August 27, 2012

The Problem With Wealth

I was returning blog visits the other day, and ran across a really good post at Nancy's, "Inspiring Depressions Era Stories & Where We Are." The thing that struck me, was not how terrible these folks had it, though I know some did, but the wisdom and common sense of their forced frugality.

I remember my grandmother telling me about the depression. My grandfather's family was in mortgage banking and lost everything. I've been through the old census records and noted servants listed as members of the household. When the depression hit, my grandmother recalled all their families having to move into the same house together. She told me her father-in-law was never the same after that.

The generation that experienced the Great Depression seemed to come out of it with one thing in mind, to not let their own children experience the same lack of want. They worked hard and sacrificed to make sure their children had a better life. Most of us grew up under the passed down influence of that and have raised our children the same way. But at what cost? I know those parents thought they were doing a good thing, but if they could have looked ahead into the attitudes of future generations, I wonder if they would have made the same choices. Human nature never seems to appreciate what it doesn't have to work for, what's handed over on  a platter so to speak. Instead it takes those things for granted.

My first husband's grandmother lived in Louisiana. She gardened and canned much of her own food. When I asked her to teach me, she was shocked and refused. She even scolded me for it saying, "you don't have to do that. You can afford to buy food!"

That this is an inherited attitude in the South has become obvious to me during the years we've lived here. It also explains why so many folks in our area don't get what we're doing. (For an insightful, fun read about some of the differences between Southern and Northern attitudes, check out Tami's post, "Twinkie".) To many native Southerners, we appear to be going backward and they can't understand that.

Showing off wealth however, seems to be a universal tendency. Isn't that why folks buy the cars they do, the homes they do, the toys they do? People are enamoured with status. Unfortunately marketers take advantage of this tendency, tracking and creating what is now known as "trends." I find myself wondering if this strong human desire to be one of the in-crowd doesn't make us easy to manipulate.

When it comes to wealth, it seems the "have-nots" are always clamoring to be "haves." I don't think this was always the norm. When I read the Little House series, I see a contentment with what the Ingalls had, or didn't have, even though they had no money.

Nowadays people assume they have a right to what everybody else has. I think in part we have been trained this way. When my daughter was little, the trend for birthday parties was that everyone received a present. The idea behind this was to be fair and that nobodies feelings got hurt. I disagreed. To me it seemed unfair to create this expectation in my children, that they should always get what everybody else got. Reality is that life simply isn't fair. When 100 people audition for an opening on the team, only one person makes it. We are not equally talented, equally statured, equally inclined. For birthday parties, I preferred the concept of turn taking. On their birthday it was their turn to get presents. On So-&-so's birthday, it was their turn.

Now we hear political promises to equalize wealth. We assume this means that this nation's wealthy are going to have to give some of their money to us. We jump on the tax-the-rich bandwagon.  It never seems to occur to us that 1) the rich know the loopholes and have tax shelters to keep from paying higher taxes, 2) they have the means to pass higher taxes on via higher prices, lower wages, and job cuts, 3) that if the politician making the promise is a globalist, then equalizing wealth means taking it away from us as a nation, and passing it on to impoverished 3rd world countries. Equalizing wealth means poorer nations will have more, but we will have less.

I think one of the bottom line problems with wealth is that as humans, we are never satisfied with our lot in life. We all tend to think, if I only had _____ (fill in the blank)_____ . Many would say, "more money." The question we ought to be answering however, isn't even being asked. What we ought to be contemplating is, when is enough, enough?

Dan and I are not immune to this kind of thinking. Our blank would be filled in with, if only we had a farm tractor, or a real barn, or had the mortgage paid off. I rationalize this by saying we're still in the establishment phase of our homesteading. I have to consider though, that if my goal truly is self-sufficiency, then at some point I'm going to have to stop wanting more, I'm going to have to stop spending money, I'm going to have to get off the consumer mindset merry-go-round.

Do I have answers to any of this? Honestly, I don't think there are any, at least not in the sense we tend to think of answers, i.e. politics and isms, because these tendencies of human nature are universal. I think the problem is with our worldview, our mindset about money, and with how we define economy. However I reckon I've written enough about it all today. If you're curious about what I mean, you can check out these related posts:

Mindset: Key To Successful Homesteading?
A No Waste Way of Life
And a 3 part series:
  1. Contemplations on Value & Money 
  2. The Lost Art of Bartering Part 1
  3. The Lost Art of Bartering Part 2


Tombstone Livestock said...

