Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Putting needs before wants

Sister Booker’s mother taught her the art of pinching pennies

Norma Booker is handily prevailing against these hard economic times and doing it with a pleasantly unflappable but nonetheless solidly determined resolved.

She’s one of those affable sorts who takes life as she finds it, greeting the day with a ready smile.

But the good Ms. Booker, as the old saying goes, doesn’t brook any foolishness.

Not from on-the-job associates who might forget to observe protocol, and not from the slings and arrows of economic fortune that are making things considerably tough on all of us.

This economy continues to plague the country, having ravaged countless lives and threatening to destroy still more, the proverbial wolf at the door. But all the huffing and puffing does not trouble Norma Booker.

A nice lady and a pragmatic soul, she talks frankly of dealing with this day and age of dire financial straits and may as well be calmly looking into the bared teeth of that wolf, staring him down and blithely going on about her business. It is with a quiet confidence that she says comes from her mother, who also gave her the skills with which to make the most of an income, balance a budget, and stretch a dollar like it was a rubber band.

The past nine years, Norma Booker has held down the administrative fort at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in South Minneapolis, just outside downtown proper. She is the assistant to Pastor Arthur Agnew, his proverbial right hand. You name it: Whatever it may be that the church needs getting done, the ever-multitasking Sister Booker sees to it from her office — while answering the phone at the same time.

“That entails,” she states, sitting at her computer, “doing all of scheduling for Pastor, setting up schedules for the ministries, taking calls from companies — just, in general, what it takes. We get calls from other churches, from businesses such as office people wanting to sell you machinery, office equipment, anything that would [pertain to a regular business]. Parking lot work, roofing, changing phone services, computers, everything.”

Her qualifications to fulfill these duties come courtesy of a career in retail, doing customer service and working as a receptionist. “I started, probably, in ’88 somewhere,” she recalls.

“I lived in Texas and [worked] for K-Mart in sales. Then I moved to doing secretarial work for a professor at Texas A&M University. When I moved to Minnesota, I worked [again] for K-Mart and for Dayton’s as a receptionist.”

Stepping on board at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church was the direct result, that being her place of worship.

“This will be my 17th year here [as a member of the congregation].”

She had done volunteer work, helping out with the bookkeeping; after being actively recruited, she accepted employment as the church’s administrator. It was in that transition that Sister Booker got a handle on ensuring observance of protocol so that fellow parishioners didn’t try to prevail upon their personal relationship with her to get their office needs met above and beyond the routine call of duty.

“Chairpersons of some ministries had to understand that if they wanted something done they had to see me at the proper time, between my regular hours on the job. And if I was in on a Saturday, it was because I had a special reason and not for them to [seize that opportunity] to get some last-minute thing accomplished.”

Firmly but nicely she got the message across, and now everyone knows better. They bring her work in time to get it done. “It’s a good understanding,” she says with a bright smile.

With the same even disposition, Booker relates how she copes with today’s economy: “pinching pennies, saving where I can. Not a whole lot of extra buying.” The spending that does go on is very selective.

Even at bargain-priced supermarkets, she will find that one store will offer yet a better deal than another on, for instance, milk, eggs, vegetables or meat. As well, a price tag is not always the definitive indicator of value.

At one particular outlet, “The meat may be at a little higher price, but there is more of it, and I’m able to make two meals instead of one.”

Preferable even in the best of times, accomplishing that kind of economizing feat is crucial nowadays.

Still, to be sure, her household consisting of herself, her son, and her three-year-old grandchild has been impacted. “At my son’s job, there have been cutbacks.” She looks at that glass, though, as being half full: “We thank God everyday that, while most jobs are laying people off, his job is [only reducing] hours and trying to give everybody that’s there some hours.

“Money is tighter around our house, but we adjust. Instead of stopping at [a coffee shop] in the morning and spending five bucks in there, I just come in here and make a cup of instant coffee. At least 10 bucks a week gets saved right there.

Or, instead of stopping at [a fast food restaurant] for all of us to eat, that’s anywhere from 10 to 17, 18 bucks.

It adds up. That, then, is money that can be put toward the utilities. Any saving you do is a help.”

Ultimately, it comes down to what she learned growing up in College Station, Texas, at the knee of her mama, an expert at economizing. “My mother taught us by example and by telling. She was not a stingy person, but, if you have a household to take care of, you know what you need to do to take care of that household.

“We learned how to manage a dollar, and I’m that way now. When I want a dress, I’ll go straight to the sale rack. I don’t care how much money is in my pocket, I shop sales, the thrift stores. I don’t have to go to the [big-name department stores].

“It’s nice to have what you want sometimes. But you always make sure to have what you need.”

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