Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Thing About Things

Husband and I have made some choices in our lives; choices that we thought would benefit our family and help us secure a comfortable future.

We choose to live within our means.

We choose to live in a modest home.

We choose to be a one income family.

We choose to have only one car payment at a time.

We choose to put 10% of our earnings into savings without fail, each pay period.

To expand upon that...

We don't use credit cards, so if we do not have cash on hand, then we simply do without. For big purchases, we save up or wait for bonuses, tax returns, etc. We do have one for emergencies, but we absolutely, positively do not use it for intangibles such as dinner out or a mani/pedi. We learned a hard lesson early on in our marriage about abusing credit, and we will not go down that road again.

Our home is small and shabby. It was 15 years old when we bought it and already in desperate need of some TLC. The improvements have been slow going and over the years, some things have deteriorated even further. But it keeps us warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. It keeps the rain off our heads. It has a big fenced in yard in which my boys frolicked safely for many years. Most importantly, the mortgage is quite manageable. We are not house poor as so many of our friends and neighbors are. And now that husband is out of work, it will be difficult, but not impossible to pay it.

Fourteen years ago, quite to my surprise, I found that I simply could not fathom leaving my tiny pink baby in that cold, sterile, cheerless place. I chose to stay at home with my boys. While I have sometimes questioned whether it was the best choice for me, I have never doubted that it was the best choice for them.

Husband and I trade off with vehicles. I got a new van 6 years ago, while husband's poor Jeep plugged along year after year. When my van was paid off recently, he finally bought himself a new car. He had been driving the Jeep for 11 years, and it had over 200,000 miles on it. Now, I will wait until his car is paid off before I replace my big blue cliché with something a little less...maternal.

Both of us have seen what happens when you don't plan for future. So although it's tough to see that money subtracted from our already meager bottom line each month, we know that it's a necessity. Who knows if there will even be social security in 30 years? I don't want to be reduced to eating tinned beef and stale crackers from the dollar store.

All of that means, we don't have some of the stuff other people have. We can't do some of the stuff other people do. We can't go places some other people go. We do not appear affluent, though we live in an affluent area.

Still, my children have far more than I ever did growing up, which makes me both enormously happy and somewhat fearful. I sometimes I worry that they have too much.

It's a fine line to walk in this material world.

I remember the humiliation and shame of not having the right clothes, the right house, the right car. I can still hear the taunts and jeers; I can still see the contemptuous looks. I didn't invite other children to my home because I was ashamed of the sofa with the stuffing coming out of the arms, the crumbling hole in the kitchen ceiling, and the mismatched bedclothes in the room that I shared with my sister.

I didn't volunteer for things at school and church because I knew I would have nothing appropriate to wear. I didn't go out for sports or cheerleading or choir because I knew that the cost of uniforms, dues and equipment was just too dear.

And although my mother tried very, very hard to make sure we knew we were as good as anybody took a lot of years for me to stop thinking of myself as less.

I don't want my kids to ever feel like they are less. I don't want them to ever feel shame for something over which they have absolutely no control.

And yet...

I worry that they take the things they have for granted. They have televisions, cell phones, iPods, xBox, Wii, computers. They have some of the latest clothing brands, and nobody knows they were bought used on ebay or from the consignment store. They have never been picked up in a rusted out rattletrap of a car that backfires and leaves clouds of black smoke in its wake. They have never had to miss a fieldtrip or a cultural experience because we couldn't afford the fees.

I don't know if that's entirely good for them.

Now, I'm not saying that poverty builds character and that any kid who hasn't gone to bed hungry is destined to become a shallow, materialistic brat with huge entitlement issues.

But I think sometimes that people need to hunger. Not in the literal sense, but they need to need; they need to want. Because otherwise, they never learn to strive for anything. They never learn to be resourceful, they never learn to be driven and determined. They have no appetite.

So I am torn between protecting my children from the cruel reality of being and having less, and keeping them from becoming the kind of greedy, grasping, hedonists that are responsible for the economic collapse of this country.

I think about this a lot. Because I myself sometimes get depressed and discouraged by always being on a budget. I want new living room furniture and I want it now. I am sick to death of driving the big blue cliché. I want to get rid of this disgusting carpet and put down hardwood floors. And we could. We could have all that and more...if we changed our priorities.

Yesterday was Diminutive One's birthday, and he had a small party with sleepover guests. Despite our current situation, we were able to give him a pretty nice birthday and I was feeling good about that.

He was excited by his new cell phone. But about three seconds after he unwrapped it, one of the birthday guests said "I've had a cell phone since I was in third grade." He was excited by his new Wii game, which prompted another comment. "The graphics on this game suck. Too bad you don't have an xBox. I have all the game systems."

