A Post about Money and Childhood

During my early childhood, both of my parents were in full-time ministry, serving in our very small, and very poor, church. There wasn't enough money, and eventually they left ministry and got day jobs: Mom started a landscaping company and Dad worked in hotel maintenance and management, but not the fancy kind. We moved from lower class to lower middle class, and eventually into the beginnings of the middle of the middle class (though that period was very short and--for other reasons--unpleasant). My upbringing didn't prevent me from getting a good education, and I always had what I needed, but there are perspectives and experiences I gained from it that not everyone I know has, whether peers, my elders, or the teens I mentor. Here are a few of the ways that starting life on the low-on-money side pops up in my post-college life. 

Debt feels absolutely impossible. I'm overcoming this one, but when I first got my student loans it felt like it would never, ever be possible to pay them back. Even though my parents were (and are) transparent about how finances work, the amount I'd borrowed (around $35,000 federal and $20,000 through parents) seemed utterly... what kind of number is that? This is really a carry-over from early childhood, since for years my parents could afford loans of similar size when necessary. 

I have mixed feelings about Santa. So here's the thing about Christmas time when you grew up not believing in Santa, and just believing in your parents (and the power of praying): there's a limit to what you could ask for. For as long as I could remember, I knew what what out of the question as far as gifts go. I knew what we just could not afford-- maybe I overshot occasionally, but I had a reasonable sense of "that is far too expensive... I will not even ask for that LEGO set, or that particular gaming system, etc." Santa doesn't have those limits. That means that there are kids who ask Santa for what they want, not realizing that it's out of budget, and it puts parents in the place of either getting something else (that's fine, it happens) or risk their own financial health to satisfy the request. Plus, it just seems weird that Santa gives kids gifts remarkably in line with their own economic status. It just feels weird. 

Buying art or other things of that nature has extra meaning. Art -- things that add beauty but not function -- is not in the cards when you're questioning if McDonald's will ruin the food budget. I purchased my first decent art print this year and it was one of the most meaningful things I did, because it showed me that I was somewhere else. 

New things are exciting! The other day I got very excited at some trash cans at Ace Hardware, and the poor teenager I was with (she was doing driving practice, which means I was running errands from the passenger side) was confused. I explained that new things, or single-purpose things, are the BEST when you grow up poor. I hope I always get a thrill out of a new laundry basket, or a mug, or towels, even though I hope they're no longer big budget-killers. There's something impossibly special about owning something that has only ever been mine.

My relationship to clothes is a thing I think about. This generally manifests in two ways: I tend to wear things in the same color scheme, and I don't own very many single purpose clothing items, and both come down to cost-per-wear. With a few exceptions, if I own something, it needs to earn its keep too, and can't wear out overnight (in other words, I also don't do fast fashion). My budget is pretty strict, but this is one of the ways that, even if I am spending a normal amount of money for my earnings, I am aware that not everyone feels that way. 

I'm not afraid of manual labor. A lot of my college spending money came from working for my mom's landscape company over the breaks. 

I value risk. There's something about not having much to start that makes taking a risk feel worth it, even if the risk is fairly big. My parents raised me to believe that I could work hard and find my own future (a privileged position), both financially and in general. It's a lesson I try to hold with me: that there's more out there, and that my experience isn't where it stops. Plus, I'm already rich: when I need something, I can get it. When I want something, I can scrimp and save here and there to make it happen. It's a pretty good place to be. 


Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash