My husband considers himself lucky because I am not into spending money on clothing, makeup, shoes, or other material possessions. Particularly after Katrina, I am in no hurry to put our money into anything that can go *poof* and simply disappear.
Rather, I research interest rates of money market accounts online, study the bios of companies whose stock I'm interested in buying, and listen to Clark Howard on talk radio with an avid interest I used to reserve for BOP articles about Corey Haim. As much as I might like, deep down, to spend a huge chunk of cash on a new wardrobe from Saks Fifth Avenue, I just can't get all fired up about it. I can get all fired up about earning a 10% return on the cash that would buy that wardrobe, though.
This is an easy, responsible financial approach to take for me because, well, I don't really have any money. Therefore, I don't really have any temptations. Not right now, anyway.
Due to a combination of factors that came simultaneously crashing down on our heads after the storm, we find ourselves in the position of living, more or less, month to month. This is remarkable, given that we still don't have a home again, yet. Fortunately, due to a combination of factors that have simultaneously lifted burdens from our shoulders, we are currently sitting on the precipice of hopefully never living month to month again. It has taken two years, but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
And it has been a long tunnel.
For superstition's sake, let me now say, "Knock on wood," for this entire post.
People comment to me all the time that our family will be stronger, and is stronger, for the obstacles we have overcome together. I have been told that marriages dissolve over less frustrating circumstances than we have survived. Quite frequently I hear, "I don't think I could have made it through what you have and you seem so fine." This isn't talk about Katrina, but rather about money, career, and sacrifices.
My response to speculations about our financial situation is always the same. I am not my money.
I don't define myself by how much money I have in the bank or how stylish my clothes are. I don't see myself in how impressive my house is or by the model of my car.
This is fortunate, because my bank account is anorexic, my clothes are from the outlet mall, my house is my parents' guest house, and my car is my dad's old Lincoln Town Car, a magnificent shade of Pimp's Suit Emerald Green, right down to the Florida Retiree's Emerald Green leather interior.
But these things are not me, they are just my circumstances. And my circumstances don't begin to scratch my surface.
Despite my circumstances that suggest that my life is a bit in shambles, I am confident. I am confident in who I am and in who I will be. I am confident in my past decisions and my future plans. I have faith and I have hope.
I am a have in this world, but I just so happen to have not.
More than anything else, I hope I am teaching this perspective to my family. We are not our money. We have no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed when I have to pick Pants up in my bright green land yacht of a car. We don't need to hesitate when we have to tell people that we live in my parents' guest house. We are not here because of something we did wrong. We are making the most of the cards we have been dealt and we will be stronger for it. We have been given opportunities that the catastrophe-less around us may never glimpse.
And yet, it sure is easy to make these grand, noble, sweeping statements when I have no temptations before me. I couldn't be a GAP mom right now if I wanted to, let alone if I tried. Sure, I can be a GAP Outlet mom, but that still doesn't include the great car. No, when you are broke, you decide to make the most of what you have. You just deal.
But then what happens when your circumstances change from mental fortitude toward financial strength? The temptations of the GAP mom will rear their ugly heads and what keeps you from folding? What keeps you from succumbing to the power of the Volvo wagon and the day spa?
I fully intend to succumb to the powers of the Volvo wagon and the day spa.
The difference is that when I have money again, when my circumstances change and I can breathe again, I want and plan to remember one thing: I am not my money.
As much as I don't define myself by my circumstances now, I do not want to define myself by my circumstances later, no matter how glossy and glittery.
If I do anything right as a mother, I want to raise children who view the world from the same financial perspective. We are not what we have materially.
The guest post by Nell from meanwhile... reminded me of this objective. While reflecting on how her daughter Matilda has become friends with Taylor, the daughter of a materially-focused, perfection-minded mother, she wrote:
Matilda and Taylor have become friends. I like to imagine them hanging out when they're older, like when they're fifteen. I imagine Matilda being jealous of how perfect Taylor's family seems, like a TV family. And I imagine Taylor being jealous of Matilda, of how wild and crazy her family is, of how she can make her own choices and be whoever she wants to be. And I know Matilda is getting the better end of that deal.
When Pants and Goose are older, I would love nothing more than for them to be able to seamlessly blend into groups of both the privileged and the struggling. While hanging out with a kid whose home is a trailer, it would be great if that kid wondered, "Which trailer park is Goose's?" While hanging out with a kid whose home is a beach mansion, it would be wonderful if that kid wondered, "Which manse belongs to Pants?"
I had friends like that and I was usually more impressed by the ability of the kid in the mansion to conceal his wealth than by the kid in the trailer. Perhaps this is because I think it is sometimes easier to cope with our circumstances when they are difficult or challenging than to defend ourselves against complacency when our circumstances are auspicious.
If I can raise my boys to define themselves with perspective and to see beyond the material, whether that be an excess or a dearth, I will have done a fine job. If they can recognize what truly matters in this world and that recognition not include a glimpse of the latest fill in the blank trendy toy, then I can exhale.
When it comes to the things that matter, we do "have." We are the greatest of haves in this world full of bitter have nots.
We have tread the waters of the deep sucking divide between the haves and have nots and we have come out on the other side stronger. I'll be damned if we are sucked back to the other shore, as all that we have experienced would have been for naught.