There are successes and wonderful qualities that we see in our parents, ones we can even recognize from an early age, that we want to emulate. My Mom had her easy-going, fun-filled nature – the ability to laugh and let loose. Even at 9.5 months old, I leap out and shout ‘Boo!’ to The Duchess’ terror and delight just as my Mom did to me and now does to The Native. (The Native screams like a girl.) While my Dad was generous and often willing to admit when he had gotten things wrong. “Will you forgive me?” He would ask it often. At times it was needed often. But he never assumed I’d freely give my forgiveness to him just because an argument was over. I’ve always admired that.
But we all know that there are mistakes our parents make and difficult lessons that they learn along the way to which we, as children, become quiet witnesses. We see the struggle. The tears. The fight. And we learn. As much as we learn what we do want to be like, as much as we learn what we want in life from their example, we learn what we don’t want, too.
By the time my parents were my age, they had 3 children, nine, seven, five. At my age, they were also in the process of losing their home. My Dad had been working for the unpredictable car industry in the late 80’s and the final word had finally come down. His factory was closing. He would lose his job. I was seven. I don’t remember the emotion clearly, but I remember moments which showed the strain. I remember waking up one morning to go to church. As we opened our front door, we saw only the oil stains on the pavement where our car was meant to be. It turned out that it had been repossessed in the night. I remember when potential buyers came to view our house. My parents hadn’t been informed of their visit. My Dad, furious, but more likely overwhelmed by this unexpected turn his life had taken, drove off. My brother, sister and I walked around the block slowly with my Mom and waited for these people — these people who were unknowingly putting a price on our security.
I was seven. But I learnt from an early age that money is a serious matter and thinking about money responsibly is one of the most important things you can do for your marriage and for your family. When you use it responsibly, it can be something you enjoy without guilt or fear, but when you don’t, it can cause arguments at the least and at the most completely uproot and wreak havoc in your life personally, relationally, emotionally, and of course financially.
That is why The Native and I are really serious about living within our means. One of the most important financial decisions we’ve ever made as a couple, I think, is that we refuse to have credit cards. Seriously, we don’t even own a credit card right now. You can personally have a look through my purse. We have considered getting one for travel emergencies alone, but that would be it’s sole purpose. Perhaps you feel this is irresponsible. And that’s okay. You can. We can agree to disagree on that. But the reason is this: Neither of us want to rely on money that is not our own.
There are other things we do that have helped: Bought our used car with cash, put money into savings regularly, and ask that all important question when that lovely pair of shoes is looking me dead in the eye: Do I need this or do I want this?
Most of the time it’s that we want it. And recognizing that is freeing. Over time, you begin to let go of that feeling that you have to have something which, in the grand scheme, will add very little to your life.
Some months are really tight (ahem: this month is really tight). And don’t get me wrong, when we have the money to spend, we are completely happy to buy that new gadget or that pair of shoes, but the important thing is that we know those things might make us appear more trendy, wealthy, or together, but they only give a false sense of happiness. Those things can’t care for me, console me, hug me, laugh with me or love me. My family can do that. Our personal decision to live strictly within our means is a decision that we hope will foster authentic, healthy, and secure relationships because those relationships will be what is left when all of the money is gone.