Columnists : Marylee Shrider

Monday, Mar 23 2009 12:29 PM

Marylee Shrider: We must learn to live within our means

It seems to me the best way to survive the current economic crisis is to heed the advice of those who survived the last one. The big one.

It's a concept many of our state and federal leaders, including our new president, apparently fail to grasp, given their predilection for higher taxes and $800 billion spending sprees.

Some who struggled through the Great Depression wonder why policymakers dismiss common sense policies like less government and lower tax rates -- policies that give folks the best possible chance to work, save and invest.

After all, it worked for them.

Mary Collup of Bakersfield was born in 1933, the year 25 percent of the nation's workers were unemployed. Losing the family home -- or the family farm, in Collup's case -- was an even greater threat than it is today.

Collup, who was born in Oklahoma, says her young years were hard and profoundly influenced her future work ethic and spending habits.

"We knew we had to work to have something, because nobody was handing anything out," she says. "We were poor, but everybody was, so I didn't think anything of it."

Collup's mother sewed her children's clothes, grew her own fruits and vegetables, created meals that "weren't centered around meat" and used the cardboard from saved cereal boxes to resole her children's shoes.

And we think it's a big sacrifice to pass up our morning mint-mocha-chip frappuccino.

In 1935, Collup's dad loaded up the family's Model T and joined the great "Okie" migration to California, eventually finding work in a Watsonville rock quarry. The rest of the family followed a year later, after Collup's mother had scrimped and saved enough "egg money" to make the trip by train.

Those early years left a lasting impression on Collup, who started working at 14, taking her high school lunch break to work the Woolworths' lunch counter. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school and worked all her adult life until she was disabled by a stroke 16 years ago.

I met Collup recently at a luncheon, to which she wore a striking simulated-tiger-skin-and-leather jacket. When I asked where she'd found the chic garment, she leaned in close and, with a conspiratorial glance over her shoulder, whispered "the Bargain Box on Q Street -- I paid $3 for it."

Collup, whose husband of 51 years died three years ago, says other than basic "30-day bills," like gas and electric, she lives debt free. She's lived in the same house for 20 years, runs her dishwasher and laundry during non-peak hours, guards against unnecessary purchases and never, EVER uses credit cards.

"You have to be creative to make it through the hard times," says Collup, who believes much of our current economic angst "is of our own making."

"Today, it's a world of expectations and entitlements," she says. "If we just live within our means, we can get along all right."

Wow. Live within our means. What a radical concept. I wonder how far low we'll go before policymakers finally figure that out.

n n n

There are more words to write on this issue and many more issues to write about, but I'll leave those for others to tackle. Except for an occasional visit to the opinion page, this column will be my last for The Californian.

There are a number of reasons why -- my full-time work for a local nonprofit, other writing projects, a family I'd like to see more of. For those who suspect my departure is part of a left-wing conspiracy to rid the paper of a pesky conservative, I assure you the decision to resign the column was mine and was reluctantly accepted by editors and colleagues at the paper.

The editors of this newspaper are committed to filling this space with other conservative voices. For me, the gig is up.

It's been a privilege and a pleasure. Many thanks.

These are Marylee Shrider's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Reach her at 395-7474 or mshrider@bakersfield.com.

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