I grew up in the eighties and nineties in the Pacific Northwest town of Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, Oregon. The third child of four in a very traditional home. My father worked, my mother stayed home. And like all children, I have certain memories that are burned like an Oscar-winning Blu-ray in my mind. Clear, distinct and life-changing. And they all have to do with my money story; lessons about being dispensable, a pair of Old Navy jeans and the best doll on the planet that I never got.
My first money story: the layoffs
My father is an incredibly hard-working and intelligent man. I most frequently liken him to Spock from Star Trek, and in the kindest way. My dad is logical, thorough, thoughtful, astute and insanely capable of a great many things. And throughout his career I saw this vast skill tossed aside because of one simple thing – my dad didn’t have a college degree.
After 26 years of working for a high tech firm he lost his job and had a heck of a time finding a new job. His resume frequently passed over and others hired simply because of that degree. It was the first of two times during my childhood that my dad would lose his job and I learned something that has indelibly impacted me.
What I learned from money story 1: We are all dispensable. Your skills, your work ethic, your years of service are all worth shit at any moment – be prepared. I know there are many lessons I could have taken away – like how to be resourceful and how to work hard to provide for your family. I think those are in the mix too but the one that sticks out is that at any time, it can all fall apart.
That’s too expensive: money story number 2
I remember it distinctly. I wanted a pair of jeans from Old Navy. The absolute epitome of cool when I was in junior high was Old Navy bootcut jeans. They cost $20. The response I got was, “that’s too expensive for pants.” My sensitive soul hurt deeply, knowing I wouldn’t fit in without those pants. Ah, the angst of a pre-teen.
Now, I can’t recall if it was a time when my dad was out of work or not because, frankly, my parents completely hid any financial worries from us kids on that front (for better or worse). What I do remember is thinking, upon review of the general market of jeans, realizing that $20 was entirely normal at the time and thinking, “dear God, I’m being handed a line”. I knew my mother wasn’t being totally honest with me because $20 was an average cost for jeans. And I felt duped.
I knew from that moment that I didn’t want to live a life where normal costs were “too expensive”. I wanted to be able to afford what I wanted. Money story lesson number 2.
The American Girl doll: money story 3
For as long as I could remember I had wanted an American Girl doll. So badly! I read the books, I perused the catalog and dreamed of what my Samantha would look like. Naturally, I had selected the wealthiest of all the girls as she was definitely the prettiest and had the nicest stuff. The problem was these dolls were around $100, a crazy amount for a doll. Given the Old Navy jeans fiasco, I knew better than to ask for something that grand.
Then Christmas came around. My dad had been out of work for the longest stretch so far and this Christmas was going to be lean. Mom and Dad did their best to prepare us. Our gifts were homemade by mom and dad and I remember just feeling grateful we had anything at all… until my parents brought out one special gift for my younger sister. It was a gift from someone at our school, just for her. I watched her unwrap that doll and I tried not to cry. There, on our leanest Christmas ever was an American Girl doll, beautiful and shiny, her hair golden and gorgeous. Kirsten. Not the Samantha doll I dreamed of but, it didn’t matter.
And the worst part? My sister didn’t even really want it. Those dolls were not her thing. It was never to be treasured as mine would have been. And there were, much to my disappointment, no other special gifts that day.
The big money lesson
The money lesson I chose to learn from this money story was: don’t hope for things, go make them happen for yourself. I never once told my secret desire for that doll to anyone and guess what? I didn’t get one. Now, I no longer hope for things. I make a plan. I take action. As children we expect our parents or Santa to grant our wishes. As adults sometimes we do the same. There is no replacement in this life for a good plan and some action taken to make your dreams an actual reality. Stop hoping that you will go to Europe “one day” or wishing that you made more money. Manifest that shit for yourself.
Cast a spell, light a candle, say a prayer, whatever your ritual and then go out and do something tangible to make some real movement toward your goal. The fairy dust only works if you do.