Monday, April 6, 2009

Is she poor like us?

Lemons or Lemonade?

The other day I was talking online to a high school friend. My daughter was reading over my shoulder. The friend mentioned starting a new business in this economy. My daughter asked innocently “Is she poor like us?”

Ack. That took me by surprise because we are not poor. Nor are we rich. We are solidly middle class and work very hard for our money. The money we earn, however, is spoken for. Each month we labor to meet our obligations and are squeaking by. We also don’t want to work any harder and thus refuse to add unnecessary stuff to our lives (cell phones, gaming systems, fancy clothing). We are frugal and we talk about money a lot. We strive to decrease our debt, increase our savings and have greater financial security (which is easier said than done).

For now my kids live with the motto “what you see is what you get.” But perhaps they’re too young to really see. We have a lot; a house in a nice neighborhood, two cars, food on the table, money for extracurricular activities and our health to name a few. Instead they see Goodwill clothing (albeit often brand new), boring meals at home and a lack of electronic acoutrements.

Our frugal behavior stands in stark contrast to many people we know. This week we have friends in town. These friends live a much different life than us. They shop at Nordstrom's, we shop at thrift stores. They eat out at least once a week, we don’t. In the time they’ve been here they’ve skied more than us though we’re the ones living near a ski resort. Their kids took ski lessons. I nearly had a heart attack buying two reduced price lift tickets ($29.00 a piece) and elected to teach the five-year-old myself. They drive a Mercedes. I drive a Honda. She’s worried about loss of sleep after the birth of their third child and plans to get a nanny. We don’t have a nanny nor can we justify preschool. I plan to sleep in 2011. We don’t have a house cleaner or a gardener. I don’t get regular pedicures and massages. The list goes on and on.

How much money do our friends make? I don’t know. They live as if they have money. I worry that they don’t. We live as if we don’t have money and I worry that we won’t.

This week the kids have been watching our friends spend. Are they jealous? No. My beautiful children think our friends are irresponsible. Hallelujah! They are learning. But in light of my daughter’s recent comments I wonder if my children are being left with the wrong impression about frugality. We are not frugal because we are poor. We are frugal because we don’t want to be poor. There is a difference.



Gayle said...

Love your last three lines, Shalet! You got it!

Amy said...

Perhaps your daughter needs to see what poor looks like to better understand the word... just a thought.

I agree with Gayle - your last three sentences are perfect.

Gabrielle Kai Photography said...


Such a thought provoking post. I often wonder how to teach financial responsibility to my daughter, and she's only two!

I personally feel that the only way to be thankful for what you have is to see those who don't. How we are not entitled to anything, but blessed enough to have the bare necessities, so that we can even *dream* of the extra comforts of life.

A blog that keeps me grounded is the Haiti Rescue Center:
Show your daughter those children who want little more than food and shelter, and she will see!

Shelli said...

Shalet, I stopped by to say thank you for stopping by my blog and your congratulations to me. I am sorry I rarely read any blogs anymore! As my son gets older, he demands more attention, and I've tried to reduce my online time.

I'm really glad I got to read this particular post though. I feel the same way as you - we are frugal and sacrifice a lot, but we have so much too. A nice house, two cars, and some "extras." But we don't go out to eat much and the only reason we go into Nordstroms is to use the bathroom! ha. We also watch other people live much different lifestyles and wonder how they can keep it up. Actually, we know one family who could NOT keep it up, and they paid a big price for it.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm really not sacrificing anything - I have everything I want including being able to stay home with my children. There are people who have so much less. I'm very blessed.

Thanks for the good post, and again, for stopping by.

tina said...

well said. that was a very beautiful piece. i am sure your kids will grow up to understand…

One thing I wanted to add was that frugal is also different from being cheap. A lot of people miss that point too, which makes it hard for people who do see the importance of being frugal. There's so much social pressure to spend money to live "the life."

DangAndBlast! said...

My sister-in-law is so different from us -- I've trained my husband (mostly!), and we live like you do. But she isn't employed, and yet doesn't do anything for herself. She's always surprised when she asks questions like, "who do use use for a gardener?" (Me.) "Who cleans your house?" (... I do...) "Where do you go to get your hair done?" (I don't get my hair done ... when it needs a trim, I ask my mother to even it out across the bottom a bit -- she's good at that!) Yes, I could possibly manage to spend as much money as she does ... and also make only the minimum payments on debt, student loans, etc., with no thought for the future. I rejoice that my husband (brought up that way, not mine) now understands the benefits of thoughtful frugality -- and I hope that, when we have children, they will too.

Anonymous said...

this is such a good post. I've just come back home from spending money. More than normal. It was cash on hand but I still feel sick to my stomach.

Tammie said...

i loved this.
there was more i wanted to write about it but i couldnt get my thoughts together in a way i liked.
so just know i loved it.
i can relate.

loveaphid said...

I am recently embracing a more frugal lifestyle, as I am not working and would like to keep it that way. YOur post really helped me to put into perspective why I have chosen to live this way. Thank you very much for your insight and honesty.

jenny said...

I, too, enjoyed reading this. We once had jobs that paid 40 grand a year each = 80 a year and we spent to match. Then I quit to stay home = 40 a year. We started being frugal and we did just fine except now we were also 50 grand in debt from our previous spendy lifestyle. We ended up selling our house and made a tidy profit which we then used to put a large down payment on a larger, cheaper home in the country and we paid off 30 grand of our debt. A year and a surprise 3rd pregnancy later, my husband got laid off and we were ever so grateful that we paid off the majority of our debt. My husband searched with no luck in securing another job, and we ended up getting unemployment. Knowing that wouldn't last long, we used most of that money to pay off the remaining debt.

3 years later, the only steady work my husband can find is a 7.50 per hour sales job in this area. But you know what? We are ok. Our income puts us on the poverty level, but we don't feel poor. We live a very rich life, we always have enough to pay the mortgage and the necessities and food in our bellies. If it wasn't for our frugality, we would have lost our house, our cars and who knows what else... We are frugal because we have to be, but even if we were to get back to where we were before-- 40+ per year, we wouldn't change our frugal ways.

Alicia said...

I love this post! I grew up thinking that we were poor for many of the same reasons. My parents had their own garden to save money, shopped at thrift stores & discount grocers to save money, didn't buy a lot of "fun" stuff to save money. When I was little, I thought it was because we didn't HAVE money. All my other friends' parents seemed to spend, spend, spend so surely they were richer than us, right?

Years & years later, I realize we were middle-class & not poor. My parents had money, they were just saving it. They lived beneath their means. And that was such a valuable lesson to me. Not only to save money, but to be happier with less.

I live my life much like you describe yours. A thrift store shopper by conscious choice. A saver. A can-I-make-this-myself-asker. And I can't wait to pass this on to our children...who will probably think we are poor, but will one day understand.

Regina said...

We live the same way. Often my oldest will talk about all the electronic doodads that his friends have and we don't. But, I was talking to another parent in his class at school and she was amazed when I told her that we don't watch TV (except for occasional movies) and that my guys play outside ALL the time. Her kids never go outside, they only play video games.

Your daughter will understand in due time. Soon enough you'll have a good thrift shopping companion.