It was only recently that I looked at my dresser in a new light.
It had belonged to my parents. I’m not sure how I wound up with it, and considering how much stuff I have crammed into it, I’m not sure how my parents were able to share it. I guess each of them had their designated drawers. I’d venture to say they didn’t have an abundance of stuff like I do.
I have shirts in there that haven’t fit me in years. As soon as I lose weight, those shirts will become a regular part of my wardrobe.
The more I think of it, there’s no doubt my parents simply didn’t have more clothing than they needed at any particular time. They lived through, and lost a home to, the Great Depression.
From what I’ve been told, dad never was out of work for any extended period of time, so I’m not sure how they lost their home. Perhaps the bank was sinking and recalled all outstanding loans. If my big sister reads this and has an answer, I’ll pass it along to you.
In the meantime, I want to let you in on the secret of this dresser. It also served as the family’s treasure chest. After the Depression, mom and dad no longer trusted banks… and they weren’t about to be taken in by this F.D.I.C. nonsense.
Removing the drawers of this dresser reveals the wood panel beneath each drawer. As a child, I sometimes watched my parents ‘handle’ dad’s pay. I don’t know if he was paid in cash, or if he cashed his check on the way home, but by the time they got to the dresser, he had a hand-full of bills.
Each envelope in the dresser had a designation: mortgage, food, insurance, utilities, car payment, and so on. The money would be divided among the envelopes and dad would be left with enough to cover his carfare for the next pay period.
When it came time to pay the bills, mom would take the appropriate envelopes and we would walk to the bank in Crafton. She could pay the mortgage and the utilities right there at the bank. For other bills, she’d purchase money orders, place them in their respective envelopes, and drop them in the mailbox as we walked home.
To my knowledge, up until mom’s death, my parents did not have a checking or savings account. Later in life, my sister talked dad into opening a checking account.
I should also mention there was at least one other envelope in that dresser, That was the one marked ‘Vacation’. Every payday a certain portion of the paycheck went into that one so we could enjoy a trip to the Jersey shore.
My guess is there was one other envelope marked ‘birthdays and Christmas’, but I never saw that one.
While my parents methods might be seen as silly by people who did not suffer through those tough economic times, I’ve seen lots of folks who would benefit by employing a similar method… and the discipline to make it work.
Working with St. Vincent dePaul and the Lutheran Church outreach programs I’ve seen lots of people who simply don’t plan ahead. Looking at their paycheck stubs, there is no reason for them to behind in their rent and utility bills… and yet they are.
That’s because when they get paid, the money goes into the pocket rather than the budget. When they see something they like and want, instead of putting money into a designated envelope and saving for it, they buy it. Then, when the bills come due, the pocket is empty.
To be honest, there are times when I’ve fallen prey to that type of behavior. But I have a credit card. I can charge my impulsive purchases and still be able to pay the monthly bills. I may not be able to pay off my credit card for that month, but when the interest begins piling up, I learned enough from my parent’s frugality to put the credit card away until I can get the balance back to zero.
Perhaps living with my parents’ wall safe all these years has been a constant reminder to live within my means.