Are We Poor or Are We Rich?

Kristi is a wife and mom of 3 who writes for JugglingNormal and Medium. This article first appeared here, and is republished in whole.

I’m definitely listening to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack as I write this. Before you proceed, repeat after me, “Alexa, play the top songs of 1987.”

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Dirty Dancing premiered on August 21, 1987, and I was 12, and at my most impressionable. Even though I never saw it in theatres, or actually at home, because my parents wouldn’t let me watch it and we didn’t have movie channels, I wore cut-off jean shorts and Keds every day that summer.

Except my Keds weren’t Keds; they were knock-offs. I’m pretty sure we got them from K-Mart. Remember K-Mart? Like Walmart, but worse?

I was terrified someone would notice that my shoes weren’t authentic. I kept them in pristine condition, washing them constantly, so they looked perfectly bright white. How is it possible that we couldn’t afford the real thing? How much could they have cost? $15? Looking back, that kind of makes me question everything.

In my parent’s defense, I always had a new pair of athletic shoes for sports, but they didn’t see the point of spending money on Keds when “the other white canvas shoes were just as good.” Were they?

Best friends since kindergarten, my girlfriends and I were tight that summer. We spent everyday at each other’s houses, especially the houses with the movie channels, and we knew practically everything about each other. Come to think of it, I’m sure they knew my Keds weren’t real, but they never said as much. That counts for something, right? It counts for everything.

Photo by Isaiah McClean on Unsplash

My best friends were also the ones dancing on the couch with me during the movie. We would run towards the television and jump at the exact right moment, so it was us, not Jennifer Grey, that Patrick Swayze (pretend) caught.

I loved being twelve. I loved the feeling of everything being heightened and possible, my whole life in front of me, and trusting that anything wonderful might happen at any moment.

Keds did not sponsor this post.

This is not a sponsored post, but Keds inspired it. I started writing it the moment I heard my daughter say for the first time, “we can’t afford that.”

What the? Where in the world did she get that? Did I mention it? Did my husband say it? Was it true?

It took me right back to hearing my parents say the same phrase to me. Had I come full circle in a particularly disappointing way? Sigh.

We can’t afford that.

Photo by Mike Lloyd on Unsplash

When we were getting serious about having kids, hubby and I discussed our vision for parenthood and childhood, including our non-negotiables. One thing we both had on our list was that we would never fight about money in front of our children. When we looked back at our childhoods, we had that in common.

It’s pretty typical. Money remains one of the leading causes for divorce, and our experience taught us that even if your parents stay together, money fights can be traumatic. There have been studies confirming that when parents bicker over money, it damages children’s wellbeing.

So when we were committing to not fighting over money, we were pledging two things. First, we were determined not to fight over money because we didn’t want to base our marriage on that conflict. I mean, what’s the point? We could either get on the same financial page or get locked in Groundhog Day for 40-something years, no thank you.

Secondly, we were adamant about not passing on the same limiting beliefs about money that we grew up with. We were working hard to become aware of our own unproductive money habits and beliefs, and we wanted to break the patterns for ourselves, and give our children the gift of better information.

You must work hard for money. It’s only accessible for some people and some families. Money is tight. There’s never enough. That job doesn’t pay enough. That’s not worth it. That’s too expensive. We don’t have enough to invest. We don’t have enough to budget. We will just charge this one thing. We will never be rich. 

Ouch. Those beliefs do a number on a kid, don’t they?

We all know what it feels like to want something that we can’t have. It’s demoralizing and self-perpetuating because not having enough determines our sense of worthiness which influences what we believe about what we deserve and what is out of reach.

Status symbols.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I never felt poor, but I started with very little. It’s so subjective, isn’t it? My parents were teen parents without support from their families. We always had the essentials, and we never went hungry or homeless, but I think it was pretty dicey at times. They lived paycheck-to-paycheck for years.

I do remember having a bike, books, toys, new clothes, getting to go on field trips, and occasionally taking vacations (road trips, not flights though), and I didn’t feel like I missed out.

Further, our family’s financial situation improved as I grew, and since I’ve been on my own, even more so. I’ve had good to great to spectacular jobs since college. I haven’t chosen particularly lucrative paths, but I’ve made enough to purchase a home and an investment property, invested some and travelled a lot. But the last couple of years, money was tight around here too.

$100k for a rainy day.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

When my income stopped in late 2016, luckily we had a severance package to cushion the fall. We also had $100k for a rainy day, although $100k doesn’t go as far as you’d think with a family of five, when it rains consecutive days.

