Going in a different direction with this post because I applied for disability today and I’m not ready to write about that yet. It will likely be years until I have an answer, anyway.
So last night on Twitter, there was a trending hashtag: #asakidbeingrichmeant and it was really interesting and enlightening to me.
For one thing, I saw that what people defined as rich was relative in many cases. I saw some things that were part of my childhood that were definitely signs that we weren’t rich, like that I didn’t have designer clothes until I got a job and could pay for them myself.
But compared to some others, I also would have fit their definition of being a rich kid because I got new clothes every year for school and they didn’t come from the thrift store or hand-me-downs. (The latter wouldn’t have applied anyway, since I didn’t have anyone we knew who could hand them down.)
But I also nodded knowingly at some of the things people mentioned as what they thought rich kids had because it also fits my definition and were things I didn’t have. Like a Barbie dream house (though that was irrelevant because I wasn’t allowed to have Barbies, either.) Weekly trips to Toys R Us to get a toy each time. Parties with friends at the arcade or seeing movies at the theater. (I think I only saw movies in theaters maybe 3 or 4 times total until I was in middle school, and even then it was just a place to go once in a while with friends so we could make out with boys.)
I see some of the class divide still in my adult life. My sister and many of my mom friends have wealthy husbands and put their kids in a lot of sports, go on college visits out of state, take their kids on overseas vacations. That will never be me; I just don’t have that kind of budget. And for the most part, I don’t feel bad about that. (The only time I do feel bad is when people like my sister get salty about assuming she wasn’t invited to my kids’ non-existent sporting events because she can’t fathom the fact that I wouldn’t have enough money to put three kids in sports. Extracurriculars cost money.)
I won’t be able to pay for my kids’ college. I’m still struggling to pay off my own and my husband’s. But given the fact that the pool of college-educated employees seems to be getting oversaturated, and we can’t afford to support their expenses while they do the unpaid internships that would set them apart, they’re going to be on their own for college, just as we were. (Though we could likely help with community college costs if they chose that route.)
It’s not necessarily a good investment anymore, especially when they don’t know what they want to do. But parents paying for college is a whole different post for a whole different day.
But in reading those threads on Twitter, I realized how many things in both my own childhood and the childhood I’ve been able to give my kids weren’t that bad. My kids get new school clothes every year and even if they’re not designer, I at least let them pick out their own, which I didn’t get to do.
They may only get new toys or games on Christmas and their birthdays and have to save their allowance for the rest, just as I did, but I don’t regret that. I think that not getting everything you want makes you prioritize a little better and decide how much you really want something. And it makes the things you do get seem more special.
My kids had birthday parties every year when they were in elementary and middle school, before they kind of outgrew them. And while not all of them were fancy, they still had some that were even at Chuck E Cheese (something many of the Twitter people mentioned as a rich-kid thing.)
We buy brand-name food (for most things, not everything like canned goods or frozen veggies) and get hot dog or hamburger buns instead of using white bread for all purposes. The kids get name-brand treats that they request. We don’t say no to stuff just because it’s not on sale.
As I was growing up, my parents were able to gradually upgrade some of our things, including the food we bought. We eventually got cable (no movie channels though) and a Nintendo.
Similarly, there’s been a gradual slight improvement for my kids over the years, too. They can get their hair done by someone other than Mom or Dad. They now have more than one pair of shoes each. We’ve upgraded in some things that matter to them, like a family plan on Spotify premium and ad-free Hulu (since they don’t care about cable.) Everyone in the house has their own computer in their rooms. By those measures, we are rich compared to some.
But I can’t afford to buy them their own cars as my parents could for me and my sister. We have the cost of my healthcare and our student loans to thank for that. We couldn’t afford to get them their own smartphones until last year, which I know most middle-class kids get in middle school at the latest. In that sense, it seems like what I thought of as my own minimum definition of the “good life” is becoming harder to attain.
It’s kind of enlightening to see how the standard of what defines “rich” is nearly always more than what you have.
Yet I’ve met very few people who acknowledge that they grew up wealthy, even when they obviously did. Is that because it’s human nature to always want more than you have? Or because people are unable to see their own level of financial privilege because it’s just normal to them?
I’ve seen friends go from very wealthy to struggling in less than a year, thanks to divorces. Though that’s always an adjustment (and not necessarily an easy one), everybody still survives it. Fortunes can turn in an instant. And sometimes that perspective check helps me make peace with what seems like inequity.
Especially as I applied for disability today — which I’ll have to address later — I can’t help but think about how this will affect my finances, in both good and bad ways. Good because I’ll have less stress and a guaranteed income (and possibly more access to medical care.) Bad because it means I’ll likely never be rich. Part of being American is holding on to that fantasy that one day you could be rich, but that’s a whole different topic for another day.
I feel grateful that my wants are few. I don’t really collect anything. I don’t have a lot of decor in my home. I don’t keep up with movies. I may not be the most fashionable person but I honestly don’t care that I’m not.
My kids will surely have things to complain about, just as I did. (I’m sure the delayed cell phones and the fact that it took so long to get separate bedrooms for my younger two will be at the top of the list.) But I’m not sure that going without is all bad. My kids are generous, as I try to be.
They care more about my health than how much I earn. They don’t seem to think that they are “owed” anything besides food and shelter. We try to give them more than that, of course, but they don’t seem like they’re really lacking for anything. If they say they want food midweek, I can usually go to the store and get it for them.
Apparently, based on what I saw tonight, that makes them “rich kids” by some people’s definitions. It also means we have a lot of places where we can still cut back if things get scary while I wait for disability payments. And really, none of this seems so bad. In fact, it feels like things are pretty good overall.