Here’s the upside to the struggling economy (and it may be the only upside): people are starting to spend money the way they were supposed to all along. I heard a comedian on TV the other night say that when he was growing up in Queens, his family always recycled. When the talk show host looked surprised since recycling is kind of a “trend” right now, the comedian explained. He said that when the jar of jelly was empty, it was washed out and became a drinking glass. When his older brother grew out of his clothes, he was the recipient. When his mother fried chicken, the grease was kept in an old tin can in the fridge for several more uses (okay, eewwww).
I remember my grandparents and my parents doing the same thing. With four kids, we’ve certainly done our share of handing down clothes. It just hadn’t occurred to me that all of those things were really recycling. Also, as my frugal mother keeps reminding me, “if you didn’t have the cash for something, you didn’t buy it whether it was a washing machine or a pack of gum.” You saved up, waited until you had enough and then paid for it with cash – what a concept! No debt!
On one hand, this all seems so logical, straightforward and basically easy to do (how hard is it to wash out a jelly jar in order to get a new drinking glass?). But then there is “want”. I want/need that washing machine and that pack of gum and I don’t have the money saved up and won’t for a long time so…out comes the credit card, that oh, so convenient little card (now available with cute puppies pictured on it) to make everything possible. Until you have an impossible situation with debt. I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m going to start looking for all the ways I can be more like those early pioneers of financial freedom. I think it will mean a more simple life in many ways, which is a perfectly good thing and a good example to our children. This is easier for me to say for myself than to implement family-wide because I’m the thrifty one among us anyway.
Our kids have observed and questioned why we lack what so many others have: no Wii, no big house, no SUV with DVD. Now the nightly news makes our financial decisions strike home. The country’s economic troubles have provided lots of teachable moments. We have discussed greed, choices about savings/ spending, and what’s most important in life. This may not be PC, but I believe my family is entitled to a high standard of living. With hard work, the rewards should be there! I take no pleasure in the hardship of others. Truthfully, just like many who have stumbled, I have wanted to provide my family with MORE. Our good fortune thus far during the meltdown has not been due to perfect decision-making; it has been equal parts caution and big dollops of good luck. Courtney and I frequently butt heads over spending money to enjoy life versus having a fat savings account. Although I hate to waste money and always look for a good buy, saving for a rainy day has never been a top priority for me.
My children unwittingly remind me of a more meaningful approach to life every day. Left to themselves, they seek simple pleasures and find joy in climbing a tree, making cookies, wrasslin’ on the floor, and creating entire villages out of discarded boxes. Thanks to their example, I’m trying to embrace what I have, ignore the costly “How-To Happiness” messages of Madison Avenue, and focus on enjoying a simpler life with my kids. Coming down to earth in this recession is no fun, but it has revealed what kids need for a full and rich life. Less thinking about MORE is making me a better parent!