If I was a rich girl

I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination. So why do I feel guilty about having things?

In fact, I feel more than guilty. I feel apologetic. You know how some people like to put on airs? Acting like they have more than they really do? I’m the opposite. I downplay my life and I really started wondering why.

It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi.

Okay. Wait. That wasn’t really me. Just a line from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Jerk.”

Seriously, I did grow up somewhere between lower middle class and middle middle class on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. We had a big house by most people’s standards. But to me, it was just the right size to house my mom, my dad, four kids, 3 dogs, 4 cats, and my grandmother, for a brief period of time.

We had an in-ground swimming pool in our large, wooded backyard. We had a Cadillac. We had a motorhome. We had nice, clean clothes. Feeling sorry for me yet? Not everything is always as it seems.

We had a swimming pool because it was my dad’s dream and we took out a second mortgage to pay for it. A second mortgage that we could never really afford.

Our Cadillac was many, many years old when we bought it used. For us, it was the coolest car because it had white leather seats (or was it vinyl?) and a cool metallic blue color on the outside. Most of the time, our cars were barely running and we often bartered for them, losing family heirlooms along the way.

1976 Cadillac Fleetwood

Not our Cadillac but the closest thing I could find. I know you're jealous.

And that motorhome? It was a 1970-something barely-running breadbox on wheels that we purchased with a small inheritance from my grandmother’s estate. But again, we loved it because it had cool shag green carpeting inside and it was our dream to vacation in one. Two vacations later, broken down on the side of the highway, our beloved Starcraft met its maker.

This was not our motorhome but this picture is the exact same Starcraft that graced our driveway.

My grandmother was heaven sent. She and her charge cards made sure that we always had new clothes for each school year. I know she paid for a lot of other things too but as a child, we never really knew what was going on.

Behind all of these stories was a family of dysfunction. Nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve learned over the years that most people have a dysfunctional family. It’s the new normal, I guess. There were times when my dad was unemployed and we had no money for food. We shopped at the food bank, ate government cheese, and accepted donations from churches. We shopped at thrift stores for our school clothes. We stuffed envelopes for extra money.

Maybe it was these humble, or rather humbling, beginnings that make me feel so self-conscious about my life. I drive a 2009 fully loaded vehicle. We have a beautiful four bedroom home for just the three of us. I wear nice clothes and shoes and we manage to keep up with the latest toys.

So why do I have to mention that my dad works for a car company and helped me get employee pricing? Or that we got a terrific deal on our house and we do all the home improvements ourselves? Or that I never pay full price for anything? (in fact, I always buy good brands off of the clearance rack at outlets and discount stores).

My husband tells me that I should simply say thank you when someone compliments me on something. Instead, I find myself responding to a compliment by talking about the great deal I got and how much I saved. I think about why I am this way. I feel extremely fortunate to have the life that I have. But do I also feel unworthy? Maybe. I’m still figuring this out. One thing I do know is that if all of the “things” disappeared tomorrow, I’d still be happy to have a healthy family that loves me.

P.S. This post was written on my MacBook that was purchased used from a friend for $250 and that my husband fixed up for me. I’m sure it retails for way more than that. In case you were wondering.


  • http://twitter.com/nlj Nathania Johnson

    I think your husband is right about just saying “Thank you.” You don't have to apologize. You're not a criminal – you got those things legitimately.

    But I think you're also right in seeing the disconnect between how people might perceive your stuff and what's actually going on. If you read any of the Millionaire Next Door books by Thomas Stanley, you'll find, though, that many of this country's millionaires are just regular folks – shopping at Target and getting their hair cut at JC Penney or whatever.

    And I must applaud you for learning from your family's mistakes about maxing out everything. You're a changemaker in your family tree! That's awesome!

  • thenextmartha

    Glad to know I'm not the only one who does this. I grew up in a really affluent area. Like grossly so. So anytime it comes up where I grew up I say the area but then always have to add “But not us, you know we were just regular.” Which I guess is mostly true but why do I feel the need to justify myself “down” to a level that I think people feel is approachable? I don't know. The one thing that came out of me growing up in an area like that is oddly enough money/cars/houses/things don't impress me. Tell me you're a great parent, you love your family and love is a priority and you've won me over for life.

