Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What is wealth?

I think it's an accepted truth that most of us live better than our parents did at our age--at least in terms of temporal things. I'm sure our parents look at us and shake their heads at how good we have it. Even the poorest among us are wealthy in many ways.

My parents were master budgeters when I was growing up. We had nine kids and my mom stayed home, meaning that she also managed to sustain a family of 11 on a school teacher's salary. We had a big garden, didn't get a lot of new clothes, and had oatmeal for breakfast--except on the weekends and at Christmas. On Sunday, we'd get COLD CEREAL (and yes, I capitalized it on purpose). It was either rice puffs, corn flakes, or rice crispies--nothing fancy, but at least it wasn't oatmeal. My brother once had six bowls on Sunday, wiping out the entire bag and having to live in fear of his life should he ever do that again. Cold cereal was a treat, and we all knew it. And then there was Christmas.

Every year, beneath our stockings we would each get a box of SUGAR CEREAL (Please note the capitalization). The good stuff, like Lucky Charms, or Cocoa Puffs, maybe even Trix. When I was little I once ate the whole box in one day, then pouted for the next week as my older sisters carefully used their's as slowly as possible. Every one of us kids looked forward to this on Christmas, it was a big deal that made the best day of the year even better.

When I moved into my own apartment right after high-school graduation I went out and bought six boxes of sugar cereal. I felt like the Queen of England--however, by the time those boxes were empty, I'd realized that I couldn't afford such indulgences. Instead, I lived off of bulk spaghetti, Raman and the Malt-o-meal bags of honey nut cheerios--an unfulfilling substitution for Captain Crunch, but, well, I was poor. My lack of sugar cereal made that an impossible truth to ignore.

So then I got married, and with both my husband and I working (and having no mortgage, yard care, children, life insurance, gym memberships, etc) we could afford sugar cereal. The high life indeed. I had two bowls a day for about a year, until they all started tasting the same, then my obsession tapered off. However, to this day when I open my pantry and see sugar cereal in there, I feel rich. I'm reminded that whatever my hubby and I are doing, it's working out pretty good because I can smile at the Toucan and wink at Lucky any time I want to (although now I don't buy them very often because my kids don't need the sugar--but that's another blog)

Another sign of wealth and prosperity in my mind are batteries. When I was dating my husband I went to his grandfather's house. My Walkman had run out of batteries and his grandpa pulled out a huge basket full of every size battery imaginable. There must have been $40 worth of batteries in there, and he said I could take as many as I needed. I was tempted to take them all, it was like a year supply! However, I also wanted these people to like me, so I didn't. But a few months ago I was at Sam's Club and they had these mondo packages of batteries. They weren't cheap, but way less than if I bought the same amount in the little four packs. So I indulged and bought a package of each kind--AA, AAA, C, D and 9V. I came home feeling on top of the world as I dumped them in a drawer. Every time I open that drawer I just smile and feel as if I've arrived.

And of course I have my family, which is really wealth beyond measure, but in addition to that lucre, the little details really make me feel as if I've accomplished something, and I love it. It doesn't mean that I don't get late fees on my other bills sometimes, or that we don't eat a lot of casseroles by the end of the month, but I take heart in my cereal and battery supply. So, I'm hoping I'm not the only one that has this--little milestones that make you smile and feel as if you've 'made it' even if you still stress over the mortgage and have to choose one kid a month that can get new shoes. What are those things for you?


Autumn Ables said...

You have me giggling... Sugar cereal is what I bought when I left home too!

Lisa said...

I posted about wearing clothes that my mother actually sewed for me that I was less than thrilled about. When I turned 10 my parents divorced and my mom went to work. She didn't have any money and my clothes were not fancy at all. When I turned 12 I started babysitting, earning my own money and went out and bought my own clothes. To this day I spend way too much on clothes-mainly for my kids because I just don't want to remember those feelings of inadequacy and envy I had of other's fashions.

Heather Moore said...

Buying four gallons of milk at a time. We only had "store-bought" milk when we had company over. Lucky Charms (or other sugar cereal) were definitely luxuries. And "buying" a Halloween costume from the store. Cable t.v. The first time I ever saw it was when I was babysitting. Last year I broke down and got a cell phone. What a time saver. Both our cars have a/c. Gotta love it.

An Ordinary Mom said...

One's wealth perception changes with time. I, too, grew up in a "poor" family with 9 kids in it. I now have been married nearly 10 years and my husband has been a student this entire time. We know how to live on a budget, that is for sure. And even though things are tight, we feel like kings and queens comparatively speaking.

Jenna said...

Ah, we have so much in common! I'm the oldest of 9, and "sugar cereal" was a big deal to us too. Still is, just like you said. I feel rich if I have sugar cereal in the house, TOTALLY agree with you about the batteries, and for me, I feel rich if I can fill up my gas tank, rather than just put in $20 or so. I could make a whole list of things like this, I'll bet. But I don't begrudge the upbringing, because Lucky Charms sure tastes good today because of it!

Unknown said...

For me, the "made it" thing is not having to eat mince and tatties. That's ground beef, potatoes, onions, and sometimes carrots in salty, watery gravy. This was always our Monday (and often Tuesday, Wednesday) meal if we were lucky enough to have beef on Sunday. My, did that beef stretch and stretch.

Oh, and I have a cupboard full of spare toilet rolls. Don't ask why. Has something to do with newspaper.

Anna Maria Junus said...

I feel rich when I can buy new sheets.

Luisa Perkins said...

I grew up on Deseret canned soup and Cream of Wheat; we were the family that got the ward's Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets every year.

Now I feel rich all the time.