Those teen mall stores make me angry…but it’s not what you’re thinking

They’re highlighting schools in need on the Ellen show. One of them had 100% of their kids on free/reduced lunch. That means every single kid that walked through the door was homeless, poor, or had less than they needed. In a way, that’s good, because then no one could feel bad about their status, but on the other hand, really? Every single kid? Ouch. I looked up the stats. We make nearly double what those families need to in order to qualify (it’s based on the number of people in the household, etc). In fact we’d have to have about 9 people in our household to qualify. Makes you just want to say “shut up you stupid brain” when you start to feel ‘poor’. I do, every now and then, feel poor. I think it’s force of habit, part fear, and just a part of me.

I seem to recall several of my classmates going to the mall nearly every weekend and bragging about how much their clothes cost. I still can’t see the tshirts or hear the names of those stores without getting angry. I was the girl who hid in plain tees and flannel shirts with jeans, because it meant I only had to have one wardrobe all year long. I didn’t take an interest in clothes, because clothes cost money, and I wanted food on the table and my parents to have a bit of relief knowing I didn’t need anything else. My prom dresses cost about $100. I still think that was too much, but I wore a size 1. You don’t find many of those hanging around. It wasn’t until I was working full time that I really bought anything that cost money. Stuff meant to last.

Now we improve our house, have new ‘things’ that we procure on 0% interest if you pay it in time, and I shop for extreme discounts on my kid’s clothes and shop at the ‘oh my God, we would NEVER shop there’ grocery store that was looked on with disdain by my classmates. Aldi. Funnily enough, I know at least 2 families we are close to (you know, we like, have friends now!) shop there. I think it’s incredibly smart. I don’t feel poor when I walk through the doors. I see it as a bargain challenge. I love walking out with a cart full of groceries for $75. I love that we have $75 to spend on groceries now. I recall having around $25 to last a few weeks and just going ‘damn’ how far will this stretch?

But some of those families? They don’t have $75. Some of them can’t pay their water bills, or don’t have a water bill because they are homeless. It makes me feel ashamed. It makes me angry. Most of all, I’m glad we DO have those things. I remember how close we were to ‘going without’. I remember that we had a bumper crop of potatoes one year in the garden, and we ate them every night and felt like kings, because there was plenty. It didn’t matter if it was hotdogs again, because we had cheesy potatoes to go with them. Whoo!

My husband understands. His family fell on hard times, too. He likes to spend. Which is probably why I scrimp so much. Hopefully we balance each other out. Hopefully our kids never have to feel that way, but we raise them to understand what it means to be poor. To not feel like you’re doing without, when so many people have so much. To be generous and feel safe, but not to brag and make others feel bad. Mostly I hope they do better than us, learn from our mistakes, take their education higher, do what makes them happy. And if one day they have gas in their cars but their out of food? I’ll set the table and give them a hug.

But they’re still not getting clothes from ‘those teen mall stores’…


  1. Where I used to work, a lot of the girls got food stamps/welfare/etc. These girls were working 50-60+ hours a week just to get by. They’d brag about how much they received in food stamps. Then they go buy really expensive shoes/jeans/purses. My husband has a really good job that allows me to stay at home. We save up for things and choose to be thrifty. Most of G’s clothes are yard sale/clearance rack/hand-me-downs. I choose to make sacrifices so that hopefully we can send our kids to college. I’d love for him to get a free lunch but I’m proud that we’re able to provide for him.

  2. I grew up in a large family. Mom stayed home and Dad worked so much… We didn’t have central heat or air. If it weren’t for my Grandmother, we wouldn’t have had shoes. She bought us clothes for Christmas and at the start of school. The boys wore hand-me-downs (one of my brothers complained that he’d never had a new shirt – which was a lie since my grandmother always bought us new clothes at least twice a year). We used our fireplace for heat and all the kids went out to rake yards and mow grass or sweep roofs to earn extra money. We had enough, but it wasn’t on the same level as my peers at school. Like you, I didn’t particularly want that stuff and felt it was a bit over the top.

    So I pretty much lived my life the same way and then along comes my stepson, who bought new, expensive sneakers whenever he scuffed his “old” ones. He bought himself whatever he wanted without thought to it’s actual value. I refused to pay for it. His dad wasn’t keen on it either so he had to get a job to pay for his stuff and quickly learned that if you buy that crazy stuff you never have any money.

    These days, he’s a father. He heats his house with his fireplace and rides his bike to get to work so he can save money on gas. We send him home from time to time with leftovers. I like to think he’s learned a thing or two from us over the years.

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