For most of my childhood my family was what I’d consider working poor. My Dad had a steady job, but it was very low paying. We lived in a very small town, and my Mom tried to find a job in town, but there just wasn’t anything available to her. Her only option would have been to drive 45 minutes to a bigger town, and when you add up the cost of gas, childcare, and vehicle repairs (we had an ancient truck as our only vehicle) it would have cost more to go to work than she’d have brought home. She ended up babysitting five kids while their Moms were at work, so she brought in some money that way.
I never knew that we were poor, until I was older and started to put the pieces together. I think it was because of the combination of living in a very rural area, and having parents who were great at shielding us from any talk about money or bills. I had a great childhood. My Mom was always home, the kids she babysat were our friends, so we always had lots of people to play with, and my Dad was home every night. We never went hungry, although there were some pretty lean times. My Mom used to make us “cracker sandwiches”, two saltines with cheez whiz on them, to take for lunch. We went without meat a lot, and my Mom found ways to stretch what we had. Most of our vegetables were either homegrown, canned or frozen, and we hardly ever had fruit, other than apples, or fruit produced from our garden (raspberries and strawberries). I didn’t get a new article of clothing until I was in my teens. We got some clothes from the thrift shop, and also from our church. They used to bring us big bags from the donation bin and let us pick what we wanted. It was always fun for me! I loved going through the clothes. My Mom also sewed a lot of our clothes, and taught me how to sew. I still sew some of my own clothes now. The only vacations we ever went on were camping trips, and we had a tent, so they were super cheap. Those are some of my best memoreis though. I still love camping, and my husband and I still sleep in a tent. I never felt like I missed out on anything. We may not have gotten to go to Disneyland, or had new clothes, or a bunch of toys, but we grew up in a happy, fun home where we knew we were loved. And my parents never gave us anything to worry about. I had no idea that there had been financial problems until I was in my teens. I feel very lucky to have had the childhood I did.
I am also lucky, because I’ve seen first hand where hard work can get you. When I was 12 my Dad was finally offered a huge promotion. His wage more than doubled, we moved to a bigger town where my Mom was able to find a job, and things have just gone uphill from there. My parents didn’t make any big changes in how they spent their money. They did sell our crappy old truck and get two cars, but neither were new. We also got a tent trailer for camping, which was a step up from the tent because it had a fridge! We still didn’t go on a vacation out of the country until I was 22. Food was probably the biggest improvement. We got to buy real cheese! And good cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, and lots of fruit. That part was great. My parents didn’t go crazy though, they saved a lot of money, because they knew what it was like to be living paycheque to paycheque and wanted to be prepared if anything bad happened. If my brother or I wanted something we had to work for it. We got a few more luxuries, like some new clothes, a few more toys, but nothing too big. I got a job when I was 14 so that I could afford the clothes that I wanted, and so that I could start showing horses. I’ve worked ever since. I bought my own first car (a piece of junk but I loved it), bought myself a horse and paid for her care, worked my way though school with no student loans (I got some help with tuition from my parents), and bought my own condo at 21. I’ve always known that if you just work hard you will get where you want to be one day, because of the example that my parents set for me. I also learned to be very frugal from them, and still don’t indulge in a lot of luxuries.
After I finished high school my Dad got another big promotion, and then there was a company merger, and he ended up taking a package, and was able to retire very comfortably at 55. He and my Mom moved back home, and built a brand new house on an acreage. My Mom still works part time, but my Dad just putters around their place, he has pigs and chickens, and lots of woodworking projects on the go. It’s amazing to me what he was able to accomplish by working hard and being careful with his money. I hope that I can do half as well as him one day.
Luckily for me my husband thinks about finances very similarly to me. His parents farm, and they had some very lean years as well, they almost lost of the farm in ’94, but managed to stay afloat, and now they’re doing very well, so my husband’s experiences have been very similar. We are both savers, and neither of us are comfortable carrying debt, or living paycheque to paycheque.