People say your attitude about money comes from your parents. My father made good money and spent it. His battle cry was, “It’s only money, Ri, I’ll get more of it!” (Ri is my mother, Rita.) She would have a conniption fit when the man she married, raised in abject poverty and now making it, came home with a new toy. My mother’s battle cry was, “We can’t afford it!!!” Even when we could, we couldn’t. Scarcity Mindset.
Children of the Depression
My parents were children of the Great Depression. Dad grew up in a large family that didn’t even have enough to eat most of the time. Mom grew up in a family that had enough; nothing extra, but enough. My Grandmom (Mom’s Mom) was one of the few people steadily employed during the 1930s. My Mom always told me that Sundays brought folks to the front door who needed a meal because my Grandmom never turned anyone away. She would just water down the soup a little bit more. You would have thought my Mom would have picked up this generous spirit, but she didn’t. She just developed a very advanced scarcity mindset.
As my Dad educated himself and took on bigger and better employment, becoming one of the top salesmen in the USA selling portion-controlled food to restaurants, his paychecks went up exponentially. All of a sudden we had nice homes and there were a few more dresses at the beginning of the school year. We went on vacations. New appliances and furniture began to appear. Life got decent and then it got nice because of my Dad. Yet the constant cry of, “We can’t afford it!” never stopped. But we did.
Now you think that would have been proof positive to my developing mind that she was wrong and he was right. Yeah, you’d think. My husband and I worked our asses off when the kids were little. Could we afford everything? No. Did they always have enough? Yes. But even when things eased up a bit, every time I needed to lay out some money, the Rita in my head screamed, “We can’t afford it!”
And the Torch is Passed
So all through my formative years there was this battle between we CAN afford it and we CAN’T afford it. Why, oh why, didn’t I believe him and not her? I took on that scarcity mindset. My adult life became, “We can’t afford it!” The problem was that although there were some times we couldn’t, there were many times we could.
What it Really Meant
Now here’s the real problem. “We can’t afford it!” meant we couldn’t afford to give either. Donations? “Hey, we’re poor, too.” No, we weren’t. That family needs help! “Oh well, they can get on assistance.” Meanwhile, there was an extra $20 burning a hole in my pocket that could have bought food. Not a lot, mind you, but it could have made the difference for someone.
So it made me selfish. I never in a million years considered myself a selfish person. I gave freely to all. . . of myself. But when it came to opening up the purse strings, well, that was a different story. I would tell myself things like, “Money isn’t everything. They need your time and attention.” Maybe they did, but if someone has a hungry baby they need money for food first!
I. AM. SELFISH. That revelation hit me hard. I broke out in tears with all the years of, “We can’t afford it!” hitting me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I feel like a total failure for all of those years. But guess what? I’m Scrooge and it’s Christmas morning. There’s still time to fix things.
It’s Different Now
Today I give freely to those who need it. I can’t do it all for everyone, obviously, but there are many I can help and I do. I don’t want to be selfish anymore.
This is NOT to say that you should be a spendthrift and give everything you need away to the detriment of your own, not at all. You take care of your own first, of course, but if there’s a few bucks left, trust me when I tell you someone in today’s world could use it. And then. . . more of it will come to you!
And in the End
So the moral of this tale is to not let a scarcity mindset make you selfish. We still don’t have a helluva lot but we have a helluva lot more than many others do. For this I am grateful. And every now and then, when Rita and her damned, “We Can’t Afford It!” starts to infiltrate my brain, I take a deep breath and listen for my Dad. “It’s only money. I’ll get more of it.” He always did. I will, too.
“Magic Penny” by Malvina Reynolds
It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.