I hadn't been paying much attention to their chatter, but for the duration of the party, I was hyper aware of everything that was said. And the comments continued. Diminutive One was completely oblivious to the fact that this kid was dissing all his stuff. Sometimes the fact that things go right over his head is a blessing in disguise. But the more I listened, the more irritated I became.

Shortly before he left (he was not able to spend the night like the other guests, thank God) he made an unsolicited comment to my son. I think he was growing frustrated because his jabs had gone unnoticed or at least, unacknowledged by Diminutive One. He said, "Boy, I feel sorry for you. You don't even have a laptop." Diminutive One looked at him blankly and ignored the comment completely. He has a very nice desktop pc and was obviously baffled as to why anyone would feel sorry for him.

Why? Why did the child feel the need to make these comments? I've been to his home. It's a huge lavishly decorated McMansion in an upscale neighborhood. His Mom drives a high end SUV. He always has the latest and most coveted clothing and shoes. The disparity is obvious. They have more money, or more credit than us. So why the need to continually point out that he has better stuff? Why so much concern over and emphasis on material things?? Why the need to steal Diminutive One's moment and dampen his excitement over his gifts?

I was puzzled and thoroughly annoyed.

To my knowledge, my children have never behaved in such a way. Though they have a lot of things, they have had to wait for birthday and Christmases. We don't buy them things just because. Sometimes they have to use their own money for things and save a very long time. Pubescent One wanted an xBox very, very badly, but at $350 for the game console, and $50 per game, it just wasn't an expenditure we were willing to make. So he saved his money for a year to buy his own. They know that things don't come easily and money doesn't grow on trees. They have pride in the things that they do have, and, for the most part, take good care of them.

Pubescent One got an iTouch for Christmas only to have it stolen from his gym locker a month later. He never asked us to replace it. And several months later when Husband got an iPhone and gave Pubescent One his old iPod, he was genuinely grateful.

Diminutive One was incredibly pleased with his phone. He knows what the situation is, and never expected to get such an extravagant gift. So the surprise and delight that he displayed upon opening them was genuine.

And that makes me think that I must be striking the right balance or at the very least, helping them understand that there are more important things than things.

But if I *ever* hear one of my children talking the way that child did...I will take every single thing they have and make them earn their possessions back one by one with very hard, very grueling, and very stinky labor.

You can count on that.


  • At 9:19 PM, Blogger Rachel said…

    I can still remember shopping at Goodwill as a child, and hating it. We were better off by the time you and I met. But I remember clearly when eating an actual chunk of red meat was a rare privilege.

    I, too, struggle with annoyance at my children's ridiculously privileged lives. I just tell them that we are fabulously wealthy by world standards.

    You shouldn't ever be reduced to eating crackers from the dollar store, girl! Stock up on rice while you can. Live poor the Asian way and never be without a hot meal ever.

  • At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I hate people like that. Keeping up with the Jones' is not important to me and I hope it isn't important to my kids. I think it's stupid for elementary-age children to have cell phones but to each his/her own.

  • At 11:57 PM, Blogger Rob said…

    My Mom passed away early last year just 2 weeks after I became a Dad, so I've had lots of cause for reflection on my childhood and the template given me for the road ahead as a parent.

    Mom was married but abandoned, so she commonly held multiple jobs to keep up with mortgage & bill payments. We never had brand name anything. We went without trendy clothing. We almost never ate at restaurants - even a fast food burger was an extravagance.

    But y'know what - none of that mattered. None. We never went to bed hungry. We never went to school in dirty or unmended clothes. We never doubted whether we were loved - we could see (some of) the sacrifices Mom made for us on a daily basis. She rarely called attention to her plight, but we could see that she had to struggle harder than other Moms. And as much as I understood then that she did without so we wouldn't, I understand this all so very much more now.

    I consider it my greatest obligation and challenge as a parent to live up to the example she set. Mom certainly wasn't perfect and our childhood wasn't storybook and she left us suddenly so I never had the chance to tell her how much her sacrifices meant. So I aspire to be half as patient, tireless, and selfless a parent as she was - that's my opportunity to honor the tough life she led.

    So, you've made your choices and are proud of them - stick to that! Don't hold other families up as a comparison - you're accountable only to your family, yourself, and your maker. Perhaps you should consider yourself the more fortunate one for not fitting into popular perceptions of what a family should be. Your children will not remember nearly so much what they didn't have as they will what they did have - you.

  • At 7:25 AM, Blogger Mac and Cheese said…

    I know adults who like to flaunt their own wealth and put other people down for their 'lesser' posessions. I really believe it's because despite all their stuff, they really aren't all that happy.

