Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's all in how you look at it

One of the main themes I've been trying to get across here is the idea of attitude. Whether being thrifty is satisfying or drudgery is all in how you approach it. Me, I take a lot of pride in solving problems and coming up with better, cheaper ways to do things. Most of those things make me feel good, not deprived, every bargain or make-do makes me want to tell someone about it. I also have a lot of drive to be creative, and this is one of the forms it takes for me. But there are things that I don't do, and I've never been in circumstances that forced me to them. Some of them, I could bring myself to look on with pride, but others WOULD feel like drudgery.

I have very diverse friends, from some who grew up very poor and others who grew up very well off, and the full range in between. Some of those who grew up poor are clearly embarassed by how they lived and try very hard to put distance between them and that way of life. My mother was one. But I know others that you'd hardly guess they were poor as children from the way they talk about their childhoods. This isn't to say that the poverty didn't have effects on them, this is to say that their family found ways to be happy in spite of those challenges. My children grew up pretty poor, but I think I managed to make it happy, and after the divorce, secure and stable because I made sure that they knew that I was planning for things and how much I was saving---not in a guilt trip, but showing them as something to be proud of.

But there's another group that honestly baffles me. There are people who grew up very well off, yet seem to feel that they were not, or even bordered on poor. I don't say that they're pretending. I'm saying that they weren't as well off as people around them, and they completely lack the experience to compare their lives to the truly poor of the US (much less the poor of other countries) as well as a confusion between needs and wants. And in some cases, this may also be the result of a parent or parents who was completely unable to budget. It doesn't matter if your parent makes a salary in the top 20% of the country; if that parent or parents spend 120% of their income every month, you grow up in a family where everyone's always stressing about paying the bills, and even running out of grocery money by the end of the month.

So, attitude really makes the difference, I think. And that brings me to the second concept: enough. It's one that has almost been forgotten in our consumer culture where more is always believed to be better. I think more is just overwhelming and numbing. People with too much don't appreciate much of anything, and worse, it's the thrill of the new thing, not the thing itself, that drives them. I've tried to work on the concept of "enough", and I find it helps a lot in my attitude. Enough means not owning things that I don't actually want, enjoy or need. Among the "everyone has" things that I don't buy or own: sodas, cable TV, and, um, well, a TV. Yes, I got rid of my last TV a couple of years ago and don't miss it at all. And a bonus is that I have much less pressure to acquire junk without the TV advertising and not-so-subtle messages in shows. I could cheerfully give up telephones as well, but family and friends would object.

On the other hand, I own three computers, all of which I use, want, and enjoy. Need, probably not.

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