Barbara’s Story: A Penny Found is a Penny Saved

Meet Barbara, a happy retired grandmother who lives in Eugene, Oregon.

What do you do?

Before I retired, I worked as a cashier and gas station attendant. I also volunteered a lot. I have five grandkids and they all live in Eugene. They’re 3, 5, 8, 9, and 11. There are two boys and three girls. I do a lot of babysitting – they keep my hands busy!

I’m also on disability, so I have to manage with what I can. During the summer, there are a lot of mouths to feed. I’ve been on disability since 2000, when I had my stroke.

What did your upbringing teach you about finances?

My mother taught me that when we had a penny, give it to the church. I always learned that giving is important, but saving wasn’t something I learned as much. I didn’t learn that until I was in my 30s. But at that point, I had children and was living on minimum wage, which made it really hard to save.

I think it was the same for my mom, who worked two jobs. I remember her being really thrifty and resourceful.

What have been your lowest and highest financial points?

The lowest point was when I lost my job at Walmart. It only takes one paycheck, and I missed that paycheck. I still had my job at McDonald’s, but then I got a 30-day notice from my apartment. Between my husband and I, we had three jobs, but we still ended up on the street.

I divorced my husband so that I could stay in a shelter with my daughters. I’m still best friends with my husband, but you do what you have to do to make things work financially to get a roof over your heads.

We had 90 days in a shelter to find new housing. And then I was able to be back with my husband, but not legally married. That was 19 years ago. It was a hard time, an ugly time. Everything crashed all at once. My daughter was also very sick and in the ICU.

It makes you so strong, and I did everything I could to get out of that. It’s a humbling experience to know that you don’t have enough and that you can’t provide for your children. I think that’s the hard thing.

Now it is really rewarding to be with my grandchildren. We go to the library and to the park. We do a book program at the library together. I’m blessed that both of my daughters have homes and have done well for themselves.

A red-headed mother, gray-haired father, and red-headed young girl pose for a picture in a professional photographer's studio

What’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve received?

My dad always emphasized how every penny counts. Some people say, “find a penny, pick it up, and you’ll have good luck.” But he said, “Find a penny, pick it up, and save it.”

Some people say, “time is money,” but some of us have time and not money.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self about money?

Besides the fact that it doesn’t grow on trees? [Laughs] That it isn’t bad to pay yourself first. It’s self-care. It’s putting the air mask on yourself first. I didn’t learn that until my 40s.

How has your life changed in the past few years?

Since January, I’ve changed my lifestyle a lot. I’ve become a vegetarian again. I’ve changed from a size 20 to a size 4. So, I’ve been able to sell my old clothes at Buffalo Exchange. It’s also more economical! That’s what I’m finding out.

A program I volunteer with is Grassroots Garden. It allows me to be in the sunshine, and then I come home with a bag of vegetables!

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