We are frugal to a fault

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If you spend your life trying to impress and keep up with everyone else, you are not living your own life — you are living theirs.

— Unknown

Like most couples Mr. Wonderful and I certainly had our “salad days.” We lived on love and not much else.

Back then, our financial discussions would go something like this: he would ask, “I really need ___. Do we have any money?” “Nope!” I would answer brightly, and we’d both be fine.

Granted, we were blessed with a warm home and gainful employment. We were hardly dustbowl Okies struggling to survive.

Our particular hardship was definitely of the still-blessed-to-be-an-American kind. Our struggles were more about store-brand groceries, hand-me-down baby clothes and strolling the mall with my baby for exercise alone.

Set sites on finer things

As young couples are prone to do, we set our sights on finer things — maybe name-brand groceries, garage sale baby clothes and buying our toddler a hot pretzel the next time we were at the mall. We really dreamt big back then!

In time we moved from our salad days to our slightly more comfortable “salad with croutons” days. Later we were thrilled to climb the ladder to actual “entree days” and were closing in on having our eye on a proverbial financial appetizer or two.

We thought about a boat or maybe a camper? But then we’d check out the prices and realize you can fish off the shore and our tent was already paid for.

Tight

In short, we’re so tight with money we squeak. If we can’t pay cash for it, we probably won’t buy it.

As a result, we’ve renovated this crumbling old property approximately 76 cents at a time.

Currently, we need a new roof so badly you can judge wind direction by which way our shingles are flipped. And yet, to actually go into the bank and take out an equity loan — on the house where my children live — is so frightening to me I’d likely never be able to sleep under that brand new bought-on-credit roof.

I’d just lie there, tossing and turning and wondering if the new owner (who would purchase it when I died from debt-related-stress) would appreciate the architectural shingles, too.

I drive a paid-for car, throw away credit card offers and steadfastly refuse to believe I need a 52-inch plasma TV in order to watch the morning news.

Seriously, does anyone really need to see Al Roker in high def? I think not.

I still consider my 10-year-old living room set to be fairly “new” and when my washing machine gave up the ghost, I took the advice of the repairman and went and bought a used one for about $150 because “they just don’t make them like that anymore.”

Well, that, and the fact I can’t imagine what feat a washing machine could possibly perform short of personal massage that would make a new one worth over $1,000.

Broke the economy

In short, we are cheap. We are frugal. We prefer to pay cash. I say this not to brag but instead, to apologize. I think we broke the economy.

You see, while some banks were loaning to everyone but my dog and encouraging everyone to see their homes as piggy banks that would — and should — double in value every two years, we, like many of our neighbors, were plugging along and patching things together as best we could. Buying only that which we thought we could afford.

I’m not smug about it. This is a very scary economy we live in. Any one of us could fail. Job loss. Layoffs. Foreclosure. There but for the Grace of God go we.

And yet, despite the push to give everyone even more credit, I think we should give ourselves enough credit to know better. We may have broken the economy, but I think if a few more of us lived below our means, we might be able to fix it, too.

Make stuff — don’t just buy stuff. Consider your home a haven — not an investment to be “flipped” in the near future.

Pay a little more for your goods and services to put your neighbor back to work — and maybe he or she will do the same for you.

Strong

Look, I hope we all hold on to our homes and our stuff because, don’t get me wrong, I may be cheap, but I love my home and my “stuff” too.

Nonetheless, if the worst comes to pass, what really matters — the people that really matter to you and to me — won’t care where you live, what you have or what kind of car you drive.

I believe we will come out of this economic stress stronger and yes, even better for it. Just as generations before us have done, we will pay our debts and pay our dues.

In the meantime what it pays to remember is this: you should always define yourself not by what you have in your life — but who.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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