Embracing delayed gratification and not getting stuck in the ‘woe is me’ quicksand

Call it “the woe is me standard.”

Whenever one needs to gauge whether the economy is about to implode, you need to take a look at those that have their nose to the proverbial grindstone, keep moving along and make lemonade out of lemons.

If that is enough worn out phrases for you to deal with, these days they’re barely a whisper when compared to the non-stop teeth gnashing.

Yes, there is inflation. Yes, everything costs more. Yes, there are people barely getting by. Yes, gas prices are ridiculous.

But guess what? None of this is new.

And the most bizarre thing is those that seem to yell the loudest are the ones that aren’t really in a world of hurt. They have wiggle room galore compared to many.

There are people out there barely getting by. That has always been the case even in “good” times.

They have to make decisions between eating and buying medicine. Some have to decide whether they have a full stomach or their child does. There are people that live paycheck to paycheck who have never bought a $1,000 smartphone or bought the latest fashion at Kohl’s — even when it was on sale.

Yet, year-after-year they are still standing.

None of this should be taken to mean efforts shouldn’t be taken to try to improve the overall economic lot of people. But we need to keep everything in perspective if that is possible in today’s world where the No. 1 priority seems to be talking smack while complaining the world’s going to hell in the endless dark pit that Al Gore once took credit for inventing.

PG&E bills are insane, right?

Let’s go back to 1975.

There are 45 people packed into a  three-car garage of a sprawling custom home on an estate on Eureka Road  sitting in fold-up chairs or standing. Eureka Road, at the time, was one of the exclusive areas in Granite Bay east of Roseville that was populated with executives, lawyers, and successful entrepreneurs.

They were there to hear Sylvia Siegel talk about efforts a fledgling organization called The Utility Reform Network. TURN was taking with PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Working stiffs in nearby Rocklin were struggling to pay PG&E bills that had ballooned toward $60 on average. High electric bills weren’t an issue in neighboring Roseville back then — or today.

That’s because they did what the South San Joaquin Irrigation District is trying to do today in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon which was freeing themselves from PG&E’S clutches. Roseville rates are roughly 30 percent lower than the for-profit utility’s

People were hurting, especially those trying to put food on the table for their kids on a working person’s pay.  But the side chatter at the back of the garage between two men was telling.

They were swapping stories about how their PG&E bills had exceeded $1,200 and $1,400 a month. One gentleman complained about how his family may have to stop heating their swimming pool.

On the “woe is me standard” they clearly had endless options to stay afloat by lowering how high they lived on the hog.

Funny but even with rising power costs those at the absolute bottom managed to survive although it clearly was by watching how they spent every nickel, dime, and even penny.

Fast forward to 1991.

We’re in a recession. Housing prices had gone up almost 30 percent  in the preceding decade. Mortgage rate are at 9.25 percent.

On East Alameda Street there was a couple who had just retired.

He had worked at a local hardware store most of his life. His wife did clerical work. They were paid not much north of minimum wage.

Yet they had managed to buy a nice older tract home that they owned free and clear after 30 years and even had a modest RV in the driveway.

And they did all that while raising two kids.

Their secret? They said it was a matter of focusing on what matters and not being tempted to want what others have that they couldn’t afford.

They also said it required being committed to working toward securing what you needed — and sometimes wanted — in life. It was a quaint old-fashioned thing called “delayed gratification.”

About the same time, I interviewed two other couples that just bought homes — one in Manteca and one in Lathrop. A real estate  arranged for the interviews so their stories could be shared as to how having a plan and being focused could lead to home ownership.

Again, this was in 1991 when interest rates were at 9.25 percent.

The couple that bought the home in Manteca involved a young woman that was 21 who got pregnant when she was 16. She was determined that her boyfriend — who she eventually married — and her would not end up like other teen parents.

They continued their education. And they worked multiple jobs so they could secure the down payment and income to buy a home.

And their first home was what today would be called a granny flat located on an alley. It cost them $38,000. That’s not enough to buy a new low- end Ford-150 pickup truck today but back then it was on the bottom end of the housing market in Manteca.

The point is they ended up with a roof over their head by delayed gratification and not sinking in  the “woe is me” quicksand.

The other was a farm worker and his wife  — who worked seasonal cannery jobs — that had four children.

They bought a standard, older modest tract home in Lathrop for $55,000.

They bought beans and rice by the 50-ppound sack. They made their own tortillas. They bought second hand clothes.

They did everything to save up money to acquire the key to the start  on a lifelong road of financial security  buying as home that is within one’s means can offer. Not being at the mercy of rent increases is a stabilizing financial factor and allows you to have a relative secure retirement.

Like the teenage mom and her boyfriend, they used FHA loans that secured mortgages for lenders but didn’t get any money to go toward the down payment or monthly payment. They did it basically on their own.

The only thing that might be considered an assist involved the Lathrop couple. The wife worked enough different seasonable cannery jobs that she was able to draw unemployment when she couldn’t get work. That helped them qualify for a loan.

PG&E bills are now north $200 for many people who are as miserly as they can in their struggle to  take care of their families.

Mortgage rate was are pushing 7 percent.

And the “woe is me” chorus is devoting their energy to popping eardrums telling the world how bad they have it.


 This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com