I grew up poor and I appreciate it now.

I have a different perspective on life than some. For those of you that have met me in the last few years, you might have seen material possessions and made certain assumptions about my “financial” life. Chris and I are minimalists, and we select each and every purchase we make with care. We want to love each item, we want it to have a purpose, and it be something that inspires us (whether from its beauty, or how it fits together with everything else).

I did not always have the option to be so selective… or selective at all. Chris and I have worked very hard for each thing we have brought into our lives, whether it meant saving for something for years or just deciding to not have something until we could afford what we really wanted. I can remember when we first moved to Portland we did not have the money to buy furniture. Chris was looking for a job and the work I was doing was just paying our rent. We could have gone to Goodwill, or looked for something used on Craigslist, instead we purchased inflatable chairs (yes, you read that right). We used them until a family visiting us in the winter got them to close to our heat vent and bye-bye went the chairs. We finally decided to purchase a couch, but even then it was the one we felt was the most “us” and within the means we had at the time.

How did we become so frugal and so aware of our choices? I grew up poor. I watched my parents struggle to have enough cash to put food on the table. It was before credit cards (and even when they did exist my parents did not have the credit to have their own credit cards). What did you do to survive without credit cards? You had to be able to have enough liquid cash in the bank, or put things on layaway. My mom started Christmas shopping for the few items we did receive (which got smaller and smaller as we got older) in July. She would purchase the items and put them on layaway until they were paid off. The hard part? You cannot purchase food on a layaway plan. You cannot pay the electric or water bills via layaway.

Growing up poor taught me to focus on what matters and what is important and once that is handled you can then think about the perks and pleasures. Until then, we should not be splurging and spending when we do not have the means to handle the necessities. I often wonder what individuals would do these days with out access to credit cards. Imagine living for one year paying with what you have in the bank — no plastic. Everything is paid off each month, or paid up front with cash. What percentage of our country could do it?

Overall, being poor taught me to appreciate everything I have, to remember what it takes to keep it, and how easy it is to make bad choices and live way beyond our means. The funny thing is, even though we have been so selective and love everything we have, if it all disappeared today we’d be just fine without it. We’d just start over tomorrow. Together.

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