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How I and my partner grew up with and without stuff

Emily’s post are our kids fated to live a life of excessive consumerism gave me an idea to talk about how I grew up with stuff and how my partner grew up without stuff.


I didn’t want for anything.


My mom took me shopping for new clothes once every other year or less (usually we’d make a trek to the United States by car, and have a nice little shopping spree), but it wasn’t excessive in the sense that we did not have “BACK TO SCHOOL” shopping sprees every year.

We’d replace things as I needed them or when I asked for them, but I don’t recall being a brat about it and demanding designer anything.

I didn’t even know designer clothes existed.

Actually that was more because I wasn’t cool or popular so I didn’t know there were brands of jeans or things that mattered.

I just wore whatever….!

I even raided my mother’s closet sometimes and wore whatever was there if I liked the colours and patterns.

I just kind of accepted that clothes came and went, and if we went to the United States, I’d probably get a few new things, but it wasn’t a ritual every August to do this trip.


I do remember and have photographic proof of wearing a mix of secondhand clothing — something which thoroughly embarrassed my image-conscious teenage brother who didn’t want his sister going around looking like she was poor.

I also recall my parents buying me jackets 3 sizes too large so I’d grow into them, and as the jacket sleeves became far too short for my growing arms, they just bought me longer gloves to hide the exposed skin.

No kidding!

You would think growing up with secondhand clothing would have made me really hate buying in a thrift store, but I don’t think it made a difference either way.

Ironically, my mother refuses to wear secondhand clothing which is a bit controversial / hypocritical of her!!! She gets this look of disgust on her face when you say “used clothing” to her, even if it’s designer stuff.


My ice skates and rollerblades were purchased from a sporting goods store that sold used items (kids usually grew out of those things quickly), or if I went skiing on a school trip, I’d rent the skis and not show up with my own.

I had 2 bikes bought for me in life — a small one for when I was a kid (brand new), and then a cheap secondhand one as I got older that my dad found for $50.


I had all 3 and even a CD player to boot. I didn’t watch much television except for Arthur, Babar and a lot of Home and Garden TV (even at a young age I was fascinated by design.. anyone remember “Trading Spaces”? Yeah, I loved that show!).

I didn’t listen to the radio much but I used my CD player a lot.

When we got the internet, I was on there a lot more than on any other electronic device in the home.


My mother bought us a piano and I am the only one who actually learned how to play on it (and can still play on it). I also had music lessons on top of learning 2 other instruments because my mom really believed that music helped a child learn faster.


We went to the library a lot, but I also had a lot of books as a child because my mom emphasized reading at an early age.

It became too expensive when I started burning through 30 books a week, and the librarian would always be mystified that I would check out 30 books and actually read all of them.

As a result, I kind of turned into a voracious reader and bookworm, which is evident even to this day.


I went to the movies, I even had money given to me for some (cheaper) school trips and participated a few times in Pizza Day where you got to eat (crappy) pizza and have a delicious chocolate milk along with it.

I didn’t go on ALL the school trips (some were deemed too expensive), but I did go on the few that my mother fought for because she thought it would be a good thing for me.



The only thing I really REALLY wanted and remembered not getting (and bursting into tears about it) was this $100 pink digital organizer that had a calendar, contacts and a to do function. I really. REALLY wanted it.

When I was told it was too expensive as a toy for a kid, I burst into angry, hot little tears.

My brother had to come in and explain to me the economics of buying toys for children that wouldn’t last especially for $100, and after he went through his spiel, I stopped crying and became thoughtful.

It made total sense to me once explained, but I never would have realized it, had someone not explained it to me.

In contrast….


In contrast, my partner grew up with no things, which you would think is the same as “nothing” but the subtle difference is that they clothes and food, but no toys or things deemed unimportant (which was 99% of everything).

Don’t get me wrong, they had a very happy childhood by all accounts. They spent a lot of time together as a family and so on, so it wasn’t as though he’s scarred for life (even though he jokes about it).

It’s not that his parents had no money, it is that they were too scared to spend it, having grown up during the war without food.

They were the extremely frugal, extremely minimalist sort of folk, but didn’t know how to explain that world view to their kids so they simply didn’t bother.

They just didn’t buy anything, and he (and his siblings) just learned to never ask because the answer was always “No”.

All they had were their schoolbooks so they all turned into studying maniacs out of sheer boredom.

They were VERY deprived as children, and I think this extremist nature is not good, just as extreme consumerism is no good either.



If they could get secondhand clothing, they got it. Neighbours would kindly pass on clothing from older children and their parents would make it work.

He remembers getting a coat one year and hating having to wear it because it was just so ugly, but he had no choice being the only kid that fit the coat that year.

