I get frustrated at times because it seems like whenever I start getting ahead a little financially, BAM!, something happens. Get a little money from my tax return? Oh, that loud noise was the washing machine refusing to wash any more clothes! Get a little reward at work for doing a good job? The mailman just delivered the updated quarterly real estate tax that went up by – look at that – the same amount as my reward! How about a raise at work? Oops, not even enough to keep up with inflation. It sometimes feels like the more money I get, the more bills I get without even buying anything. Maybe I should stop trying to get ahead.
This is an area I give my parents a ton of credit. It’s not like we had a lot of money when I was growing up, but they always seemed to figure out a way. Sometimes they didn’t pay a bill, or we had to get by for a couple of weeks on powdered milk (Warning: not for the faint of heart). If I ripped my jeans playing street hockey or football, I didn’t get a new pair. No, Mom put a patch on them or sewed up the tear and I was good to go. As Dad used to say, “As long as we have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our back we’re OK.” It’s that simple.
Don’t get me wrong, there were times I knew we weren’t very well off, but for the most part I didn’t think about it much. That was mostly because my parents were so positive that everything would be OK. I also think a large part of it was that they didn’t even look to the things they couldn’t have. They didn’t think about getting a brand new car like some of the neighbors did every two or three years. A dependable used car in good shape that ran well was enough for them. They didn’t think about going out and buying the latest model television. Until the one we had was unwatchable or died, we didn’t get a new one. Taking a trip to Disney was out of the question. If we drove to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in New Hampshire, that was a vacation!
Looking back through somewhat fading eyes and with less than 20/20 vision, I think we were pretty happy as kids. We played together, we did stuff with friends in the neighborhood and we made do. Though a few of my friends seemed to have a lot of money, there were a lot of families in the same place as mine. We had a house to live in, rented or owned, we had three good meals a day (and a few snacks thrown in to boot), and we always had clothes to wear, even if they weren’t the newest and greatest fashion. I don’t think any of us really cared.
So why, forty years later, does it bother me that I’m not getting ahead? I think it may be that there are things that are almost within reach, that they’re just beyond my fingertips but I can see them. When you can’t even imagine buying a new car financially even if you may need one, it doesn’t bother you as much as when you have almost enough saved to do it. It seems like every commercial on TV is for cars when you’re getting tired of the one you have but can’t afford a newer one. It’s like the car industry is taunting you, daring you to buy a new one with their nobody-is-turned-down credit.
Thankfully, I can break the spell of the so called American Dream by just looking back over my life. Mom and Dad never lived the high life, never really got ahead financially, but they were happy. As a kid, I was happy with the little I had because I had something way more valuable – a family that loved each other. I don’t need more stuff or new stuff, I just need to be more grateful.
It really is that simple.