Don’t Mix Up ‘Materialism’ with Being Responsible

Budget note on agenda and pen

Grown up’s budget.  It’s not “a thing” materialistic people do.  It’s what smart people do. 

Recently, a friend of my husband was the subject of a little banter on Facebook. The man served in the military, and was fortunate to get a job with the railroad, here in Texas.  It’s a job that he has to work a lot of long hours for, and it’s definitely not easy.  He also has to work remotely, while his family lives in another city.

Does he miss family time? Yep.  Every day.

Does he regret the sacrifice he’s making to provide for his family?  Nope.

I have nothing but respect for people who think “outside the box” in this precarious economy, to find career opportunities or jobs that are high paying, even if they come at a cost of inconvenience.  You see, down here (unlike Canada) there are fewer social programs and safety nets.  Get cancer and you don’t have health care?  Enjoy living the rest of your life with a $250,000 lien against your credit.  That’s kind of like kissing your future goodbye, right?   Hence the reason we spend almost a thousand dollars a month on insurance coverage (health, dental and life) to make sure that we’re covered.  Ask me what else I’d rather be spending that on, and I’ve has a list as long as my arm.

Here is the part where I have to mince words, to be able to express what I see and understand, versus the arrogance to assume that everyone in life has the same drives and priorities.  I’ll try my best, because “my way” never has to be “your way”.

On Facebook, people criticized this man because he was frequently away from his family.  He had to work Christmas; and he didn’t complain about it.  He wasn’t happy about it of course, but that is a fact of life for many occupations, from doctors to nurses, police, firemen etc. It happens.   This friend has a fabulous attitude and I really respect his “I’ll do whatever I have to do, to meet our family goals, build a financially sound future for my wife and kids, and enjoy the fruits of our work, i.e., vacations”.

Now there are a lot of successful people in Kevin’s family, who have great careers, or who are independently employed in successful businesses.  A guy like this friend makes sense to them.  They get what he is trying to do.  And like me, they respect the fact that he doesn’t stand there and demand a “gold star” for his sacrifices.  He shuts his mouth, stays on course to realize his goals, and isn’t afraid of working hard to get where he and his wife want to be.

I like and can relate, to this kind of person.  Trajectory.  Goals.  Making shit happen (rather than talking about shit you would like to see happen).  Tempus fugit… the time to really rock and roll is 30-50 financially.

I know some people are not wired this way.  I have artistic friends that are as bo-ho as you get.  Wanderlust, traveling, renting perpetually… they have no desire to buy a home.  As long as they have money for bills every month, and enough for a few extras, they are “happy”.  I think that “happy” is suspect to my own fear and anxiety, which is why I’m wired quite the opposite.

Personally, I think it would suck shit to live that kind of relaxed life, only to find out that you’ll spend your senior years in abject poverty.  When you can’t work perhaps.  Then what?  But the people that are most critical of the hardworking driven types, rather than say “hmmm… maybe I’m not being as responsible as I should be with my financial future” like to throw out a label that is a rationale of sorts.

“I’m not materialistic. I put family before “things”.

Great.  So, when your car breaks down and you don’t have the money to pay for it, and you have no transportation to work… will you walk?  Ride a bike?  Or do you kind of need that car?

When your kids get sick and suddenly you are forced to come up with THOUSANDS in co-pays (as we did year one of our marriage when Logan had a health crises and required two surgeries)… are those surgeries materialistic?

When your kids go to college… will you let them drown in student loans, or do everything you can to help them, so that they graduate?  Is that materialistic?

Or perhaps it’s materialistic to want an average sized house and pay off that mortgage asap, so that you can enjoy your senior years NOT living paycheck to paycheck?  Because grand kids are better than puppies, and you’d like to be ready to do stuff with (and for) them too?

Is it materialistic to want money in your savings account, so that you are not victimized… every time something happens to your kid, your car, your house, your pet… your life?   If you are a “grown up” (unless its a true crisis and you really need help because something terrible happened), is it better to run to your parents for money because you have none?  Why aren’t you embarrassed?  Where I come from, you are supposed to have your shit in order AND be prepared to take care of your parents needs as they age.

It’s not materialism.  It’s called being a grown up.  Financially responsible.  Strategic.  Working hard, paying off stuff, and creating the best financial health that you can for your family, because YOU DON’T KNOW what is around the corner.  You DON’T KNOW how many days you have left on this planet.

I assume that any day could be my last, and perhaps that comes from having a brush with cervical cancer.  Everything changed after that, and I got VERY responsible and VERY focused on financial strategy and well being.

Materialism (and I was raised around a lot of it) is putting things before people.   This friend is putting his needs last… but making sure that his family wants for nothing.  He has a plan with his wife, and they are rocking it.  Not afraid to make hard choices and sacrifices to get where they feel they want to be.

Because they are adulting.   That’s what it looks like folks.


Adversity happens. Health problems happen.  Job loss, shitty economy… all sorts of things in life can happen that pull the rug out from under you.  But consider that less than 3% of North Americans (this includes Canadians too) have $1,000 liquid cash in a savings account.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  We’re rebuilding our savings right now, as fast as we can (thanks to almost $1200 of veterinary bills in November, followed by Christmas expenses).   I’ll sleep better when it has $5,000 sitting there.  I’ll feel like we’re ‘pretty safe’ and equipped to handle obstacles that are thrown at us.

