By Shamyla Tareen
“Isn’t buying things so much fun?” asked my friend M, as we were shopping. M is notoriously frugal and will buy next to nothing because she saves all her money for traveling. However, particular material things make her very happy, and quality lip balm is one of them.
“I’m going to quote you in my blog,” I teased.
“Don’t you wish we had enough money to walk into any store and just buy whatever we wanted?” she persisted. We both looked at the array of bright cosmetics and sighed in unison.
When I was a kid, I never thought much about money. I don’t think children think about money unless their parents talk about it in front of them, and mine didn’t. In my peripheral consciousness there were “poor people”, but they were in a faraway land, (mainly Pakistan or Ethiopia.) I was reminded of my younger days recently when talking to an 8 year old. I asked him to thank his aunt for his birthday present because he was lucky; some kids don’t get presents. His eyes widened, and he said, “REALLY?” so innocently that I laughed.
My family traveled; we lived in affluent suburbs in both America and Pakistan; I had nice clothes, books, toys, and games (which my mother often quietly gave to cousins abroad and charities; I never even noticed). In Pakistan I
noticed the extreme class difference and wondered how it could be different. But it was not until college that I realized not all my friends lived the same way, that many people made do with a lot less and were just fine. My friends from different socio-economic backgrounds were the first to point this out; I remained clueless. I still didn’t fully understand that not everyone could just waltz into Waldenbooks and blow their allowances (I didn’t buy makeup or shoes like most adolescent girls; I just really loved the Hallmark store. I kept them in business. I’d spend hours gazing at pretty cards and stationary, tearing up at motivational love songs, memorizing Celine Dion lyrics… you get the picture.)
When I started earning, I realized how much money matters. When you pay for your own utilities, you think about how long those lights stay on. Money changes the way people interact with you. It changes where you live, your activities, and who’s close to you. Does it buy you happiness? The answer is so complicated, and I’m pretty sure almost everyone has a different answer. Money- such a touchy subject, what makes the world go round, what every religion warns us about, what turns friends into enemies or vice versa.
I’m a social worker. I went into this profession having great disdain for people who worship money. However, after witnessing extreme poverty in Baltimore and the lengths anyone will go to when they’re desperate for money- I have a new perspective. I don’t think money exactly buys you happiness- your values do that for you, as in, what you do with that money is what makes you happy. In one of my favorite books, “Father’s Arcane Daughter”, the main character states: “Money is nice because it represents margins. Margins of time and margins of space.” Money can buy you a
certain ease, or security, but only you can give yourself peace of mind once you have all those things.
For everyone it’s different. A family member spends money on her house – setting it up with the perfect furniture and decorations- she’s most content when entertaining and displaying her home. In contrast, a French family I once babysat for spent all their money on vacations and phone calls to France – their house was sparse and small, but they said they preferred to spend it all on visiting relatives and immersing their children in their native culture whenever they could.
I’m still trying to figure out what makes me happy in relation to money. I want a lot of things…. sometimes I overbuy, and sometimes I underbuy. As Gretchen states in the Happiness Project, it depends what kind of person you are, how you spend, and how much money you have in relation to your own experiences or the people around you. Gretchen encouraged a modest splurge. Last week, a friend offered me an extra discount ticket to a show at the Kennedy Center. I didn’t think twice! It didn’t matter that I’d be stuck in traffic – spending more on gas – or that I’d be
out late – spending more on eating out. For that experience, I was willing to forgo my usual mantra- “I must budget!” – because I love shows in the city. The same applies to the experience of sharing meals with friends, although lately cooking for friends has gained more appeal than eating out. Gretchen encourages readers to buy needful things; I bought pretty new sandals instead of making do with the old. She also discusses spending out instead of clinging to old things like frayed towels, old sheets and faded shirts. I took a trip to Goodwill with things that no longer served me. I bit the bullet and bought a new phone – with insurance- when the old one stopped working properly. The hardest one to follow was the part about giving something up. I vowed not buy a single new book until I have finished reading all the books I’ve somehow accumulated over the years. I’m also giving up soda, but you’ll have to read my next blog to find out how that one’s going!
When my grandmother died, they found things she had carefully put away: brand new booties that my grandfather had brought from a trip abroad for my uncles when they were babies; shoes my mom sent her that she never wore; wrapped up, pretty soaps from so long ago that they were rock hard and scentless. I respect the reasons she did that, and I understand the value of saving, but I don’t want to save for so long that I forget I had good things. It can feel good to forgo stuff and have something for a rainy day. However, I really want to enjoy whatever is provided to me today because… now is the time to live!