Moving from the suburbs to a cow pasture as a kid taught me the most important money-saving lessons of my life
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One day my parents called me and my sister in to give us some news. “We’re going to make some changes,” they said, explaining that we’d soon be moving. They wanted to build a more secure future for us.
They presented it as a big, but fun challenge we could tackle together. There would be big changes and small changes. The biggest one was selling our comfortable suburban house to reduce our cost of living while they paid off debt and built up savings.
I was only about 8 years old, and my sister was a few years older, so we didn’t really get it. We understood that we would be moving. It felt exciting to me, like a new adventure.
My parents taught me to make proactive choices
When they made this decision, my dad had a secure job and we weren’t in financial trouble. But they were looking forward and thinking proactively. They decided it was smart to sacrifice some of our comfort now for more freedom and stability in our future.
There must have been some tough moments, though, especially for my mom. She was very hospitable and loved to have friends over. We frequently hosted church gatherings and holiday meals. Our house wasn’t fancy, but it had plenty of room and a large yard in a nice neighborhood. Downsizing meant selling many possessions and simplifying our life.
We ended up renting a small house on a dairy farm. It was literally in the middle of a cow field, with a fence around the house so we had a yard the cows couldn’t access. I don’t know how or why there was a house in a cow pasture, but I’m sure it meant the rent was low. We could walk up the gravel drive to the barns and pet the calves.
My parents were frugal in other ways, too. My dad took sack lunches to work and drove the same old car for years. Mom sewed a lot of our clothes. Our vacations were camping with friends or visiting family. But none of it felt like deprivation. I didn’t miss having a bigger house or more stuff. Plus, we got to do some “big” things, like own a horse and go to Disney.
Their example is helping me build my future
I’ve been a writer for years now, and was the primary breadwinner when the pandemic hit. I’d just had my first six-figure year and things looked good for 2020, when suddenly clients started disappearing. My income was cut in half. At the same time, my impending divorce forced a relocation I wasn’t prepared for, financially or otherwise. Now I’m rebuilding my life and my own financial future as a single mom of four.
We live in a fairly affluent area, and there’s a lot of pressure to keep up. I’ve chosen to keep our expenses as low as possible, though, because I don’t just want to be OK today; I want to build a secure financial foundation for my future and for my kids.
We live in a small apartment, I drive an older used car, and we shop minimally. I say no to a lot of things. Sometimes it’s very difficult and I feel bad for not giving my kids everything their friends have. That’s when I think back to my own childhood. It helps to remind myself that the memories I value most are about having fun together, not about spending money.
I use the practical frugality I learned from my parents
I also pull on the practical things I picked up from my parents. For example, one chore my sister and I did often was deboning a whole chicken. Mom would buy cheaper meats and make a week’s worth of meals from them.
Sometimes I just want to DoorDash our dinner, especially now that I’m a single mom. I work full-time and I’m tired at the end of the day. But ordering in for me and four kids is crazy expensive! Instead, I’ll take 15 minutes on my lunch break (I work from home) to make a pot of chili.
I’m open with my kids about our priorities and limits. We find affordable ways to make things fun, like dollar store decorations for birthdays and holidays, and movie nights at home. I fit in occasional splurges, too.
In the meantime, I’m making slow but steady progress on my financial goals. While I didn’t proactively plan to downsize the way my parents did, I’ve been able to apply their lessons to my own life. Sacrificing some comforts now is making it possible for me to build the financial freedom I want for my future.