Thursday, July 16, 2009

Front Porch Friday: Money, Money, Money!

I thought this Front Porch Friday I might reflect back on the experiences in my life that have shaped the way I view and manage money. I have given this topic more thought recently as David and I have discussed what and how we will teach our children about money, particularly considering the current state of the economy.

I was born at a time when my parents did not have a lot of money. There were points where my mother says we were almost eligible for food stamps, which I have heard it was a little harder to qualify for food stamps at that time. My mother could make a pound of ground beef last five meals! She and her grandmother made a lot of me and my sister's clothes. As a child, I remember going out to eat was really something special, and buying brand new store bought clothes was a real occasion! I also learned that no matter how little you have, there is always someone else who has less than you that you could share what you have with. I remember one night picking out some of our toys with my sister to give to a man we had met at church so his children would get something for Christmas. Another thing I have noticed when looking back is that we were truly happy. We learned to be happy and thankful for what we had and not worry about the stuff we didn't have.

Over the early years of my childhood, my parents had more children (I have 4 siblings.), and our financial situation also slowly improved. However, our lifestyle only improved marginally. My parents had several goals such as educating their children in a Christian environment, and in order to achieve those goals, it meant continuing to live a somewhat frugal lifestyle. During much of my childhood I thought we were poor because the other kids at school received video games and other expensive toys for Christmas. My mother finally explained to me that we were not poor but that they chose to give us a lot of brothers and sisters instead. It was at that moment that I realized that you will never have enough money to buy everything you want and that it comes down to choosing the things that are most important to you and being happy with what you have. I think I received the better gift (my siblings) in comparison to many of my classmates who received nice clothes and toys every year.

As I became an adult, my parents situation continued to improve, and my youngest siblings have not been raised with quite as much emphasis on frugality. I have come to realize that my parents taught me three great lessons: 1) How to make the most of what you have 2) How to be happy with what you have and 3) I learned to be comfortable rubbing shoulders with people from a variety of financial backgrounds. All of these lessons have proved to be exceptionally useful in my adult life.

The first year my husband and I were married we made a collective income of $11,000 for the year! We chose not to seek any government assistance because my husband is a pull yourself up by your own boot straps sort of person. He felt that if we chose to get married even though we knew we would have a hard time financially the first year that we should suffer the consequences of that decision. I have to say it makes me feel good to look back at that year because I know now that no matter what happens we can make it. I do think that year was easier for me because of the lessons I had learned about money as a child. I also believe that very few of our friends were aware of just how little we made that first year because we were able to make the most of what we had.

Today we make significantly more than $11,000 a year, but we still choose to live frugally because of the goals we have: paying off student loans, paying off mortgages, and me staying home with our children. We also hope that our children will grow up learning some of the same lessons I learned growing up by watching the choices we make concerning our money and listening to our prayers. I have concluded that one of the great benefits of prayer is the time of reflection on all of the things you have been blessed with. If we don't have a time where we reflect on all that we have, we will get caught up in all that we want but don't have. I will leave you with a song my mother used to sing to us as children:

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

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