Back to the Future: One Teen’s View of Frugality

Although Brett and I weren’t sure initially how they would feel about our new, debt-reducing lifestyle, our three daughters turned out to be our biggest supporters and helpers. They got it. They looked for ways to help, to cut back, and adjusted their lives and viewpoints to our situation. For example, I enjoyed taking WenYu and YaYu along on grocery trips because when I would put something in the cart that wasn’t on the list, they would take it right back out and put it away with the words, “we don’t need that, Mom.” They kept me in line. They rarely if ever complained about our situation, although I know they were disappointed at times when we had to tell them we couldn’t afford to buy them something or didn’t have the money for them to do something with their friends. They learned to adapt though, and came up with creative ideas to make the most of what we did have or could do. For example, we often didn’t have any extra for them to take a gift to friends’ birthday parties, but they would bake and take a personal full batch of cookies for their friend to enjoy. Those cookies turned out to be a pretty popular gift! They could take $5 or $6 to the Dollar Store and come out with a very nice gift bag full of fun things, like bubble bath, candy, and so forth. All three of them became savvy shoppers and knew where to look and what to buy to get the most for their money, whether it was for back-to-school clothes or other items they wanted.

We have told them over and over that we could not have gotten out of debt, or accomplished our goals, without their support and help. We were and are so fortunate to have them on our team, both then and now.

One Teen’s View of Frugality

When Brett and I sat with our girls at the end of last year and outlined the state of our finances and what we were going to have to do to get out of debt, Meiling, our oldest daughter, rolled her eyes with impatience. She groaned and/or laughed at every suggestion from her sisters for ways we could cut back and save, at things we decided we could do without. She sighed loudly when we explained for the third or fourth time how bad things had gotten like this was so not a big deal.

But as the year has progressed, she has chipped in, gone without and learned to embrace our more frugal lifestyle. Goodwill, Plato’s Closet and other resale stores are her favorites now. Although she still loves to go to the mall, trips are infrequent these days, and she goes to the stores where she can get the most for her money versus those where she can afford one status item. Before her trip to China last spring, she made up her mind to win the $50 first prize for most fundraising volunteer hours, and put in nearly 90 hours of time, volunteering for every fundraiser held (and she did win the prize!). She has aggressively sought out childcare opportunities to earn her own money and is already saving for college.

Earlier this week, for her first high school writing assignment, she was asked to write about the most meaningful day of her life. When we asked at the dinner table what she was going to write about, I was sure she would spring for the obvious, the day she was adopted. But instead, she surprised us all and said she was going to write about the day in September 2008 when the U.S. economy nearly collapsed. She said she didn’t know it at the time, didn’t even actually register that something big had happened that day, but has since discovered that it had changed her life and viewpoint more than any other event outside of her adoption. Because of the economic downturn, her dad’s hours at work were cut and her family ended up deeper in debt. And, because of the debt, we ended up changing our whole way of looking at how we lived and how we spent our money, and that has affected her more than anything else.

On the negative side, Meiling wrote that she doesn’t like that we can’t afford to send her to summer camps anymore, or Saturday Academy, and that other than our annual camping trip we aren’t taking any more “fun” vacations (like Disney World, or weekends in Seattle). She begrudgingly admitted that she got to spend two weeks in China last spring, something the rest of the family didn’t get to do but said it still wasn’t a vacation but a school trip with work every day.

On the plus side, she wrote that she is proud of her family and the permanent, more frugal changes we have made. She likes that we are more careful with our money and that we make thoughtful decisions together about how to spend it. She enjoys earning and saving her own money and loves the “thrill of the hunt” in resale and thrift stores. She said she now knows the difference between “want” and “need.”

The rolling eyes, groans, and big sighs have been replaced by an appreciation for what we have versus what we don’t. On the whole, Meiling wrote, our changes to a more frugal lifestyle have been a plus for her and have given her an appreciation for how lucky we are. She says she is no longer jealous of those who have more or appear to have more. She knows now that it could have been a whole lot worse, as it was and continues to be for so many other families.

Meiling continues to live frugally and is very careful with her money. She still enjoys hunting for bargains even though she works and receives quite a good salary these days, as well as has a boyfriend that spoils her. The other two girls continue to be serious frugalistas as well, careful with what they have and how they spend it, and we continue to be so very, very proud of them.

22 thoughts on “Back to the Future: One Teen’s View of Frugality

  1. Family frugality! Your story hits home with me~my own experience parallels in ways. Dave Ramsey’s coaching assisted ~and a good does of “losing it all” to find “it all”. I’m proud of your children too. “frugalistas”~great word 😎

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    1. There’s never a good time to be in debt, but when we decided to face it head on and get rid of it, our girls were all old enough to know what was going on and to be involved. It turned out to be a life-changing experience for all of them.

