Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The Brewing Storm
As a prepping family, we try to keep our expenditures to a minimum so that we can afford to make bulk purchases and capital improvements to our property that will enhance our lifestyle and provide for our needs and the needs of others in the event of an emergency. One of the ways I keep our budget in check is by limiting my trips to "town". Most shopping trips are executed (rather efficiently) by Sir Knight, who has to be in town for work anyway. About twice a month I compile a shopping list of items to be purchased, starting with necessities first and working my way down to "would be nice" items. Sir Knight, armed with a list and a budget, hits the restaurant supply store on the way home and picks up whatever we can afford from our list. Rarely is he able to purchase every item on the list, or the quantities I have indicated, but we always have enough. Sir Knight's shopping excursions save us a ton of money. When he does the shopping we save money on gas, on eating out and on money that may have been spent thrift store shopping. All in all, it is a great system.
Every once in a while, I am forced into a town shopping trip. Certain things I just don't have the heart to ask Sir Knight to do - like shopping for underpinnings for three women, or for beauty supplies (we are girls you know) or for gifts for upcoming birthdays and other occasions. And so, once every 3 or 4 months, the kids and I pile into the truck, buckle in and prepare for a long, busy town day.
Last Friday, Miss Serenity and I made the rare trek to town. Serenity's wardrobe was in dire need of a freshening up (well, most of her clothes were stained, torn or too small) and I thought it would be a perfect time for us to have a little mother/daughter time.
As I readied to go, I took a few minutes and reconciled my checkbook. The first thing I noticed was a lack of money in my husband's paycheck. At first I thought it was an error, but upon closer inspection, I realized the reduced dollar amount was the result of the tax increases (or the sunsetted tax breaks) instituted with the new year. Eek - our household income took a hit of roughly $250 a month!
Adjusting my budget, I soldiered on. I slashed about $100 out of my food budget, $100 dollars out of my fuel budget and $50 dollars out of my clothing budget (which I don't normally have, but today was thrift shopping day). The end result was that our family will really have to tighten our belts. We will have to make meals stretch further and stay at home more (we rarely go anywhere as it is). We will have to conserve energy (our generator is the largest user of our fuel budget), only doing laundry when the sun it out, so we can charge our batteries with the sun while we do our laundry with the generator. We will have to make sure we only use the computer when the sun shines and turn off our refrigerator at night. We will feel the reduction in our income keenly.
Not to be deterred, Miss Serenity and I made our first thrift store stop. The first item on our list was jeans. Have you tried to find a pair of jeans that go all the way to the waist recently? It was almost in impossible task! Miss Serenity is very particular about her clothing. She likes her pants to go to her waist (not under her navel) and she likes her shirts to go past her belly button (silly girl!). After searching the racks for about 45 minutes, we had 1 pair of jeans and 3 shirts in our cart. Thinking that we had done quite well for ourselves, we headed off to the next store. As we shopped, we noticed an alarming trend - the prices were outrageous! Ladies blouses and sweaters were upwards of $12.99 (each!) and shoes were nearing $30.00! At a thrift store!!!! I found a charming little tea set for Princess Dragon Snack's upcoming birthday, nestled in a sweet wicker basket (that happened to be a little worse for wear), however the price tag was $29.95! It seemed that every store was worse than the last. Finally, after hours of searching, Miss Serenity had a new wardrobe. It consisted of 1 pair of jeans, 4 t-shirts, 1 button up shirt, 1 camisole and 1 wool kilt - all for the low price of $50.00. Eight items, at a thrift store, cost $50.00! With prices like that, how on earth are people supposed to be able to cloth their children?
Next on our list of things to do was grocery shopping. I made the dreaded trip to Walmart, pulled out my shopping list and went to work. Staying on the outer edges of the store, I picked up toilet paper, laundry detergent, chicken scratch, milk, butter, pepperoni, mozzarella, hamburger and bacon. I didn't buy chips, crackers, packaged food of any kind. No snacks, treats or extras. My bill? $200!
And then, insult was added to injury. Choosing a line that was almost empty, I found myself behind a young family. Their cart was full of items that already been scanned and there were only a few items left on the belt. As I stood there waiting, I saw that this young couple had purchased a new radiant heater (I've heard they work really well), a couple of DVD's and a few other odd and ends. Apparently, they had paid for these items with their credit card and I thought they were paying for their groceries with cash. I was mistaken. After waiting for nearly 15 minutes, a supervisor was called over to the cash register to help the cashier process the WIC check the couple had presented for the groceries. Actually, they had two separate piles of groceries and two separate WIC checks. As it turns out, the government had changed the way WIC checks were processed and it took nearly 30 minutes for the problems to be resolved and the checks to be accepted.
Trying desperately not to get angry, I smiled at the couple in front of me and played hide and seek with their little ones. All the while, my mind was whirring. My family had just been robbed of $250 a month. I was budgeting every penny, making every meal from scratch and reducing the number of trips to the library (3 miles away), just to make ends meet. All of this, while the folks in front of me bought DVD's on their dime and food on mine. And to make matters worse - the father was wearing the very sweatshirt that I had wanted to buy for Sir Knight for Christmas - but couldn't afford.
The veneer of civility that has hallmarked our country is wearing thin. The chasm between the "makers" and the "takers" is growing, threatening to destroy our way of life. In our earnestness to provide for the less fortunate, we, in effect, have made everyone less fortunate. We have created the perfect storm. And the storm is brewing.