Friday, December 24, 2010

Once You've Been Poor

Whether you were poor as a child or suffered economic reversals as an adult, something happens to your basic instincts once you've been poor. No matter how much money you manage to make afterwards, you have to fight your inner self to spend major portions of it, because you are afraid of being poor again. Even Oprah, with all of her millions feels this way because of poverty as a child. I grew up in a single-parent situation with only meager alimony/child support family sustenance. I didn't consider myself poor because we lived in a city neighborhood where all of my friends had similar economic conditions. From the age of seven on, I had to fend for myself after school until my mother came home from work. In those days, apartment house neighbors watched out for you if you ran into problems. It was also a time when kids were happy with a basketball or a building block set for Christmas. They couldn't even conceive of the Christmas largesse of today. As soon as I could get a work permit, I started working jobs after school and during the summers, and eventually things got better. Nevertheless, my psyche had been marked in two ways by the experience of being poor. First, I knew that I could get along no matter what economic reversals I suffered, because I had been there before, and I knew the difference between a need and a want. Second, I knew that I would never be able to spend money as though it had no importance because there was always the sensitivity to losing it all. I still look for the best value whenever I shop. Some of my friends who haven't been there can't comprehend my attitude. I thoroughly recommend raising your children on lean rations, because it is far better to live your adult life based on past experiences of being poor than it is to have to learn poverty survival skills during your later years.

1 comment:

Linda Gartz said...

Great site -- and all your posts are succinct, interesting, and meaningful.
Amen to this post, Dick. We, too, were raised with a "Depression Era" mentality. It took me decades to buy anything not on sale, to realize that I could use money to buy time. I tried very hard to raise my kids with the idea that they were not "entitled" to designer clothes, video games (they had to save money to buy their own),etc.
Problem is they grew up on the North Shore -- so attitudes rub off. I couldn't raise them exactly as I had been raised because I'm not willing to go back to washing my own windows (besides we have 15 times as many windows as we did in my 2-flat apt on Chicago's West Side!), hanging clothes on the line, and take every vacation camping at Devil's Lake. So my kids are pretty grounded, but they are still used to more conveniences and luxuries than I ever had -- and would have a hard time being poor. I'd also like to add that things are so much more expensive. I had an $80/month apt (my share) in 1970. I made $650/month, right out of college, as a secretary. A crappy one-bedroom in a fair (not good) neighborhood costs about $900/month. My just-graduated son would have to make $80,000/year to equal the same ratio of income to rent! And tuition! fuhgeddaboudit.