Yes it is a different lifestyle now. I think one of the problems is with TV advertising. I can remember the depression era, peeling the foil off my gum wrappers to save it, my mother saved everything. My grandparents were from the era, before cars, refrigeration, etc. I had relatives that grew all their own food, couple still do. I think large grocery stores are a necessity in large cities, but I think pre-package over processed food is not. I wish I had the incentive to do more on my own/for myself, I do have the capabilities, but some days it's just easier to go to Chinamart. And that's just being lazy.

Florida Farm Girl said...

I grew up the child of those folks who lived through the depression, but out in the country, so they were always poor. However, they did raise very nearly all their food and meat and preserved it. I saw this being done regularly for the first 12 or 13 years of my life, and then very slowly things started changing. The first to change was butchering. It became easier to have it done. Smoking sausage and bacon continued for a while, but eventually stopped. The canning and freezing continued though not so much as earlier.

We were very poor as I was growing up but I lacked for nothing I needed and didn't know I was poor. Everybody around us was the same.

My husband has remarked to me that money doesn't mean anything to me and he's right in a way. So long as I have food, clothing and shelter, and some of my "wants", I'm pretty happy.

Dani said...

Leigh - I couldn't agree more.

We seem to have acquired the mindset that we are "entitled". What happened to working hard and saving / earning for what we have? For saving up for, not demanding or expecting?

But I also think that with today's media coverage and our exposure to EVERYONE'S lifestyles it has bred a discontent. And I think the insane amounts that film / pop and sports stars earn have also fueled the fire...

Man needs to get back to basic, use their brains (and hands) more and appreciate what they have, not what they want.

Thank you for the link - fascinating reading.

Izzy said...

Great article, totally agree. I challenged myself this year to learn more "home-ec" items like sewing, knitting, etc. We also garden, and keep our own fish and chickens. It's a shame but I think there's a very rude awakening coming for many.

Farmer Barb said...

The drive for people to have more status than those around them has gone absolutely mad. The new status symbol in my high end suburban town? Chickens. Pet chickens that wear diapers and come in the house. They go to the veterinarian for check-ups. Maybe it's a Chick-up. My vet told me that a lady came in and he fixed the chicken's broken leg. $180 to fix a chicken's leg. I'm guessin' she didn't end up EATIN' that bird. It will probably end up with a tombstone.

No one seems to believe our way of life will ever get worse. I spend a considerable amount of time preparing my children--just in case. My father was born in 1925. He told stories about being raised in the Masonic Home starting when he was four, after his father died. They had to raise all the food they ate and work for the clothes they wore.

Just because technology has made life easier does not mean it is better. Our child rearing has to acknowledge technology's place in modern life while recognizing the destruction to our bodies and minds. We need to get away from the screen and park at the farthest spot in the parking lot. We have recently imposed the "no stuff" rulle in bedrooms. All toys have been removed. Walls, bed, lamp, nightstand. Bedrooms are for sleeping. We have only one TV and one computer. We are making the choice.

Those Russians who were routinely living to 120 years old lived a full, hard life. What does that tell you?

Leigh said...

TL, I agree about advertising. It's a problem on the internet too (we don't have TV). The whole goal of advertising is to make us want something, which just aggravates the problem. If we don't buy stuff (especially disposable stuff) they don't make money and they complain about the economy!

FFG, very interesting comment. I suspect getting older had something to do with the changes. Dan & I are noticing that as we get older, we don't have the energy and stamina. It would be easy to give up our direction and just go the easy route. Unless the next generation steps up to the plate, the changes become the new way of life.

Dani, excellent questions. It does seem that entertainment pays top wages, doesn't it. What does that say about our values as a people? Between media and advertising, it would seem we don't have a chance. Fortunately a few of us are waking up.

Izzy, I agree. I don't know if how drastic the changes will be, but I don't think we can continue in the same direction (economically up and up and up) forever.

A lot of it seems to be in our way of thinking. Folks who scoff at me for gardening, get it when I say, "well, everything has gotten so expensive that every little bit helps." They seem to make an assumption based on an image, rather than connecting what I'm doing to the reality of our times.

