Simple life: One-week quarantine budget challenge and some lessons learned

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 30, 2020

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By Larry Stombaugh
For the Clemmons Courier

A few months ago, no one could have envisioned a world where most of us are wearing masks to the grocery store and keeping a distance of six feet between the next person in line at the post office. Most everyone is now living a much simpler and quieter lifestyle after the outbreak of the coronavirus and the resulting mandates to stay at home as much as possible.

This is not the case for everyone, however. Medical personnel, post office employees, grocery store workers, teachers working at home, and especially parents who are juggling their work day and trying to help their children with their school work are busier than ever.

For the most part, though, the world has almost come to a halt. The very light traffic on the roadways and the closure of most businesses are an indication of that. The magnitude of the virus and the toll that it has taken on all of us seems to be causing some folks to pause and reflect on what it important in our lives.

I wrote about my paternal grandparents in a story last week, and how they were the two of happiest people I have even known. This was despite the fact that my grandpa lost all of his pension when the meat packing company that he worked for in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, closed after he had worked there for 47 years, and my grandma was a bed-ridden invalid and nearly blind due to diabetes. The two of them lived solely on Social Security, and to this day I don’t know how they managed financially, let alone having such a positive outlook on life.

I have thought about both of them many times over the last few weeks as my wife and I have been mostly quarantined due to the coronavirus outbreak. I say mostly quarantined because I am still going to the post office every other day to pick up mail, we are both making some trips to the grocery store, and there has been one trip to get gas for one of our cars.

Compared to my grandparents, life is comfortable for my wife and I due to both of us working two or more jobs as educators during our careers and being mutually frugal, but we took it upon ourselves to see how little we could live on in terms of out of pocket expenses for one week during our mostly quarantined state. This has not been the most terrible experience considering we are taking daily walks, doing some reading, and finding a few things to view on television that are not related to news about the virus.

The grand total of our out-of-pocket expenses (meals, gas, and household items) for one week came to a whopping total of $96.55. The breakdown was as follows:

• Groceries — $46 (from Lowe’s Foods and Harris Teeter)

• Household items and cleaning supplies — $16 (from Walmart)

•Two take-out meals — $34 (one from Pete’s Restaurant and one from Pie Guys)

• Postage — 55 cents (for a birthday card)

Not only was it a frugal week, but it was a simple (and mostly stress-free) week. There was little traffic, a noticeable number of people were taking walks in our neighborhood, and the birds in the back yard seemed to be singing more than usual.

My wife, who is a kindergarten assistant teacher at Clemmons Elementary, was actively working from home while her students did their school assignments online. She watched a number of videos that included a quiz for each one on what she had learned, prepared student packets, and checked on her students in their virtual classroom.

For me, it was a very simple week, but in an odd way, it was rather peaceful and fulfilling. I mowed the yard twice, I read two books, and I played with and walked my daughter’s dog several times. For the first time in years, I sat on the front porch and watched the world go by. And, I wrote this story.

Maybe my grandparents were on to something. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or have a frantic lifestyle to be happy and contented.