The following post is from our very own reader and frequent commenter, SherryH. She lives in coastal North Carolina with her husband, their two adult children, and the requisite writer’s cats. In 2013, she survived a brain tumor that cost her her eyesight, but she’s determined not to let it slow her down. In the past year or so, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know her better and am thankful for her friendship. Please enjoy the heck out of her first post ever!!!
I’ve always been a frugalist, by both inclination and necessity. In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I dug ourselves into some pretty serious debt, and I led the charge as we buckled down to dig our way back out of it.
Getting My Frugal On
I shopped thrift stores and yard sales. I carefully combed the grocery circulars for the best deals, and knew to the penny which stores had the best deals on dried beans. I cooked at home, and I packed my husband’s lunch, not once or twice a week, but every day. I laughed in the face of articles that recommended I give up my Starbucks to cut expenses. I tracked our bills, prioritized our debts, and tackled emergencies, inching our way closer and closer to stable financial ground. I was a force to be reckoned with.
Bump in the Road – Blindness
And then, in 2013, I lost my eyesight to a massive (though, thankfully, non-malignant) brain tumor that nearly killed me. When I came home from the hospital, weak, sore, a little disoriented–and blind–I wondered whether there would be any budgetting–or any fun stuff!–again.
My husband had taken over paying the bills. He’s a great guy, but he was stepping into a role I’d filled for nearly twenty years, and I wasn’t much help. In addition, there was only so much of him to go around. Besides work and paying the bills, in those early days he had to take care of me, do almost all of the cooking and cleaning, cart me around to assorted medical and other appointments, and fill out uncountable forms for hospitals, doctors, various agencies, and everyone else under the sun.
As I improved, things got better for him, but I still had tons of questions. Would I ever be able to work again? If not, how could I contribute to our household budget? Was there anything I could still do?
Since I could no longer drive, I couldn’t shop at several different grocery stores, or even run out and pick up an item we needed. Thrift stores and garage sales were right out too, unless I could find someone to drive me and look at items with me. My husband was willing, but was so swamped with other things that needed doing. It really wasn’t an efficient use of his time. I couldn’t pick up a newspaper and scan the grocery ads for bargains. Some of the flyers were available on line, but not always in an accessible format. There were various aids, appliances and gadgets available to help me out, but most of them were expensive, and I didn’t know how helpful they would really be.
Still a Force to be Reckoned With
What I did have were my frugal smarts and a lot of determination, plus the support of the best family and friends in the world.
Literally one of the earliest things I did after my surgery was to get back on the computer. My husband found and installed a “screen reader,” a program that reads aloud to me what’s on the screen. My computer is a great source of entertainment, but it also allows me to do research, network with groups and friends around the globe, and, best of all, to write. For now, writing is a hobby, but I’m working on making it pay.
Tricks of the Sightless Trade
Access to the computer will also allow me to take over paying the bills and tracking our debts. Not only will this ease a considerable burden off my husband, it should also allow me to get a rein on our finances and keep us from getting snowed under, or dinged when something slips through the cracks.
Another area in which I’ve been helping our budget is planning and cooking meals. For a while, I couldn’t keep track of what was in the freezer, or make sure something was defrosted for dinner. A lot of times this meant my husband was stopping at the grocery store on his way home from work to pick something up, then having to cook it once he got home. Dinner was late, and it wasn’t usually the cheapest, either. Other times it meant going out to dinner or picking up take-out, which was even more expensive!
Now I keep a freezer inventory on my computer and try to have meals planned several days in advance. I try to have dinner cooked in the slow cooker or prepped and ready to cook by the time he gets home. It’s a lot easier for him to come home and throw some meat under the broiler or cook a pot of rice and stir-fry some chopped meat and veggies than figure out and create an entire meal from scratch!
The situation still isn’t ideal. I still have to ask Mr. H to pull out cans of ingredients I’ll need later in the day, because I haven’t organized and labeled the food in the pantry yet, and it could use a good stocking up. Too many evenings he still ends up stopping on his way home to pick up one thing or another. But we’ve stopped hemorrhaging money on the food budget, so I count it as a success.
The Fun Stuff
Since this is Crystal’s blog, y’all know I have to talk about fun!
From the beginning, my husband and I saw no reason we shouldn’t go out and have fun together. We enjoy going out to eat, though we try to eat at inexpensive places, or go for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner. (I don’t mind spending money eating out when it’s a choice we make and not a result of poor planning!) We’ve gone to the beach, walked downtown and on the local waterfront, and visited the Farmer’s Market, frequently picking up fresh produce for less than we’d pay at the grocery store.
My husband and I participate in the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group that attempts to recreate the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, and in another, unrelated, group that meets for dinner monthly, either at a restaurant or for a potluck at someone’s home. Once or twice a month, we’ll attend a Chamber of Commerce function such as a ribbon cutting or Business After Hours sponsored by a local business.
I have my own hobbies, and again, I try to keep them on the cheap.
I love writing fiction, and I belong to two online workshops and a free story posting group, plus a local writers group. It’s fun, of course, but I also look at it as professional development, because it’s a great way to improve my writing and make contacts in the writing world.
I’ve always been an avid reader, and that certainly hasn’t changed. What has changed is that instead of my local public library, I now belong to the NC Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. They send me digitally recorded audiobooks that play on a special reader (which they also sent me) and descriptive videos, in which a voice actor narrates the action and reads any words posted on the screen in between lines of dialogue. There was a one-time $25 fee for the video service, but it has been so worth it!
I’ve also always been a craftsy person, and after I lost my eyesight, I tried to find ways to keep that going. I sometimes feel a little guilty about spending money on craft supplies, but my husband insists that it’s occupational therapy. I do believe that it’s improved my coordination and finger sensitivity. Crafts are also a great way to create unique Christmas presents and one-of-a-kind gifts (From Crystal: Those paracord keychains are awesome, thanks!). I do try to keep my costs low by using discount coupons at the craft store, using yarn that was handed down to me, and using recycled materials, such as cutting up worn-out T-shirts for yarn.
In a perfect world, we could be perfectly frugal, all the time. The real world is never quite that smooth. What obstacles get between you and saving money? How do you overcome them?