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.