Barb, that is absolutely insane about the chickens!!!! Of course, it's the same mindset that ridiculed the fire out of me when I suggested butchering Jasmine because of her broken leg.

I think the way you're training your children is both prudent and wise. Even if life does manage to hobble along status quo, at least yours will have a work ethic and the gumption to follow it. That in itself is priceless.

Tami said...

Another thoughtful post, Leigh and "Thanks" for the shout...

SM and I talk about "disconnecting" from the world as it is right now. I suppose older generations always look on younger generations as going down the wrong path to ruin.

We play the "what if we had money" game too. It's funny, I don't think we'd live life all that much differently. Except I'd travel. And go back to school since I wouldn't be working FT @;)

Misty Pines Homestead said...

Leigh you are right.We are considered consumers of everything.You don't really appreciate what you have until "you don't have it".We harm more than we help and I thank God that now people are starting to realize when you have contentment and the world lifted off your shoulders how good you do feel.You want to do without all the modern stuff that's there.Besides honestly I don't want a rich persons headaches.If I get one it'll will be from the wine I made from my own grapes!

The Cranky said...

So very true. I've been saying for years that we suffered from an over-inflated economy and were headed for a cyclical 'correction'; one we may never fully recover from.

Finally, finally my family, and some of my closer friends, are taking note. Both they, and we, are taking steps to get back to the country and be as self-sufficient as possible. You are living my dream, and our future...thank you for the 'signposts' you're leaving along the way.

Perhaps, one may hope, the economic shocks of the last few years will help people re-focus on true wealth.

Woolly Bits said...

I was going to say: of course you're right! but then - we're in a similiar situation, but would I still agree with you if I was in one of those terribly poor countries, where people don't even have enough clean water to survive? I don't think there'll ever be equality in every way for each of us - communism has shown that it won't work. but is it alright to accept that a handful of people have extreme wealth, usually by taking away everything they can from the poor? as you say, there's no easy answer. the only thing we can do is to try to influence the thinking of those close to us? and I am not on the high horse, I don't buy fancy stuff to show off, but I do take the easy way here and there:) btw, over here a lot of people still say: I don't have to make things myself, I am not poor:) it's not only a southern US attitude, I am afraid:)

Pearl said...

I agree with so much of this post. I've not understood the "everyone gets a prize, everyone's a winner attitude" so ingrained in our children. It's the parents doing it, of course, but why? I don't see anything difficult in understanding that the reason John is getting a present is because it's his birthday!


Jody said...

Great post. I like your comment, "if I'm going to be truly self-sufficient I'm going to have to stop wanting more." It rings true. Could it also be true that your comment is a lesson that everyone eventually learns, that we learn to stop wanting more, through the natural course of growing old and passing on? I hope so. Cause I really like the idea that I might be truly content someday.

F said...

The other day my husband was reading an article about the politics. Something about the 99% and 1%. The whole Occupy Wallstreet. It got us thinking about what is the true 1%. The upper 1% in the world. So we tried to google it and came up with this:

"In America, the top 1% earn more than $380,000 per year. We are, however, among the richest nations on Earth. How much do you need to earn to be among the top 1% of the world?


That was the finding World Bank economist Branko Milanovic presented in his 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. Going down the distribution ladder may be just as surprising. To be in the top half of the globe, you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it's $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000."


Perspective is everything.

My husband is a professor at a small college. I guess you could call me a stay at home mom. Although I think of myself as a urban homesteader. Our social group is mostly other professors. Every once in a while we hear folks complain about how little they get paid in comparison with other colleges. My husband and I just look at each other and smile because we've tried before to explain just how lucky this group is. How yes we agree it would be nice to pay off the house and get a car with more than two doors, but we are happy and have very little stress. And for goodness sake you all get the summer off, and the paychecks keep coming!

Life is good appreciate and enjoy it!

Unknown said...

I have encountered so many with the 'you can afford to buy it why grow it' attitude. Shame, isn't it, the way the wealth problem seems to be taking deep root in our hearts.
Thank you for posting!

Leigh said...

Tami, thank you and you're very welcome. I reckon that's true about the generations. Of course, no matter what the age, each one thinks itself right!

Mandy, and the sad fact is that the world is set up to keep us that way, consumers of everything. When Dan lost his job, I realized how much simpler life was without money. Not that we didn't have needs to be met, but there was no debate or decision making as to what we'd spend money on!

