I grew up in a small town to the North of Boston, Massachusetts. When I was very young, it was the epitome of a quiet New England town with hundreds of years of history. My family lived next door to Martha and Dick T., a delightful couple who were somewhat older than my parent. Martha and Dick embodied all of the ideals that had come in to play in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They were frugal, even austere, Puritans and many books could be written about all of the different ways that Martha found to make money and to save money.
Martha never held a job, but she was always working. Martha and Dick lived in a house built in 1740 with a large yard and lovely gardens. Her semi-annual yard sales were legendary. She sold everything from antiques that seemed like they had been in her basement forever to homemade preserves and other handmade items. Eventually she outgrew her yard sales and opened a craft shop in her antique barn.
She grew plants in her basement under fluorescent lights and sold them at plant sales throughout the spring. In the summer she sold potted houseplants. In the fall she sold bulbs that people could save until the spring gardening season began again.
And Martha loved a rebate. She would advertize her rebate success every time she chatted with my mother or father across the rock wall between our properties. In the early 1970’s, as far as I can tell, rebating was still relatively new. Martha embraced it and took pride in it while my parents just thought she was crazy to be going to so much effort to save fifty cents here or a dollar there.
Martha took her rebating to extremes. At first, she asked all of her neighbors to clip certain proofs of purchase for her. Back then, the one rebate per household concept had not taken hold and Martha would routinely find a way to enjoy a rebate five, ten or even twenty times – without every needing to produce a sales receipt. I do not know how she managed that, but she did!
After a few months of Martha’s rebating, she stopped asking neighbors to give her receipts. Instead she took matters into her own hands. I vividly recall one summer morning. I know it was a Monday because Monday was the day our town collected our trash. Trash is relevant to this story because Martha was in our trash that day.
That Monday and every Monday after that for about a year, Martha would rummage through the trash in front of every house on our street. When she found a proof of purchase that she could use, she would toss the discarded container into a trash bag of her own. By the time she had finished with our street, she looked a bit like a homeless Mrs. Claus!
My mother would go on and on for what seemed like hours every time she saw Martha in our trash. She felt that it was a gross invasion of our privacy, and really disgusting, too! Even at a young age, I was always practical so I suggested that perhaps Mom should tell Martha that she did not want Martha going through our trash. Of course, Mom felt that would be impossible because then she would look like she had something to hide or that she was spying on Martha. (After having this discussion a couple of times, I found a way to make myself invisible on Mondays when I was not in school, since I really did not see the point of any further debate)
In any event, Martha continued to pursue her rebates for about a year and continued to rummage through everyone’s trash for about the same amount of time. I suppose she gave it up when sales receipts were needed to obtain a rebate. Perhaps she just moved on to her next idea (which may have been boarding pets, if memory serves), but eventually she did stop. About three years later, Mom even stopped complaining about Martha’s gross invasions of our privacy…
What would you do to save money or to earn extra cash? Do you think it is OK to rummage through a neighbor’s garbage if you can make some money out of it? After all, your neighbors don’t want it. Then again, would you be concerned about what your neighbors might say? Would it disgust you to do so? Even if you would not follow Martha’s example and rummage through all of the trash on your street, what is the most questionable thing you have ever done to save some money?