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Susan Dromey Heeter's Budget Vogue: Lessons from Dad add up in the ledger of life


"HEY, SUE, while you're out, put five bucks of gas in the car."

So were the words my dad spoke to me, so many, many years ago. He'd begrudgingly part with his crisp bill, taken from his wallet with trepidation and the unspoken adage, "This is a lot money, Sue; appreciate it."

Yes, I'm showing my age when I say that five bucks would have filled half the tank - at least.

This lovely summer has given me opportunity to think of my late dad, as I've had the time to visit my hometown, to visit old friends and parents of friends. Parents raised in the Great Depression. Parents brought up to appreciate a buck. Parents who knew my dad and, like him, knew to save, to encourage education, family, community. Parents who knew five bucks meant a lot of time, toil, value.

And these visits to the past got me thinking: What can that five bucks do today? How would Tom Dromey, my late dad, rate my use of spending?

Four recent experiences allowed me to assess.

My dad would be thrilled with my fill-a-bag-for-four-bucks choices during Echo Thrift Shop Friday sale days in Durham last month. Not only did I shove a plethora of back-to-school outfits into my bag, I also found a fabulous vintage Gunne Sax gown I'll wear on Halloween - a perfect '80s outfit. My Halloween shopping is complete. Done.

As Gunne Sax gowns celebrate all things vintage and free, I won't even need shoes. As for Echo Thrift Shop itself? Simply fabulous. Great clothes, great deals, great people, great mission of supporting community. Tom Dromey score: + 1.. Dad is rolling over in his grave every time I spend more than a buck on a cup of coffee ... actually, every time I spend more than 50 cents. This was a man who drank Sanka or, when on sale, Taster's Choice. Yup.

Boiled hot water, filled his cup and found it fine. So my occasional coffee indulgences would not be welcome in the Tom Dromey budgeting program.

I did, however, just invest in a Thermos - a really cute red and white polka dot one I found at Old Navy, on sale for $5. Perhaps I will redeem myself for my occasional Starbucks visit as I learn the art of traveling with my own coffee. Alas, Tom Dromey score: -1..

Last Sunday, I went to visit my friend Joan in Springfield, Mass. I knew I didn't want to show up empty-handed, but my summer fun fund is growing thin and $5 no longer will fill most of the tank, so I brought my crowd-pleasing snack: a huge bag of popcorn - homemade.

I used my trusty StirCrazy Popcorn Popper, filled it with white popcorn and vegetable oil, and made two batches. I topped those batches with fine sea salt in a Market Basket paper bag and - voila! - my gluten-free, vegan snack was ready for delivery.

The huge bag of popcorn, which cost about two bucks to make, not only provided Joan and me with a snack but also turned out to be ideal for re-gifting.

Joan was on her way to a brother's party (she's one of 11) after our visit and remarked, "I'm going to take this bag. I forgot to make anything, and we were all supposed to bring something."

Even after my friend and I snacked on the popcorn, there was plenty left over. That bag satisfied a lot of munchies on Sunday. Dad would have been proud. Tom Dromey score: +1.

My daughter attended a basketball camp this summer in Portsmouth. While parents formed a carpool, my daughter and her friends also discovered that the Coast Bus worked beautifully, and for three bucks, they could commute between Dover and our lovely Port City. Between the car pool and public transportation, my father would be thrilled. Tom Dromey score: +2.

As those of you scoring at home have already calculated, that's a total Tom Dromey score of +3.

Finally, while my dad would be horrified at many of my expenses, I have to say that learning about the value of a buck has never hurt, never harmed - only expanded my joy and freedom and gratitude for what I have.

Thank you, Depression-raised "Budget Vogue" readers, for sharing and celebrating your legacy of frugality and love of Sanka.

And to all readers, do share with me your ways to make your five bucks stretch. Find me on Facebook at my Budget Vogue page, and help me garner more Tom Dromey points.

And enjoy a wonderful August.

"Budget Vogue" is published the first Sunday of each month. Susan Dromey Heeter's "Down to Earth" column appears the third Tuesday of the month in the New Hampshire Union Leader's At Home section. Email her at dromeheet@comcast.net.