“Can you buy this (insert item here) for me?” My answer to this common shopping question changes depending on the item, the store or my mood. The goal, today and everyday, is to buy only the items on my list. I have yet to succeed. “You already have one.” followed with “You don’t need two.” is my automatic reply. Relentless begging leads me to, “Did you bring your own money? Because mommy doesn’t have money for that.” and finally “Maybe, you can get that next time.” My over indulged princess sadly replies…”I wish we were rich.” How do I escape from this consumer ritual of impulse purchases?
Why aren’t we rich?
The silence in the car is anything but comforting as my 5 1/2 year old eats a Lunchable. Processed turkey, cheese and crackers (that’s another blog), seem like a sensible compromise to the cookie she demanded. My mind is racing with thoughts of a captivating Kindergarten lecture about money, spending and responsibilities.
My daughter is not alone when it comes to wanting what she wants. When a group of fifth graders were asked what they want to be when they grow up, one in five replied “just rich”. Fireman, doctor, police officer, zoo keeper or not to work at all were among their other choices. After reading this statistic, I realized that the next 5 years are crucial in creating a lifestyle for my family where wealth is not the primary goal. More than 20% of the adults I know, work exclusively to make money. Acquiring things is not just a juvenile want, rather it is a real need that contributes to the American dream and worldly success.
A backyard full of cash is not a greener lawn
I never wanted to be rich. Yet even at a very young age, I knew that significant and predictable income was necessary to go to college, get a car and own a home. Memories of thrift store shopping, road trips, crafts, grilled cheese and canned soup are deeply rooted in my thoughts. My mother worked from home or out of the home but she was always the primary caregiver of five children. Dad worked a minimum of two jobs. The day arrived that my parents started “making money”, but life did not get better. A bigger house and a prominent neighborhood came with sacrifice. Cars for kids, parties with friends and travel meant less time with each other and conflict within our family values.
After 10 minutes of contemplation, I become acutely aware of the similarities between my adult life and my childhood. Raising children in middle America means several pairs of shoes, a computer, phone, too much junk food, and at least one trip to Disneyland. Then you must provide for basic maintenance such as: living expenses, savings, education, health costs, weekly activities, date night, family night, vehicles, haircuts, sports, dance, music lessons and hobbies. Keeping up with the Jones, regardless of how much I value their friendship, is exhausting.
What does being “rich” really mean?
I ask my daughter, “What does being rich mean?” I know what I would say. It’s designer jeans, artificial nails and a personal trainer. It’s disposable income. She is too young to understand that money might make you rich but wealth doesn’t produce happiness. I want her to know that money creates opportunities. I want to teach her responsibility, respect and grace. This simple conversation is quickly becoming complicated as I flash back to six years ago when I lost my bubbly version of upper middle class. She will never know that before she was born, we had many things. She doesn’t need to know that our move to Omaha was a risky opportunity that provided a richness for our family that we couldn’t buy.
If we were rich
“If we were rich, you could buy me everything I want.”
And without mention of woeful stories of the past, I surprise myself with this reply –
Daddy and I are rich with family and friends that we love more than things we can buy in a store. Instead of spending money today, let’s spend time together at the park and watch the sunset. I want to help you experience all you can from this amazing world so you can be rich too. You will meet many different kinds of rich people in your life and if you listen you can learn how to have a life with more than you ever imagined. If Daddy and I give you everything you want, you will never be rich.
What makes you feel rich? I would love to learn how you explain to your child that buying more things will not bring lasting happiness.