While it felt good to get Round 1 of our Money Stories off my/our chest, it also felt like we have just begun to scratch the surface of all the stories we’ve experienced/created around money. Our stories continue with both small and big sagas, covering our childhood and adolescent period. (Again color coded: Our shared memories are in blue, Darcy’s memories are in purple, and Miel’s are in pink.
- We moved into the home where our parents still live when we were almost four (after a summer of living in a school bus parked at a friend’s place which we both don’t really remember). It was a four bedroom farm house from the 20s, with a huge shed tacked onto the side that had been a feed store and the main house had been a hardware/homegoods store with the family living upstairs. The only bathroom was a tiny tin roof shed where tree frogs found there way in to the shower each spring. Construction on the house began almost as soon as we moved in and has virtually never ended. Several of the construction projects took years to complete, and was always a subject of money discussions by our parents. There was never enough money to get it done, and there was always something new to be done. At times we grew frustrated by it too, even though it became the norm. In college, when I brought Kevin, my hubby-to-be, I felt really relieved that they had finally torn down the old bathroom (which then took a few years to finish). I realized how embarrassed I had always been when having new friends over to visit, feeling the need to explain that eventually we would remodel the whole house. When Miel visited back from Peace Corps, with her now husband James, she wished that she could say that the bathroom situation was temporary. At that point the bathtub was actually a plastic kiddie pool with a drain in the bottom and a pcv pipe with shower curtains; this was in place for at least a couple of years. The deck upstairs had no railing and a plastic tarp over it, even though it had been a work in progress for some time. Miel very much hoped that James could love her despite where she had come from.
- Our Mom owned the Food Farm property (the commune we grew up on) together with her first husband. Around age 7, he decided that he wanted to cash out. So, they sold the land. In the process, we were somewhat privy to price negotiation process. We went to Medford and stayed in a hotel overnight before tagging along with our parents to the meeting with the Realtor. They paid out the thousands in big stacks of cash, and our Dad carried the heavy bag out the door. We almost immediately bought a new used car, paid off the mortgage, and were no longer tight on money for several years. Selling the farm showed us how much money could suddenly provide.
- With the cash, our parents decided to invest in silver. They bought a few big tubs of it. Miel remembers our Dad taking us to see where it was hidden and wanting us to know where it was in case anything ever happened to them (Not sure where it is now…). Our Dad felt that it was important to have a solid tangible investment, not one like stocks that you can’t see and feel. It was also a lesson in socking away money now, or it will likely be spent otherwise.
- We felt like we were middle class, compared to others. We went on vacations, which very few classmates ever did. We stayed in relatively cheap hotels, but our Mom always made sure there was a pool, so it felt luxurious. We never went far, either the coast, Eugene, or Portland once we were in junior high and wanted to see the “big city.” Our longest vacations were two weeks to California to visit family. We went to Disneyland and Reno once, and a couple of times to Magic Mountain. These always felt like BIG trips, since very few of our classmates went on such adventures. I recall learning that dad had won (and lost) enough money in Reno for another day at Disneyland and was devastated that he didn’t stop while he was ahead.
- With our Mom working for the school (initially as a Kindergarten teacher, then a teacher’s aide, and eventually a Home Ec teacher), our summer budget was always pretty lean. We always had a budget, with enough for gas, fast food meals at places like Denny’s (which we never ate at except on road trips south), and maybe enough for a movie at the mall or a trip to a water park. It taught us to plan and prioritize our expenses.
- On one trip to California, our Mom left her purse at Great Grandma’s on the way home. She first realized once we needed to gas up, and were obviously too far away to turn back. She got resourceful and traded a couple of quarts of oil to fill up the tank. Closer to home, we dug through the seats to find lost coins, and scrounged a few more dollars. I think we were given a few bucks from kind strangers. We felt pretty desperate though, being so far from home with no money. We were relieved to finally be home, and get Mom’s purse in the mail, even if it probably only had enough for gas money to get us home. It was embarrassing and a bit scary.
- Once before we can remember, we were on a California road trip and our parents stopped at a diner. We were around three or four, and being our usual energetic/flirtatious selves and had apparently befriended an older couple sitting near us. We engaged them in conversation before our meal came, but our Dad was devastated when we got back out to the car and found a note that basically said that it was a shame that such smart beautiful girls were born into such a poor family. It crushed and pissed off our Dad, and was certainly an ingrained money story growing up. The moral was always that we had all the love and care we could ever want, even if we weren’t rich.
- We started going to church in first grade, after we had met several kids and teachers during a free summer bible school. Our parents didn’t go to church, except our Mom would go for Easter and Christmas pageant or if we were had a reading and singing part. Even though he never went to church, our Dad wanted to make sure we came with an offering. So, nearly every Sunday we would go to him and ask for a dollar each for offering. Sometimes we would ask for a ride in the pouring rain, but usually we walked the half mile. Even thought our $1 offering wasn’t much, it taught us that it was important and felt like we were giving a ton (this was the 80s afterall).
