We never had much money, but there was quite a lengthy a period when we were very poor. It was a difficult experience at the time, but now that I look back on it, I'm grateful for the lessons I learned, which gave me tools to develop the invaluable qualities of creative frugality, contentment with simplicity, making do with what you have and finding ways to get what you really need for free or for less money. I might have more money in the future, but the habits learned during times of poverty will linger – and, I firmly believe, will continue being an important contribution to the economical stability of my future family.
It did take a while, but now it's second nature to me – before I buy something, I always ask myself the following questions: can I borrow it from someone? Can I make it myself? Do I really need it, or can I do without it, using something I already have? Can I buy used? What are the best deals? I've been called a cheapskate; a stingy, boring person who doesn't know how to enjoy life; but I know one thing: my spending habits safely got me through college without debt; I never had to pull nightshifts and strain myself beyond my ability in order to pay my bills.
I remember last year I had the privilege to teach a wonderful, truly special girl from one of the worst neighborhoods in the city where we used to live. She learned from me – I hope! – some math, English and science, but I learned a far more valuable lesson from the cheerfulness, orderliness and dignity of their household, from how well-behaved the children were, how they showed respect to their parents and how the older ones helped take care of their little sister. The apartment was bare, the furniture shabby, the few decorations cheap, but everything was spotless, neat, nicely arranged and well taken care of.
The area they lived in was truly dreadful. I always tried to arrange the time of our lessons so that I could leave while there was still daylight. A few times I had to leave late in the evening and it was creepy. At any given time, even during the day, I ran into someone who either was smoking weed, or looked as though he just did. Sometimes the mother of the family would grab her broomstick and chase them away. Once I came to give a lesson and found out that someone died from an overdose that very morning, right near the entrance to their building. My heart ached especially for the parents – I can imagine how horrible it must be to know your children watch this every day, and not have the possibility to take them away from these horrible surroundings.
But you know what, they were always relaxed. Despite all their hardships, they always smiled and showed hospitality. I don't have the slightest doubt that these children will grow up to be decent, hard-working people. To me, that family was a perfect example of making the best of what you have and firmly standing against the surrounding evils.