I’ve been known to be a mean haggler for the best price during my time in the developing world. I routinely felt guilty for going back and forth with a vendor about a few colones here or a few rupees there, but the various cultures insisted that the price was variable and my obvious foreignness easily graduated the initial offer on anything exponentially, so I’d pride myself in getting a price close to what a local would get. I saw it as a game, as participating in the local custom, as building my language skills, and as taking part in supporting local business (even if by a few less coins than I would have). There’s a still a shroud of guilt that overcomes me when I share this part of my story because my privilege would certainly have allowed me to pay the asking price, but it is truth.
The fact is that I’m a natural penny pincher; I’m my father’s daughter (please don’t tell him I called him a penny pincher 😉 . All my needs were certainly covered as a child, let’s make that clear, but I was raised to earn an allowance in order to afford the things that I wanted. Pulling each weed from my backyard earned me a penny, finishing my Saturday chores by noon ensured I earned my $5 for the week, and babysitting all over the neighborhood starting at 12 years old for short of $4/hour added up pretty quickly. I was resistant to a bank account, so I stored the cash under my bedroom rug and the coins in a tin on my shelf. Yep, you read that right, under my bedroom rug was my bank (it isn’t any more, so don’t bother coming to look 🙂 . And, yes, my older brother took advantage of withdrawing funds from my “account” way more often than I would have liked, but that didn’t stop me from reaching my goals of a week of summer camp each year and a 6 week adventure of a lifetime at age 14 to visit my long-time pen pal in New Zealand. When it comes down to it, making little choices to save on an ongoing basis, along with a very supportive family, has allowed me access to life changing experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had, not to mention a slew of life lessons that serve me to this day.
And, while it’s fun to reflect back on the learnings and adventures of my childhood in this way, my motivations for spending less have changed as the years and decades have past. The environmental and economic justice motivations that I discovered in my college years that led me to choices like living in perpetual community, only buying used clothes, and biking to work, have given way over the years as I literally forced myself to spend, if only sometimes, for pleasure. A few years back, I started to give myself permission for things like the purchase of a scooter to commute on, to buy a beverage other than water when eating out, and to purchase organic food because it allowed me to continue to match my values while also providing space to myself to enjoy life more fully. And, let’s be real, I could afford to make these choices and I realize not everyone can. But, you see, I had become too strict on myself in my penny pinching ways to the point of stressing myself out and it wasn’t worth it.
Now that I’m a new mom and homeowner, though, this idea of spending less takes me to motivations that will not only serve me, laborers, and our planet, but also my children. Spending less is a chance to serve my kids and in turn serve the world that they are just now coming to know. To serve J & A by creating opportunities for them to learn, grow, and give a new motivation to add to my list (as if I needed more!). And, let’s be honest, I need to find my way back to a moderated practice of spending less; new habits that balance saving in reasonable ways, setting realistic goals, and enjoying the simple things in life. I hope that my coupon clipping, DIY home projects, and soon-to-be huge backyard garden will allow us family adventures to a national park someday, summer camp weeks for my kids like I relished, and for me to support the dreams that they have yet to devise, yet also the privilege of a warm house, healthy food, and plenty of outdoor fun.
I’m going to do my best, as motherhood and home ownership take me square into a consumer driven world that I’ve tried to skirt for so long, to hold as true to my values as I am able. How I choose to spend in the coming years still matters to me greatly and I pledge to flex my dollars, no matter how few they may seem, in service of my family and my values. That reminds me… As I leave now to “harvest” a few stylish shag rugs from my parent’s attic to place in my new home, I should take an hour or so to open J & A a bank account. I would hate for them to be relegated to the carpet bank of my youth 😉
Molly Robertshaw is an Assistant Director at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice. As co-founder of the NEXUS Community Garden here on campus, she has found a way to meld her passions for ending hunger, building community, and getting dirty outside all summer long. Ironically, she’s not really an expert at growing food in the least, but rather loves bringing people together for the adventure that is gardening and is energized by how getting our hands dirty together builds community.