It’s a long-standing Southern tradition (in our family, at least) to get together on Sunday afternoon and catch up on the gossip of the week. Usually, I’m the one who sits there nodding or shaking my head (whichever is most appropriate), occasionally making remarks like, “You don’t say…” or “That’s terrible, wonderful, sad, or exciting…(again, whichever is most appropriate). But not this week. This week, I almost came out of my chair, eyes bulging with disbelief. In fact, I had to ask if I had even heard what I thought I heard.
The husband of a friend of the family recently received his year-end bonus – $20,000. Upon hearing this tidbit, I believe I said something like, “Wow, that’s great. What did they do with it?”
“Well, let’s see,” began the person telling me the story. “He gave it to Betty (his wife). She bought an $800 laptop for their daughter, Andrea, a new iPad for herself, a $500 jacket for him, and oh, yes…she took the girls on a shopping spree at Kohl’s.”
As someone who occasionally shops at Kohl’s, I thought to myself, “Oh, okay. Kohl’s is a reasonable place to shop. They are almost always having a sale. The last time we went there we got 5 pieces of clothing for $32.” I might have even been giving kudos to Betty for being just a little bit frugal. But then, I heard this –
“She spent $1,700 on Andrea. I’m not sure what she spent on Amy.”
“At Kohl’s??” I nearly screeched.
“Yes, at Kohl’s.”
How on Earth does someone spend $1,700 on clothing for one person at Kohl’s? There’s absolutely no way, without being there all day, that you could try on all those clothes to see what fits or even looks good on you. You’d have to be just tossing things in the basket at some point. And where do you put all that stuff when you get home?
Before you think I’m merely taken aback by the rampant consumerism (which I definitely am), let me tell you a little back story.
Bob and Betty are in their 60s. Both still work full-time jobs, not because they want to, but because they have to. They have 2 mortgages, an $800 per month payment on Bob’s “must have” truck, $65,000 in credit card debt, and a Parent PLUS Loan that they recently took out for Andrea. Andrea is 20 years old. Her sister, Amy, is in her mid-forties. A few times a week, my family member, who has known Betty for nearly 40 years, receives a phone call from her always tired and unhappy best friend complaining about her life: Bob works all the time and drinks too much when he isn’t working. Andrea won’t keep a job or stay in school. She thinks the world owes her something. And Amy…well, she just can’t seem to get ahead.
Yet every single time that we say something to Betty about all the things in her life that are crushing her spirit – like working a job she hates to pay for things she doesn’t need – her attitude is one of indifference. Her favorite retorts are “I’m going to die in debt so why should I care now?” and “We work hard, don’t we deserve to live the good life?”
I feel sorry for Betty. She has no idea what the good life really is and most likely, she’s going to be right – she will die in debt.
I’m not telling this story just to rag on Betty and Bob. They are adults and they can choose to live their life however they want. Just as we can too. Rather, I wanted to write about Betty and Bob because their story reminds me of all the many reasons why we choose to live a life of minimalism – freedom, contentment, and gratitude, among them – and sometimes it’s good to have that little reminder.
As my grandpa used to tell me, to know what you want out of life you have to first know what you don’t want. In other words, to define your own values, you have to first identify in others the actions and behaviors that you find unacceptable. For us, that’s pretty much everything in the story of Betty and Bob. If their story makes you cringe a little inside, if it makes you rethink your own relationship with money and debt, or if it simply reaffirms your commitment to minimalism, then I’m glad I decided to share.
PS – If you’re wondering what happened to the rest of the $20,000 bonus – Bob is contemplating spending it on a trip to the Super Bowl while Betty is debating whether elective surgery might be the “one thing” that will make her truly happy this time.
Weekly Progress to Goals Report (week ending 1/21)
- No Spend Days = 3
YTD = 13/200
- Meatless Days = 3
YTD = 10.5/144
- Miles Walked/Hiked = 16.8/0
YTD = 45.2/1,000 and 0/100
- Decluttered Items = 36
YTD = 147/2017
- Side Hustle Income = $24.20
YTD = $62.21/$1,825