I grew up as a Jew on the East Coast where keeping up with the Joneses was just the way of life. Yet, the overwhelming tone in my childhood home was there was never enough money. Moving to the Midwest has helped me reevaluate what I truly value. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s important to appreciate a happy medium: It’s nice to have some money, but money cannot buy happiness—or to put it another way, money does not define my worth but it gives me the chance to live a comfortable life.
My East Coast upbringing had me placing too much value on how much money someone has. To this day, I still take notice of the make and model of cars like an uncontrollable mental tic, “Luxury car? They have money.” As a kid, I would often feel like the value of a person was boiled down to their paycheck or bank account.
My dad was always in and out of work and it created a very unsettling feeling in me. When I was younger I thought having money meant you were happy, respected, and worthy (of what exactly?). Then as a teen, I saw everyone’s parents going through nasty divorces (including my own). It didn’t matter how much money someone had then—it turned out that people with a lot of money can be morally bankrupt and miserable.
Indeed, if I won the lottery (a miracle because I don’t play), not much would change in my life. I wouldn’t move because it’s too much hassle. I really love my home and I could afford a bigger house, but to what end? A big new house means more space to fill with unnecessary toys and dust bunnies. I don’t need an extra bedroom to vacuum each week and my oldest daughter prefers sleeping in her twin sisters’ room anyway (so I could actually downsize).
Do I want a house filled with expensive furniture? No, because I will get super frustrated when my kids stain it. Let’s be real, they’ll pee on it because the twins are potty training right now. I don’t need a new car because I really don’t want to think about the logistics of finding a new car to fit three car seats in a row (I’ve tried it, but I am not a minivan mom). I wouldn’t quit my job because I have so much personal value and passion for my work.
Yes, I would probably go on vacation, but we already go on vacation to places I want to go. I do not want to pay down my student loans because I’m in a loan forgiveness program, so I want to keep my income-based repayment plan. Right now, it’s doesn’t matter if my bank account has $1,000 or $100,000,000 surplus dollars, I am happy.
In my daily life, am a bona fide penny-pincher (falling into the negative Jewish stereotype), buying the majority of our groceries from the discount supermarket because I internally cringe at spending more money than absolutely necessary. Moreover, I love the thrill of finding a deal.
But my new Midwestern mentality has helped me quell the urge I had as a child on the East Coast to accumulate a ton of money. I live comfortably, which is a relative term. I am not renting private yachts and jets, but love traveling and taking my family on vacation (which gets expensive with five plane tickets). In other words, I have enough money not to worry about money, and that, if I’m being candid, is a worthy goal. I can’t lie: Money affords me the ability to live a comfortable life
As the matriarch of my own household now, I am thoughtful about how I discuss money with my girls. I emphasize the value of working to earn money and my 5-year0old says, “Mama and daddy go to work to get money to buy food and go on vacation.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the Jewish value of tzedakah (aka charity) in my home. I emphasize this value to my 3 daughters and I learned tzedakah does not have to be straight up money. Tzedakah is my time, talent or treasure. I enjoy feeling personally connected and involved in the cause I am giving to, and giving my time—my most valuable commodity.
I am trying to break the cycle of creating another childhood filled with anxiety around dollar signs, so I try to keep it simple and straightfoward. When we’re out shopping, I explain I don’t buy every toy we see in the store because I didn’t bring “toy money” with me and toys are not on the shopping list.
Now my oldest daughter brings her own money, earned from doing chores, to buy a toy she picks out herself. I can see how carefully she thinks about her selection, and I love seeing the pride on her face while handing over her money to the cashier, and the thrill of getting her very own receipt. You can say this adorable interaction is literally bought with money. So I stand corrected; some intangible things I value can be purchased.