Monday, September 5, 2011

Beans and Rice, With Love -- A Labor Day Tale

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You see the enthusiasm in my daughter’s face as her dad instructs her in the essential life skill of washing and cooking turnip greens – to go with the beans and rice.


Dad:  What are you going to cut back on to stay within the monthly budget we set so you don’t go over again?
Daughter at college:  Food and taxis.
Dad (thinking to self):  And possibly cut out the monthly membership at the local tanning salon?

Priorities, priorities.

Yep, it’s that time of year.  Back to school battles over budgets between parents and their college-aged children.  The above is an unretouched conversation with our daughter this weekend.  My genetically fiscally responsible husband’s first reaction is to relate stories to her about all the years in college and graduate school when he ate beans and rice.  “That’s a healthy diet – and it’s cheap.  A person can live on beans and rice!”  It’s his update on the old dragging-myself-to-school-in-a-snowstorm story.

I bite my tongue and try to hold back on the stories about paying all my bills – rent, food, gas, school – on $300 a month or how I saved money in graduate school by rooming with mice and cockroaches while earning a hefty $5600 each year teaching.  I do try to nudge her toward frugality by passing on recipes for the cheap, hot, healthy dishes I cooked, e.g., Girl Scout stew.  Much better than beans and rice if you’re going to be eating it every night.  However, I’ve not yet seen evidence that she’s actually visited a supermarket to try it out.

To earn a down payment for our first house I worked as a checker at a small grocery store while writing my Ph.D dissertation and clipped coupons for everything.  We paid off our first car in a little over three years and now don’t trade in any of our cars until you see the road through the floor boards so that we can spend a month of our summer in France and have college funds for our kids.  But I refuse to clip a single coupon anymore, although I do love a good sale when I need to shop for the house.

Yet try as we might we seem to be in a protracted battle over budgeting lessons with our kids.  It’s not from lack of trying.  We are not like many parents in our community who (and I’m not making this up) would hand their high school students $500 each month for “expenses.”  This didn’t include the cars, computers, condos in Florida, and so forth they also had.

Somehow the wisdom of our frugality has not impressed our kids too much.  We have read every article on teaching them financial planning.  We have tried to institute budgets and make them stick to them.  We have refused to give them any money for anything, hoping they’d be motivated to earn more.  We have tried to be brilliant role models through our own purchases or absence thereof.

The one thing we can’t do, however, is show them the struggle we had to get to where we are now.  Just by sitting in the living room of the house we own on the street where we live our children have developed a set of priorities light years away from the ones we had in order to make it to this point.  It’s impossible for them to fathom how many nights of eating Girl Scout stew this house cost.

I do hope my daughter takes another look at last month’s expenses and considers moving food up in her list of budget priorities to somewhere just north of “keeping Urban Outfitters solvent.”  If not, I just may set her dad loose on her to tell all the stories he’s got about beans and rice, spraying the cockroaches around his bed each night before going to sleep, riding his bike everywhere in all kinds of weather as his only transportation, working two jobs outside in the heat of an Atlanta summer, eating beans and rice, and more beans and rice.

After all, everything has a price.

See that skinny space behind you?  The one with the refrigerator?  It also has something called a stove.  Both are great money-saving devices.
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On this Labor Day holiday, what was the worst job you’ve had? What tricks did you learn to make income and outgo balance each month? We await them in the comments box.

10 comments:

Renee said...

Curious minds want to know...what's Girl Scout Stew?

Worse job...cook on a catering truck...worst bosses...the supervisor at Global Van Lines, and a lady named Gail from my days at Montgomery Wards. When I gave my notice I told her she was a bitch and that everyone in the department hated her...I didn't care if I burned my bridges...she was so awful to all of us. One of the best jobs I had was working at McDonald's in high school...we had so much fun.

So...what happens when the kids run out of money at school? Do you shut the vault doors and let them figure it out?

Julie Farrar said...

Well, Renee, I guess Wednesday will have to be Recipe Day on the blog. I'm baking today, so good food for all. I thought you'd say the best job was working for yourself. And do you see the minty green of my cabinets (soon to be torn out in a MAJOR kitchen renovation).

nadinefeldman.com said...

Julie, I feel your pain. We have grown children (they're my stepkids), both college graduates, who are still on the payroll. One is getting some extra training, while the other works but in a low-paying job. We help them both with rent but have cut off all other spending money -- they have to work for that or use their savings.

Incidentally, when we cut our daughter's spending money off, she actually thanked us for doing so! Of course, it took several teary phone calls to get there, but she did.

It's hard for me to comprehend, because I was on my own at age 18 and never took a cent from my parents after that time. In my first "real" job, I worked in an office where, if the owner didn't like you, she would interview your replacement and parade the candidates in front of you. I sucked it up until I found another job. That's just what I had to do! I had rent to pay.

Renee said...

LOL...Julie...I guess I didn't say my job now because I don't even think of it as a job...if that makes sense? A 'job' is having to clock in and work for someone else!

I forgot to mention the cabinets. Yes, I love that shade of green. Remodel? What are you going to do? Have you seen the blog www.rentrorenovation.com ? That's where I have gotten some of my ideas.

Renee said...

Oh...and forgot to mention....Nadine...I totally understand! I moved out at 19, but had been paying for much of my things since I got a job at 16 at McDonald's.

It's not uncommon and I really don't understand why parents continue to pay for things after a child is out of college!?! What's wrong with working at McDonald's or Target until the right thing comes along? Someone I know recently quit a part time job because, "It's too hard to work here (in the salon, building clientele) and have a 30 hr. a week job, too." Citing "no time to work out, etc." I guess all the time I worked full time and had a 2nd job was 'too hard'...lol.

inluvwithwords said...

Love this post, Julie. That look on your daughter's face is priceless! (and familiar, I have two college-age daughters myself.) As a fellow campaigner (beginning bloggers group)and new follower, I look forward to reading more from you.

Laura@Catharsis said...

Julie, I distinctly remember my husband and I hearing a report or reading an article discussing how the current generation of twenty-somethings expects to have everything their parents worked years for now...right now. And it's kind of true. While I am certainly older than your daughter, I remember craving the house, the car, the toys my parents have immediately upon entering the grown up world. It just doesn't work that way. I think this is why so many young adults are deep in debt. They forget how long it took their parents to work up to what they have.

N.Scott said...

I had to clean 100 year old grave stones with a toothbrush. The boss called it archeology. I'm pretty sure I had the same look as your daughter does when he did.

LOVE the picture!

Fellow Writing Platform Campaigner here to say hello.

Stobby

MuMuGB said...

I tutored silly rich girls to make both ends meet.

Michael Ann said...

I am finally reading this! I had marked it earlier and just hadn't gotten to it. The subject of money and budgeting is always an interest to me. I am a saver and very frugal with my money. Always have been, even as a child. My two children get the same advice and teachings about money, and yet one is a total saver like me and the other spends it as fast as it hits his hand. I'm beginning to think personality accounts for our spending habits.

My husband is a spender. We are terribly mismatched this way, but that is a much longer story!

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