Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hemorrhaging money...

Also known as "how the marketing bastards of the world are sucking the life out of us"...Catchy title, huh? Oh, how my sarcastic wit attempts to rear its ugly head again...

Well tonight is yet another formal dance at my daughter's high school. When I was in high school (and walked uphill both ways), we had one formal dance every year--prom. Fast forward 17 years and now they have 3--yes, 3--FORMAL dances. This means fancy schmancy dresses, glittery makeup, high heels...the works. The whole idea makes me ill. Whose idea was this? And how in less than 2 decades did we as a society go from spending a little too much money in high school to spending a ridiculously large amount of money in high school? And you KNOW there are a group of parents who shell out the money for a new dress each and every time. This would not be me. I told my daughter flat out that I would not be buying her 3 new satin and sequin dresses every year--times 4 years. My rule is that I will buy one dress per year and one pair of dressy shoes if necessary--but I will not spend over $100 total. Anything more than that and she will have to cover it with her own money. We got super duper lucky when shopping for Homecoming. We found a beautiful yet modest dress that is very versatile and can be worn for various events for only $40. It happens to be the dress that she is wearing tonight as well. I did her hair and make-up myself--there is no way I'm paying for that like some parents do. I'm grateful that she was happy despite my "dress purchasing" rule... I told her that she and her friends should swap dresses with some of the older high schoolers or check second hand stores if they don't want to wear the same dress twice. But tonight she was happy with the dress she wore to homecoming, and that makes me feel very relieved. Hopefully no one will tease her about wearing the same dress twice. High schoolers, debutantes and celebrities are the only people who do that. If I was at an event and saw that someone was wearing the same dress that they had worn to a previous event (and I'd surely be wearing something they'd seen before too), I really wouldn't care...if anything, I'd be glad that they didn't feel the need to drop more cash on something so trivial.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of money...yearbooks are approximately $65, school musical costume fees are $20, gym uniforms are $20, tickets to school functions $5 (each time you go)---and don't let me forget the younger daughter...$40 for the Girl Scout sleep over at the zoo, $20 for the gym uniform, $15 for the Girl Scout lock-in, $7 for the class lunch at the mall food court and $20 for the class ski trip which they happen to do during school hours so that if you choose not to spend the money and send your kid on the trip--you become labeled the bad parent and your kid has to sit in a room at school and watch Disney movies all that day.

Oh! Don't let me forget--school pictures twice a year! When did they start doing pictures twice a year? Shouldn't that be the parents' choice to get their children's picture taken a second time? Don't let me forget to mention that both my daughters are required to purchase and wear school IDs for $5 every year. And they go to public school! We are not talking about private school here...this is strictly public school...

On top of all of the school costs, we have very high medical expenses for both daughters. Please don't think that I'm one of those pill-pushing mothers. I'm not. But my children both have documented psychiatric illnesses that require medication. No, there is no magic, secret, long-forgotten herbal cure. No, it cannot be remedied by ingesting exotic fruits, eliminating white flour and sugar, acupuncture, enemas or aromatherapy. My mother still tries to come up with miracle cures for them. Last time it was rubbing cedar oil on the bottoms of their feet. WTF??? Luckily, I have great insurance which helps enormously. I cannot imagine what would have happened to my children had we not had insurance. Thousands of people live that reality every day and it's sad/scary. However, even with great insurance their medication still costs us approximately $225 per month out of pocket. So you know those drug companies are making money hand over fist, which I find deplorable.

When did having children shift from "necessary to survival (I'm thinking pioneer days here)" to "so expensive you may very well not make it without being severely in debt or be accused of short-changing them"? Did I sleep through that change? I've heard news stories that say this generation of kids will be the first that have a worse life financially than their parents. I hate to say it, but I believe it. If you go in debt trying to give your kids the kind of life you think they deserve--all the while keeping up with the Joneses kids--how could they not go further in debt trying to maintain the life you've set them up for? Stop the madness folks. Just stop it. Get off the merry-go-round. Say "no". It sucks. I hate saying "no" when my kids want to do stuff. But, I can't feed them the lie that keeping up with other peoples' consumerism brings happiness or is ethical. We are staring peak oil and global warming in the face and 3 new sequined dresses per year is just plain wrong. And to quote my beloved Dave Matthews "It's not where but who you're with that really matters." Money does enable people to do some wonderful things. I'd be lying if I were to say otherwise. A new Jaguar, 8 bedroom house, Chanel handbag, diamond necklace, trip to Barbados--yeah, they'd bring some temporary joy...absolutely. However, at the end of the day I need someone intelligent to sit around and laugh with. I need to be around people who won't disown me if I gain 30 lbs. I need people who won't leave me if I get Alzheimers or Parkinson's Disease. And I need to be around people that I love so much that I'll do the same for them. You cannot buy that. You just can't.

