Growing up on powdered milk, and people I’m grateful for

Growing up, I had a pretty good idea that we were poor.  My family of four lived in one bedroom of a 3-bedroom apartment for a time being (the second bedroom housed my aunt/uncle/2 cousins and the third my grandparents), and I grew up on Spam, mac and cheese, and powdered milk.  I don’t recall any negative feelings towards this, mostly because when you’re that little you don’t know any better.  In fact, I thought it was kind of fun since I always had someone to play with (though, being the only girl and not particularly persuasive, it was often along the lines of WWF wrestling).

By contrast, B grew up in a middle (to upper back in the day) class neighborhood, with his own room and in a family of 6.  He was able to play a variety of sports growing up, and probably had more creature comforts than I had.  However, since his dad was the sole provider (though at a very well-paying job) and very frugal, he also grew up on powdered milk.  He didn’t even know what real milk was until he went to a friend’s house and asked what he was pouring out of the jug (which, imagining his naive, freckle-faced 8 year old self asking, I think is completely adorable).

I think about how drastically different our upbringing was in terms of class, culture, and generation (he’s a few years older), but at the same time fairly similar in terms of finances.  I think both of us agree that despite probably being aware of not having what “The Joneses” had, it didn’t really devalue or reduce our quality of life.  I think where we diverge is how we handled money once we were making it on our own.  We both started working around 12-years old (I worked at an at-home daycare and he had a paper route… how things were lax back then!), but while he saved some if his earnings and spent the rest, I just spent all of it.  It was like this throughout high school, college, and as adults.

I do think a part of it was what we learned – over time my mom steadily gained better paying jobs, and though she juggled 3 jobs at one point, she did like going shopping as a form of therapy with all the other stuff she had to deal with.  I don’t blame her, and do admit that I felt retail therapy was an outlet when crappy things happened in my life, as well.  B, on the other hand, comes from a fairly stoic upbringing, and was raised to treat money as not only a means to an end, but an investment in yourself by saving it.  He didn’t really have emotional attachments to money (as you shouldn’t), and though he does like nice toys occasionally, he doesn’t buy it unless he has the means to.

Since his values resonate with a lot of frugality and investment blogs out there, I’m really grateful that he’s by my side to not only be the “package police” while I’m on my shopping abstinence, but to guide me through some finance basics and investment strategies.  And, more importantly, I appreciate that he doesn’t really judge what I’ve done or my past, but rather recognizes that just as we learned how to handle things growing up, that we can also un-learn and re-learn other ways.  I do think part of his motivations is to be a stronger financial unit, so that we don’t have to serve possible offspring powdered milk (unless we’re feeling particularly nostalgic) and be able to give them even more opportunities than we had.

I think that’s what all PF blogs are shooting for, as well, right?  If not for offpsring, then themselves.  So for that, I just want to say how I’m also grateful and value all the PF blogs I’ve had a chance to troll encounter these past few months.  Thank you for writing all the posts I can relate to or learn from, as well as for taking the time to respond and offer feedback to my posts.  It’s definitely opened up my eyes and mind on the varying struggles and accomplishments of people I wouldn’t normally encounter, and has really committed me with this process of wanting to get my finances in check.

In particular (but with no particular order) – thank you Girl Meets Debt, Budget and the Beach, Cash Rebel, Your PF Pro, Michelle’s Finance Journey, Do or Debt, Club Thrifty, Frugal Portland, Making Sense of Cents, Mochi and Macarons, Johnny Moneyseed, The Random Path, Student Debt Survivor.  Y’all are so inspiring and motivating, and it’s been awesome getting to learn about you and your finance strategies.

P.S. I have no shame in admitting I still eat Spam and mac and cheese occasionally as comfort foods.  I have upgraded to mostly soy and almond milk, though, I think I’ve had my fill on those powdered milk lumps exploding in my mouth and inhaling/choking on the powdered particles. 😉

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25 thoughts on “Growing up on powdered milk, and people I’m grateful for

  1. Thanks for sharing this story. I remember my step-sister asking my mother to buy pantene shampoo when she was about 13 and my step-dad almost having a fit “what do you think we’re rich?”. That was one of the first times I remember feeling like maybe we weren’t “middle class” like I thought. We never went without, but in retrospect we were pretty poor (but happy).

  2. I love this post. I just ate mac and cheese last night and remembered how much I used to have as a kid. Thanks for the shout out! It’s so important to keep each other motivated– I am still trying to get myself out of the poor mindset, and be happy with what I have and strive for more. You are doing great with juggling life, career and finances.

