Sunday, November 4, 2012

Not Poor

This is a concept I am having a little trouble getting used to.

It's not that I was ever poor. I grew up in an upper-middle class household with a stay-at-home mother. My father worked in the defense industry in the 80s. There was plenty of money. But he never acted like it. Money was held tightly. My mother shopped the sales and used coupons, had a huge file of them, used double coupons whenever she could. As a child I was told I had to choose ballet lessons or flute; I couldn't have both. I quit ballet because my parents wouldn't pay for two lessons a week, which was essential to advance and go en pointe. When I made the dance/drill team in high school my father asked how I was going to pay for the uniforms. Eventually he relented and these were paid for, though I don't know at what cost.

But we weren't poor. We lived in a nice house (that suffered from having been decorated in the late 70s and was never really redecorated even when it was being sold in the mid-90s) and went on vacations a few times (really I feel like I can count them on my hand, and we drove a lot, even if it was a two-day drive, and only flew once to visit family on the other side of the country) and went to the zoo and Sea World and Disneyland. But there was always this sense that money had to be closely regulated.

And I get that; I get that you can't just spend spend spend and let the credit card bills rack up. I pay my credit card bill in full every month and I carefully consider major purchases. I don't like being in debt; the only debt I carry is my house and that only because a house is such a massive thing that you have to owe on it unless you have major reserves of cash.

The problem, though, the really problem has always been not the pounds but the pennies. Not the major purchases but the little things. The decision to get a regular cup of coffee instead of the hazelnut latte I really want. To shop the clearance rack before the main rack, and almost never shop at department stores (which I find overwhelming anyway). I didn't really haggle for my house or truck, but I'll worry about those little purchases and whether I can really afford to get the dinner I want when I'm out because it's a dollar or two more than something else.

There is very little of my life that I have been earning what I would consider an adequate amount for someone of my age and education. The first "real job" I had with benefits and a livable salary was teaching, and I was 27. I've lived a lot of my life without health benefits or a retirement plan or even sick days.

Now suddenly I have a salary and am making 30% more than I was making at the job that let me go. I look at my budget -- because I've actually kept a budget for the last year and a half, something have never ever done (which is not to say that I've kept to my budget, just that I have looked at what I was spending) -- and there is a decent amount of extra money. I'm not rich, oh no. But I can breathe. I can want something and purchase it. And all that is taking a little getting used to.

There is some kind of balance that has to take place between buying the things I need and needing the things I buy. I'm not sure where that balance is quite yet. Are Halloween decorations frivolous? Do I just spring for a new TV stand or seal and paint the old one (and why do I even have a TV that I don't really even watch)? On one hand there is not consuming things I don't really need, recognizing that old things can be made new and often are more interesting than new things out of the box (particularly in the furniture department). On the other there is, I'm not poor. It's okay for me to have this. And I still have to convince myself a bit, because there were so many things that, for some mysterious reason, it wasn't okay for me to have. I get a little bewildered sometimes when I know that I'm going to be able to afford things just fine.


  1. It's likely one or both of your parents grew up w/o money ... this dictates a person's 'tude re: money their whole lives, so that they feel poor even when they're not, and sometimes even when they're far from it.


    1. Actually father's parents were just the same (by which I mean stingy), though at least they lived through the Depression and that mentality can be somewhat better understood. But to my knowledge they were not poor.

    2. I guess then it's because of how he was raised. It's fear-based.



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