I have to admit something… I am frugal; a penny pincher. I will call businesses to inquire about discounts. I give myself time to contemplate purchases before I follow through. In sum, I am careful about spending money. I have more to confess, I’m proud to be frugal. It was not always this way.
I grew up knowing that money was important and that my family did not have a lot of it. It’s not as though we were impoverished. No. Both of my parents worked full time in a meat packing plant. They worked their asses off. They made sure that we had all the essentials- shelter, food, clothing. They made sure we even a few niceties. We had annual family vacations. We had four bedrooms for five children to share. But, I knew we were not rolling in it either. I was wise enough to ask for as little as possible.
And I grew up knowing something else, that I would make enough money to get whatever I wanted. I thought having an all-American Girl’s life was all about that. You see, I grew up with something else too. I grew up with American teenage girl messaging. To me, being an All-American girl was about having a perfect closet setup like Cher in Clueless. It was finding love and being able to tell bitches to go to hell like Vivian in Pretty Woman. It was ruling a nation with an extensive wardrobe for your jewels like Mia in Princess Diaries. And I endeavored to live my life similarly.
As soon as I could, I obtained employment so that I did not have to rely on what my parents could afford to give me. When I finished high school, I attended a junior college full time and worked full time. I lived with my parents. My life was pretty damn good.
I did not have rent or groceries as an expense because my parents still took care of all that. I provided only for myself. When I transferred to a four year college six hours away from home, I was finally on my own. I learned the true cost of living- rent, groceries, everything. My disposable income to live the all-American girl life I wanted shrank. What did not shrink was my want for the pretty things.
Unfortunately, I did not have the knowledge to understand money management. My parents never discussed money, finances, or budget management with me. None of it. I knew nothing about credit cards. I knew nothing about checking accounts. My parents, first-generation immigrants, did not have either. I know that they did have savings accounts. I knew that on Thursdays were pay days. They would go into “town” to buy money orders for bills they paid via USPS (pre paying online.) They paid for all local bills by driving to each business. I never saw financial problems in our home- cut utlities or repossessed vehicles. Oh no! My parents were responsible.
The problem is, they did not share this knowledge with me. So there I was, wanting to live an “all-American Girl’s Life” as seen on TV. Once I got to college, I got the key to the city and it was madeof plastic. Credit Cards. The first week on campus there were credit card companies encouraging co-eds to sign up. I did. Credit cards. Credit cards took me to a whole new level. They elevated my taste for expensive things. Of course, back then I was lucky if I had a thousand dollar limit. My finances did not get completely out of control. But, I still had no knowledge about how and why to fix my finances.
The time finally came that I completed my schooling and entered the workforce. Once my career got started, I bought the beautiful things I associated with my new career girl status. I bought anything that caught my eye. I felt empowered by designer name tags and emboldened by the sound of a cash register ringing me out. Shopping became a mood lifter. Lousy day? Don’t worry; something beautiful will make it better. Break up with a guy? Go shopping! A Coach bag will never break your heart.
You know where this story leads to… Disaster, Debt, and Doubt. That’s right, I created a disaster of my financial situation. I had debt. And, I doubted my ability to create the life that I had long envisioned for myself. It was a shock.
When it finally dawned on me that I was being careless with my money and my future. I took a step back. First, I stopped shopping. I stopped going to stores. I began to enjoy time all to myself that included getting back to reading, writing and thinking. Finally, I learned some important things.
I learned that pretty things do not bring happiness. I learned that unless you are whole on the inside no amount of pretty stuff on the outside can fill the hole. I learned that, if you are not careful or honest with yourself, the things you own end up owning you.
I cannot say that I am improved or evolved. Even now, I like pretty things. But, now I do not buy everything that I think is pretty. Though I do not enjoy the tedium of shopping, I do find the acquisition of property to be satisfying. But, I know that I am not better because of the things I own. I know that my worth as a human is not based on the car I drive, house I own or money in my bank account.
But, I also know that money is powerful. Money can enable you to pursue a passion, extend a helping hand, or assist you in creating memories. And therefore, it should be respected along with the efforts it takes to make it. I still do not keep a tight budget. I still do not pay attention as much as I should. But, I balance immediate desires to use my money in a way that can help me achieve my lifelong goals. More importantly, I have reset my approaches to money.
What kind of relationship do you have with money?