With recent events having encouraged both Mr. E. and myself to call various family members, I have found myself reflecting over how our pasts have shaped our current personalities.
I have mentioned it before that we both grew up working class. Our parents worked steadily to improve our living situation, in the classical scenario of slowly upgrading from renting to small apartment to bigger home to full-on detached house with garden and driveway.
Our parents worked, hustled and saved. From a young age, I remember being aware of how much it was appropriate to ask for in terms of birthday and Christmas presents. We enjoyed one vacation trip every summer, and did not really have a concept that there were people who did more than that.
I would say I was lucky. I grew up in an area where most people were in similar situations. So what I saw in class and when visiting friends was the same truth I was used to from home. I did not notice much shame in not having the “right” toys, although I will admit, my ugly flea market clothes did get some flack.
As any other childhood of course, this attitude was brought forward into how we deal with finances and our attitude to money. Here I would like to present some of the frugal habits we were taught or exposed to as children growing up working class, which are still influencing our behavior today.
The first one on the list is both frugal and healthy. When I was a child, I would often accompany my mother to the grocery shop on Saturdays. Here it was well understood that I could pick out any Saturday snack I wanted, so long as it was below about $2.
Most of the time, this $2 went to the candy aisle. There was a variety bag of “TV mix” for $1.99 that was quite popular. But we were also allowed to choose from the pick-and-mix aisle.
This introduced practical math practice, as we would have to run diligently between the scale and the pick-and-mix section and then figure out how much our bag was worth in that week’s price per gram. We even learned when to avoid the pick-and-mix because the price was so high that we would not get a decent value for our snack money.
You could save your snack or you could eat it the same day, it was entirely up to you. But there would be no more candy until next Saturday came along.
As far as working class goes, we were reasonably well-off working class. Our parents could afford and would save up for one vacation trip per year. No planes, hotels or anything fancy, but we’d rent some sort of cabin or reasonably priced vacation home and drive/ferry our way around the local-ish area.
We had the expectation of one, and only one vacation per year. I am still surprised when I learn that people splurge on expensive trips 2, 3, 4 even 5 times per year. I realise travel is important to a lot of people, but sheesh!
If you are working towards financial independence and saving large chunks of your income, I honestly think we can all benefit from being reminded of just how much joy you can get out of anticipation for a trip/event you’re looking forward to, not just the trip itself.
We also cooked in the cabin/vacation home most of the time, with restaurants as a rare and special treat. Everyone knew that was the time for best behaviour, or we might leave early!
I can not remember a single time during my childhood where my mother bought sweet cherries. The bright, round spheres bursting with flavour was a part of the fruit and veg section that was simply off limit.
Instead, there were sweet cherry trees scattered along the road and in patches of forest.
These, like the old, wonky plum tree, the overgrown strawberry patch and a handful of late apple and pear trees required real work to reap any rewards. Some, like the cherries, were easy, and only required a bit of climbing.
Others, like the strawberry patch were a constant battle against weeds. I remember spending an entire summer carefully digging out all of our strawberry plants, laying down fibre cloth over the patch and then cutting small holes where I replanted each plant. All because I wanted the bursting red fruits, but didn’t want to spend so much time uprooting weeds!
We were never very dedicated gardeners, and we didn’t do much more than these perennial crops that were already there, but it did teach me that if you want something you can’t afford, you might be able to get it through creativity and hard work instead.
A similar mentality extended to expensive pre-made foodstuffs and stuff like cakes and snacks. We never bought them, but once in a while, we might just make them.
In a strange, sheltered way, I did not get to know anyone who grew up middle class until I was 15. What a strange culture shock that would turn out to be! I still find myself baffled to this day when I learn what some people consider “necessities”.
That aside, I feel grateful in many ways that we grew up without piles of new toys. We had some tired jigsaw puzzles, pencils, sketch pads and the forest.
While I know there is the risk that children will grow up with an obsession for buying clothes if they grow up being teased for what they wear, both Mr. E. and I have developed simple preferences and a relatively small wardrobe. We would rather spend a weekend in with board games or out on the porch in the evening sun. The sunsets from our rented flat are spectacular and completely free!
So much of what we say, think and do can be traced back to our upbringing in some way or another. Be it in taking in what you were taught or rebelling against it. It is difficult to get away from the experiences that happened during a time when we were largely dependent on other people.
What are some of the frugal habits you learned growing up? Are there other habits you’ve had to unlearn later? Are you conscious and intentional about what you’re trying to model to your children, if you have any?