“Mama? Are We Rich?”


Our “Pretty But Essentially Worthless” chips from Mason Mountain Mine. I keep the “jewelry worthy” stuff in a separate bag!

Just one of the impossible to answer questions that Vivi lobs my way in an average day:  “Mama?  Are we rich?”

I answered, “Well, compared to most of the world, yes.”

“What does that mean?”

“A lot of people in the world struggle just to have something to eat and a safe place to sleep.  Compared to them, we’re rich.  But compared to other people that we know…we’re not rich, just normal.”

“But not compared to anyone, just us?”  Huh.  I had to think a moment.

“I guess so.  Yes.  We always have what we need and we usually get what we want, so I think that makes us rich.  And lucky.”  But if Daddy and I weren’t working, we wouldn’t stay rich for long.  I didn’t tell her that part.

She got me to thinking–“rich” is ONLY a relative term.  It’s always in comparison to some standard.  Of course there are some pretty fair measures.  If you have two commas in your bank account, you’re rich.  If you have more than one house, you’re rich.  If you can work when you feel like it, you’re rich.  But does rich mean safe?  No.  Does rich mean happy?  No.

I’ve already taught Vivi about fool’s gold.  Iron pyrite–it looks like gold but it has no value.  It’s just as pretty and pretty equally useful.  On our trip to Mason Mountain Mine, she was more excited about the calcite and quartz than the rubies and emeralds.  She is saving up her “Athens money” to buy a big pink “diamond” when we go back up there to pick up our jewelry that’s being made by Mr. Tom Johnson.  She has no concept of market value.  She calls American coins “Athens money” as opposed to the Brasilian money that Daddy gathers up to use on his next trip.

G helped her sort through all of her coins yesterday morning.  They separated out the Chuck E Cheese tokens, the Brasilian reals, the Canadian dollars.  He showed her how to stack them according to their percentage of a dollar–dimes, nickels, quarters.  She is just beginning to understand that size isn’t the only thing that hints at value.  Or “goldenness” doesn’t necessarily mean more than “silverness.”

I want Vivi to learn about money from a place of comfort and security.  When I was her age, I remember understanding inflation when Super Bubble went from one penny to two.  Ah.  Same product, twice the price.  I wasn’t much older than she when I realized that we didn’t always have enough money.  I have a lot of anxiety attached to money–I remember the days when we got home from school and the electricity was cut off.  I remember wondering how I was going to get back in to college from one semester to the next.

On the way to Nana and Papa’s house yesterday, I saw this at the gas station:

gas pump

and I realized how long it’s been since I had to watch the pump and make it cut off at five bucks.  We spent more than that on Slurpees yesterday.  Yes, we’re rich.

What sign tells you that you’re rich?  What keeps the money anxiety down?

19 thoughts on ““Mama? Are We Rich?”

  1. Miss K

    When I was a single mom money was tight. I felt like I was always telling my boys “No”. My mom said not to fret, it wouldn’t do them any harm. Now they express gratitude for the smallest of treats and thank me when I say yes to such lofty requests as, “Can we eat at Subway?” Mom was right. Good lessons for all of us. Not sure money anxiety ever leaves entirely. Life is too unpredictable. But you are right, compared to most of the world, the average American is rich beyond comprehension. Thanks for the reminder of all of our blessings.

  2. jamerly

    I have always questioned the definition of rich and living in America we do have a lot of luxuries that others do not, but for some reason I have always felt that I have been missing something and now I know why. It is not because I do not have enough, it is because others have more.

      1. jamerly

        I think the answer to that is nothing. They are going to feel the same way I sometimes feel because someone else will always have more.

  3. Heather Bradley

    I am broke, all of the time. It’s not because I am poor, its because I can afford to pay for two full college tuition’s, books, and fees; …in cash. Being able to give my children not only what they need, but what I want them to have makes me feel both rich and blessed. So, whenever I start to bemoan the fact that my friends have (a nicer house, newer car, family vacation, second home, …fill in the blank) I always remind myself: I am not poor, I can AFFORD the three things that matter most: my kids’ education, paying the bills, and as many books from the bookstore as I want.

  4. Michelle

    THANK YOU !!!! Great lesson for Vivi, and reminder for me, too.

    I grew up just as well off as the kids around me, but there were always the other kids that seemed to have “more”. Somehow, my Mother grounded me. I didn’t really care about the “more” as much when I was young. I’ve led a very lucky life. I don’t always have everything I want – but I have MORE THAN ENOUGH of what I need – and for that I feel very, very rich.

    I remember being a broke college student and pulled off the road trying to find 2 more pennies in my car so I could pay the toll. Or trying to take $5 from the ATM for gas, but the minimum was $10. I keep those in my mind, because, it’s been a very long time since I couldn’t fill my tank, or pay a toll.

    In the last few years, I really have grown a new appreciation for enough. We experienced our own share of this “economic downturn” – and yet, we survive, nay, thrive. HOORAY, that’s what makes me “rich”.

  5. Mother

    How do I keep my money anxiety down, now? I only depend on me and my income to pay my bills. There was a time when I paid 75.00 per month rent on an old farmhouse and 400.00 per month private school tuition. My daughters parleyed that tuition into scholarships to excellent schools. My son and his family enjoy a large portion of the American dream. When my children were still at home, my prayer was that I could stay alive and healthy enough to get them through school ; so that, they would have the tools to make it on their own. My prayers were answered. The last 25 years of my life have been gravy.

  6. Heart To Harp

    I remember when $5.00 would completely fill the gas tank of my Toyota. Rich is getting to have everything I need and a good bit of what I want. Rich is having good friends, and a life filled with joy. I grew up without much money, with neighbors bringing food when times were bad. Now I live on a cash only basis, and often have to remind myself that I have plenty of money, which keeps the anxiety at bay.

      1. Heart To Harp

        Chocolate always helps. My retirement money advisor recently told me I’ll have all the money I’ll need. That was so strange to hear that I had to get her to repeat it, and then say it again. That also helps with the anxiety.

  7. Tara

    The definition of rich has changed drastically since we were little. Then it was money, getting whatever you asked for, and so on. Which was not us. But I never thought we were poor. We always had clean clothes, maybe hand-me-downs, maybe mended, but clean. Our house was clean, our meals were hot, our car ran…..and if it didn’t, Daddy could fix it. I realize now rich, for me, is feeling safe, secure, and loved, and knowing all was okay. Yeah, I wish I still had that sense of security and safety. Now I don’t have to worry about filling up with gas like I did even thirteen years ago, but with all the loss…..it’s just going to take some time to readjust my definition of rich. I’m sure if I don’t do it in a timely fashion, Mama will find a way to make me “get my act together.” She’s always been very resourceful like that. Ha.


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