2. Growing up lower middle class
As you might guess from the above story, we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. I think lower middle class is a decent description of our average financial state, though it varied a bit (both upwards and downwards) during my childhood and teen years.
Most of the people I went to school with had substantially more family income than my own family did. They always had things that I wished I could have. They went on trips and participated in things that were simply not things we could afford.
Even given that, I still had a really good childhood. My memories of childhood are almost entirely good ones. We didn’t travel much, but I remember a lot of camping trips and a lot of evenings doing things together as a family. We didn’t have lots of stuff, but we always had what we needed and we often had at least some of the things we wanted. We didn’t have an amazing fancy house and it didn’t have a ton of space, but it kept the rain and the cold out.
If my childhood taught me anything, it’s that you don’t really need to have a lot of money to have a good life. All you really need is enough clothes to keep you warm, a roof over your head, food and water in your belly, something to engage your mind and body, and good people in your life for friendship and guidance. That’s all children really need. That’s all people really need. Everything else is just extras.
3. The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn
My aunt subscribed to this newsletter after hearing about it on the Donahue show that she watched faithfully. She received it in the mail on a monthly basis when I was in high school and she’d leave the newsletters out on her side table for anyone to read in a nice neat stack.
I remember leafing through them at the time and finding some of the ideas pretty creative, and I remember thinking to myself that it was interesting that people who had the financial means to buy pretty much whatever they wanted would actively choose to do these things. Some of the articles in the Gazette touched on that idea, linking the idea of frugality to having minimal money worries and a lot of freedom in terms of lifestyle choices.
Those articles came into my life when I was first really beginning to understand that people might not necessarily choose to invest their lives in chasing the standard American dream and might want to chase other dreams that might center around other life ambitions. At that time, I secretly dreamed of becoming a novelist, and The Tightwad Gazette really planted the idea in my mind that a person could actually pursue such goals without falling entirely into the “starving artist” trap.
I didn’t see frugality as a tool with which to build the life you wanted until I spent a few afternoons reading a pile of those newsletters. Before that, I perceived frugality as something one did out of necessity, not out of choice. It’s actually a useful tool no matter what your life situation.