In 2017, this house is engaging in another “war on the wallet”.  We have very ambitious financial goals, and plan to be completely debt free in 24 months (except the fancy Jeep I just bought).    To get there, we’ll continue to cook and eat at home (like we do), and do free or cheap fun things like fishing (like we do), and play Xbox and rent RedBox (like we do) to keep entertainment costs in check.

Every once in awhile we’ll go splurge on Sushi or $120 at the Casino, but that is also budgeted.

So when you feel the need to call people like us ‘Materialistic’ please substitute the word for any number of the following:

  • Goal driven

  • Hard working

  • Financially responsible

  • Grown up

  • Good parents


AND FRUGAL!   We don’t blow money!!!  We could… but we don’t.  We live a modest lifestyle we love so that our daily habits feed into our three month, one year, five year and ten year goals.   Every positive decision we make gets us one step closer to what we really want.  Our next house that we’ll retire in.  A college fund for the kids.  A car when they turn 16… tonnes of things that are just around the corner.

No matter how much you make, you SHOULD have those goals.  Set backs happen that are beyond control sometimes… REBOOT.  Really do the best you can, and you will surprise yourself with the amount you can accomplish, when you stay focused on finances.  I can’t explain how much better you sleep with the first $1,000 in the bank.  Then the next one… and the next one.  Suddenly, you are insulated from many of life’s adversities… and the STRESS of living paycheck to paycheck is gone.

I figured that one out awhile ago.

Make a budget.  Stick to it, and by the end of 2017, you’ll have something real to show where you paid yourself first, instead of credit card companies, banks and payday loan companies.   I often wonder how much of the depressed state of mood I see most middle aged people in is circumstantial, but directly related to their lack of financial progress?   You’re treading water… not getting anywhere, so of course you feel demoralized.

But the good news is … that you can fix it.  If you are willing to think, create a strategy and STICK TO IT.  I work the equivalent of two jobs to make shit happen.  I’ve worked this way (two jobs) my whole life, and one day, I won’t have to.

My grandpa told me “all you have done is at the end of the year and what you have to show for it”.    We bought a house and a new Jeep.  We rocked our savings despite adversities beyond our control.   Added increased health coverage, great dental insurance and a life insurance policy for me to our budget. We were happily generous with our family and friends, and entertained.   We enjoyed a great summer of fun.   And we did it on CASH.   We live in a small 2 bedroom 1 bathroom house that carries for $564 (principal + interest + insurance) per month, and I *think* we’ve got the cheapest “rent” in North Texas.   Can we afford renting a bigger house? Yep.  But that wasn’t going to get us financially ahead.

You have to “go small” to “go big” sometimes.

I’m currently saving for a new bathtub, because our tub is probably something you wouldn’t like. Nor would you like sharing one bathroom.  Or working closer to home to save money on transportation and wear and tear.  These are the factors of frugality that we consider as part of realizing our larger goal; one more house, a pool, a hot tub and a guest room for Aunt Kimmy, Diane, or Tracey, Brad and the kids.    Also… I really want chickens.  And possibly a mongoose (there be snakes).  I also like the idea of a nice outdoor fireplace, because I have this thing for marshmallows.

We’re not materialistic.  Nothing we are doing is wrong.   And to be frank, where I come from?  I’m not doing enough, which is something that I struggle with every week.  Getting there faster.  Being smarter with our earnings.

But your defensiveness against a man who is “on the right track” is coming from a deeper understanding that you are not doing what you are supposed to.   But that’s not our business to dictate your life choices or criticize them, particularly people who seem to struggle from chronic unemployment, addiction or other things.    It’s a case of “pot calling the kettle black”… but the kettle is “adulting”, unlike the pot, who can’t seem to fly straight, but is full of excuses about “quality of family life”.

Money in the bank is the best kind of security there is, if you really love your family.  So is being “debt free”… but it doesn’t happen unless you make it happen, despite the fact that people seem to think a lottery, or inheritance or some kind of windfall will change that future for them.  It won’t.  I’ve seen it happen.  Bad habits remain and are only exacerbated by getting your hands on money that you’ve never learned to manage responsibly.

The trickiest part… is that the effort?  It has to come first, before the reward.  And frankly, some people never figure that shit out.    And that makes me so sad because THESE SACRIFICES (like the one our train conductor is making right now), contribute to a financially secure, fun future where he won’t have the stress of worrying about living “paycheck to paycheck”.  He’s making great choices for his family by being a loving, hardworking provider.

He’s on the right path for him.  And personally?  I relate well to people who make the best choices for themselves and their families.  That doesn’t mean being “rich” as the end all be all (I was already ‘rich’ once, and it made me miserable). What it means is being responsible.  Whether you make $26k or you make $150K… it comes down to being responsible so you can have the life you deserve.

Because you deserve a good one.  But life is going to kick your ass if  you don’t learn how to make money work for you.   And that to me, is a tragedy.