I was a die-hard Girl Scout. Yes, I enjoyed the campouts, badge earning, and other activities — but my favorite time of year was selling Girl Scout cookies. I am extremely competitive, and each year I would challenge myself to do better than the prior year. No one put me up to it. My parents did not pressure me or push me to sell a specific number of boxes. They also did not reward me for my achievement. It was my own crazy self that worked my ass off to do more than I ever had.
One year, one of the prizes from the local community of Girl Scout troops was a 10-speed bike. I did not have a 10-speed and wanted one badly. I knew it would take a lot of babysitting and tips from my paper route to be able to purchase that bike, not to mention selling my parents on my spending my hard-earned money. The next best way to ensure I had that bike was to sell the number of boxes required to win the bike — and I did.
A different year there was a trip to an amusement park in Ohio. I had been a few times on school trips, and absolutely loved amusement parks, so of course it was on my list to win a trip. I had my goals in mind and I made sure I met them, however crazy I was to find ways to sell boxes. Since I lived on the edge of a University campus, I would go to fraternity houses, their student center, apartment complexes, and dorms, not to mention door-to-door in my entire neighborhood to sell as many boxes as possible. I learned a lot — specifically on how to cater my communication and language to the person on the other side of the door, or the one with cash in their hands. I learned how to warm up my audience, be cute when needed, or spout off the benefits of the different types of cookies – whatever I could do to make sure they walked away with boxes of cookies in their hands.
So when I found out that Girl Scout cookies have gone online, I had mixed feelings. Girl Scouts will now be able to take credit cards and transact business via an app online. They can have family and friends in other parts of the country place an order through their specific online webpage. Here is why I have mixed feelings — yes they learn business techniques for 2015, online sales, webpages, social media, and credit cards, but I feel a lot is lost. It feels much like what happens when parents sell for their kids at work, but their kids never have to do a thing. How is that good for the kid? My parents did not sell a box for me. I sold every single one.
With selling cookies now online, I fear that kids will no longer know how to make change, do math in their heads as buyers put them on the spot with questions, and my largest concern is that they have now taken the human side out of selling cookies. Maybe I am old school, but I feel that the learning experience has dwindled for these girls.
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.
It has been a while since I have read a book that I could not put down — until this past weekend. I read a book titled: “After Perfect: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Christina McDowell. It is about the Prousalis family and their demise. Think Bernie Madoff. Think scandal. Think fraud. At first when I started to read it I thought this is going to be an annoying book. It will be all about the 1% that had it all and so much more and lost it due to lies and deceit. And it is, but also about so much more.
The book is told by Christina, Tom Prousalis’s daughter. It is her story. It is how she learns about her father and his crimes. He goes to prison for three years after taking a plea deal. They lose everything and she and her sisters and mother must learn how to live. Her mother has never had to pay a bill and Christina realizes that her mother has been taken care of for so long that she does not even know where to begin to pick up the pieces of her life that is now in shambles.
It gets worse. Christina finds out that before heading to prison, her father had taken out multiple credit cards in her name and racked up debt to the tune of $100,000. She believes that he will fix her credit and pay off her debt. He makes her believe on the infrequent calls and letters from prison that he will take care of her. It takes her years to learn who her dad really is, and to truly understand the lies, and deceit, until eventually he literally vanishes from her life.
You might look at her story and think she is a child that had it all. She lived in such extreme wealth, she had things most others did not. Yet, in a lot of ways she was just the victim all along. She did not know about her father, the kind of man he truly was, she knew only what she knew. Her 20’s turned into a period of abuse. She lost the footing of who she was and turned to drugs, alcohol, and sex. Until she had enough. She came clean and searched for the truth. As painful as it was to find. She changed her name, and set up a new identity, free from the past, free from her father.
“After Perfect” was a page turner. It makes you see into the world of the 1%, and those that fall from that world. How they deal with it, how they do not, and in the end they are people just like the rest of us. If you are looking for a book to read (especially a memoir) I highly recommend it.