Three Generations of Frugality
The day I turned 16, I got my first job as a waitress in a tiny little country café. The same day, my mother informed me that from now on, she and my father would put a roof over my head, feed and clothe me, but all extras were now my sole responsibility. This included car insurance and maintenance, gas for said car, outings with friends, even my cosmetics.
This wasn’t as much of a rude awakening as it could have been. For as long as I could remember, my parents had always required my participation in acquiring the things I wanted. The rule was “you pay for half and we’ll pay for half”. Work had always been a part of getting what I wanted.
My mother had also been preparing me for this partial independence in other ways. Over the years, she had been overtly teaching me how to stretch the dollar as far as it would go. We shopped off clearance racks at local department stores. Saturday mornings were spent making the rounds to garage sales. All of my prom dresses were purchased at thrift stores or consignment shops. Mother never really explained why she shopped the way she did; it was just our way of life.
I’d like to be able to say that I fully embraced this way of life after leaving home, but alas, during my 20-somethings I squandered way more money than I care to calculate. I lived life in the moment, saying goodbye to thrift stores and garage sales, and I had very little to show for it.
Fast forward 15 years and I have children of my own. I find myself doing things much like my mother. My children work to earn all of the money to buy the things they want; there’s no 50-50 here. Unless it’s Christmas or a birthday, they pay for all the extras they desire. I’m teaching them to shop secondhand and off the clearance racks, to use coupons and look for sales. I’m teaching them to stretch their hard earned dollars.
My children have assigned jobs they do around the house to help keep our home running efficiently. They get a weekly “paycheck” for completing these responsibilities. I also have a list of optional commissionable work that can be done each week to earn extra money.
By working hard and earning the things they want, my children are learning to never take anything for granted and to contemplate every purchase carefully. They are learning wise stewardship of their resources. Would they learn these same lessons if I simply gave them everything they wanted?
Recently my teenage daughter was invited to the mall with a friend. I cringed at the thought of all the temptation that awaited her. I discouraged her from taking her full bank (about $150), but she was determined. I realized this was a pivotal moment. She would spend all of her money and regret it later, or she would spend wisely and make me proud.
When my daughter returned from her shopping spree, she proudly displayed her purchases. All were trendy styles from stores like Abercrombie and Aeropostale. All were off the clearance racks. She spent just $40. I was proud (and relieved).
In just four short years, my daughter will become a young adult. I fully realize she may wander away from the lessons I’ve tried to teach her about wise spending, just as I did. I rest in knowing the seeds have been planted and the ground has been tended. I am fully confident that no matter how far she wanders, she will return to her roots. Just as I did.