Jacqueline, it's true true wealth is not money, nor in what it can buy. I think if everyone of us did even a little toward being more self-sufficient, the whole world would be a better place and with less need.

Bettina, I doubt any but that handful would consider it okay to hoard extreme wealth. It seems to me though, that the only way to resolve that is with human qualities that are rare: self-sacrifice and willingness to share. Greed seems to be universal and that would be the thing that would have to be dealt with in order for wealth to be more equitably shared. But no country can make laws against greed. That's what I think anyway.

Pear, thank you. Unfortunately the "everybody's a winner" is strongly taught in the schools around here. Everybody gets a prize, even if its' just for participation. Unfortunately I think it stiffles motivation, because why bother if there's nothing special to earn for one's efforts.

Jody, you hit the nail on the head, contentment is key. I think it helps to know how to be grateful, but it's so hard to stop wanting, isn't it?

Foy, interesting! Thank you for taking the time to share all that. We always seem to look at those above us on the financial scale and think they have it better than us. We never dream of looking at those below, which is the rest of the world. As you say, perspective is eerything. Of course, cost of living goes along with that. I tried to explain it to guests from India once, who thought we were lubriciously wealthy because we had electricity and running water. In this nation, we don't have the option to buy or rent the $25 a month grass hut. The option to live in a home without utilities doesn't exist. Which means we are also forced to pay for them. Makes one understand though, why so many are intent on bringing this nation down.

Michele, I agree it's a shame indeed!

Carolyn said...

Thank you for the links; going to check those out later tonight. And thanks for the post reminding us that we are, indeed, very lucky. Time to appreciate what we have, what we work for, and who we have to share it with :)

DebbieB said...

Amen, sister!

Denise said...

My parents thought I was crazy for wanting chickens, gardening and canning but guess what? My cousin is now canning like crazy so now it's more acceptable I guess. Which is really funny cause when I was growing up we gardened and canned because we couldn't afford to buy everything at the store and both my parents grew up on farms.

Meg said...

Hi Leigh!

I've found my way to your blog and have been reading for about a month now. This post really hit home for me! We are trying to be self sufficient as well, ever so slowly, and so many points you made in this post have been floating around in my head. We get such weird looks and questions from our family members about "why, when you could just buy X"... Because why on earth would I pay for it when I don't have to? And I *enjoy* doing it this way. It's much more fulfilling than being another drone in the check out line. We have so many spoiled brats in our generation (husband and I are mid-20s) who expect everything to be handed to them and then throw a fit when it isn't. I do agree the mentality of "wanting better for our children" really did everyone a disservice in the long wrong.

Loving your blog!

mashelly said...

i read a study somewhere once that large poor families are happier than small wealthier families because instead of havinf things all they have is each other ,they have to work at building relationships.... all that stuff(and I am quilty of spending to much and wanting more too) is only filling the void of the relationships we don't have anymore...excellent post!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Instead of "redistributing the wealth" why don't we "redistribute the work"?
I'm sick and tired of the "entitlement" mentality. For the first time in history, 52% of Americans are on a government check and I don't include retirement. When a country has a population that expects...nay Demands...something for nothing, it stands to reason they'll elect any idiot who promises the same.
As to the kin didn't realize there was a depression. They were hard scrabble poor in the WV Appalachian Mountains...keeping a milk cow, a few hogs, a garden, cutting and selling timber, spinning their own yarn from their own sheep, working on the railroad or in the coal mines.
Dave and I...and now HARD and I resent some putz expecting me to share. I'm perfectly willing to pay someone to help me on the farm but you know what? No one wants to work that hard; they just want the money.
I'm so mad I could spit!

Ngo Family Farm said...

That is so very true! Timely for me, too, as I was just myself writing about "if only," which is a trap I still sometimes find myself in. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

Anonymous said...

What a good post Leigh! Going to do one myself on this subject, thanks to your inspiration.

Hidden Haven Homestead said...

I am born, raised, and still live in the south. Not all of us are of the mind to buy instead of doing for ourselves. I was taught to garden, can, dehydrate, everything possible. Taught what plants in the wild were edible, how to butcher chickens, pigs, beef. Also how to hunt and cure that meat. Its not just a southern thing not wanting to pass this knowledge on to our children. It is all over the United States. But with the economy the way it is I have a feeling more and more people will be going back to the hard work of a simple lifestyle. Love your blog BTW!

