03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare A Teabag?

My Grandma Sophie, rest her soul, was a little woman with a surprisingly strong grip. She would clamp down on my arm and stop me from tossing a tea bag in the trash if it hadn't been steeped at least twice. Having lived through some tough times in the 1930s, she wanted to teach her newly married granddaughter ways to prepare multiple potato-centric meals (there were at least seven ways I hazily recall) and impart hard-learned tips about making way less seem like a whole lot more.

Sadly, I sort of scoffed at Grandma Sophie's skinflint ways. I was setting out on a career path as an attorney that would surely allow me to throw away tea bags after just one use. I would never, ever settle for a steaming cup of what I referred to as "hint of tea" and never intended to serve the same sack of spuds Saturday, Sunday, Monday and yet again on Tuesday!

I'm positive my Grandma is now watching me from some celestial sanctuary as I scrimp, save, stretch and salvage everything I can. Clients buying and selling real estate were my bread and butter for over 25 years; now the marketplace's doldrums finds me purchasing a passel of sweet potatoes weekly. I prepare root vegetables seven ways and drink mugs of mere tea essence, clinging to the dream that I'll soon return to sipping one-pass lapsang suchong and oolong. But even when the market picks up again and my earnings rebound, I believe things will be permanently changed in my law office as a result of the cutbacks I've made during our depressing recession.

I'm a single practitioner with another full time job as a magazine editor/writer, yet I've been making do without a secretary or assistant. Though I'd like to hire someone off the unemployment line, the reality is that I'm inching closer and closer to retirement without a cent left in my coffers. I need to work harder in the next decade (probably two) to maximize my savings and minimize my expenditures, so like a parsimonious 1930s housewife, I am cutting where I can and stretching what I need.

Technology is the frugal lawyer's friend. I have decades' worth of accumulated forms, contracts, and affidavits on my laptop, requiring only careful consideration and personalization to fit the needs of new clients. Scanning, faxing and e-mailing saves paper and postage, and I can do them with just a few keystrokes. And though I haven't yet found the techno-gadget that lets me be in two places at once, I can oversee my office when I'm at a closing by tracking the progress of parcels, listening to voice messages and answering imperative e-mails.

Do I crave a bustling office with cavernous conference rooms and art filling every niche and nook? Do I long for a receptionist, secretary, assistant and researcher to help me out? Do I yearn for a hard-working associate to send to closings where the other attorney is a repulsive bottom feeder or the client instigates problems just to watch others squirm? Of course I do! But though I wasn't a willing student, I did absorb Grandma Sophie's lectures about running a thrifty kitchen in very hard times by serving potato pancakes, potato soup, potato blintzes and other spud specialties, all washed down by diluted drinks. Grandma lived into her late 80s and finally enjoyed same day baked goods and full bodied beverages; if I want to retire nearly as well as she did, I must be prepared to spend the remainder of my working days running a pared-down office.

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