We weren’t struggling in a life-changing way, but we went from saying yes to everything to weighing our options and evaluating opportunity cost. It was a lifestyle downgrade for sure, and a mindset shift, sometimes painful, sometimes surprisingly liberating.

When money was flowing, it turns out we were unconsciously spending a shocking amount of money. Raise your hand if you are in the cycle of consistent $200+ Target runs, new outfits and salon and spa appointments leading up to every trip, and expensive coffee and even more expensive wine to start and end your day.

We had lost an essential connection to our values, prioritizing convenience and immediate gratification more often than I’m comfortable sharing.

We didn’t stop traveling when the money stopped, but we missed out on a few family and friends trips in favor of a month-long heavily-budgeted, largely pre-paid, and meticulously researched anniversary trip to Australia. Even though we sprung for expensive immunizations and travel insurance, we were on Obamacare at the time, because Cobra was estimated to be a few thousand dollars monthly.

Navigating Obamacare was eye-opening and tedious, but we also saw the many ways the world can be generous, and it restored a bit of faith in the system. There was definitely a stigma though, enough so that I wonder if healthcare is one reason that some people stay in jobs they hate or have outgrown?

Our family’s choices were intentional to some degree. I wanted a different life. I was done being a working mom in the traditional sense. I wasn’t inspired by Corporate America or my work anymore. And the flexibility to take time off if my babies needed me, having 12-week maternity leaves, and decent health benefits seemed inadequate.

I get it. So many don’t even have that and I don’t want to seem ungrateful. It’s just that it felt like it was the least my very profitable company could do. When other mamas posted their gratitude for their leadership or benefits on LinkedIn, I wanted to say, “Really?” Really, is that the best we can do? This is post-worthy?

Are we settling, or is this as good as it gets?

I think we, as a society, country, and certainly, as organizations, can do immensely better. Like different ballgame better. Like, a world away better. Like life-changing for future generations better.

When I left, I was in a place where my job could no longer give me what I wanted, which was chiefly to savor my babies, relish them while they were young, and surrender to the lessons and moments that would never come again.

My ambition didn’t wane, but it was more focused, and I was defeated and exhausted by trying to do it all, by competing, by the policies, culture, and climate, by the vulnerability of pregnancy and maternity leave. I felt like I was made for more. I was made for more. I had so much more to offer. There was a better life out there for me and I wanted to live it.

Feel-good life.

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Every moment that I wasn’t taking care of our kids, I was working, which made it challenging to transition into something new. I didn’t know what was available or have real-life examples to turn to. The moms I knew were either struggling to have it all or giving something up. No one seemed to have found an ideal work/life balance.

If you knew me at the time, you probably wouldn’t have thought I was a train wreck, but I wasn’t at my best either. I was happy despite my exhaustion, because come on, three beautiful babies, but something was definitely missing.

I’ll put it like this. If you compared me to the 12-year-old girl who wanted Keds, who was fierce, confident, talented, fearless, and could light the world on fire with a single glance, you wouldn’t have recognized me. At all.

I still felt like her though, which made it worse. I felt like her, but I couldn’t see her in the mirror, and I definitely couldn’t access her superpowers. Nothing felt effortless or certain anymore.

I wanted my kids to know me like that, to witness the unstoppable me, the girl, woman, and mom who loves life and spreads light in every room. I wanted to shine for them, teach them how to shine, and I missed feeling like life was stunning and full of possibility. I could see it in my children, which gave me hope, and I knew I still had it in me too, if I only could tap into it again.

I don’t know if it was my job, adulting, or the combo that was killing me, but it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t permanent (or didn’t have to be), so my husband and I made a pact to change our life. He didn’t say it’s too risky, or we must stay the course, or let’s work through it. He said, I believe in you.

That’s why he’s my guy.

So husband went back to work, even though it meant starting over for him too, to provide the runway I would ultimately need to build a business. That’s the path we’ve been on since. I have crazy big goals, but that’s kinda the point. Your big hairy scary goal should intimidate you a bit.

His goal isn’t a number, it’s retirement within five years, with time to support my business, play golf as a family, spend time at the beach with our dog, and enjoy life to the max. Even though I chose a number and he envisioned a lifestyle, we met in the middle, both deeply committed to freedom, family, and a feel-good life.