Needless to say, everyone saw the way that they lived which made the secondhand clothing donations to his family increase, which for him, intensified the problem!! He knew he wanted a specific pair of jeans for instance to be cool like the other kids but of course, it was only a pipe dream.

In the event that they couldn’t get things secondhand, they’d buy clothes at retail for the kids, but no designer anything!

He grew up with a hatred of secondhand clothing and refuses to wear anything used. He will definitely NOT be in board buying secondhand clothing for the children.


He would dream as a kid of a bike, and told me that once he found a broken bike (no wheels, no seat), and they fashioned a fake bike seat out of it, set it on top of 2 rocks, and balanced on top of it taking turns pedaling as if they were actually riding and flying somewhere on a real bike.

It is actually the funniest and saddest thing I’ve heard in my life, to be honest. I didn’t think it was true until I saw a photo!


They didn’t even know what a TV was. The only thing they had was a radio because their neighbour bought a new one and gave them an old radio.

They loved that radio because it had shows you could lie down and listen to. Even to this day, he loves listening to the radio over watching TV or doing anything else.

If they wanted to watch TV, listen to music or go on the internet they had to go to friends’ houses.


Are you kidding? Instruments cost money!

So do lessons!


Even today he thinks piano lessons are a waste of money, but luckily I can play the piano so I’m going to try and teach our children how to play (if they are interested of course), and as they get older / better / interested in pursuing it, we will sign them up for real lessons.


They went to the library and it was the highlight of their week. Otherwise, all they had were schoolbooks at home. No storybooks.

He reads, but he reads to learn not to enjoy himself. I read books to enjoy myself but not necessarily to study or learn anything, which kind of mystifies / irks him.


They didn’t even know what a movie theater was like inside until they were 16 and managed to get tickets to see a movie. One movie in their whole childhood.

As for school activities, he didn’t go on any because his parents refused to pay for ANY activity or outing in school.

His teachers felt so bad that he was the only child who couldn’t go that they all chipped in and paid for him for school outings so that he wouldn’t miss out and be the only child left behind.

This was also quite a sad thing to hear.


Didn’t exist.

You didn’t even bother asking because it was an automatic “No”.


It means that we will probably be closer to my childhood than his, that’s for sure.

I find that the way I grew up wasn’t wasteful but it wasn’t frugal either, it was kind of in between the two in a good way.


I really do not want to raise our children the way his parents raised his in terms of not giving them a single thing, but  we do follow the principle of what they were trying to teach (that things do not bring you happiness) — I just don’t want to be that extreme and start denying my children school trips for instance.

School trips are not necessarily just about education, they’re also about having a child bond with other children in the class with a shared experience and to have something different to do other than go to school.

It’s very tough to be the only one left out of a whole outing.


Kids don’t really know what they want to do or what they want at a young age, so what we will try to do is have them focus on something they REALLY want to do (playing soccer for instance), and then support that.

However we are not going to let them do multiple things at once like play soccer, and the piano, and go to gym classes and so on.

They are to pick one activity, try it out for a year (a FULL YEAR), and if the don’t like it at the end of the year, they can stop and try another one.

This schizophrenia of having to bombard your children with 5 million activities at once to build their brains and advance their development is a bunch of marketing hype and crap, in my opinion.

I do not want to buy educational toys, motor-development toys or anything like that. It’s just a money pit and I am not convinced it works.



We plan on raising our kids with what we deem to be reasonable purchases (a bike so that we can all bike together as a family), and all the things that they need with a few wants, but not to give in to everything that they want.

Here is roughly what we are going to do:

  • Clothes: His abhorrence of secondhand clothing at all costs means it will all be new, but not designer items
  • Bikes/Sports Equipment: Yes to a bike, and if they want to play a sport (soccer), we will pay for it, whatever he wants as long as he sticks with it for a period before deciding he hates it
  • TV/Radio/CD/Internet: No TV, Yes Radio, No CD (what for? MP3s!), Yes Limited Internet with supervision
  •  Musical Instruments: Yes to the piano (it’s for me too!), and Yes to other instruments if they have an interest
  • Books: The library will be the main source of our books; but if there are some books he really really loves, we may buy it just to have it on hand
  • Movies/School Activities: Maybe movies depending on if it’s with their friends; Yes to all School Activities
  • Other Toys/Wants: Yes, one gift a year on their birthday.

If any of the “fun” stuff interferes with their school, we stop it or slow it down.

School comes first, it’s their ‘job’ as children and we want to emphasize that while also fostering curiousity in other things that have nothing to do with academics. I believe that everything counts.

Heck, I played video games as a child and it formed a lot of who I am, as it turned me into an entrepreneur, I made thousands from virtual millions.

