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Poverty has lessons for us all, but 'No Spend' reminds us how rich we are 

The reporter's grandfather, Clodomiro de Los Reyes Lopez,

The reporter's grandfather, Clodomiro de Los Reyes Lopez, at work in a Nicaraguan agricultural firm in 1962. Credit: Family photograph

Lately, I feel like I'm Snoop Dogg — "with my mind on my money and my money on my mind." 

Of course, I'm sure he has a lot more to think about, since the balance in the bank accounts of a rap star and a newspaper reporter are different in that his surely ends in many, many zeros and I'm thankful if mine stays at about one or two. 

Another difference is that I'm not "laid back sippin' on gin and juice." Heck ... I'm not sipping on gin and anything. The only thing I'm sipping on is the free hot cocoa in the newsroom. And I'm not laid back at all. Instead, I'm pensive.

These days, I'm thinking about money more than ever before — and that's a lot of time spent thinking about it because I've said, "I'm so sick and tired of thinking about money" on many occasions. But the fact is, the No Spend Challenge has made me come to terms with my financial privilege.

The mere fact of being able to do a No Spend Challenge means that this entire time I've been able to afford making purchases, in many cases, on a daily basis, that were completely outside my family's basic needs.

When my mother's father, my only living grandparent, was a child growing up in Nicaragua, he often didn't have shoes to wear. From his own lips, I've heard the stories of those hard times while sitting around the dinner table so many times I can probably recite his memories word for word. 

His mother, who was a seamstress, became a widow when my grandfather was 2 years old. He was the youngest of five children. He recalls days when some rice and beans, a piece of bread and a glass of milk were the only sustenance he and his siblings had. "And we knew then, we were blessed," he said. 

At age 12, he got his first job working at a movie theater, where he was tasked with holding a large sign that announced the titles being shown that day. Throughout his life, he's had many different jobs, but the one thing that's always remained the same was the motivation behind his hard work — to provide "more" for his family. And he has. He always did.

The fact that I'd submit myself to something like the No Spend Challenge is puzzling to him: "Why would you want to do this? You went to college. You speak English. You are beautiful and bright. You work hard. You make good money. You deserve nice things. What's wrong with that?" 

"Yes, abuelito, I know. Lo quiero, abuelito." 

My father's upbringing also shaped his thoughts about money. When my sisters, who are 11 months apart in age, were born, my father, whose family was not wealthy when he was growing up in Zaragoza, Spain, vehemently told my mother, "I don't ever want you to dress up Gina in Pilar's hand-me-downs."

He went on to explain that when he was a boy, his parents, my Yayo who held two jobs — one as an electrician and another as a janitor at a hospital — and my Yaya, a homemaker who could not work outside the home, could only afford to dress him in his older brother's hand-me-downs.

"I never got to wear any new clothes," he said. "That won't happen to my girls." 

In my own home, my husband, Matt, who grew up in North Carolina, has long forbidden me from buying generic foods at the supermarket. Back when we were dating, he professed his love for Coca-Cola and his disdain for "all those other wannabe Cokes."

"What are you talking about?," I asked, confused. 

"You know, all the 'Dr.Bob's' " he said. "Dr. Who?," I asked, still confused. 

It turns out, there's some no-name cola brand his parents routinely bought at the grocery store called Dr. Bob. Dr. Bob was not Coca-Cola and Matt has never forgotten it. The same thing goes with the bag-o-cereal. Loopty-O's do not Fruit Loops make. 

"And my taste buds have never forgotten it," he said. "So, no thanks. We won't be springing for the cheap stuff any time soon." 

Meanwhile, I'm perfectly content discovering "the cheap stuff", generic food products at stores like Aldi. I find it fun. 

But I never drank Dr. Bob, or ate Loopty-O's, or wore hand-me-downs, or knew what it was like to not have shoes to put on my feet. So yes, being able to do this challenge and knowing that I do have money for extras, because that's all they are — extras — is a luxury, and I'm 100 percent aware of it. 

In response to my last No Spend update, one reader commented: "Well, I actually think you're very lucky if all you have to do is stop having manicures and going out to lunch to have extra money every month. Maybe, I'm alone on this, though." 

She's not, and that is not lost on me. I know now, I am blessed. 

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