One of the things we read all the time in the FI/RE space is that one of the most important ways to turbocharge our path to financial independence is to learn how to distinguish a want from a need. I was about 13 when I learned this lesson, in a way that I’ll never forget.
Mum and Dad, my brother, sister and I lived in a comfortable middle-class suburb in Melbourne. We were by no means wealthy, but my parents earned enough that we had all of the necessities of life and quite a few comforts as well.
When I was about 12 or 13 I discovered an English magazine for teens called ‘Pink’. I absolutely loved it. God knows why – I was looking at covers for it while thinking about writing this post and it looks AWFUL. Everything that a feminist would despise. But at the time they were certainly pitching to the right audience. Every week I’d take my money up to the local newsagent and get my ‘fix’, bring it home, read it and add it to the pile of previous issues. It was a staple part of my regular routine and I didn’t ever imagine that routine changing.
Then one day Dad lost his job.
Mum and Dad were a bit upset about it, but in my sublimely selfish teenage way I didn’t let the news cause a blip on my radar, until the day Mum came out into the backyard where I was playing with the dog and said that she wanted to have a talk to me.
She explained that with Dad being the main breadwinner and with them not knowing when he was going to be employed again, they’d decided to make some cutbacks in expenses. So I wouldn’t be going on the year 8 school camp. I was a little upset about that, but I figured that it was only for 3 days and they’d pass quickly. They were pausing my sister’s dance classes and doing a few other things that I don’t remember about now. But then she dropped the bombshell – the one you already guessed was going to be dropped.
Yep. No more ‘Pink’ magazine until Dad found another job.
I was devastated. I cried. Mum said, “This is incredible. I thought you’d be more upset about missing the camp!” On my side, I couldn’t believe that they’d stop paying for something that only cost a couple of dollars a week. How was I going to keep up with the serial stories? There were HEAPS of them. What about the gossip columns and agony aunt pages? How was I going to keep up with the fashions and who and where and what the rock stars were doing? Remember, this was long before the internet. I was truly going to be stranded.
I thought they were so unreasonable. If there was an emoji for a 13-year-old girl having a tantrum I’d put it here. I begged and pleaded. But Mum and Dad wouldn’t be budged. They were tightening the reins on the family finances while we were in this tight spot and that was that.
So my life was ruined.
Six weeks after that, Dad found another, better job. Mum came to me on his first payday with a couple of dollars in her hand.
“Darling, you can go to the newsagent and start the subscription up again.” She was so happy to be able to make me happy.
I remember so clearly looking at the money, then thinking about the magazine. Was it worth getting it again? Yeah sure, at first I’d missed it dreadfully, but as the weeks went on I lost track of the serial stories – I knew that if I bought the latest edition I’d have no idea of what had gone on in the meantime. The pop groups? They were mainly British and most of them weren’t really big out here anyway. The fashion was 6 months ahead of us anyway and I didn’t even wear makeup yet. I couldn’t believe what I knew was going to come out of my mouth.
“Thanks, Mum, but I don’t want it anymore. I’m not missing it so you might as well save the money.”
It was a revelation to me that something that I once prized so highly took only a few short weeks to fade into insignificance. Mum and Dad were right to cut back when times were tough. Very few things are truly necessary, while most other things, though being nice to have, can easily be sacrificed if need be. I learned a few very important lessons from giving up that silly magazine that stood me in very good stead when I was bringing up my boys on a shoestring budget and I had to cut deep.
They say that the things you learn in childhood stay with you, both good and bad. One of the best things my parents did for us was to demonstrate their absolute determination to not live beyond their means. It would have been so difficult, if not humiliating, to take pleasures away from their children and see their distress. But they kept the bigger picture in view and made their decisions for the overall financial stability of the family.
“Monkey see; monkey do.” It’s true; kids observe everything their parents do. I was lucky that mine showed me a valuable lesson, with the sting from the loss of the magazine probably flagging that memory so I’d never forget it.
Did you ever talk to your mom about that conversation once you were an adult? I wonder if that conversation had an impact on her as well.