- One Christmas day our father, Wally, was scheduled to pick us up since our parents were heading to Vegas for Grammy’s 50th birthday. We were already kind of bummed to be traveling on a rainy Christmas day, and then we broke down (and this was not the first time we had been left stranded when a beater broke down or had to stop to get water out of ditches for the radiator). We had to wait for a few hours until our Grandpa Ellis was able to come pick us up in a big boat of a car. It was embarrassing and disappointing.
- Christmas and Birthdays have their own money stories:
- Aside from the festivities, we always looked forward to our chance to get new clothes and toys. Our parents tried to spoil us, but some years were better than others. For several years there was doll angst. First, we wanted a Barbie, which our Mom was philosophically opposed to. Then we wanted Cabbage Patch dolls, but our Mom gave us other dolls that resembled American Girls but weren’t nearly as expensive. By the time we finally got our Cabbage Patch dolls we were mostly over them, and Miel was disappointed to get one simply out of fairness since she really preferred a Care Bear by then (you can imagine that equality is a big thing for young twins). (The nice thing is that Makenna now plays with the Cabbage Patch dolls!) For birthdays we always felt very special, and our Mom would get us new swimsuits and summer clothes. She would host parties or do something to make us feel loved. We were taught to dream of nice gifts, but that sometimes you’d be disappointed.
- We remember looking through the Sears catalog and wanting all sorts of things. Miel remembers wanting to buy our Mom some sexy red slippers. Among the pages of stuff, we remember feeling like much of it was beyond our means.
- Our father Wally was pretty sporadic about gifts. But when he could, he would try to make it special. We remember when he gave us each $10 to spend at a toy store, which was exciting even if it didn’t buy much. Wally was also famous for getting us gifts he wanted more for himself than for us, particularly eclectic music. Miel got three 70s CDs that she could care less about for college graduation, being reminded that you can’t always get what you want, but be thankful for what you get.
- When we were eight our Mom started a gift exchange in our family, so that we would learn how to be generous and budget our money. Everyone was supposed to spend $20 on the gift. They’d take us to the mall a couple of times and we suddenly realized what things actually cost. The first year I remember really wanting a blanket at the mall where you could watch them weaving it. My Dad bought it for me, even though it was over $50. (It’s covered in humpback whales, and we now have it at the beach cabins). Our family gift exchange taught us how to be thoughtful about gifts and get value for a limited budget.
- Our maternal grandmother was always very consistent. She’d give us matching clothes for Christmas (which in hindsight were pretty 80’s hideous) and for our birthday, she always gave us the dollar value for the year we were celebrating…she cut of the amount at $25, otherwise we’d be raking in $37 next month is she were still alive!
- Wally’s parents didn’t seem to realize that gift giving was part of our culture. One year our Grandma went to the mall to buy a whole Christmas tree worth of ornaments (all matching with pink bows and roses that lit up), but there were still no presents. Once we each got a pair of argyle socks for Christmas, but most years we came to visit for dinner and didn’t even get cards for birthdays. The irony was that they were our most well-off relatives.
- Our Grammy Mackie was always very generous. She would send us tons of clothes, whole wardrobes worth some years. She made us feel very fashionable, even if I don’t know how possible that was during the 80’s and early 90’s.
- Compared to most of our classmates, we made off really well for the holidays. I remember feeling guilty that our best friend’s parents couldn’t afford to buy any gifts. In high school, we bought her several nice holiday outfits.
- Clothes were always connected with wealth for us, and our Mom made it a priority to dress us well. Our Mom sewed most of our clothes that didn’t come from grandmas until we were in grade school. Around first grade we started to ask for store bought clothes, and she was quick to give up sewing for us. Sometimes we got hand-me-downs, and didn’t feel grateful but a little embarrassed. Yet, we had fun giving our clothes to a good family friend as hand-me-downs. As soon as we started to earn money, clothes was one of our biggest personal expenses. As adults clothes are medium priority, and we both buy in one fell swoop every so often than on a regular basis, but when we get frustrated by our clothes, it certainly brings up feelings of lack and the belief that we can’t afford the clothes that we truly want.
- We started to earn money babysitting at age 10 and throughout Jr. High we had a regular babysitting gig taking care of two boys every Friday (we had a four day school week). We took care of them from when they were age two when we started, and we even helped potty train them. We earned about $10-15 per boy for the whole day (often 10-12 hours), and would occasionally get night time gigs for $20-25. While we earned every penny, cleaning houses while kids slept, and we still felt pretty flush and had lot more money than friends whose parents didn’t support them in earning extra cash (since we lived in the country, you couldn’t just get a job as a dishwasher). Our Mom’s teacher schedule meant that she was home when we were available to babysit and with her as our supervisor, parents were happy to drop off their kids. We are still grateful to our Mom.