    • Thank you for the compliment, as well as for consistently taking the time to offer your kind words. I agree motivating each other can play a huge role in accomplishing getting rid of debt, and it’s been great seeing your debt repayments these past couple of months! 🙂

  3. I never grew up on mac and cheese mostly because my parents didn’t know what it was. I did eat a lot of spam and powdered milk however. We didn’t like the fresh taste of milk when we were older. Now I prefer it, although drinking powdered milk brings back memories.

    We lived a pretty well-cared for middle-class existence but I can’t help but think my parents wasted their money. I wish we had been smarter about money. We were frugal, but then they gambled any savings away.

    • Absolutely! I don’t comment on your investing series because I don’t want to sound like a dummy (hee hee), but it’s been really informative and helped with my learning curve in figuring out investment terminology. So thanks for that!

  4. My wife and I had completely different upbringings, she grew up in a military family, traveling the world, with only one working parent. I lived in a middle-class family, both parents being police officers. Our differences in our upbringing has made us stronger as a team. We weren’t taught about money as kids and I’m actually thankful for that, because we’ve been able to create our financial life firsthand.

    Thank you so much for the shout out. I wasn’t expecting that, and it warms my heart 🙂

    • Of course! I’m so impressed with how quickly you and your wife eliminated your debts and accumulated so much in savings, with in my opinion one of the most challenging and physically demanding jobs out there. You guys are rockstars! 🙂

      • Thank you! It takes a serious amount of will-power and creativeness. Especially considering, most people we work with are drowning in debt. The problem is, they won’t take our advice, so we’ve stopped giving it :/

      • No, I don’t blog. I’ve been thinking about starting though. I’ll send you the link if I do.

        P.S. I’ve been having some success selling junk online. I hope it’s gong well for you, too.

  5. J and I both grew up poor but then as a teenager his mom started to do really well and he got to experience middle class. We had very different spending habits as young adults since he is a natural frugal saver and I was an impulsive shopper. He’s really helped me to change my ways and become serious about paying off my debt. Being a part of this PF community has also helped greatly 🙂

    You already know you’re one of my favorite internet people Anna xo.

    • Aw, you’re one of my favorite peeps, too, girl! It’s so funny because I think we’re living parallel lives since J and B seem to be the same and we’re, eh, recovering. 😉 This PF community is so cool and has really helped in both motivation and education, so I figured I’d give props where props are due!

  6. Thank you for sharing this story (and I’m glad I’m part of your PF community!). I don’t think I’ve ever had powdered milk. We grew up middle class and because my dad was a dentist, we always had what we needed. I don’t remember lavish vacation or stuff like that (and our meals were 70’s midwerstern, ie from a can or frozen), so meals weren’t lavish either. But we always had new clothes and toys. It’s funny how much of our youth is relevant to how we view and spend money in adulthood. I wish I had more of an appreciation for its value (well I do now)! Great post!

    • Thank you for sharing your upbringing. I know what you mean about appreciating its value – even when I did earn the money before, it might as well have been liquid with how easily I just let it slip out of my hands as soon as I got it! I’m definitely appreciating/looking at money in a different way these days, as well.

  7. This is interesting to me, because my mom abhors powdered milk. Growing up, she said they had all sorts of combinations, like half and half powered/real, all powdered, all real, etc. She and her brother HATE the stuff and real milk is important to her. I think we only ever had it in the cupboard as a back up type thing and for the bread maker. That said, I’ve not really been able to have milk for long periods of my life, so I don’t really pay as much attention.
    I think it’s all about perspective, like you’ve said. We grew up solidly middle class, but never viewed ourselves the same way as some others, always being fairly frugal.

    • That sounds similar to us in that we used half powdered/ half real when things started getting better. 🙂 I definitely want to hone more frugality skills so I can use them going forward!

  8. I somehow missed this post! 😦

    We grew up middle class, but when the recession hit in the early 90’s, we really got thrown for a loop. Money was tight and times were hard. I remember eating dinners out of the crock pot that just basically consisted of potatoes, carrots, and some other random thing thrown in, about 5 nights a week, every week. Even after the recession ended, my parents never really recovered. I remember those times like they were yesterday…

    Thanks for the mention, BTW! I think your blog is awesome 🙂

    • I still use the crock pot now! It’s great to really stick in the flavor of otherwise bland food. Thank you for sharing your story and the kind words – your blog rocks, too! 🙂

  9. Pingback: Link Love/Week in Review 3/17/13 | Budget and the Beach

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