REMEMBER THESE THINGS
by Daniel R. Snyder
Pick up deposit bottles and pennies. Ten bottles and six pennies buys a can of soup. Try not to let anyone see you. Stock up on canned vegetables when they’re two for a dollar. Clip coupons, but be careful. A name brand with a coupon can still be more expensive than the store brand. Try not to buy fresh vegetables in the fall because co-workers usually give away extra from their gardens. Don’t ask, but don’t turn them down. Figure out if it’s cheaper to buy apples by the pound or by the bag, and get whatever’s on sale even if you don’t like that kind. Never buy anything at the grocery that you can find at the day-old bread store. Adding powdered milk to regular milk cuts the price in half. Kool-Aid is cheaper than pop. One pound of hamburger plus a full bag of elbow macaroni and two cans of tomato sauce makes six meals, assuming you eat crackers with it. Salt to taste.
Never wear dirty clothes. Fix seams if you can. If you have to buy new ones, get them at thrift stores or yard sales. Make sure they’re in good shape. You can look like you have more outfits if you dress in layers, mixing and matching things differently every day. With iron-on patches, you can extend the life of a pair pants by as much as a year, but don’t wear them to work if it shows. You don’t need a winter coat. Just wear a couple extra shirts. You can always take them off when you get to work. It’s less expensive to have new heels put on a good pair of shoes than to buy a new pair. If the lining on your jacket is frayed, sew in a flannel shirt. Nobody will know the difference.
Don’t eat grapes from your shopping cart. You haven’t paid for them yet. Never buy a book. They are free at the library. So are DVDs, if there’s nothing good on TV. Don’t subscribe to a newspaper or a magazine: there’s always some sitting around the lunchroom. Keep the thermostat at fifty when you’re home, and turn it down just low enough that the pipes won’t freeze when you sleep. If you’re cold, throw on another blanket. Turn off every light you don’t absolutely need, including the front and back porch lights. It’s not like you have anything worth stealing anyhow. Never use the air conditioner. If you’re hot, ride your bike to the library and stay until it closes. Read the want ads while you’re there. You never know.
Take a close look at people’s trash as you’re driving to work. It’s amazing how many useful things people throw away. Do it in the dark, though. Check the freebie section of the newspaper every Sunday. Don’t buy off-brand light bulbs. They may cost half as much, but they don’t last nearly as long. Wait until you go to work to go to the bathroom in the morning. It saves on toilet paper. Paper towels are wasteful. Use a rag. Don’t buy cheap dish soap or laundry detergent. You have to use three times as much. Run all your errands on the same day. Map first to save gas. Never fill up at the end of the week. It’s almost always more expensive going into the weekend.
Don’t swear. Being poor doesn’t mean you have to talk like trash. It’s cheaper to write a letter than to make a long-distance phone call. Make sure you keep a list of all the reasons you’ve given for not going out to dinner with friends. Do not use the same one for at least six months. Write them down to make sure. Don’t make a pig of yourself at parties. Buy gifts at the dollar store. Everybody likes candles. Recycle greeting cards by cutting out the pictures and gluing them to construction paper. People will think you’re just being creative. Give them out in person if you can to save postage. Do not accept leftovers from co-worker’s lunches. And remember—it doesn’t matter if your towels don’t match. You never ask anyone to come over anyway.
Don’t beg. Don’t steal. Resist the urge to deal drugs. Going to jail is worse than being poor. Just imagine what people would think of you. Remember how lucky you are. Think about those people shivering on street corners every winter holding signs that say, “Will work for food.” Remind yourself every day that this is temporary. Things will get better.
Daniel R. Snyder is a writer living in Saginaw, whose better works have appeared in various literary journals, including Bellowing Ark, Controlled Burn, Whistling Shade, and the Adirondack Review. The bad works keep a fire in his workshop continuously burning through the cold and dark nights of Michigan’s winter. When he’s not writing or teaching, he can be found making huge piles of sawdust and playing with the barn cats.