  • At 8:29 AM, Blogger K2 said…

    WOW. It just never ceases to amaza me at the wonderful foundation you are setting for your family. It is what will pull you through anything. You and Husband have instilled the most important and incredible values and respect in both your boys, and it shows! I am facing some of the same thoughts and chllanges with our children and struggle too with the conflicted worry that I'm either giving them too much or not enough. Reading your words is an inspiration. Thank you.

  • At 9:12 AM, Blogger the only daughter said…

    It isn't the things (or lack thereof) it is the lessons imparted along the way.

    You and your husband give your boys the greatest gifts of your time, sensibility, and values.

    Happy, happy, joy, joy to D. O. :)

  • At 9:46 AM, Blogger Amy Sue Nathan said…

    I hate to say this, but I think girls can even be worse (not that this is a contest, mind you). Luckily my daughter allows much to run off her back -and things like that bother me more than her.

  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger Cranky Mommy said…

    You are obviously doing a great job!! I love your blog and can totally relate to most of your posts. As a mom trying to live frugally in Marin county on one income while paying for my stepdaughter to go to private college, I do not hesitate to help my children strike the right balance. We live within our means and while my kids comment on how some friends have more they also notice the stress levels in those homes, babysitters vs. my baking with them, and dads constantly on business trips vs. my hubby taking the time to play catch and catch frogs.

    My kids understand that credit cards don't mean things are free and that Legos are a luxory item and not a necessity. I buy tons used and on ebay and my kids do not pine for luxory items.

    That other child is clearly insecure and kudos to you for even including him!! How sad that he seeks to feel better about himself by trying to make others feel worse.

    I hope your husband finds work soon. I hope you get a book deal or something. Good luck and I hope you do not stop blogging. I would miss you!

  • At 10:39 AM, Blogger Major Bedhead said…

    We are perpetually cash strapped over here, not because we have credit card debt or an upside-down house loan (or even any house loan) but because stuff gets more expensive and our salaries can't keep up. My kids do without a lot of stuff - we don't have a gaming system, but we do have a nice television and computers. I have had to tell my oldest daughter no on a few expensive school trips - I just didn't have the $700 to spend on it. She wasn't too upset, but I feel horrible having to say no to these things. While I am with you on the "don't give them tons of crap" front, not being able to give them much of anything at all gets really discouraging and depressing after a while.

    That kid at the party sounds like a materialistic little bugger.

  • At 10:41 AM, Blogger Shelley said…

    Happy Birthday to D.O.! I'm glad you guys are managing, but still hoping for your husband to find something soon!

    As for that boy...I've always told my kids that happy people don't put other people down. They just don't. I don't know why that kid is not happy, or maybe even jealous of your son, but that's what it appears to me. Perhaps he's jealous of the warm parental affection and attention your son receives. Maybe, despite the fact that the kid has everything and his mom drives a high-end SUV, she is too busy working or doing whatever she does to pay any attention to him. Having a lot of "stuff" does not make people happy, nor does it make them appreciative or generous.

    My kids don't get everything they want, and most things do wait for birthdays or Christmas. I can't afford to just buy whatever when they want it. My oldest (17) has her own job, and takes care of most of her own expenses. She does not feel entitled to anything and I'm proud of that. She hates asking me for money. Maybe there's something to be said for not having everything you want right when you want it. In fact, I know there is. You're doing a great job, B.A.:)

  • At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Jason said…

    This is a funny humor blog that you have here. I have one myself and I would like to exchange links with you. Let me know what you think.


  • At 6:05 PM, Anonymous CNC said…

    BA, your blog is the only one I check daily - I'm so glad you still want to share your writing with us. I don't comment often (I find even writing this difficult, for pete's sake) As far as using big words - I love it when you talk fancy!

    You've had such a tough time lately - I really am hoping things turn around for you and your family soon.

  • At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow, you people are completly nuts and guess what? I and my family are, too!
    Why do some try to shame us for living within our means? When both of my daughters were in public school it didn't seem like a big deal. Our older daughter moved to private school last year for 5th grade and I just couldn't believe the attitudes of some of the parents!
    Our youngest vehicle is 3 years old, the "middle vehicle child" is 5, and our spare is a '92 model, all paid for. Our house payment is 1/6th of my husband's take-home pay. It's not only all we need,it's more than we need. The 4th bedroom just sits there unused and the playroom does also most of the time.
    Yeah, I'm toting a small 5 year old Target purse instead of a Coach b/c it usually sits in the car if I'm away from home as my debit card and DL hang out in my pocket. Glad Mrs. Snooty approves of my jeans but I only have them b/c I found a kick-butt sale & they've made my round behind look nice for 6 years.
    There should be more Get Over Yourself happening out there,eh?
    A few years ago one of my girls frowned and said "Ew, what an ugly car" when we pulled into the grocery. I put both girls back into our car, drove home and gave them a long talk. I vividly remember being a kid and watching my parents & their siblings piling dollar bills & coins on a table to pay my grandparents' electric bill & making sure there was food in their house.
    My kids are more than happy with the desktops my husband(computer guy)built for them years ago and the hand-me-down laptops they have from his employer's storage room.
    Ame in TN

  • At 7:49 PM, Blogger SUEB0B said…

    I grew up in a family where we were taught to judge other people by "the content of their character." My parents constantly pointed out what was acceptable and what wasn't, and that was never in material terms. Someone who was monetarily poor but who behaved nobly was considered a decent person.

