By Pam Linn

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Stimulating the best part of our economy

Okay, I’m doing my bit for the economy. Stimulus checks, our domestic equivalent of the surge, finally arrived in the far northern Rockies. Most of my retired friends, having no dependent children, were allotted the smallest payment, a mere $300.

Following the well-developed savings principles that allowed them to retire in the first place, and having learned to live on modest pensions, most say they are banking the check. Not much stimulus there.

With interest rates that barely register on the monthly statement, each check will earn about $6.50. That would be for a year. Wow! What a windfall. One could treat a friend to a latte.

Still, $300 seems like a fairly substantial chunk of change. I could buy something not included in my budget. Well, trying to spend no more than my Social Security allotment each month, lest I outlive my assets, has gotten me out of the buying habit. I’ve become such a non-consumer.

It’s been a revelation to discover how many things I don’t need to pay for anymore. Utilities, weekly maid service and one meal a day are included in my monthly rent. Coffee, tea, fresh fruit, breakfast breads and cookies are available all day. But, I admit to being a coffee snob, opting instead for a pound of Yellowstone Organic, Fair Trade, Decaf Italian Roast beans, which I keep in the freezer and grind fresh (about every third day).

So I spend about $15 a week on oatmeal, flax seed, vanilla soy milk, yogurt, nuts and jam. Once a month I replenish the vitamin and supplement supply and a few toiletries. That’s it.

And I’ve given up on bottled water. Forever. For the first time in many years, I have safe reasonably palatable tap water. I’ve installed a Brita filter on the kitchen faucet. Replacement filters run about $30 every three months. The newspaper is delivered for about the same amount. Life is good.

So how can I spend the $300 where it might benefit our sagging economy, without contributing to our balance-of-trade deficit and, ideally, feel like a luxury? I could buy a tank of unleaded for about $45 but I really hate contributing to Exxon-Mobil’s obscene windfall profits. Besides, through careful planning, I rarely need to take the car out more than once a week. That reduces fill-ups to one every six weeks or so.

So, I decide to stimulate the economy of my favorite nursery, buying a few flowers for my balcony now that it appears to have quit snowing. The place appears to be afloat with gorgeous blossoms. I settle on a hanging basket of pink-striped white geraniums with what looks like a miniature pink rose (but isn’t) at the edge. From the 4-inch pots, I select a deep red dahlia, two white and two red geraniums, one chive, one lemon-thyme and a six-pack of French sorrel (my favorite herb). Then, I see it. Hanging from a moveable wall is a long green bag with nine ever-bearing strawberry plants poking out from eight holes and the open top. There are at least a dozen small berries at varying degrees of ripeness. It’s just like the big clay strawberry pot I left in California for my granddaughter. I have to have this. It’s $19. That probably would have stopped me last week, but now I have $300 in my pocket. Even with a small bag of potting mix, the bill doesn’t reach one C note.

I’m happy. The balcony looks great; I’ve got herbs for my omelets, and sweet juicy strawberries to pick one or two at a time. And I’ve contributed to the local economy. What could be better?

But, I still have $200-plus burning a hole in my pocket. I decide on gifts. I send my grandson a $50 graduation present. It will be his walking around money on a trip to New Hampshire to visit his cousins.

My California daughter hasn’t yet received her birthday gift: prints she chose from my computer library of photos taken in Yellowstone. I see that my favorite frame dealer has a sale on Rive Gauche (museum-type) frames with mats in various sizes. What my daughter wants is three large vertical frames for one wall and a collection of smaller frames to go on a shelf. After an hour of choosing, I’ve spent the rest of my stimulus. Not a penny to China or Exxon Mobil. Feeling good.

Then the post arrives and I find a check from ASCAP for, you guessed it, $300. In the same post, is the new brochure from Yellowstone Institute with the winter schedule of field seminars. January 10 to 12, a photo trip with my favorite photographer, Tom Murphy, based in Lamar Valley, my favorite part of the park. I’ve been on the waiting list for his last two expeditions without getting on. In a heartbeat, I have Terry on the line. He takes my Visa number and my institute membership (worth $10 off). I’m booked. That was fast.

Boosting the local economy, with non-taxpayer money. Now that’s stimulus I can believe in.