Few people know that I’ve been very rich and I’ve been dirt poor, that I’ve had times in my life with no savings and lived on credit cards to maintain a life style beyond my means. The only thing I ever learned about managing money was from my parents who told me to save and be frugal. I rarely did either in my youth, not necessarily squandering money but it seemed to leave my hands quickly. My only exorbitant purchase was a Palomino horse which meant more to me than saving for a trousseau. In my youth there weren’t credit or debit cards and banks fought tooth and nail against giving loans of any kind. For the most part once you paid for something with cash it was yours and you weren’t beholden to anyone.
I married into money, a very rich man, but at the time I didn’t comprehend the enormity of the family’s generational wealth. He built us a big house on acreage, all paid for with cash. He took us on vacations to Colorado, Canada and all over the west. When others in our group bought hot dogs to cook around the campfire, Hubbie bought good-sized steaks for just the two of us.
He brought home a new truck for himself one day, paid for with cash, of course. Years later out of the blue he brought home a new car for me, a present. I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed with joy because he often came home with new possessions like furniture, TV or a camera. I had no say in purchases.
But I found that other’s people’s money came with strings attached, to do or go or be at someone’s beck and call, to allow yourself to be molded into something foreign, to give up hobbies and dreams and self. One day I became hateful of the demands put on me by the family and their money and left with my dreams and my dogs to live a no-strings life.
I was instantly thrown into near poverty, educated but jobless, alone and woefully naïve. It was a sink or swim existence. I then became a slave to one demeaning and humiliating, boring job after another. One day, on unemployment, I volunteered at the local dog shelter where someone recognized me and suggested to management that I should be hired. That moment led to me working at the County for twenty-one years. I bought a house, a new car and with my salary and credit cards lived the American dream with my dogs.
Fate intervened, my parents needed me, I retired, sold the house, paid off everything and moved to Florida. For once there was a huge sum of my own money in my hands, no debts, no strings. Freedom. My drive across the country was blissful. I felt like I was wealthy beyond belief.
But for some of us money doesn’t mean fancy houses, clothes and jewelry. After a near lifetime of being frugal I couldn’t forget my roots, my parents lessons to save and make do. When my twelve-year-old car started to fall apart recently to the tune of one hundred to one thousand dollars in repairs per month, friends suggested I buy a new car. I did but felt and still feel guilt and embarrassment; me driving a big new van feels ostentatious. Perhaps I’ll never forget the guilt of nights around the campfire eating steaks while people less fortunate ate hot dogs.
Money still has a grip on me. I worry about my money, checking the balance constantly. Is my savings still there? Dressed in my simple second-hand clothes the world sees me as still poor and naïve. Yet life is good. Sometimes I wonder how many millions I’d have inherited of Hubbie’s family money. Would I have become lazy, felt entitled, seen more of the world? I suspect, yes, all of the above, yet it would have been without my hobbies, my dogs, my crafts, with my chin up, a snob perhaps.
You see, having money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You can indeed be rich in dollars yet poor in spirit. While I won’t say money can’t buy happiness, it can buy comfort, it will only take you so far. It can only buy you so many friends and clothes and husbands and diamonds. Then what? Sooner or later some day you will confront yourself in the mirror and ask, “Am I truly happy?” You eventually ask, “Is this all there is?”
Money is why I stay single, appearing drab and penniless and naïve, although I love the memory of one attorney who made the statement that I was stupid like a fox. That’s right and this foxy lady wants to continue to survive on her own, never again tangled in someone else’s purse strings.