According to a 20-year study, the gap between rich and poor is growing, not getting smaller. The difference is even more pronounced when comparing countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation. The OECD’s rep “urged governments to address the ‘divisive’ issue of growing inequality. He said they should do more to educate the whole work force – and not just the elite – while helping people get jobs and increasing incomes for working families, rather than relying on social benefits.(Unfortunately, he didn’t also explain how this is going to happen.)
So — do you learn more in life, by growing up rich — or poor?
It could be good. It could be bad. Some, like Not Made of Money, say that their money-strapped upbringings actually made them more responsible adults. Nah, John Cheese argues. If you learned bad habits when you were poor, things probably won’t change. Get a better job, and you’ll still be eating crappy junk food and blowing your paycheck.
Either way, we learn by example: good or bad. (Sharon Jasper isn’t famous for nothing.) Chatting At the Sky, talking about her dad, the former alcoholic, says, ” It seems to me the people most qualified to talk about hope are the ones who have been hopeless and lived to tell about it.” Keep the good ideas, like sticking to fifty bucks a month for food, or living richly when you’re scraping bottom. (Three words: “Less is more.”) Discard the rest.
Your parents’ response to money matters is going to affect yours — whether you like it or not. (See a good overview on this, thanks to Get Rich Slowly.) If your folks were spendthrifts, you may be, too — or you may sprint across the spectrum, and become a miser. Hopefully you won’t go to either extreme. The key is understanding where you came from, and why you react the way you do.
Case in point: my parents had a tendency to choose the cheapest appliance, regardless of its track record. I did, too, until Husband pointed out that a higher quality item lasted much longer. We spent more on a refrigerator than they did — but it’s lasted for nearly a decade, so far, with more years to go.
Just living in America has given us a leg up that many others would love to have.
Yes, I Am Cheap grew up poor…to the point of shivering through the first year or so of high school, until she could afford a winter coat. (Thrift shop, I would say!) But as an immigrant herself (she moved to the U.S. at age 6), she says, “Growing up poor in the U.S. is entirely different than growing up poor in some other countries. Even some of the worse conditions here can be better than some of the best conditions elsewhere. Homeless families here can be accepted into programs where a roof will be put over their heads. In some other countries when you are homeless, you are truly homeless. There are no resources for you.”
Rich, poor — it’s all relative. If you’ve read Andy’s post on the subject, his family had cable in his teenaged years, and he owned his own computer. (An Atari — big stuff back in those days!) His mother, on the other hand, was born in a farmhouse with no running water.
As a farm girl, we had plenty to eat, including lots of steaks and roast (luxuries nowadays). But the only television I saw until 4th grade was my grandma’s, while she was in Florida for the winter. (We kept the tiny b&w tv while she was gone.) Husband and I managed to buy our first computer only because Apple offered a half-off special to students at the University of Michigan.
This all seemed incredibly fancy to my dad, whose home didn’t have electricity until he was in his late teens. (Rural South Dakota was not exactly on the cutting edge of technology.) He only went to school through eighth grade; his help was needed on the farm. And to the end of his days, he wore the same basic dark blue shirt and pants, with clodhopper work boots, throughout the week.
My viewpoint on all this changed even more when friends came to supper Saturday night. ‘Dan’ spent his childhood in a grubby apartment in ‘Alphabet City,’ a rent-controlled complex in lower east Manhattan. He vividly remembered stepping over drunks in the hallway, fighting with gang members, and begging for money in the subway with his mom and younger brother.
His life has completely changed now, but he hasn’t forgotten the many nights they spent in New York City’s homeless shelters…or his relief, when he finally felt ‘safe.’ That feeling didn’t come until his twenties.
I never had that experience. Perhaps what seemed poor was really rich, after all.
This post is by staff writer Cindy Brick. Cindy is a quilting expert with several published books on the subject and has also had many published articles on a variety of subjects. You can visit her business website at CindyBrick.com or visit her personal blog.