What conjures thoughts of luxury to you? Nice purses? Hand-tailored suits? Expensive scotch?
For me, yes, those are luxurious items, but a much simpler luxury item is… Goldfish. Yeah, the cheese crackers shaped like fish. I still feel a little self-indulgent when I buy them. Realizing that has made me think about how our childhood circumstances continue to affect our thinking as we are older.
Growing up, my mom supported our family of four on a pastor’s salary. She served congregations that were made up of people who were mostly middle and upper-middle class. I don’t know how much she made, and it’s not terribly relevant. We didn’t have money for new books (realizing that I couldn’t get the books I wanted from the Scholastic flyer is a decently strong memory), rarely went out to eat, and did a lot of shopping at Goodwill.
My mom made most of my clothes until we moved to Germany. I didn’t have my first pair of jeans until I was in sixth grade, and those were hand-me-downs from a boy in the church. I loved the clothing she made me; she is a great seamstress, and I was never self-conscious about what I was wearing, though… I do remember a lot of pairs of pink sweatpants. I would get a new dress for Easter, and it was kind of a big deal when she bought me one instead of making it. She stopped making my clothes when we moved, in part because fabric was so much more expensive in Europe.
Our snacks were not fancy — string cheese, homemade cookies (yum) — but she would sometimes buy Goldfish. I loved those things, but they seemed to only come out on special occasions. I felt really high-class when I would get to eat Goldfish, and that has stayed with me into adulthood. (Now that we’re just a couple weeks from Easter, I’ve been thinking about how our plastic Easter eggs were filled with Froot Loops and sugary cereals that were only in our house for those times.)
In spite of not having much disposable income in our daily life (maybe because of it), we had an annual vacation that would take us camping in Yellowstone or driving along the Pacific coast while we lived in the US, and Italy, Spain and Portugal, Crete, Israel, or many other places while we lived in Europe. My mom spent money on experiences rather than stuff while we were growing up, so even though we would take our own snacks and sandwiches to Disneyland, we went to Disneyland most years with her family. We traveled widely in Europe, staying in hostels and not being terribly adventurous in cuisine, following Rick Steves’ guidance and exploring on our own. It was an incredible way to grow up, and I’m happy to have those experiences to remember.
I now have a situation where we have two incomes and no children, in a city with a reasonable cost of living, but I still hesitate before I buy myself name-brand snacks or the leaner beef. And Goldfish, well, those are just special.