Debt used to be a way of life for me. I started with a student loan, added a department store card, mixed in a gas card, and then a few regular credit cards. I guess I just figured it was what people did. We needed stuff, we had jobs, and the bills were paid as they came in. The bills were paid as they came in but we also allowed many of the cards to carry a balance which tended to grow.
We had kids and we were poor, so we had earned income tax credit which gave us back a nice income tax check. This income tax check became our emergency fund. Cars were forced to limp along until February or March when the extra money would be available briefly for repairs. We tried to save some of it sometimes but those pesky bills kept showing up in the mailbox.
The bills kept coming but we had an addiction to stuff. We liked kid stuff, and kitchen stuff, and pretty stuff. Sometimes, working retail, we found fantastic deals on deeply marked down, previously quite expensive stuff. If we didn't have enough cash we would put some of these great bargains on credit, thereby cancelling out the "bargainness" of the product.
My stuff was super important but I didn't notice the value of my husbands stuff. My husband didn't understand just how clever I was to buy all of the stuff I found on clearance. We filled our house with bargains, not to the point of hoarding but to the point of realizing finally that we had too many of everything and a nice vacation and a savings account would have been a better use of our money. We were caught up in lower class consumerism, keeping up with the Smith's.
We've reversed our thinking. It took a while, we had a long lesson to learn. I was raised by Depression babies but they never discussed money, or why they lived as they did. They never explained why they only went to the dollar theater, or wore old clothes, or rarely went out to eat. They never said why they bought toilet paper in bulk, on a super sale, or why they kept their old car running. I was young and didn't know any better. I just thought they were cheap and sometimes stingy. They never really shared their quiet lessons.
I was told stories of my mothers youth. I knew about her owning two dresses, one to wash and one to wear. I heard about the one room schoolhouse and only having shoes in winter. How quaint. They never really shared their current stories. They sat smiling while we joked about a nuclear holocaust where wounded people would beat at our door for our toilet paper hoard. They never once said, "This is why we do what we do..." I wonder if they would have spoken if the lessons would have been learned earlier in life or if some lessons just have to be learned the hard way.