- Miel remembers finding out how much another friend’s Mom/parents earned, which was significantly more than ours, but how little they shared with her in comparison. Our parents may not have made much money, but they were still generous.
- Our Mom also helped us learn about money by letting us earn cash through bi-weekly chores. She divided the house by rooms and gave us a list of tasks, and would rotate each time to make it fair. Then she would hide our earnings in places we needed to clean in order to earn it, like under the toaster. We weren’t always eager to clean the house, but we did appreciate that it was pay day. It taught us to earn our way and contribute to our household.
- Later in high school, Wally started paying support consistently (after Darcy wanted to go live with him, and Mom had the valid argument that he wasn’t even paying support). Mom decided to give us the $100 child support, and we began being responsible for paying for sports related expenses and clothes. This taught us that we were growing up and needed to learn how to manage our money.
- Just before our senior year of high school, we were on a camping trip with friends when someone came up to us as we were playing sand volleyball to tell us that our “house had burned down.” In shock, we drove the two hours home thinking that the possessions we had with us might be all we had. It turned out that the volunteer fire fighters caught the fire early and were able to contain it to our parents bedroom (although the water damage drenched the down stairs, and everything smelled like smoke). Our Mom had been trained and served as a fire fighter when we were younger, and she knew that if you shut the doors that it would contain the fire. When we got home, we walked up the scorched stairwell to find that behind the charred doors that our bedrooms were just as we had left them. The house fire was still pretty devastating though. We camped out in the front yard for a week before heading to California while our Dad stayed back to clean up and assess the situation. Our parents owned the land, but couldn’t afford to rebuild. At one point we went to look at the option of a mobile home, which was frankly beyond our means. Eventually the insurance paid for some of the rebuilding, but we were in full construction mode our whole last year of living at home. We were glad to be able to rebuild, but it still pretty much sucked. This taught us grief for material possessions is pointless and resiliency and non-attachment is best. By the time we graduated from high school we finally had drywall in our dining room for the first time, but reconstruction took on another life of its own and still took years to finish.
- Without going into the whole big story, Miel and I were both Rotary International Youth Exchange Students. With working class parents, being introduced to Rotary was pretty eye-opening. I remember us being completely impressed that there were so many Paul Harris Fellows at the District Conference, who had each donated $1k. I remember feeling like that was a HUGE amount of money to give away, because while our Mom was generous in many ways, especially to kids, we don’t know if she ever wrote a check to a charitable cause while we lived at home. This taught us both that you can be generous with your time and energy, but also that it feels great to be able to support causes with cash.
- The price tag for the full year abroad was $2,700. This included the flight, room/board, and a $100 monthly allowance…now I can see the bargain that it was. Yet, as a teenager, this was a huge lump sum. Our parents literally couldn’t afford to chip in, and so we were told that we needed to raise the money. To their credit, our parents were essential in the process of helping us fund raise (We gave away “free” coffee at an I-5 rest area for donations for a full weekend round the clock. My Mom made crafty bunnies for Easter to raffle off. Among other bids for cash…) This taught us that you have to be resourceful, that your community will support you, and that even big dreams are possible.
- As Miel was living abroad in Europe for the first time, I took my first solo trip at age 16. When I had blown out my ACL as a freshman, I started making beaded necklaces. I made them for all of my friends, but then kids that I wasn’t very close with started asking me for necklaces too, so I started selling them at $5 a pop (some up to a whole $8). I made my first $100 in orders pretty quickly, and continued my enterprise. I saved the money well, and decided that I wanted to take a train trip to Colorado to see my Soul Sister (really pseudo-step sister). I budgeted a whole $300 for the trip, and ate bagels, cream cheese and fruit the whole way there and back. It taught me that travel is worth the savings/sacrifice. And that going to an all night rave is the best way to sleep through several states on a long train ride.
- When we graduated from high school, we were seriously surprised that so many family and friends gave us cash. Something very close to a grand, which was the most cash I had ever had. We had already booked a train trip to Vancouver B.C. that our Mom bought for us that left the very next day after graduation (we were MORE than ready to leave home). We had an incredible six days in B.C. visiting friends and then feeling very grown up staying at a cheap hotel in Seattle near the Space Needle). Somehow I/we managed not to blow all the cash. I think the main reason was knowing that I would soon be flying to Denmark on exchange in another month. Thank you family and friends for supporting us in flying the coop!
- While in Denmark, I was very responsible with my money. Since Miel had been on exchange to Finland already and was so savvy with money, I put a lot of her tips into practice. I didn’t buy any souvenirs, and only spent money on experiences. The few material items that I bought that year were things like new bras in Paris and a tight black top that helped me feel European (unlike the tie-dyes I packed with me!). Managing money made me feel like an adult, and I took to heart that I wanted to have experiences more than things. Travel more than stuff.
Thanks for reading and sharing!
Sustainable Family Finances
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