Dacyczyn Interviews: Laura

I tracked down the Dacyczyn daughters to see how growing up in the Tightwad household impacted them. See Jamie's interviews here and here and Rebecca's interview here. 

Laura is the youngest Dacyczyn daughter.  When I initially wrote her to ask for her participation in the interviews, she sent me this thoughtful response:
Growing up in the Tightwad household certainly impacted me in unique ways. It is interesting to me to hear how others thought I was raised and how many thought my mother’s extreme frugality would influence me growing up. I was very young during the peak of my mother's success and did not learn till I was older what some people thought I 'endured'. I would like people to know what it was really like growing up with frugality and that I was not deprived, malnourished, or unloved. I had an amazing childhood that I would not trade for anything in the world, and I would like people to know that children, even more so than adults, do not require excessive spending to be happy.

I have a very different mindset towards money because of having been raised in a very frugal household. As I entered adulthood, went to college, and eventually got married I learned a lot about how other people (average people I suppose) spend their money. I witnessed a great deal of carelessness and wastefulness with money that I was not accustomed to seeing in a frugal home. However, the most surprising thing I observed in others was that they simply could not comprehend why they had very little money, why they had trouble making ends meet, and the cause and effect relationship of their careless spending. What was so apparent to me, someone who had been raised in a very frugal home, seemed very hard for others to grasp.

Growing up, when did you become aware that your family was different? How did you feel about those differences?
My earliest memory of realizing my family was different was in kindergarten (1996). Our family had been featured on the cover of a magazine and I wanted to bring the magazine in for show and tell, which my mother did not allow. I don’t recall if my mother explained to me why she didn’t want to allow it at the time, but I remember realizing that we were different and that not every family was featured in magazines. It was also an important lesson in modesty that I carried through my life.

As I grew older I became more aware of my mother’s success and that our family lived below our means. I have a memory of a kid on the school bus telling my twin brother and I that our family was poor because we wore hand-me-downs. At the time I found this ironic because I knew that even though this child wore all brand new clothes, his family was not well off. I realized that outward appearances were not an indicator of wealth and learned the idea of living below your means, even if I was too young to know what to call it.

What impact did your frugal childhood have on your adult financial life?
A lot of people have grown up in frugal families, but I grew up in a family that was actively trying to teach others how to live frugally. I grew up around people who argued for and preached frugality. Price books, buying in bulk, and going to yard sales were not novel ideas I learned in adulthood to save money but principles I was raised by. 

I now have a very skeptical approach to money and spending. I find myself wondering if a sale is truly a good value and pulling my cell phone out in the grocery store to calculate the difference in price per unit between two products. I’ve learned to see through fads and advertising gimmicks, and to analyze quality compared to the price of an item. I am also particularly skeptical when it comes to large purchases and would prefer to save my money for a purchase versus buying it on credit.

What are some examples of financial differences or general life choices that you notice between yourself and others your age?
I have noticed that most others my age, early twenties, have an extreme carelessness towards their money and a lack of understanding about their spending. It is frustrating to hear those my age complain about how little money they have as zip up their designer hoodie and play games on their iPad. These people don’t seem to realize that all the non-essential purchases they make are the reason why they are short on money at the end of the month and have trouble paying rent.

College is another area where I see a lot of young people waste money. I know this can be a touchy subject and I’m not going to even begin to touch the debate on whether college is a waste of money or an invaluable, educational experience. From my experience, I have seen many young people who go to college because they are told that is what they should do, but they don’t have real plans or are not dedicated to their schoolwork. So many of these people drop out after a semester or two, or take six years to get a bachelor’s degree because they couldn’t decide what they wanted to do. That’s a lot of extra debt to have to pay back, with in many cases nothing to show for it. This is another example of the inability of many young people to understand the consequences of their financial choices.

There was much hullabaloo during the reign of The Tightwad Gazette that the children (you) were deprived and that this would eventually blow up in your parents’ faces. How would you advise parents attempting to raise children in similar circumstances?
I want to make sure this is clear- we were not deprived in any way, I had a wonderful childhood, and I would not have traded it for anything. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned about the allegations some readers made about the effects my parents lifestyle would have on their children. I have read some people’s claims that the cheap foods our parents fed us would cause us to become malnourished. I grew up eating garden fresh vegetables and made-from-scratch meals instead of junk food. I have frequently seen readers claim that my parent’s approach to money would cause all of us kids to turn into shopaholics who would spend frivolously to fill some emotional void. Or at the very least we would rebel when we were teenagers and come to hate our parents for not buying us the latest fads. 

I’m sure at some point during my teenage years there was some useless thing I wanted my parents to buy for me, but they didn’t, and I’m not a different person because they didn’t buy it for me. Instead I have developed many money saving skills that have allowed me to enjoy a greater degree of financial freedom than most other young adults.

My advice to parents is that children depend less on money for happiness than adults do. It doesn’t matter if the toy costs fifty cents or fifty dollars, they are just going to play with the box it came in anyways. My fondest memories of childhood are not of the toys or clothes I owned, instead they are of the family I spent my time with and the general wonder of being a child. On the flip side, the most negative memories I have of childhood are in no way connected to money.

What do you buy that your parents wouldn’t approve of or that was verboten during childhood?
I go out to eat more often than I think my parents would approve of. I certainly don’t go out as often as most people, but still more than when I was growing up. To get the most out of going to a restaurant I prefer to order items that I don’t know how to make or have never tried. I believe this brings more value to the experience. I also avoid ordering sodas, lemonades, or ice teas in restaurants because the prices for these beverages are grossly inflated. 

A big thank you to Laura!  I hope you have all enjoyed catching up with the Dacyczyn daughters and found their interviews to be as interesting as I did.  


AKM said…
Thank you so much for these interviews! I always wondered about the Dacyczyn children now that they are adults. The girls sound so intelligent, mature, and grounded, which isn't surprising. Amy is such a hero of mine, and I STILL thumb through my copies of all three books and love them.
Debbie said…
Thank you for your stories. Dacyczyn girls have grown up to be mature grounded women. This shows frugality is a lifestyle that works regardless of what is happening in the economy and can allow us to weather any economic storm.
Nikki said…
Thank you for posting these! I loved reading these books and have often wondered how the family is doing. Do you plan to interview the other family members? I'd love to see photos of them too!
Glad you all enjoyed the interviews!

AKM- I still read my copy, too. :)

Nikki- No, this was the extent of my interviews. I didn't want to infringe too much on their privacy so I didn't ask for photos. At the end of the day, I am much more touchy-feely shrink than hard-hitting journalist. ;)
Paula said…
The interviews were first rate! Thank you so much for taking the time to reach out to these lovely young women!

It seems that these women are not only money savvy, but they are well adjusted in terms of the so-called old fashioned virtues of modesty, gratitude, and patience. Kudos to Mr. and Mrs. D for not only their frugal ways which they generously shared with the rest of us, but for raising such well-adjusted children who I am sure are contributing to society in very meaningful ways!
jengod said…
These were all great. Thanks so much for the interviews and the insight. I'm re-reading TWGazette right now and it's fun to have the retrospective view as well.

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