When I was a kid, I was aware of the fact that money seemed to be a constant concern of my dad’s. He kept a budget that went out several weeks into the future that accounted for every payment, every bit of income, every spare dollar. He used the budget to make decisions that affected our welfare.
For example, we never went on big vacations. Too costly. However, we did visit relatives in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nebraska. Wherever we could find a floor to sleep on, there we went.
While I never felt truly poor, I did understand that there were things I didn’t have, couldn’t have, that other kids did.
Until seventh grade I attended a Catholic elementary school. We wore dark blue jumpers and white blouses. Before school began parents held a sale in which used uniforms could be purchased. Because I was overweight, my choices were limited to those outfits that some other, older fat kid had worn.
My blouses were never truly white and my jumpers were never dark blue. I stood out from the neatly dressed kids with their crisp new clothes.
I remember when Barbie dolls hit the market. The girl across the street, my only friend, got a doll. I thought it was beautiful with its svelte body and long ponytail, neither of which I had. The dolls arms and legs moved and the head could turn from side to side.
I wanted on so badly that it hurt. But, according to my dad’s budget, there was no money.
I earned twenty-five cents a week allowance for doing assigned chores around the house. I argued that, if I did more work, all unassigned jobs outside my normal duties, I should be paid more. Guess what? No money in the budget.
I wanted a Barbie so badly that for weeks I saved every penny from my allowance. Thinking I had enough, I stuffed the quarters in my pocket when we went to the store. I beamed with pride and excitement. I was going to have a Barbie!
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the true cost of a Barbie. My coins wouldn’t even make a dent in the cost. I would have to save for months just to get close to having one, and buy then it would be winter when we seldom went outside.
I was incredibly disappointed. In the aisle where they sold cheap plastic toys, I found a look-alike doll. Yes, the plastic was thin, almost opaque, but she resembled the real thing so closely that I thought the neighbor girl wouldn’t notice.
With resignation, I used my saved money to buy the imitation. At home I was given fabric scraps to fashion outfits for her. I spent hours in the shade of a tree in our backyard cutting and sewing. Eventually my doll had a variety of things to wear.
I took my treasures across the street. The girl noticed immediately that my doll was not the real thing. She laughed, a cruel, heartless laugh of superiority. I went home with my face burning from shame.
I continued to play with the doll, but only at home. I made her more clothes, my stitiches getting better with each mew thing I crafted.
I learned an important lesson. While it’s nice to have the real thing, the actual Barbie and uniforms that no one had worn before me, it’s also possible to make do with what you can afford to have.
What I learned as a young girl I took with me into adulthood. When I could get to a markdown store, I bought groceries there for a fraction of the cost in a chain store. The items were just as good, albeit sometimes odd-shaped.
I shopped at thrift stores for clothes for me and for my family. Because of this we were always dressed nicely, even though sometimes the fashions were a bit out of style.
My dad taught me to only spend money that you had; an important lesson that continues to influence my decision-making today.
There is nothing wrong with making do. It’s something that people around the world do every day.
I can be one of those people who spend only what they can afford. But because my husband and I lived with our future in mind, we can also go on vacation to places that we’ve dreamt of seeing.
Making do was the foundation of my upbringing. It taught me to appreciate what I had even when there were things that I dearly wanted. I learned that fashions come and go, items lose popularity and are replaced with new things that everyone simply must have, but financial solvency is more important than going into debt. It has served me well.