That’s the plan!


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Am my own Sugar Daddy. Am a millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I have 11 side incomes that are on track in 2020 to make me $50K - $75K. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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  1. LaMesha

    Growing up my husband and I were both lower middle class and right now our kids are growing up as middle class (bordering on upper middle class). We are a military family but we live in Italy so our kids travel to places like London, Rome and Paris for spring break and vacations. They play sports, have internet, and probably too many toys and clothes. I think we try to give them everything because we didn’t have it. Going forward, I’d like to work on boosting their bank accounts and giving them good experiences instead of more “things”. Great post.


      Thank you. I myself am trying to focus on experiences and borrowing books and the like rather than buying him anything he wants. With toys, I tell him to say goodbye to the toy because it wants to go back to its Mommy / Daddy and we can see it again the next time we come into the store.

  2. NZ Muse

    We didn’t go to the movies, didn’t go on trips, didn’t buy anything that wasn’t on sale, didn’t celebrate occasions with presents. Secondhand clothes from op shops / church sales often. Never had the latest gadgets.

    I’d like my kids to have a little more than I had growing up, but overall I don’t feel like I missed out on TOO much.


      I think that’s the takeaway. I had a moderate amount of stuff and turned out fine, and he had nothing and turned out fine. I’m aiming for the middle ground here.

  3. Cassie

    Oh wow. The second part made me a little sad not for your partner, but for his parents. War is obviously horrific, and it changes you as a person, but his parents sound like they were severely traumatized even decades after the fact.

    This post was well timed for me, as I just got off the phone with my mother and part of our conversation actually touched on this subject. While my sister and I would call her a hoarder, she’s actually been talking to a psychologist about the issues she has that lead her to holding onto pretty much everything, and she doesn’t actually meet the clinical definition of a hoarder. I know she went through a lot as a child, and she has difficulties getting rid of things as a result. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we did had a lot of stuff growing up. We had a ton of toys as kids, if there was a little bit of money available to put us into activities it was done, and I don’t think I ever missed a school trip. Usually mom was fundraising and volunteering like crazy to make sure we could go. What I didn’t know was that my dad, for his own reasons, refused to let mom buy us second hand clothes. We wore lower priced clothes that were always purchased new, and every year we always had a new back to school outfit (along with new socks, underwear, etc…). As we got older and I became more brand aware (I used to get teased at school for everything, including not having the “right” clothes), the rule was simple: Mom would pay up to $X for a pair of jeans, shirt, etc. and if what I wanted cost more than that I had to pay the difference. I don’t mind that rule.

    As for what we’ll do for our child(ren), this is how I see it going:

    Clothes: Combo of second hand and new. So far much of what we have for our child is new, gifted by family, but I’m sure that will slow down over time. I will probably pick up additional clothes at the thrift stores as I look for clothes for myself. I will also probably do a back to school outfit as well. I expect our child(ren) to play outside during the summer, so come fall some of their clothes will likely need replacing anyway. I know my sister and I were rough on our clothes.

    Bikes/Sports Equipment: They will definitely have a bike, and they will have whatever sport equipment is required to participate in the sport of their choice. I won’t be signing them up for a half dozen different sports though. One sport or activity per time period is enough, so they will have whatever they need to do that.

    TV/Radio/CD/Internet: TV, Radio and Internet within reason. I still expect them to be fully functioning members of the household, so if we’re doing an activity or eating a meal then away it goes. Also, playing outdoors is a priority over these.

    Musical Instruments: If they choose to. I was forced to take piano lessons as a kid, and I hated that it wasn’t my choice to do it. I won’t let them bounce from instrument to instrument though, they will have to prove they really want to do it before I’ll buy or rent one.

    Books: Absolutely. I’ll probably buy sets of the classics for them, and anything beyond that we can get from the library.

    Movies/School Activities: So long as the school isn’t going nuts with the number of activities and outings they plan, they will go to them. Movies are definitely more of a special occasion thing. Those might just happen when aunts and uncles offer to take them.

    Other Toys/Wants: I foresee these coming more from the grandparents than from us. I expect the bigger fight will be telling the grandparents not to give them so many toys than it will be a problem of us buying too many. I might try to kill two birds with one stone and suggest they purchase sports equipment/books/next size up clothes rather than toys.


      1. I really like that rule of paying up to a certain amount & the child covering the rest.

      2. Your notes on each of the items are close to mine. I’ve actually been telling my family members and friends to NOT BUY HIM ANYTHING. If they want to get him something, give money & I’ll put it in his RESP. He will get what he needs when he needs it. He doesn’t want for toys or entertainment… And too much choice overwhelms children.


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