Mama Pea said...

I think the "bottom line" here is that our present society is not a happy, content and/or fulfilled one. Nor is it sustainable. We are living superficially without any deep meaning to our lives. We need to reinstate personal responsibility and basic values in our lives. Our leaders and politicians are not going to provide that for us. It's up to each individual to "go backwards" to a better life.

Excellent post, Leigh.

Candy C. said...

What a great post! Thanks! :)

Sue said...

As a kid, I always hated it when my mother referred to me as "frugal", but it has always been in my nature. I wanted for nothing as a child; my parents were well-to-do, and I got most everything I asked for. But it was not in my nature to ask for a lot of things. I saved my allowance.

Thank goodness for that inherent nature! When I got hurt 18 months ago, it was almost 4 months before I got my first check from my disability insurance! I made it through with my savings and a well stocked pantry. I got very creative with finances during that time, but the bills got paid and the animals & I ate. I didn't have to sell anything major. I was able to take 3 major road trips to go to two important weddings and to meet a new sister. I knit and spun from stash. I even managed to buy a new-to-me loom.

It amazed me at the county fairs this year, as we sat spinning in the sheep barn, how many people commented that we were the ones who would make it if the world really went to hell. It's true; the skills we have are invaluable. Money is just money.

bspinner said...

What a great post! When we asked our parents about the depression they both said how lucky they were. Living on farms as children in northern North Dakota they didn't have any of the dust storms much like a lot of the plain states had. And since they were kids as long as they had enough to eat and they were only used to wearing hand me downs anyway. They just ran around being happy farm kids which when you think about is darn nice.

Growing up on a farm myself my mom did her own canning and of course we did have our own cattle for both meat and milk. I left home to early to learn to can but a friend did show me and I did fruits and vegetables until the kids left home and it's only the two of us.

We are lucky enough to own our home but we couldn't do that until a few years ago and we're both 65 so those of you younger don't worry you'll get there. The pick up Bill has he got from his dad who passed away a couple of years ago and I'm hanging on to my van until something manager happens to it and they don't know if I'll replace it. We can do with one vehicle better than payments right?

Leigh said...

Carolyn, appreciate. Well said. That's gonna be my word of the day.

Debbie, thanks!

Denise, I think sometimes it just needs someone leading the way. If "nobody does that" becomes "somebody does that," it can spark others to do the same.

Meg, hi and welcome! You make a very good point about enjoying it. That's something many folks can't conceive of, that this kind of work is enjoyable as well as rewarding. Maybe what's needed in terms of wanting better for our children should be wanting a better work ethic, and a better knowledge base of the things we are struggling to learn.

I'm on my way to return your blog visit. :)

Joyfulhomemaker, I believe it. In the end, I think it's fulfilling relationships that make us happy, not things.

Sandra, didn't mean to get you riled! But I agree with you 100%.

Jaime, it's a constant struggle to stay our of that trap! As others have said, gratitude and appreciation are the best alternatives.

Stephanie, I look forward to reading it!

Peggy, sorry if I sounded like I was writing off all Southerners, certainly not intended. Some things came late to the Southern Appalachians however, and I wonder if that isn't part of it. Where I live now, all farming is done by industry, except for folks who keep cattle, horses, and a few chicken farmers. The cooperative extension service only offers advice on flower gardening and lawn care. Maybe the economy will reawaken the old skills around here too.

Mama Pea, very well said. I love "go backward to a better life." It's true! How to inspire folks on an individual level is the challenge.

Candy, thanks!

Sue, what a great testimony to the wisdom of being frugal! And so true is your statement that it's skills that are invaluable. Money is just money.

Barb, it's so true that in hard times those on farms fair so much better. Having those skills is such a source of security.

Unknown said...

Times are getting tougher and more people are having to learn to make do with what they have. Still, the constant media messages telling people, especially young people, what they should aspire to don't help matters.

Somehow this sense of entitlement has also become intermingled with political correctness - with every child winning a ribbon in the race or your example of every child getting a birthday present. It's no wonder that people in general are so depressed and disgruntled about their adult existence. Modern society seems to indulge the child so that when they're older they won't think twice about accumulating debt.