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It’s because we were poor.

As a mom of three young children I feel that I have a similar conversation with my kids whenever we enter a store.

“Mom, can I have a (insert some ridiculous item here)?”
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t have any money.”

Recently I’ve wondered if I’m sending my kids the wrong message.  Because while I’m not technically lying (I hardly ever have cash on me), the truth is we do have money.  I could buy it if we really needed it.  So it’s not that. It’s that we don’t need it.

So instead of teaching my kids the ability to identify needs vs. wants, I’m teaching them that money solves all problems. If you make a lot of money, you can buy everything you want.

As a child, whenever I noticed something my family did differently than other families, I blamed it on the fact that we were poor. Let me be clear, we weren’t poor. We lived in a wealthy suburb, in a nice house and drove nice cars. But I couldn’t comprehend that there were other reasons behind my parents’ decisions than the cost of an item. Here are examples:

We had fruit for snacks instead of fruit snacks. It seemed that every other friend was able to have sugary gummy snacks in their house.  My mom’s response when I said I was hungry? “Eat a piece of fruit.” Unable to recognize the nutritional benefit of fruit over gummy snacks, I thought we bought fruit because we were poor and couldn’t afford fruit roll-ups. Similarly, we ate wheat bread instead of white. We also had a rule that we could only drink orange juice for breakfast. Still not quite sure why we had that rule, but at the time I thought it was because we were poor.

We didn’t use Ziploc bags, we had the kind that folded over. I never felt good about packing a lunch for school in my house. Not only was I going to have to pack an apple instead of Gushers, but I’d have to bring my sandwich in a non-Ziploc bag. Clearly only poor people bought the non-Ziploc version of sandwich bags. This is something that I have never overcome. To this day, I refuse to buy the fold over bags.  I think they are ridiculous. My parents still buy them. Guess they must still be struggling financially.

We took road trips instead of flying. When I was in high school my dad took my brother and I on two extended car trips. On one trip, we were able to see Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and even Hope, AR (the birthplace of Bill Clinton, somewhat of a surprising stop for my die-hard Republican father). The primary reason for this trip was to visit family in Houston. I thought we couldn’t afford plane tickets. It wasn’t until I was complaining to my mother about the trip that she informed me it was far more expensive to pay for gas, food and lodging for the extra travel days than it would be to fly. I had missed the fact that perhaps my dad just wanted to show my brother and I what the rest of the country looked like outside of our cookie-cutter suburban town.

When I became an adult and started shopping with my own money, I realized that my parents had different reasons for their decisions other than just the cost of the object.  They wanted to teach me to make nutritious choices, they wanted to expose me to different parts of the country, and well…the sandwich bag choice was probably just to embarrass me.

While it might be easier to use money as the scapegoat when telling my kids no, in the long run they would be better off knowing the real reason behind my answer.

Buying a soda every time you pass a soda machine is unhealthy.

Your toothbrush at home works just as well as the one with Spiderman on it at Target.

Apples in a happy meal make you grow big and strong while french fries will make you run slow (A little bit of a stretch, I know, but in time I believe that to be true).

And perhaps most importantly: your life won’t be any better because you have the latest new toy (Unless of course that toy is the iPhone 4S. That holds a lot of promise for life fulfillment. I’m kidding. Kind of. No, really, I am.) If you look for happiness in material possessions, you will be looking for your entire life.


Gene Wiley

Great post, Susan. Brought tears to my eyes. Dad


If buying plain old fold-over sandwich bags was the worst thing I did to you as a child… I feel pretty good about that… My own “fold-over sandwich bag”? White sheets. I vowed NEVER to buy white sheets. Must have color or pattern. Who knows what little things matter to a child! Nicely done, as always… Mom.

Amanda Rafsky Schmidt

I loved this Susan! Reminds me so much of things that my parents did as a child and I always wondered (then) why?!?

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