After an unprecedented delay from the IRS, due in part to all of that recent Fiscal Cliff Climbing, tax season has finally begun. Millions of tax payers are taking the internet by storm, entering their information from those 1040-Used-To-Be-Much-EZier forms, crossing their fingers, and hoping for the best. Some are even regretting the return-advance checks they received back in December, as they look around their homes and see the numerous broken and discarded Christmas gifts which were paid for with said return-advance checks. New plans are now being hatched for those refund dollars. There are flat-screen televisions to be purchased, deposits on beach rental units to be paid, and new cell phone contracts to sign. Consumers march blindly toward these new acquisitions, without the slightest consideration that it might be better for everyone concerned if those dollars were deposited into a bank account. Out of deference, of course, to our uncertain economy, not to mention the fact that children need shoes and food before they need i-phones.
That kind of thing really puts a bad taste in my mouth. I have a difficult time with individuals who get their priorities all screwed up. I know of a few people who, on a daily basis, lament their financial situation, citing an inability to afford certain foods and other necessities. Yet, in the next breath, they will tell you all about a show they just watched on one of the 100+ cable channels that they subscribe to. Also too, they might complain about how long their high-speed internet and video streaming service was down the night before. The new smart phone upgrade they are planning for next week might also come up. And yet, they can’t afford fresh tomatoes or name brand peanut butter. Huh? Really?
I am no financial wizard, but let me explain to you how you can save lots of cash, and manage to feed your family. Ready? Get rid of your hundred dollar cable bill, and stop buying new smart phones! If you are unable to afford the most basic of necessities, you need to re-evaluate the wisdom of taking a trip to the beach in a few months. Believe me, I know all about needing a vacation, but I have responsibilities, and none of them include a time share at Myrtle Beach. If your children need shoes or new clothes for school, don’t buy your oldest daughter a $300 dress to wear in a beauty pageant. If you are put in a bind by purchasing laundry detergent or toilet paper, where is the wisdom in weekly sessions spent lying in a tanning bed? This stuff makes me crazy, which is probably why I must take blood pressure medication three times a day.
Perhaps my practicality stems from being raised by my grandparents, they were from a different generation after all. My auntie, born in 1937, was a child of the Great Depression. Waste is a naughty word in our house, and I am frugal to a fault. I recycle, reuse, and repurpose like nobody’s business. I have tote bags sewn out of everything from old blue jeans to vintage neck ties. I use plastic shopping bags as liners for waste paper baskets, and empty, plastic coffee cans are used for everything from storing odds and ends, to portion control when painting a wall. Worn out tee-shirts and socks make great dust cloths, and old tooth brushes are a wonder for cleaning tile or scrubbing behind water faucets. I don’t always do these things because they are necessary, but often just because they make sense. Why spend six dollars for a pack of cotton cleaning cloths, when you have a bunch of bath towels that have seen better days just sitting in the hallway closet? Cut those suckers up and throw ‘em in a bucket. Now, you can afford the good peanut butter and a tomato for your sandwich.
In no way do I mean to make myself sound like the Martyr of Money Saving. Not in the least. There are certain impractical things that I definitely enjoy. I have an affinity for colognes by Jean Paul Gaultier and Chanel, and I have more than one pair of shoes that came with a ridiculous price tag. For me though, those luxuries are just that. Luxuries. They are things that I acquire as a result of working, saving, a little practical planning, and making the most of some old blue jeans. They aren’t requirements. No one had to do without something necessary in order for me to have them.
Here is where I should reiterate that I am not a parent, nor do I presume to know what goes into raising a child. With that said though, I do know that children must learn a sense of priority from somewhere. They aren’t born with USB ports, HDTV, and a physical requirement involving designer labels. Smart phones are not necessary for clothing and caring for a child. Neither for the child nor for the parent. I also understand what an enormous part the media has played in the materialistic state of our country, and how “things” are status symbols for our nation’s youth.
I can remember in the early 1980s, when I was about ten or eleven years old, Calvin Klein jeans were the clothing item to own and wear. The ones with the thin, white labels on the back, and the white stitching on the pockets. Wearing those jeans meant you were cool, you were in, and perhaps most importantly, your parents could afford them. Status. Not so different from kids wanting the latest tech gadgets, right? Perhaps. In my opinion though, an expensive pair of jeans in the 80s is a far cry from five-hundred dollar phones, tablets with streaming everything, and data consumption that rivals the Pentagon. Kids will always have a screwed up sense of the word “need”, it goes with the territory. The problem, I find, is that parents are no longer willing to teach their children the difference between want and need. Between vital and desired. Perhaps it stems from wanting to give their child more than what they themselves had, perhaps it comes from an inherent desire to see their child happy, perhaps it is just to shut the kid up. Whatever the reason, children learn by example.
I was in line at a the store the other day, behind a mom with two small children. The family’s cart was jam-packed full of food, cleaning supplies, you name it. On the very bottom of the cart, sat four twelve-packs of beer, and a box of wine. I also noticed that the woman had two unlimited pre-pay phone cards in the smallest compartment of the shopping basket. The mom was chatting away on her phone, presumably to a husband, inquiring as to whether he wanted one carton of cigarettes or two. Her two small children were not particularly warmly dressed, and one of them had silver tape along the top of one shoe. Both were very well behaved, and stood quietly waiting while their mother unloaded the cart and asked for the two cartons of cigarettes. I didn’t want to stare at them, so I was trying to look around to occupy my time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the youngest of the two children, a little boy with fuzzy-brown hair, tug on his mother’s pant leg, holding up a pack of gum, clearly asking if he could have it. She frowned at him, smacked his hand, jerked the gum away, and put it back on the shelf. “We can’t afford crap like that, I’ve told you!” she barked at him. He didn’t cry, or say a word, he just dropped his little head, and I saw his older sister put a hand on his arm. The whole scene broke my heart, and I would have bought him a hundred packs of gum if I could have. I watched them leave, and I felt like crying myself.
On the way home, I couldn’t get that little boy out of my head. What kinds of things must go through their heads, those two little children? What must they think when they see their parents spend hundreds of dollars on cigarettes and alcohol, while they are in need of shoes, and aren’t allowed a sixty-nine cent pack of gum? What kinds of messages about priorities and self-worth are being sent?
Like so many issues that I ponder and write about, I have no real answers. I think I am just hyper-aware of situations, and probably spend more time than I should thumping my head against the wall for the sake of injustice. The state of the world saddens me, as does the behavior of its inhabitants. I recognize so many needs for change, but I haven’t a damned clue how to go about furthering any of them. Maybe talking about them here can do just a speck of good. I like to think so. It’s why I continue to write about things like that little boy with the fuzzy-brown hair who just wanted a pack of gum.
Surely, someday, somewhere, someone is bound to listen.