      I first heard “frugalista” on another blog several years ago – it’s a very good word!

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  2. It is a great thing that they understood principles of frugality at a young age. Most people learn it later in life after much struggle. Kudos to your whole family to show us how you can prioritize what is important for you and how to do it.

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    1. We knew it was going to be a very hard thing for them to go through, and the only way to help them understand it all was to get them as involved as possible. That turned out to be a good thing. All three of the girls handle money very differently except that they’re all very frugal and careful with how they spend it.

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  3. I admire how smart you were to bring your whole family into the financial discussion. This gave such positive message to your children that you trusted them and wanted their help.

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    1. They were all thankfully old enough to know what was going on and what was going to happen. My parents NEVER talked about money with us, nor did Brett’s, and we had to learn things on our own (and we made many mistakes) so we were determined to do things differently with the girls. They were an amazing help to us.

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      1. I was lucky that my mother talked about money with us, so we understood about budgeting. I still had to learn a lot about financial planning beyond budgeting on my own.

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      2. I had NO idea about money, and everything I know I learned on my own. It was the one topic my parents (and grandparents) never talked about. We never got an allowance either, or anything to help us learn. Both my parents were children during the depression and were extremely frugal, but all I saw was that they were cheap – there was never any explanation for what they were doing. I can look back and understand some of it now, but in hindsight it was a difficult and not very effective way to learn.

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      3. I think that is very common. Somehow, talking about money isn’t something that most parents do. They don’t really know what they are doing and most schools don’t teach the very practical life skills about money.

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    2. I am more proud of these girls than I could ever say. We’ve often been told how lucky our girls were that we adopted them, but both Brett and I know that WE were the lucky ones, to have been allowed to parent these girls.

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  4. What a legacy! Your girls have learned an important lesson at an early age. Unfortunately, many do not learn early on but are either forced to or spiral further out of control. It took me years to truly learn those lessons but I did and shopping as recreation is no longer my forte!
    Great story to share, thx Sonja

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    1. They really did adapt and learn. It took me years as well to learn the lessons they learned in a short time. I feel that our get-out-of-debt journey happened at just the right time for them, and completely changed their outlook on spending and saving, needs and wants, and what’s truly important in life.

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  5. Good parenting! Your children have learned a useful skill that will serve them well in life. The constant need to buy stuff has deep roots in our society and it is good to take a step back and actually evaluate the real need for everything really. Right now there is the minimalist trend that’s sweeping across and your daughters must feel like the masters of it.

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    1. Although the girls are very careful with their money these days, they still love the thrill of shopping and finding good deals and the best prices (WenYu especially LOVES clothes, but also loves the thrill of the hunt for the best deal). I’m not sure any of them will ever be a minimalist (I can hope though), but I’m satisfied that they have learned to be careful, save and avoid debt. I’m grateful that two of them graduated/will graduate from college without debt, and hopefully with our help YaYu will be able to as well.

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  6. Good life lessons for all your girls. To become so insightful and understand the power of avoiding debt, especially for consumer goods.

    Our youngest whinged when he was in early high school, that we didn’t have things like his friends (lots of computer and electronic game equipment, a new house, new furniture, eating lots of takeaway). He has since come to appreciate the character of our old heritage house, loves home cooked dinners and understands many of those families were either in debt or renting. Some had to move away into cheaper areas as rents increased or debt repayments put pressure on current living expenses.

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    1. We thought Meiling would be the one whining about our situation, but we’re so thankful now that she caught on pretty fast. Brett and I were so surprised this past December when the girls encouraged us to move back to Kaua’i – that was another situation where they had whined and complained, but loved and appreciated it after we got there. I guess it was the same with us working hard to get out of debt. Both events happened at the right time for them to absorb the the positives of what happened and carry those lessons/feelings forward.

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  7. That is such an encouraging and heart-warming look at a family pulling together and supporting each other in troubled times.Learning the difference between a need and a want, and understanding how to be happy with what you have are life lessons that will affect the rest of your kids’ lives.

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    1. Both Brett and I remember being so surprised by Meiling’s choice of essay topics. She was the one we thought who didn’t “get it.” She has done well since – we worried about her succumbing to the temptation of a credit card while she was in college, but she did, in fact, get one and then never used it! She just wanted to build up a good credit score!

      Not that I would like to go through that time again, but it happened at just the right time for the girls to be old enough to absorb and understand what had happened and why, and see the benefits as well of us getting out of debt. The experience made a life-long impression on them.

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