Monday, October 11, 2010

The Bad Old Days

The telephone calls would usually start before dinner. The ringing phone would trigger an odd reaction from my mother: She'd begin waving her arms wildly, panic on her face.

"I can't answer it! I'm not home!" she'd yell frantically.

The voice would be unfamiliar when I picked up, gruff and insistent. But the call was easy to recognize. The voice wanted to speak to Mom and didn't accept my feeble excuses. "Where is she?" "When is she going to be home?" "Tell her she'd better get in touch with us right away!" Sometimes the conversation deteriorated into threats, real or implied, at which point I hung up.

This was back in the '70s, and we didn't know about creditors' rights. We only knew that Mom was going through another rough patch, and that her overspending had caught up with us again.

My personal financial philosophy can be summed up in a simple bit of advice I got from a source years ago: "Live below your means." You don't have to live like a rat, he told me, or deny yourself quality things that you really need - or even want.

But you don't necessarily have to buy a brand new car if a good used one will do. Just because you want that shiny new gadget doesn't mean you can't wait until the price comes down - and the bugs get worked out. Just because you earn some money doesn't mean you have to spend every last dime. If you can - and I know in these days many can't - try to adjust your lifestyle so that you can cover your expenses, sock away some savings and stay out of debt.

There's no doubt that my frugal ways are a reaction to living with my mother's chronic overspending and its negative repercussions. But I also have a suspicion that there's some genetic input involved. My dad was so frugal you might have called him a miser, and sometimes we did. But savings and bargain-hunting comes naturally to me, too.

Next time: How we coped with mom's "hobby."


  1. I come from a penny-pinching dad and a money-spending mom. I'm glad I got the penny-pinching gene.

    Looking forward to hearing the rest of your story.

  2. Living beneath one's means is positively unAmerican, if we are to believe that the economy must constantly be growing. What a strange breed of capitalism the 80s and 90s brought us--

  3. It's interesting, in my family, where the frugality gene shakes out versus the spending gene.

  4. This is engrossing. I look forward to reading the continuation. We learn a lot about money from our parents--or should I say we inherit their ignorance? My parents kept track of every penny, and I do, too. I never could have lived as an artist otherwise, especially not through the last couple of years.