I stopped at the grocery store after work for milk and ended up with cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, honey, sugar, vanilla extract, egg nog, baking powder, chai and pears. Most of it was in the name of improving the quality of my oatmeal. The baking powder was for cookies that I’ll make my sisters for Christmas rather than buy them the $25 Hot Topic shirts they want. I’m making them some awesome stuff. If I were them, I’d be excited. Heck, I’m just excited to make it. But perhaps I am more excited by cookies and art than other people.
Luckily, I’ve pretty much stopped grocery shopping nowadays because they feed me at work and even give me leftovers from our meals to take home, so I don’t feel as guilty as I would if I also had to spend money on real food. I don’t splurge like this often.
I’ve realized that I am not someone that will ever really be “broke.” It has always mystified me how people with real jobs could not have any money because I don’t have a real job (I mean, it’s not a full-time well-paying job) and I find that I never have trouble paying for anything I need. But observing other people recently, I noticed that people just spend money if they have it. If they make more, they move into a nicer place and buy more expensive food. On the other hand, I am very frugal. Not cheap – I do buy nice things, sometimes, quality things that I know will last a long time. But overall, I’m just not comfortable spending money on something when I know I could get it cheaper, and I just feel like I’m getting everything I need, anyway. Why do I need more than a single room and a bed and a stove?
My habits have very little to do with how much money I have at any given time – even when I was living at home and had the freedom to grocery shop for my family (because I enjoy grocery shopping and cooking) with plenty of money, I still found myself thinking creatively to save money and eat nutritiously. Even now, when I try to shop “responsibly,” (ie, nothing too bad too often, like meat or processed crap), I still find it quite easy to live on a very little amount of money. It’s fun for me. It’s like solving a complex problem with very few resources.
It makes me feel so lucky in a strange way. Because I know there are people out there with more money than I have struggling to pay rent and stay nourished. And I don’t think it’s a matter of not “wanting” to be healthy or frugal. I hear so many complaints that people on welfare waste their money on crappy food and overpriced, unnecessary cell phone plans. Yes, that’s true. Yes, it’s infuriating that it’s happening. But why blame them? Do they KNOW about nutrition or money management? Has anyone taught them how to shop in bulk or translated the ingredients label on a packageof food?
I know it’s easy for wealthy (relatively; by “wealthy” I mean “middle class,” or even approaching that) people to say that these things are obvious – but they’re not. Case in point: Oatmeal.
I grew up eating flavored oatmeal from individual packets. At that point, I did not know what oats were, whether they were good for you, that you can add pretty much anything to them and they’ll still be delicious, that you can buy them in large containers for much cheaper than the packets, that the containers were right next to the packets in the grocery store, that even the containers in grocery stores are overpriced compared to bulk stores or co-ops (well, some of them).
I didn’t know because no one TOLD me. I grew up with one mentality – individual oatmeal packets – and that’s what I assumed the world consisted of. I didn’t even SEE the large containers next to the packet-boxes. And I was a reasonably bright and observant kid. So how can we expect more from adults who were once kids with even less vision than I?
I don’t claim to know everything. But I do know how to research on the internet for tips on what to buy, how to buy, what’s good for you, what’s in season, how to cook it. Honestly, if you had given me a can of oats for Christmas when I was 15, I would have had no idea what to do with them (okay, maybe I wasn’t so bright…=P). Up until several months ago, I had no idea what to do with a squash. I still can’t name most things in the vegetable aisle. I’m not rich, nor did I grow up in a household with responsible habits. But I still have SO many more opportunities to improve my life, just based on the fact that I know how to use the resources around me.
It’s not fair.
It’s doubly unfair that rather than realizing how crucial good life education is, people with power money and influence take everything they have for granted and just blame poor people for staying poor. But this is America, I’m told. They had their chance, didn’t they?