My mom and I were having a conversation last night about people who can not live within their means. This conversation, of course, was spurned by my complaining about all of my hospital and physical therapy bills I am currently attempting, rather poorly, to pay off.
"How is it that these people can go and eat at amazing places and vacation at amazing locales, and I spend my Friday evening eating tater tots and my Spring Breaks cleaning out my closets?"
"Meg, some people don't know how to live within their means. They feel like if they NEED to go out to eat, they do. They put it on the credit card and worry about it later."
"You and Dad never did that. If we didn't have money for a treat, like ice cream for instance, you didn't go out and buy us ice cream at the ice cream parlor."
"No, I would make homemade cookies or something like that. You always talk about the cookies I would make before we went on vacation."
And it's true! My mom would make a family favorite, California Rangers, a week or so ahead of our summer vacation to our grandparents' cottage in Northern Michigan. These cookies made a TON of the cookies ... like 18 bajillion dozens, and we'd have cookies for the entire two-week vacation. My sister and I had no idea that we didn't have enough money to go into town and get a sweet treat at the local Dairy Queen, and later the fancy gourmet ice cream parlor. We were perfectly happy eating those yummy cookies.
I never knew that in some parts of the United States macaroni and cheese was a side dish. We ate it as a full meal, usually with steamed tomatoes or a salad. Why? Because macaroni was cheap as was a can of steamed tomatoes ... or the ones my mom canned fresh the August before. She made that dinner taste like prime rib! To this day, homemade macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite dinners!
We ate out very minimally growing up. McDonalds? That was a HUGE treat that happened only once in a great while. And take out pizza/pizza delivery? We couldn't afford that! My mom made THE BEST homemade pizza ever! To this day, we'd all rather have a homemade pizza/home town hole in the wall pizza place than any big-name, mass produced pizza. We just didn't know what we were missing.
Fabulous vacations to Disney World or The Beach? We didn't have them. We went to my grandparents' cottage which was a little one bedroom fishing cottage on a lake 10 minutes south of Mackinaw City and the Straits of Mackinac. Until my grandfather retired, the only way to bathe was standing at the bathroom sink or in the lake. We just didn't know there was such a thing as a Magical Kingdom because those summer sunsets over Carp Lake held their own magic!
Our parents provided us with all sorts of fun experiences that cost no money whatsoever, and again, we never knew the difference because we had so much fun!
Some of my favorite memories are tied with the Whitehouse Nature Center in Albion. If we weren't hiking the trails in the summer or fall, we were skiing those trails in the winter on our cross country skis. We took walks EVERYWHERE, and my mom made a trip to the public library (which we did A LOT growing up) seem like a religious experience.
We never had a lot of money. I remember becoming aware of that at the beginning of one of my middle school years, when asked by a peer where I got my cute dress and I replied, "Kmart," the dress immediately became ugly, and I was teased mercilessly. That was a particularly lean year for my parents, and my mom had purchased our Back to School clothes off the clearance rack of Kmart.
I think that experience helped me not care one iota now about how I shop for my clothes ... which is usually off of the clearance rack or at consignment shops. In fact, my sister got me a GORGEOUS blouse from a consignment shop for Christmas because I'd fallen in love with it in the fall but didn't feel like I could spend the money. Some people would scoff at that. I was thrilled! I LOVE THAT BLOUSE and wear it all the time!
Yes, I get frustrated when I can't do what I'd like to my house. I would love to gut my bathroom. I have no funds in my budget for that. It doesn't matter. I can make a scrumptious dinner out of nothing and find an evening of fun out of a walk in a nature preserve watching the sun set.
The memories I treasure the most are not the ones when we had a little bit more money. The memories I treasure the most are during those times where we had very little.
Money isn't everything. I think if more people realized that, life might be a much more pleasant experience ...