Sunday, June 17, 2012

Money and I. Our romance.

I received an email from my friend Ilze today who commented on the Favourite Present post. In her email, among other things, she wrote a little story, which, with her permission, I will share here:

"My second favourite present ever is a chestnut. During my first year of university I gave an apple as a gift to a fellow student who was a good friend of mine. The apple had a note attached that said "Happy Fall!" The next day she gave me a present to celebrate the fall. It was a chestnut with a note attached "I didn't have enough money for an apple". Back then we got 7-10 Lats a week from our parents (equivalent to about $14 - 20) for her to buy a ticket home cost about 2 Lats, for me 5, so realistically we lived on about 5 Lats a week."

I smiled when I read the story and it brought a flood of memories. I can honestly say that no matter how poor my friends might have ever been, I don't think anyone I have ever met in the US or Australia have the slightest inkling of how poor we were when studying (correct me if I am wrong). I can tell my story but I know there are thousands of similar ones where I come from.

Here are a few stories that I think back in amazement as to where God has brought me now.

My first year of university in Klaipeda (where I met Ilze) we studied English together. Like Ilze, my mom and dad gave very little money for the week. Not because they were stingy but because they didn't have it themselves. There were no government grants or other things that we got when we studied. So one time I remember being REALLY hungry (not because I hadn't eaten due to luck of money, I was just hungry for lunch). There was a nearby dining room that I could smell the lunch from. My nose led my feet. When I got there I realised that if I had the full lunch, I would starve for the rest of the week so I had a little bowl of cold sauerkraut. Another week I splashed out and bought myself juice. Like a jug of orange juice. I ate toast (without butter) for the rest of the week.

When I got to the States  the first few years were not much better. As an international student I had to pay a much higher fee than regular students and was not allowed to work more than 20 hours (this rule I bent on regular basis). In fact, if not for some very kind and generous people who I came across along the way who often let me stay in their house for free for months at a time, I would have never gotten education in the US. Same for a few scholarships here and there. Because I didn't have a car for the first few years, it was tricky to get to work. On average I had 3-4 jobs at one time that I rotated between days and different parts of a day. I remember this one particular time when I was so short of cash that I didn't have enough money to buy food. So I went and had a chat with my ex boyfriend who kindly took me to the store and bough me something.

I am embarrassed to write this right now. Because it sounds like I was begging. It wasn't like that, I think I had just graduated and had to pay for something but my pay check from my first real job had not come in yet. But yes, I know what it means to turn the couch cushions over and to have a victory lap after finding a quarter.

I think that people sometimes didn't know where I was coming from and saw my actions and didn't get me. I worked for a student newspaper in my university backed by a founder of a very popular US newspaper (there I met some great people who I am still friends with) and from time to time they sent us to conferences to different cites. They gave us per diems for food. Of course that I was not too concerned about eating at a fancy restaurant, I would rather use that cash and buy something for myself. But this often created awkward situations when everyone would go out for dinner and I would often not be very hungry... At first it worked but then I think people started thinking I am weird.

There are tons of other stories that I could write here, these are just a few and I know that I am not the only one who has lived like that. Maybe it's unusual for Australians or Americans but for students (and many, many others) in Latvia it is a norm. And the sad thing is that Latvia is not a third world country by any stretch of imagination. As bad as things there can get, there are countries where people live on $1 a day.

I guess in some ways it left a footprint on me.

To this day there is something in me that I won't allow me to buy something for full price in a store. Especially when it comes to clothes. I think that deep down I feel guilty. But I get a high from finding a bargain. If I buy something for full price, it means I absolutely, positively, completely LOVE it.

I think I might be a bit more stingy than a lot of other people I know. I try to fight it with all my power but sometimes the dark side wins. I really, really admire very generous people. Other stingy people annoy me (ha!)

There is a constant worry in my mind about money. I so don't want to go back that feeling of constantly being completely broke that even when we are well provided for and blessed, I worry about it. I think I might talk about it too much too, which sometimes annoys even me.

I am willing to put up with something to save a bit of money. No, that's an understatement. My mission as a wife is to save money where I can. It ANNOYS me that Neil is not that way. He is happy to splash out but to get exactly what he wants. I've been known to stomp away in a grocery store if he picks up the juice for full price instead of the juice, right next to me, on sale. Yes, I know it sounds funny but I can't help myself.

The best part about this story is the ending. I have entered a phase in my life where I feel blessed. God is faithful and He is good. We are faithful to Him too and tithe on our income. We are blessed and for the first time in my life I don't need to count pennies and live pay check to pay check. So happy!

1 comment:

melissa said...

I can see how growing up like that would really change the way you viewed money. You would value it more if you knew what it was like to go without. My parents didn't have tons of money when I was growing up, but I feel like I've responded in a different way. I will purposefully wait to save up and buy something more expensive (but typically within reason) rather than purchase a less expensive product that I like less but could purchase sooner. I really like being able to have nice, new, pretty things. I'm not sure my attitude about this is always healthy though.