    I never put people into categories because of their material goods. It wasn't until I dated someone who did - and I was in my 40s - that it occurred to me that some of my favorite people growing up were quite "poor." My exBF refused to believe that those categorizations had never occurred to me before, since he sliced and diced our own neighborhood by which houses were on better streets than others, which meant the people there were better. The snobbiness drove me crazy.

    I'm glad I grew up the way I did and I will bet your boys will be better off for it.

  • At 8:36 PM, Blogger slouchy said…

    Ahh, this one is near and dear to my heart. We have raised our children more or less as you've raised yours.

    That kid would have totally pissed me off, had he said those things to my son. And he could have said each and every one of them, because Eleven does not yet have a laptop, a cell phone, or an xBox.

  • At 1:40 AM, Blogger JamaGenie said…

    The kid that dissed your son's gifts is the perfect example of "Money can't buy love". Everything else, but not love or the sense of being loved that every kid needs.

    That said, my kids grew up knowing that after the first time expensive designer clothes are worn and washed, they're no longer new. Meaning the second week of school, the "coolest" (meaning rich) kids were wearing *used* clothing. I just cut out the first step and bought my kids' designer and name-brand clothes at yard sales in really nice neighborhoods, and their classmates never knew the difference.

    "Everybody else has one" didn't fly with me either. My reply was always, "Well, you're not everybody else". If they really really needed something, I'd get it for them *because* they truly needed it, not b/c everybody else had the thing.

    I truly feel sorry for those who have to have a brand-new huge house that they can't afford. I actually chuckle on entering such a house, because the furniture - what furniture there is - is out of their parents' garage or yard sale specials that should've gone to the dump instead. All these people really have is a fancy address and non-stop stress to pay for it. Hurrah to you and your husband for living within your means!

    Oh, and I voluntarily quit using credit cards years ago too. Can't feel the least bit sorry for those who have tens of thousands of $$ of c.c. debt for things they didn't *need* in the first place.

  • At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We place very little emphasis on stuff in our family - although we definitely have our share of it. Stuff does not make the person and we spend very little time discussing or thinking about the stuff, who has it, who needs it and what to do with it. My kids know that stuff comes from work and they understand the concept of work because they watch both of their parents sacrifice leisure and freedom for work every single day. Without exception, every person in our extended family is self sufficient and financially independent - and I think this is the most important value I am demonstrating for our children. While many of us have taken breaks when our kids were small, the idea of an adult volunterring to be permanantly financially dependent on another adult is a concept they just don't get.

    The most materialistic, snooty, selfish, stuff obsessed families I know have one income. I don't know if this is common everywhere or just in my little world - but I see this in families where so much emphasis is placed on stuff - even if the well meaning parents provide very few luxuries for their kids - it becomes a control issue. And in other single but high income families - its all about the possessions - and the life of leisure and entitlement - from the trophy wife to the trophy kids.

    For us - we work hard and doing so gives us the freedom to spend our money the way we want. If we want to be generous - we can. If we want to be careful - we can. We have choices and can do what we want with them. We often choose to provide things "just because" - but it is never about the stuff - stuff doesn't make the person - it neither elevates or demonstrates a person's worth. The amount of possessions one has only is a sign of what they spend, not who they are or what they actually have.

    I have never bought into the concept that important lessons are taught by placing a whole lot of emphasis on stuff - whether erring on the side of over indulgence or on the side of almost mean spirited withholding.

  • At 7:29 AM, Blogger Sonal said…

    You are simply great dear....I live in India and came through your blog accidently. I have a sone who is 7 months old and I would like to bring him up the same way.....with the same learning and understand that money is not that easy to come. I hope he'l understand and be a great human someday...Hope I succeed. Kudos to you....!

  • At 2:18 PM, Anonymous jwoap said…

    This is certainly not the world I lived in as a kid 35 years ago. We have a child who's eight and we are trying very hard to teach him the value of money, hard word, and the evils of instant gratification.

    It does prove to be a challenge with we are always surrounded by text messaging, instant messenger, credit cards, fast food, everything is big, fast, and has to happen now.

    You keep doing what you are doing:) I am uber proud of you.


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