SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Anna Wahlstrom

Elementary Finances

At my elementary school, the demographics of the community were all largely the same. As I looked around the gym at lunch hour, I saw a sea of light skinned children. We all looked the same, for the most part. We all took the same classes and played the same kinds of games. To find any sort of differences, one would have to go more than skin deep.

The younger kids never really thought about family finances before… they’d never had to. Neither did it ever cross their minds that other people were not always in the same financial situation that they were. We all seemed the same. For some kids, all they had to do was ask their parents for whatever it was that they wanted, and they’d have it in a heartbeat. Not all of the kids were always like that. My parents, for example, couldn’t always give me what I wanted. My Dad didn’t always have work, and when he did, a lot of it went to bills. What was left over was spread out between six kids, who were all in school, and all had things that needed to be paid for.

These circumstances made my parents thrifty, and this was made apparent to the nine-year-old me when I began to see the differences in my school supplies and my friends’. Lunchables, for example, were relatively expensive lunches from the grocery store. They resembled TV dinners, only with cartoons on the packaging and plain lunch foods on the inside. The thing that drove up the price had to be the demand for it, and my desire for them had to be driven by the fact that so many other kids had them every day. The food tasted no better than the school lunches did.

So my jealousy drove me to scrounge off of others in an effort to make myself a part of this group. It was something I couldn’t have. I was in the “out” group and I didn’t like that. I always got inquisitive looks. People didn’t understand why I didn’t just bring my own Lunchables. I did too. They asked me (nicely) why I didn’t just bring my own. Well, as my Mom had said, they were too expensive for our budget.

This is the second voice of the story, from their perspective: “I asked the girl with no Lunchable why she didn’t just bring her own. She obviously really liked them. Of course, everybody did. She said that her mom said they were too expensive. Well, I never thought they were. I wouldn’t really know… but everyone’s mom got them. Why couldn’t her mom? Some moms are like that I guess. I mean, they never give you everything you ask for. Lunchables weren’t even that expensive, though. Honestly, the price had never even crossed my mind before she said anything. I mean, kids never have to think about those kinds of things. Her mom said they were too expensive, but I had never had to worry about it… and I never thought anyone else had to either. I guess I was wrong.”

I, Anna, had never realized that I was different from other people. This was not to mention kids from other schools, kids who were even more money-conscientious than I was, or more than my parents were. Some people have to track their money and make choices and say no. Some people have to save. Some people have to go without, which I never had to do. Some people could get what they wanted and not think twice, which I also could never do. Not everyone is like me, I realized.

Around this time, throughout the country, more was being done to acknowledge and help out the lower-income families or individuals. My parents had applied a few years earlier, and I qualified for free preschool, and all of my siblings qualified for free lunches. Around that same year, a national non-profit advocacy group, American Rights at Work, was founded, with the intent on preserving and fighting for various freedoms of the working class. The minimum wage, far outdated at the time, would be raised in five years after this incident, and raised again twice in the two years after that. At the time of the incident, minimum wage was $4.75. No one’s parents at that school, as far as I know, made minimum wage. My dad made more than minimum wage when he did have work, but also had six kids and a stay-at-home-mom to provide for.

There was more being done for the lower-middle to low class all across the board… especially for families. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, as implied by the name, was created to help struggling families. The State Children's Health Insurance Program was also made with the intent of aiding needy families. In fact, when the adults in the program used up all of their potential benefits, uninsured children in these families could still receive aid (until they also reach the limit). So at this time in the grand scheme of things, there was actually an effort being made towards assisting those of a lower social class, including families like mine, and those even worse off.

This incident taught me more about the implications of what it means to have money, and how to use it wisely. It was before I even really had any notion of money that I was able to see these implications. My experiences of watching other students who have no need or desire to handle their money with prudence (this includes the students at my high school), in opposition to the way my parents handle their money, is what has led to the way that I handle my money now.

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