Monday, June 16, 2008

Interview- Raised in a Family of Tightwads

I don't think I consider myself a tightwad. I'm not disciplined enough and quite frankly I don't enjoy my life when every penny is squeezed until Lincoln screams. I am however discerningly frugal in most areas of my life and am curious to see how it might affect my children in their later years.
Since I don't have Amy Dacyczyn's grown children to quiz about how they felt about their frugal upbringing- I had to turn to my husband. His parents are almost as thrifty as Amy D. They just didn't write a book about it.

This is from a few months ago. I've edited a bit to retain a little anonymity.

[Jenny] A bit of history if you will.... parents jobs, etc.
[Jon] Mom and dad were both administrators (i.e. principals) and teachers for Lutheran Schools. My mom only became a Principal after the kids were out of the house, and once they'd moved to where there were 2 schools within driving distance.
My mom was my teacher a few years, and my dad my principal. After that, my mom took extra jobs working at the churches while we were in school. This worked out because there was little to do in the summer, and because during the week and weekends, everything happened either at night or on Sunday. So, she and my dad could always be home at some point.

[Jenny] When did you realize that your family was frugal? (what was your first memory..etc)

[Jon] Allowances and budgeting to get a soda at Willy's when I was maybe in First grade? We lived in the country in a small town of 200 people, so there was really nothing to go
do or spend money on. They always emphasized that they were saving the same amount as my allowance for me for college. (It was 2 grand by the time I graduated, enough to buy my first car -- a great white whale of a Chevy Malibu Station Wagon.)
But, there was always cooking, and gardening, and coupons, and rebates, and waiting for sales. It wasn't until probably the "atari years" when I had more money to spend and we had a mall that I started getting the hairy eyeball on my spending. But, I had to save my allowance up. I can remember on our trip to Disney land that I saved and divided money for the attractions I wanted to go to. This was probably 5th grade. I told my parents what I wanted to see because I had enough money. I hadn't even thought that they might pay for the whole family when we went to things!

[Jenny]What were some things that were good about being raised in a tightwad household?

[Jon] Good. Well, I did learn the value of money and of researching my purchases. Socially, it might seem like it had made a difference, but that was my personality. My brother never suffered from their frugality in having friends and being popular. While my parents did shop at thrift stores, etc, it wasn't like they were dressing us shabby. We always had bikes, and games, and toys, etc.

[Jenny] What do you wish was done differently?

[Jon] Well, oddly, instead of fighting over not having money, my parents fought over purchases, over keeping track of purchases, over all sorts of haggling to do with money. It wasn't that they weren't on the same page with saving and working hard, it was that their obsession with it got the best of them at times. There was rarely a time when they just "let themselves go" and had a good time... money be damned. Sure, they retired at 50 with a nest egg, but they didn't enjoy the ride like they could have if they backed off 10% and retired at 55. You know? They got me a computer as a kid - but, it was the last year they made that model, 5 years after I wanted it, in my Senior year of highschool. They could have done that 4 years earlier. When I took computer camp. When it mattered. But, living for the moment was not their thing.
[Jenny]What did you do for fun? Did you go on vacations?
What did your parents splurge on if anything?

My parents did find ways to let us have fun. But, it was often in slightly compromised ways. As a kid, sometimes, this felt like it sucked. Getting Lock Blocks instead of Lego's. Sitting in obstructed view seats at hockey games. Not going to concerts because the cost to drive there. And then, they'd hook us up with odd jobs... Mowing the yard of other kids in our school. Picking up dog poop for chump change at some church lady's house.

[Jon] Well, no sodas at restaurants, but they liked eating out with coupons and deal nights. Most of our vacations were centered around my dad's business trips. On business trips, we would always do things for fun and take extra days as a vacation. Go to baseball games or amusement parks. I saw many parts of the country that way. The Smithsonian, Yellowstone, etc. There were many museums and national parks in our childhood.
My parents would splurge on "educational" things for us. Orchestra Camps, theater camps, computer camps, and special learning adventure trips. Supporting us in school activities. Piano lessons, voice lessons, cello lessons, etc. There was always money for these things.

[Jenny] How has it shaped the person you are today?

[Jon] Well, I became an obsessive overthinking and overcomparer. I can't make a move without a Consumer Reports in my hand, or an exhaustive search of Google for "itemname review". I am still an eBay addict because of this. Spending endless hours with saved searches, looking to save $5 on something that costs $30. Learning a balance between splurging and between over obsessing has been hard. Part of this is a personality trait I inherited from my Dad (obsessiveness). But, I understand what it's like to have self control and live within my means. I understand how voluntary simplicity and voluntary frugality allow you to have a great life. Do I plan to save so much that I can retire early? Probably not. Do I plan to have any debt beyond my mortgage? Never again.

My parents were able to help put me through college (in the form of a loan, most of which was forgiven after I started paying it off). But, they always emphasized that we had to work in college and try to pay our way. Now that they're retired, they've been able to help us financially for things they feel good about. While money does not equal love, it does equal security and sanity. Being free of debt. Being able to take pride in saving money. These are important things to me. I have no shame making good money and shopping at Goodwill. To me, these things go hand in hand with being fiscally responsible.
That, and I'm addicted to Quicken.


Kate said...

Great post, it was to get someone elses take on the frugal lifestyle.
I was brought up in a fruagl home but never felt hard done by, i just thought it was a normal childhood, i had everything i needed.

Anonymous said...

I hated growing up "poor" when we weren't. Even splurges were ruined. Five burgers for a dollar (one per person) with a coupon. Nothing else except free water. Stale crackers on sale heated in the oven to crisp them up a bit when we got home, since the mini burgers didn't fill anyone up.