The last time I asked my sister, “Have I mentioned that we’ve paid off our mortgage?” she snapped, “Have you mentioned it? If you mention it one more time, I may hire an arsonist!”
I guess I should shut up about it. I know many financial advisors advise against it, but I can’t help mentioning it. It makes me feel positively rich. Being raised in a large family in which money was tight gives a person a life-long perspective on what we used to call “well-off,” instead of “hard-up,” which was a more accurate description of our childhood. Dad worked hard and long hours to support us, and Mom worked just as hard keeping the household on a strict budget and the kids safe and out of trouble.
We used to think our childhood neighbors, whom I’ll call the Perkins, were well-off. One clue was that Mrs. Perkins wore a pair of fancy garden gloves when she did yard work. Ooh, to have a pair of gloves just for gardening, we thought. The only gloves at our house were one pair of winter mittens for each person (if you could find them). After years of bare-handed work and play, the skin on our hands thickened and the nerve endings died off, so our hands were nearly impervious to pain. One of Mom’s nicknames was, “Asbestos Hands,” because she could snatch a hot dish from a 350-degree oven with her bare hands.
As further proof of Perkins’ wealth, their freezer always contained a carton of ice cream. Only on special occassions did ice cream find a place in our budget. When it did, the carton never made it to the freezer. It often didn’t even make it into bowls. When we spotted it in the grocery bags coming into the house, five kids grabbed spoons and fell on it like a pack of ravenous carnivores until nothing was left but a sticky piece of cardboard with teeth marks around the edges.
When I look back on the budgetary constraints my parents dealt with to keep us out of serious debt, I have a greater appreciation of those sacrifices. So to me, remembering those childhood days, this is the way I’d define “well-off.”
It means owning gloves and pot-holders, and ice cream in the freezer.
It means trying on new shoes that aren’t fastened together with plastic string.
It means not having to take a bath in water already used by your four brothers and sisters in succession.
It means none of your furniture is made out of cinder blocks and two-by-fours, or cable spools and Contact Paper.
It means not having to roll coins to buy bread and milk.
It means not having the embarrassment of putting a few groceries back on the shelf because you don’t have enough money in your wallet to pay for everything in your cart.
It means having a reliable car and a tank full of gas.
It means you don’t own a single window fan because you have central air.
It means your utilities are not at risk of being shut off.
It means being able to buy facial tissues, napkins, and paper towels, instead of using toilet paper or dishrags for everything.
It means buying shampoo and bar soap, instead of using cheap dish soap for everything.
It means ordering a pizza delivered to your door, and giving the delivery person a fair tip.
It means none of your drinking glasses have pictures of The Flintstones on them and none of the mugs say Martin’s Gas and Lube.
It means being able to afford a pet and the vet bills if he gets sick.
It means eating in restaurants where you don’t have to wait in lines or bus your own table, and the dishes are not paper, the fork is not plastic, and the meal isn’t served in a paper bag.
It means being able to buy in bulk.
It means being able to afford potato chips, cookies, candy, and Porterhouse steaks, even though you can’t eat them because you’re on a low-sodium, low cholesterol, low carb diet.
In the winter it means keeping the house so warm you can stand at the window in your underwear, thumbing your nose at the ice and snow.
Speaking of underwear, being well-off is having enough underwear that you don’t have to wash them out in the sink and wear them again the next day. When I was a teen, I used to dream of the day I could afford to buy an entire set of fancy, nylon, days-of-the-week embroidered underwear. I consider it the height of luxury that I now have a full-sized dresser drawer crammed with dozens of pairs of underwear. Sometimes I change underwear two or three times a day, whether I need to or not, just because I can.
Lastly, being well-off means hiring someone to do things you’re capable of doing yourself, but you don’t have the time or the energy, like cleaning your house, changing the oil in the car, chopping wood, or painting the living room. Some people even hire a lawn service to cut their grass, just like the banks do. I guess the banks still do that. I don’t go to the bank often anymore, because have I mentioned that I’ve paid the mortgage off?
Now that my remaining siblings and I are senior citizens, we have different definitions of “well-off” and “hard up.” Well-off really means being in relatively good health, having good relationships with family and friends, and enough money to cover extras as well as necessities. It doesn’t necessarily mean owning a Rolls Royce and a 30-room mansion. Have I mentioned that I’ve paid off my mortgage?
2 thoughts on “Have I Mentioned that My Mortgage is Paid Off?”
After our first child arrived in 1985, I stayed home for a while and my accountant husband put me on a non-flexible weekly budget. I don’t remember the amount I was allowed to spend at the grocery, so let’s just say $100. I would watch my items roll down the conveyor belt and have the items I needed least in the line-up, just in case. Well, a lot of just in cases happened and I would have to pull items out and say to the cashier I needed to keep the amount under $100. I can remember putting necessary items back and feeling so embarrassed and apologizing. We could afford it but he was an accountant, after all.
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I understand completely.