Money is rarely simple math.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

So how did my daughter absorb such a prevalent and potentially destructive money myth, when we were so determined to break the cycle? And is it a big deal? I’m not exactly sure about either. I think we’ve probably gotten stressed or lackadaisical about our words. We probably let that phrase or something similar slip without appreciating the consequences.

We do want our kids to understand limitations, choice, privilege, and opportunity cost, but at the same time, to find possibility and abundance everywhere. How we feel about money profoundly influences our perspective. When we feel inadequate or deprived, we see what’s missing. When we feel blessed and taken care of, we see opportunity and resources.

The more we see abundance, the more abundant we feel, and the more abundance we attract. So, the energy around money is critical , and the lessons we teach our children matter, but where’s the balance, and where’s the truth?

Money is a real thing. It’s a driver in this world. It’s also arbitrary, and I say that with respect. It doesn’t define you, or me, it doesn’t indicate how successful or worthy we are. It’s not a measurement of anything really, except how much something costs, but it is an essential tool, and it can be a mindf*ck, if we let it.

We know that money empowers us to create change, so when we don’t have it, we can feel powerless. It can be emotionally triggering because it’s often tied to family via our core beliefs from childhood, and sometimes that means secrecy, ignorance, or scarcity. Money can even mean control and control is both constructive and destructive.

You, me, everyone needs enough money, but for what? How much is enough? We all have different answers. Enough is the amount that allows us not to think about money every second. It’s breathing room. Enough provides optionality. It’s the chance to live the way we want to live. Beyond that, the returns are diminishing. Enough really is enough at some point.

We’ve gotten away from that, though. Enough is never enough. Unless you are Kylie Jenner or Jeff Bezos, and have achieved the impossible or are impossibly young, everyone seems to be striving for more. For what? A bigger house? More houses? More stuff? Better stuff?

You could argue that if I make a million and it takes me until 2021, I’m only plus $400k, because if I would have stayed in my corporate job at $200k/year, I’d be at plus $600k right now, with way less debt by the way. Yes, we’ve incurred a lot of debt in the last three years, which makes us uncomfortable, given that we were debt-free from 2000–2016, and it was glorious. Debt-free is more liberating than a big salary in my humble opinion. However, that’s where it gets tricky. Money is rarely simple math.

For example, instead of focusing on how much debt we acquired, or what we did or didn’t earn in the last three years, I asked myself what I would have paid to spend those minutes, hours, days, and years with my family, and the answer is “anything.” Any amount. I will treasure it forever, and any amount that I spent was worth it, times a billion. I took that time during the only time it was available to me, while my children were little, and it was priceless.

Repeat after me.

Photo by Matt Lamers on Unsplash

So back to the question — are we poor or are we rich? No. Yes. Neither. I asked my daughter why she said we couldn’t afford it, and she said, “Daddy said we have to work a lot to earn money, because we need more money to do the things we want to do.” And her takeaway was lack, scarcity, and the tradeoff of time for money, which are some of the very concepts we are trying to avoid. I’m not sure they are entirely avoidable though, so I decided to address it head-on.

Stop what you are doing. Come in here. We’ve got to talk about this now. All three of my children lined up.

Repeat after me. We are rich. We have everything that we need. We will always have everything that we need. We are healthy, happy, and together. We get to live in this amazing house, spend quality time together, and have incredible adventures around the world.

We get to buy the things we want and need, give generously, and share our wealth. We might not have everything we’ve ever wanted, but no one does, and that’s ok. There’s enough for everyone. We have enough and always will.

I don’t know if I handled it right. I don’t know if I nailed the sentiment. All I know is the never enough theory has been in play for decades, and it sucks. I am not perpetuating it. It’s not true.

Debt, lack, limitation, restriction, fear, all of it is a lie. When we open ourselves to more, when we create a new consciousness and cultivate prosperity, happiness, wellbeing, and gratitude, our beliefs change and our circumstances change.

That night when my husband came home, I told him about the exchange and asked him to watch his words and inferences more carefully. We are not doing that, right? Passing on limiting beliefs and money myths to our children? We are breaking the cycle, right? Right. Right.

We are not rich on paper, at least not in the way I picture wealth. We don’t have homes and vacation homes all around the world and millions or more in the bank. We don’t get to do whatever we want at any moment or go wherever we want on a whim. Our children and our children’s children will likely have to work. We can’t change the world with our money.

Wait, is that true? I’m not comfortable answering that one yet.

When all things are considered, relative to the whole world, as compared to humans throughout history, we are rich. We are so, so, so rich. And it is enough. I hope our children see that.

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1 Comment

  1. Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂

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