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.

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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