It was 1962 and I was almost 16 the first time I realized there was an "us" and a "them".
I was in high school and there was a group of girls who were the "most popular" girls in the school. Many of these girls were cheerleaders, "most likely to succeed" and homecoming queens! (If the truth be told, I was probably voted "Most Likely To Become a Hooker" but that's another story.)
I had friends, I had boyfriends, but I remember feeling very set apart from this group of girls. "Most Popular" didn't exactly mean they had more friends, but it certainly meant they had more money.
I remember hearing the girls talk about the kind of car they were getting for their birthday. And I clearly remember them bragging about using "Mummy's credit card for a shopping spree". Both of these concepts were beyond glamorous to me!
Our family was not "poor" as the label goes. Mom worked hard to support me and my three younger sisters, and my dad kicked in child support. We always had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and we were probably better dressed than a lot of kids in school. (Mom worked for Koret of California, a sportswear manufacturer, and got all of us fantastic clothing for very little money.)
Still, cars for my 16th birthday and "credit card shopping sprees" were pretty unlikely scenarios in my world. For the first time in my life, I felt jealousy and understood there were "haves" and "have nots".
Until then, I think I had been pretty insulated and I figured everybody was just like us. None of my friends were given cars, and nobody's parents handed them credit cards (if they even had credit cards in those days.)
I got through high school without the car or the credit card that I wished I had. I do remember feeling a little deprived since I was not in the group of girls who drove their own cars, and spent money on shopping sprees! (I know, poor me, huh?)
Years passed and the realities of life came down on me as a single mother with 2 babies and no particular work skills. I worked in menial positions to support my kids. I really didn't have time to feel jealousy or much of anything else for that matter!
About 20 years ago, I invited a woman friend to come over and told her I wanted to check out a sale at a very exclusive shop that was closing in my area. My friend said that sounded like fun and so we went to the sale. I think I got a pair of lined wool trousers. My friend went into a frenzy and spent about $4,000 on clothing. I watched as she tried on item after item, some things that didn't even fit her correctly ("oh, I can get this altered" she said) and piled them on the counter. A very slight twinge of the old green eyed monster paid me a visit.
I had to laugh at myself. I was feeling a spot of envy for a woman who was spending money like it was water on things that she would most likely regret buying. I was in a financial position that I could be foolish too if I chose to.
The fact is, I no longer feel like I'm missing out by not shopping frivolously. I've come to value experiences much more than material objects. I have no hesitation spending money on a trip to Italy, but I balk at buying a lot of "stuff" that catches my eye.
Don't get me wrong, the Prada pumps, and the Gucci bag are still calling my name. But the days of 'shopping sprees' are over for me now, unless I'm taking one of my grandchildren. And that is an experience!