Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Wear and Tear

with one comment

Total Black: $94.32
Total Red: $226,478.27

I read further in Mind Over Money this afternoon during down time at the theatre; I worked as Greater again.  Since the authors, Ted and Brad Klontz, are father and son, they benefit from unique insights into their own family’s financial histories and each others.  Something the father wrote reminded me of a refrain my mother repeat often in my youth: wear and tear on the car.

In chapter four, “The Ghosts of Financial Trauma,” the Klontzes discuss how financially-difficult times  can leave lasting impressions on an individual or even an entire family.  Ted Klontz relates that one night, after collapsing into bed from an exhausting day, he muttered to himself, “Well, at least they can’t call me lazy.”  And for some reason he caught himself and actually heard that inner self-talk and wondered where that voice came from.  No one had ever accused him of being lazy and yet he knew he was driven by this compulsive drive to avoid even the appearance of laziness.  His son, a few pages later, explains that growing up he and his siblings saw their father as a workaholic.  So it shocked him to learn that his father struggled with fears of laziness.  Turns out that self-talk stretched hundreds of years into the family’s past.

Over the next few pages the authors take the reader through a financial history of their family, back to the Civil War, and then up through the present.  We learn that tough financial times caused their antebellum family to uproot themselves and head north to Ohio.  And one male ancestor in the Klontz family tree, for an unknown reason, didn’t work.  He was lazy.  And he was held up as an example, and an embarrassment, by which subsequent generations of men in the family were compared.  Fast-forward to over a hundred years later and the warning to not appear lazy was still being passed along through family chatter and interaction.  At that point in the book the authors then segue into socio-economics, culture, and even race to explain how stories we’re told about money—financial messages or money scripts—often stick with us over time and affect how we interact with money and finances.

I was reminded of some of my own family’s stories.  Inner conflicts too.  Laziness wasn’t particularly a strand woven through my family tapestry.  Hard work—or perhaps working a lot—was.  The only memory I recall of any reference to laziness came from my grandmother.  Sitting on her porch one lazy summer evening, I listened to her complain about the amount of money she had loaned her daughters over the years, and also about how lazy my father was.  But my father worked steadily, two jobs for most of my life, even three for a few summers.  So that point didn’t compute in my mind.  But it did leave an impact.  A profound one at that, because I began to resent my father little by little.  Eventually I let that go, but not until well into adulthood once I began to appreciate my blue-collar roots and what exactly it meant.  One message was the value of work.  I’ve noted in prior posts how my mother got on my case at an early age to get a job.  This was after I had picked up a paper route around age ten or eleven.  Growing up we often heard stories about jobs my parents held as children: my father sold fruit from some fruit truck or stand, in addition to any number of odd jobs I can’t now recall; my worked in a sort of general store.  And, of course, draped behind all their stories was the hard work of their fathers, breaking their backs in the coal mines.  So working a lot, if not hard as well, was definitely a message woven into my family’s financial tapestry.  No wonder that even now I’m breaking my proverbial back at two jobs—and regularly seeking out a third—to make ends meet.

Growing up my family was not rich.  We were not poor either though.  I suspect we started off in the lower-middle class and then steadily climbed upward.  My sister and I attended Catholic schooling for kindergarten through twelfth grade.  We had a decent amount of material possessions:  toys like Masters of the Universe figures or Matchbox cars for me while my sister had Barbie dolls and Cabbage Patch Dolls (actually, we both got a Cabbage Patch Doll).  We had other normal middle-class possessions like a television and basic cable.  I can vividly recall the evening my father brought home our first microwave.  But there were a few carryovers from prior generations.  We always had a vegetable garden.  I had heard stories of my grandfather’s garden: how when he died neighbors came from all around to cart away the rich soil he had cultivated.  By my time, however, having a garden was less to supplement family staples than more of a family tradition.  One item, though, was a middle-class staple and seemed a constant cause of strife: the car.

When I was a child, we had one car: a station wagon.  Always the station wagon.  Sometime later, perhaps once my grandparents stopped driving, my mother began using their car.  Sometime after I turned sixteen, my parents bought me a car—a tan, used Chevy sedan that cost around $1,500.  I didn’t even know they were buying it; they just showed up with it one day.  I was happy but also annoyed that I didn’t get to pick out the color.  By then we had four cars in the family: one for my father, my mother, my sister, and me.  The reality of a 1990s suburban family.  Yet despite the bounty of wheels available to us, the constant refrain heard over and over was to watch the wear and tear on the cars.  My mother carried on about wear and tear and how driving the car too much or too long or too far or too fast or too often would wear it down and require fixing: an oil change, tire-rotation, or some other replacement.

But . . . that’s what cars are made for, right?  They’re made to be driven.  And regular use will cause normal wear and tear.  See, there’s another tread to this tapestry: once you’ve bought something expensive, use it as infrequently as possible.  See, both paternal grandfathers were immigrants.  And both maternal grandmothers were first-generation born.  I suppose then my parents were first-and-a-half generation.  In addition, all four of my grandparents struggled through the Great Depression.  And when children of the Great Depression later entered adulthood, many in the post-World War II boom, they made sure that when they made a larger purchase, on a sofa or a car, they did everything possible to ensure it lasted.  Example: as a child I can’t tell you how many relatives’ homes I visited where lampshades were covered in plastic along with sofas and recliners.  For quite a long time, the lampshades in my home growing up never came out of the plastic.  In fact, for the bulk of my childhood, one room—out of the three on the ground floor (the second floor held only bedrooms)—went unused.  There was the kitchen, the living room, and then “the front room,” so-called because it was situated at the front of the house.  That’s where the nice sofas sat, where the monstrous cabinet record player rested, and where we opened presents on Christmas and hunted eggs on Easter, and met guests met when they stopped by at each of those holidays.  Oddly enough, we did not keep the television in that room.  And that layout didn’t change until the “queer eye” in me started blossoming and I started rearranging the furniture—much to my mother’s dismay.  But I digress.

And yet today, those two threads—work a lot / work hard and worrying about wear ‘n tear—still play out with me.  I made sure I bought nice suits when I started my six-figure salary job.  And then worried nearly every time I donned them that I was wearing them down.  And those fears materialized once they started to wear down—and even rip, as so comically relayed in Antics of An Art Salesman.  But suits, especially when worn daily, wear down.

Since that pair ripped, I’ve had a few more wearing and tearing to my other suits.  And instead of worrying, I’ve just taken them to the tailor to be repaired.  And even when the tailor told me recently that there’s only so much they can do—I was about to bust through the seat of another pair—I told them to do their best.  That suit will just have to survive more wearing and tearing until I’m better situated to replace them

One Response

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  1. Congrats on paying down 3k in a week! Sorry I doubted your repayment plans.

    Matt

    March 1, 2010 at 10:11


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