There was a point in my childhood when we had paper towels under the couch for months.
It started with a sale (of course)
Mom had found paper towels on clearance for $0.25 a roll. So naturally, she bought every single one.
But unfortunately, a trailer only has so much closet/cupboard space. Mom stuffed the cupboards with as many as possible, but most of them went underneath the couch. For the record, the bottom of the couch had fabric to cover it, so the rolls weren’t visible.
(On a slightly less practical note, Mom also once found a great deal on cupcake liners. The fact that she rarely made cupcakes/muffins didn’t seem to register with her, so she came home with a veritable crap-ton of them. It became a running joke that they’d be part of my dowry.)
The point is, Mom taught me to stock up on sales. So I stocked up on five or six months’ worth of toilet paper at the last Walgreens 25% off sale. Meaning that I had a two- or three-month supply (minimum) when the toilet paper hoarding began. I just sat on the sidelines, baffled.
And of course, Mom has talked many times about stocking your pantry as a sort of edible emergency fund. When I was growing up, our cupboards always had enough cans of beans, tomatoes, etc. to make at least three or four meals (plus some desserts/makings of desserts) without leaving the house for supplies.
Of course, I’m infamous for not cooking, so my pantry is generally pretty sparse. But when people started talking about having to quarantine for two weeks (if they were exposed to the coronavirus), old lessons came back with a vengeance.
Luckily, I took the quarantine issue seriously about a week before everyone else in the city, apparently. Because when I went to the store, shelves were still full — including toilet paper! Not that I needed it, but I didn’t realize until recently just how comforting a shelf full of paper goods can be.
I bought a bunch of beans, rice salsa and cheese — enough to prepare my two favorite recipes (aka the only ones I really make) about five times total. Each batch lasts about two to four days, depending on whether I eat it for one or two meals each day. So if I stick to my daytime routine of protein bars and peanut butter (#foodie), I have enough for about three weeks’ of food. I also loaded up on about a week’s worth of soups. And I usually have some frozen meals on hand too, of course.
As I said, it was pretty much exactly one week after my stock-up that I started hearing about supplies-hoarding. A few days after that, people were talking about food staples dwindling. So I’m lucky that the instincts my mom ingrained in me kicked in early on.
Mom is also something of an introvert. I mean, she’s very friendly and she loves friends and family; but she’s also fine sitting at home reading a book or watching TV. The last bit is rather ideal during a pandemic.
Granted, I get more antsy than she does without regular social interaction — and I definitely need to do more reading and less TV watching — but I did still grow up with a quiet night in front of the TV being the norm. It’s something I can (mainly) default to, and that’s a good routine for trying to keep a reasonable amount of social distancing.
Reach out and touch someone
My mom also taught me the value of a good phone call. In Alaska, we were thousands of miles away from the close-knit family she grew up with. So I learned from an early age just how important it was to talk on the phone. (Yes, kids, this was in the days before email, let alone texting.) I saw how a call can create a feeling of closeness that you just can’t get in a letter (or, these days, email/texts).
Of course, long-distance rates were heinous, so she didn’t spend a ton of time on the phone. But she did make it a point to call and have decent-length conversations semi-regularly.
Money (of course)
Then obviously there is the financial aspect. My mom has long touted having a monetary (not just edible) emergency fund. She ingrained in me that you should be careful enough with money that (assuming you’re lucky enough to make a livable wage) you can put aside enough for bad times. And of course, later in life she proved that even people living on very little can manage to survive — and even thrive — if they’re frugal (and lucky enough to be in good health).
Because of her values, I’ve always made savings a priority. (Well, when I wasn’t focused on paying down debt.) So I have a healthy savings account and emergency fund.
Between those two accounts — and barring any expensive accidents/necessary repairs to home, car or body — I have enough to last about seven to eight months. Probably more, since I’d obviously cut back on discretionary spending in bad times. I have an additional five-ish months’ worth in other savings accounts, like the car fund and vacation fund.
So unlike many Americans, I can wait out a bad recession. (To be clear, I firmly believe that many of the currently financially endangered Americans are in this situation due to a lack of livable wage at least as much as — but probably more than — poor spending habits.) And I have my financially advantaged position because — besides being lucky enough to have a job with very good pay (which is obviously a major component) — my mom taught me to always live below my means and bank money whenever possible.
So all in all, the lessons Mom taught me in my childhood will serve me well — and already have, in some cases — during this time of hoarding, panic and uncertainty.
Did your childhood prepare you for these trying times?