  • http://www.comagirl.net/ Coma Girl

    I know exactly how you feel. I get so uncomfortable talking about money (well at least my money) with people. It's hard.

    Yes, they may see that you've got the MacBook, but they don't realize that it is something that is important to you and you may have sacrificed something else to get it.

  • http://followlinus.wordpress.com/ Heather

    Fabulous post, Fadra. We also had a camper. Let's exchanging camping stories one day soon. How about over a hot dog… say… Friday?

  • thegrasshoppa

    I think you are just conscientious through and through and people like us find it challenging to enjoy nice things without feeling caught up in the materialistic world. We don't want to be materialistic—we want to enjoy our smart phones because they contribute to our cause…..but we feel conflicted because when does it become materialistic? We could easily just slip “to the other side.”

    I think it is okay to keep yourself in check—it's easy to get sucked in.

    In the end, the people that really “get” you will understand that your possessions do not define you and your purpose on this earth, and those are the people who will not require the low down on how you acquired your iPad and Mac *wink*wink*

    For the record—I know neither of us would ever slip “to the other side” because when it came down to it I know we both would sell every last thing off our own backs in the name of humankind and kindness.

    Sometimes it's just tough being a responsible, caring adult :)

  • http://www.bestoffates.com Megan (Best of Fates)

    I think lots of people feel the need to justify nice things. But let me tell you, I think you definitely deserve them.

  • http://www.bestoffates.com Megan (Best of Fates)

    p.s.~ Did you change your comments, or did Disqus change? B/c I'd been so happy lately that I didn't need to click on the box and then go through the guest, it'd just been letting me enter my info and hit enter but now there's a strange “post as…” button, which seems even more work than before.

    Not to be whiny, just wondering if it's funky tonight or if it's a change.

  • FadraN

    I changed nothing but I did participate in in #blogchat on Sunday night. Disqus came up and someone mentioned how they had recently made it much easier to comment as a guest. YAY!

  • FadraN

    I do have The Millionaire Next Door and I decided long ago that if I ever became rich enough to call myself a millionaire, I would still bargain shop. Not because I'm cheap (which I am a little bit) but because I just don't think shoes are worth $150.

  • FadraN

    I was hoping to find others that feel that way. I find that I can spin my story in either direction. I think the bottom line is that I don't ever want others to feel bad. On the other hand, I've had people call me “lucky” instead of attributing it to hard work. I guess you can't win.

  • FadraN

    So I guess you really liked it when I called you out for living in “the Hamptons”. I don't mind if other people are rich. It just makes me uncomfortable. I'm all for rich friends :)

  • FadraN

    I once worked for a rich guy who “retired” in his 40's only to come back and try to repeat his success. I wondered why he worked at all. He said he wanted to set a good example for his children. Instead, he became a cutthroat ass who did anything for a buck. Me? I'd “retire” and spend my time volunteering. I think that would set a better example.

  • http://www.comagirl.net/ Coma Girl

    Haha! I don't live in the Hamptons, just near the Hamptons. But remember, I'm moving to Dallas because it's way too expensive to live here!

  • http://www.adventuroo.com Adventuroo

    I'm just like you when someone compliments me! I'm always like “it's was $5 at Old Navy!” or “I got this used!” I need to take your hubby's advice and just say thanks.

    Daniel and I lived in Scottsdale for 5 years and I always had to clarify we were in SOUTH Scottsdale, which is VASTLY different from what people think of when they think of Scottsdale. Well, we did have the ritzy mall nearby but I lived in a 2 bedroom 1000 sq feet house from the 60s.

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  • http://dlc.net Dana Coe

    The Cadillac did indeed have leather seats. That car had the most distinctive interior smell EVER. Not bad; not “great”, just very particular. I also remember the leader on the seats sort of decomposing. Perhaps because the roof leaked, perhaps just being a GM in those years.