And as a parent one of the hardest things I've ever done is try to teach that concept to my children. How do you teach a kid who is being mercilessly teased that one pair of sneakers really is enough? You can't take away their emotional pain. You can't beat the shit out of the little mongrels who are teasing them. I've tried explaining ad nauseum that "wardrobe scorekeeping" is, for the most part, limited to junior high/high school. I've tried to console them by letting them know that after high school--you have a much easier time getting away from the idiots. And at some point you really do realize that life is more important than glittery dresses, Dooney and Burke bags, Jimmy Choo heels and Hard Candy make-up. At some point you muster up the confidence to tell the "wardrobe scorekeepers" that what they are doing is shallow and juvenile. But what does a parent do until that time comes? What does a kid do until that moment arrives? I honestly don't know...I guess you just keep telling them the truth. You do your best to keep hope alive for them.

I received a sign a couple of days ago that made me think I might actually be "winning the war" against the materialistic bastards vying for my child's soul. I got a "Happy-O-Gram" in the mail from my daughter. She sent me a note on her school's stationary with that title. On it, she wrote:

Thanks for helping me be a more positive person. --Love you

From the looks of it, it is something they are doing for an advisory project. But out of all the people she could have written and all the things she could have said--she sent it to me and she wrote about an intangible thing, a trait that she believes I have helped her with. And let me tell you...even if you feel like you are hemorrhaging money...a note like that sure does make you feel just ducky...


Anonymous said...

I love this post. I'm not a parent, but I remember being a junior high/ high school student in the 70's and early 80's and wanting what all the other kids had. My parents didn't have the money to buy us the designer jeans (Jordache, Calvins, etc.) that we wanted. They didn't shell out for a class ring. They made me buy my own prom dress (I put it on layaway months before and went to the store every week to pay my $5 towards the cost of that dress. Does layaway even exist anymore in this day of credit cards?) They made me buy my own year book.

I earned money by helping my dad in his store and then later by working at McDonald's and Drug Fair (drugstore) in the summers and after school. I never got an allowance for simply being alive. And did I get teased by the other kids? Oh, you betcha. One of my sisters is still bitter to this day about the hand-me-downs she had to wear when all the other kids were wearing brand new clothes. And I was mortified by the time my initially too-long cords (with room to grow in) had become high waters.

But did we survive? Yes, we did. But it seems to have two effects. I'm probably one of the least materialistic people around. My sister, on the other hand, is compensating now for all the things she didn't have. Different people. Different personalities. Maybe if my parents had taught us the values that went along with frugality instead of just always saying, "We can't afford it," it would have seemed more like a choice than a hardship. I don't know.

Like I said, I'm not a parent and I don't know what I'd do in your situation. I have a feeling I'd be kind of hard-assed about it. But who knows?

Burbanmom said...

Dude. You have given me total financial cardiac arrest. I hope you are happy. I'm gonna have to figure out which kid to sell so that I can afford to keep the other one.

THREE fancy dances? EVERY YEAR? Sheesh, we got ONE PROM, senior year ONLY. We were poor, but luckily my mom was a pretty good seamstress so we got some gorgeous one-of-a-kind gowns. Unfortunately, as a kid, that's the LAST thing you want! To be DIFFERENT. God forbid.

But, your kids are old enough to use their noodles. And it sounds like they are. If you can, have them read "Affluenza". It makes you positively purchase-nauseous. (my word, but yours for the taking ;-)

Great post, Ducky!

leslie said...

When my son reached high school age, being given a new Trans Am was what parents did. (Think Friday Night Lights, TV)
He actually asked if I would buy him one. When I stopped laughing, I told him he could drive the Volvo. Or take the bus. He proudly drove the Volvo.

just ducky said...

P. Fish--You can give your opinion anytime! Who cares if you aren't a parent? You were a teenager once...and that gives you street cred!

Burb M.--Be very will all happen to you too!

Les--My mind has blocked out the whole kid/driving thing right now or I would lose it completely...I don't want to share my car with my child...that scares the bejeezus out of me!

leslie said...

Just Ducky,
You think driving is bad? Wait 'til you get to tattoos and body piercings :)

Ever wonder why people have grey hair? What could possibly cause that...