could stay home with the kids. two years later daddy built a house for was not a grand house but sufficiently served our basic needs. in the 70’s i served my country with the u.s. navy and at the end of every month mom sent me a five dollar bill with a note enclosed telling me to go buy soup. i think that every decade has had its’ ups and its’ downs…and have learned over the years to be frugal, take time to enjoy what life has to offer and not to be afraid. the 80’s were spent overseas and when my family returned to the states we were shocked at the changes in the u.s. …everything was expensive, but everywhere we looked, folks were spending money they did not have. still, everywhere i look these days i see people whose “wanters are bigger than their getters”… i am out of debt now and still practice the frugal lessons gleaned from a lifetime of experience….it never ends.

  6. Erin on February 25, 2009 at 10:53 am

    So, many people won’t admit to being like us, the up and down people…the ones who get their debt completely paid off, celebrate, and then let it climb back into their lives. A year ago, I told my husband, we need off this merry go round once and for all…it is the reason I found blogs, the reason I read blogs…I need constant reinforcement and support for a way of life that is, sad to say, alien to us. Having said that, it is the little triumphs that make us feel proud. So, now we’re paying down our debt and, because of the frugal choices and lifestyle we’ve adopted, we’re confident that we’ll ride out this storm…without feeling deprived or picked on. Thanks for an awesome post.

  7. Pam on February 25, 2009 at 9:37 am

    I became a single mom when my daughter was ten. I had a job but there was no money for extras. 17 years later I remarried and shared my desire with my husband to write a book about making memories and traditions for little or no money. Two years ago “Creating Happy Memories” was published. It contains lots memories and traditions of family and friends and a few famous folks too. None require much money-all provide wonderful family time. Because we met while volunteering at the local homeless center we have given all of my profits to their childrens programs. Please check it out at God Bless, Pam
    P.S I would love to give one of my books to your site as a give away.

  8. Judith on February 24, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Gena, my heart goes out to you and your kids. May God continue to bring you comfort and hope!

    My husband and I have known poor, too. We’ve raised 4 kids on pastors’ salaries, and know what it means to enjoy each other and our friends, and not all the things we “could” have.
    My kids always got many of their clothers from thrift stores and yard sales; they called them “clothes with a history”! Years back, when Liz was in middle school, she desparately wanted khakis from Gap, but we couldn’t afford $40 for a pair of pants. But I found a like-new pair at Salvation Army for $4 and bought them for her. They fit like they were tailored for her and she was so excited. One of the “well-dressed” girls at school said to her, “I LOVE your pants. Where did you get them?” Liz always honest as she was innocent said, “My Mom found them at Sal Val for $4. I love them, too.” The girl replied, “Did I say I love them? I hate them! They’re awful!” and stormed off. Liz was more puzzled than hurt; she couldn’t understand the other girl’s attitude at all. The pants fit; they were just what she wanted; they were a bargain. What more could you want?
    Living with less is not a deprivation if we enjoy and are grateful for what we have, if we share with others, and if we value people above things. Here’s hoping lots more people will take hard times and make them a time for enjoying life’s basics — and the Giver.

  9. Diaper Cakes Becca on February 24, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    This is my favorite post thus far on this site….and I love almost all of the posts!!

    Truly times of recession and financial woes can make or break an individual AND/OR a family. By learning to tighten the purse strings we can teach our kids some very valuable lessons on being wise with money (that, perhaps, we did not have the opportunity to learn from OUR parents)….and we can get back to the basics of doing things with our friends and family that do not cost much but that are much more special than the expensive leisure activities that seem to abound in times of milk and honey!!

    I look forward to seeing tips on this site and across the net that will educate us all about cutting back on expenses, finding thrifty activities that are FUN and about making what should be important (each other) the priority once again.

    These are some tough times we are getting ready to go through but if we hold on tight and use our oars to keep the boat pointed DOWN the river…..we just might make it through the rapids with some great memories and a sense of relief at not having gotten soaked!!

    My very best to us all…….I hope none of us fall in the river!

  10. Gena on February 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Ivy, this post really hit home with me. My husband and I were SO broke. I stayed at home. He worked several jobs. But, our kids never knew that we had nothing. I will tell stories even now and my oldest daughter can’t believe it.

    Unfortunately, my husband (47) was killed in a tragic accident this past July. Fortunately, he left us well taken care of. He, at one point, was an insurance broker and was a firm believer in life insurance. We had no debt, other than our home. We drive used cars. We didn’t eat out. We had been on one income for years. I have homeschooled our children.

    I miss him every second of every day. But, because of him and his planning, the children and I will not have to worry. BUT, if I were to spend like there is no tomorrow and think that I DESERVE everything new, or bigger, or whatever. We would be in trouble. That is not our way, never has been.

    We live a full life and we are thankful every day. I, like you, have our Lord to thank. I will be a good steward of all that He and my husband have provided for me and my children.

  11. Stephanie on February 24, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you Ivy. I needed this.

  12. Trixie on February 24, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Hello Ivy,

    Terrific post! Thank you for sharing. I’ve been there too; and yes, it is very difficult sometimes to not be jealous of others and to be thankful for just the bare basics that we are so weary of. In the midst of our lack, we develop a deeper relationship with God and a greater appreciation for the better financial times; I think it also makes us more generous to others that are going through a tight time.

    My husband and I make less than the “middle class” (whatever that means) wage for our area and we feel like we are very well off. What a blessing this is! I know people that make many times what we make and they feel poor.

    Take Care,


  13. Rebecca on February 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Thank you for this post. Our family counts ourselves blessed that we have learned how to be frugal. After going from a small, but reasonable wage, to half that we started making do with what we had. Sure compared to our living room, our couch is monstrous and our dining table isn’t big enough to seat extra people, but it is enough. Our income has recently grown closer to what we has due to a surprise promotion, but we know how to get by on less if our situation changes again in a few weeks months or years. In fact, we feel like we are rich when we have one more member of the family and are still expecting to make less than we had. Knowing how to get by on less leads to a sense of security.

  14. marybeth at on February 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    This is so inspirational, thank you! Although we may be in a good spot now, we can’t predict the future and I think it’s wise for most people to live with an air of frugality. This is a great reminder of how to adapt as we work on that.

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