Yeah, I don’t think I’m ready to join the Abnegation faction quite yet.
When I was growing up, my parents raised four kids on a truck driver’s salary. It’s sort of a marvel to me how much we did:
- Musical instruments and/or lessons: Mark: clarinet; Tina: drums; Tammy: French horn; me: piano.
- Sports activities and equipment, as desired/required: Powderpuff football for the girls; soccer and tennis lessons for me.
- Braces and headgear for three out of the four of us. (Curse Mark and his good teeth, which required only a retainer!)
- New clothes for school every year.
- Cars for every teen of driving age.
We had food in the refrigerator, presents on holidays and our own allowances, all in a house that was big enough for us to have our own bedrooms.
“How did you do that?” I asked my mom once, having realized that they managed all of this on less than I make right now.*
* Mitigating factor: CPI inflation. What my dad made in 1980 would translate to nearly three times that amount in 2014, so comparing his salary then to my salary now is deceptive.
“Well, we didn’t do anything,” she replied. And it made total sense.
If my family went anywhere on summer vacation, it was to stay with grandparents and other relatives in eastern Montana. Maybe as far as North Dakota. We never visited Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm, but when I was 5 we went to Expo ’74, when the World’s Fair was hosted by Spokane, Wash., about a four-hour drive away.
When it came to home repairs, Dad replaced the windows himself, without hiring a contractor, and we built a deck and put on a new roof by ourselves, too. (Yes, I wielded a hammer surprisingly deftly back then.) We took the Jeep pickup into the forest to cut down trees that, once cut and split, provided cords and cords of fuel for the wood-burning stove we used more often than electric baseboard heaters.
Our cars were perfectly functional but nothing enviable, and usually at least a decade old. Mark’s 1969 Dodge truck even survived an ill-fated highway run-in with a deer; the sisters rocked ’74 and ’75 Dodge Darts (“The best car I ever had,” Mom still vows to this day); when I got my driver’s license, I inherited my mom’s ’76 Chevy Malibu, a car she despised for reasons both practical (“I can’t see where the hood ends!”) and personal.
And here was the biggie: We ate at home almost all the time. Pizza was for birthday parties, and going out to dinner was an occasion—usually a Sunday night affair involving an all-you-can eat place like Happy Bungalow. (Oh, corn fritters, I can still taste you to this day.) My dad always bagged a deer or elk during hunting season, so we’d store the meat in the freezer, to be parceled out throughout the year alongside the half a beef we’d spring for and wrap in freezer paper. Birthday cakes were made from boxes, not purchased from bakeries.
For entertainment at night, there was TV. A lot of TV—the free channels. (My parents got cable only when we moved to Laurel, in an attempt to tamp down the unfettered fury of a freshman-to-be who had just been uprooted from his hometown and friends.) My parents each had Their Chairs—and eventually so did we, having received separate-but-equal beanbag-style poufs for Christmas one year. It was cheaper for us all to watch “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” in the family room with our Hamilton Beach popcorn maker and Shasta cola than to catch a movie at the theater and get gouged at the concession stand.
Basically, my parents were frugal, but fun. No sense of deprivation. I wonder how hard it would be to accomplish that now? To find out, I need look no further than next door, where our neighbors are raising three kids on the father’s salary as a UPS employee. She home-schools the kids, and the family has a sizeable garden and raises chickens for fresh eggs. (The youngest son gets Ranger Rick Jr. magazine, just like I used to get Highlights and, later, Cricket.) Mom seems harried, but in a good-natured, almost apologetic way, and while the rest of us shell out for landscapers, Dad’s out there every weekend doing their yardwork.
So it can be done! I’m working some of that simplicity back into my own life, too, because it helps me achieve the long-term goal of paying down my debt. I don’t think I’ll ever be in the position where I’m buying a house and cars with cash, like my parents did, but I’d like to not be quite as freighted with financial burden the way that so many people are today.
I have to keep reminding myself of that, though, when it’s dinner time and I’m feeling lazy. It’s much easier to grab something from a drive-thru window, or more enjoyable to catch up with friends in a booth over a meal or a bottle of wine. But those $10, $20, $30 tabs add up to hundreds every month, so they’re down to ≈ once a week. This change in attitude is new enough that I occasionally feel a little sullen—now is when the sense deprivation kicks in!—but as long as the end goal makes sense, I should survive intact.
|WHAT SAM WORE: 8-16-14|
|The shirt: University of Montana T-shirt, a gift from my sister.|
|The shorts: Cotton fleece shorts by Mossimo, from Target.|
|The shoes: Nike Free running shoes, from Sports Authority.|