I grew up in a middle-class Midwestern family. My dad was a college professor, and my mom self-employed. While we never went without, we also didn’t live extravagantly. Many of our activities were of the free or budget friendly variety, hiking at state parks, playing basketball in the driveway, at home movie nights, and card games around the kitchen table. We carved pumpkins in the fall, decorated frosted snowman cookies in the winter, planted flowers in the spring, and fished on the lake in the summer.
My childhood shaped me in a variety of ways. It provided me with an appreciation for quality time with the people I love. I grew to enjoy homemade meals, library books, and using my imagination for entertainment. I came to prefer spending time outdoors and still opt for weekend afternoons spent on our deck or playing bags in the yard over ones spent inside or shopping at the mall. My childhood also shaped the way I now view money. Today, I embrace so many of the same financial decisions my parents made while raising my siblings and me.
Going out to dinner is a treat. As is ordering Coca Cola. We had a bit of an unwritten rule in our house that we’d save our specialty drinks (and by specialty drinks, I mean things like pop and lemonade) for home and order water while dining out. My dad could never justify spending $10 on drinks between his 3 kids when he could buy 2 cases at the store for the same price. Although I do now splurge on the occasional margarita when having Mexican food, or a glass of wine with an Italian meal, I’ve generally adopted the same philosophy towards ordering drinks at restaurants. I’d prefer to pocket the extra few bucks and spend them elsewhere. Like, on dessert.
Cars don’t always need to be new. They simply need to be safe enough to get you from point a to point b. We were, for the most part, a used car family. That especially went for my brother, sister, and me in high school. At the time, I was a bit embarrassed to be rolling into the parking lot in my hand-me-down late 80s Mercury ‘shaggin’ wagon’ Tracer while my friends showed up in much newer and trendier models, but retrospectively I’m glad for the experience. My current 2002 Toyota Camry is rarely the nicest or newest car in the lot today, but it’s paid off and does its job, and I’m good with that. (P.S. 16-year old Kate is channeling me to say that when the dripping oil tank on the dash lights up, you actually need to do something about it. Like get an oil change. You learn something new every day…).
Buy your favorite thing. But, don’t buy all the things. I can remember heading home after cross country and soccer practices with ordering catalogs in hand, naively thinking I’d have a full new wardrobe by the time our season was in full swing. Wrong. I’d lay out the information on the kitchen counter, turn on the charm, tell my mom how great she looked, and dive into my best marketing spiel. She’d glance over her shoulder at the form, tell me to pick my favorite thing, remind me that I already owned too many hooded sweatshirts, and go back to whatever she was doing. While I was a bit envious of my teammates as they strode into practice in their fancy, shiny warmups, I can now confidently say that this approach towards clothing completely rules the way I shop. I’m picky, almost to a fault, when buying new things. Unless I love it, I leave it. And I rarely exit any store with more than one bag in hand.
Relationships>Possessions. Our family home was a modest 1950s ranch. The kitchen wasn’t renovated. The sewer system stank, literally. And, I never owned the cool hot pink Barbie car that I admired. But, what I did have was a set of parents who rarely missed a game, concert, or talent show in our living room. I had a dad who took me to Indian Princesses and taught be how to play baseball. And I had a mom who took me to Sam’s Club (strangely my happy place) after particularly shitty days. I truly came to experience, know, and value the feeling of love over things. My current home was built in the 1800s. It isn’t in my dream neighborhood, and I still don’t have the white Pinterest kitchen of my dreams. But what I do have is a husband who texts me at lunchtime to see how my day is going, and a sister who arguably knows me better and (still) loves me more than anyone in this world. While money does matter, as we inevitably have life expenses and bills to pay, it doesn’t matter most to me. And I can thank my mom and dad for that.