Growing up, we were blessed in so many ways, but we always lived on a very tight budget. Most of our friends were in the same boat, so we didn’t know any difference.
We were very wealthy in the thing that mattered most -- being loved. It wasn’t until I became a little older that I began to notice all the material things money could buy.
I learned early on about layaway. I suppose many in the younger generation have never heard of this concept. During the days before everyone had credit or debit cards and you had no extra cash, you selected what you wanted at a store and paid a little along. The store kept the merchandise until it was completely paid off.
This process taught me to appreciate the value of something and to have patience to wait for the things I wanted. Rarely does one actually understand the worth of something unless a sacrifice has been made. There is a pride that comes along with knowing you have worked hard to achieve something.
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At college I was so envious of the rich students who had their parents’ credit cards and could buy any art supplies they desired. I usually had less than $5 in my pocket and learned quickly how to make do with what that could buy.
I learned back then I had to rely on my imagination in order to complete my class projects, and it took me to wonderful places that having money would have caused me to completely miss.
My projects took a little longer to create because I had to find extraordinary solutions using ordinary things. I had to train my mind to think not only outside the box but under it as well.
It took many years, but one day I stopped wishing I could buy everything that would make it easier for me to create. It was then I started enjoying the process of using my imagination.
During the years, my career has taken me into some very wealthy people’s homes. My mind filled with amazement as I was surrounded by beautiful things. Since I couldn’t afford to buy everything I loved, I challenged myself to create them.
For example, when hand-painted furniture became popular, I couldn’t afford to buy any. Instead, I purchased an inexpensive but similar piece of furniture and painted it myself. It meant so much more to me.
Besides wonderful furnishings, another thing I noticed in wealthy homes was not all people who have everything are happy. Early on, that was a life-changing moment for me. I realized while there is nothing wrong with success and having money, it just doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.
Money can buy lots of things, but happiness isn’t one of them.
A very rich lady from another state seconded this motion for me. On the surface, she appeared to have everything money could buy -- a mansion, a private plane, and all the luxury these afforded. I stood with my mouth wide open when I first visited her house. I saw things I had never seen before.
For one of her birthdays, her husband told her she could gather a group of her friends and fly anywhere she wanted to go on their private jet. And, I do mean anywhere. He was flabbergasted when she chose to come visit us in Macon.
When we got word of her plans, Debra and I quickly scurried around our house trying to figure out ways to impress her. Finally, we realized we could never compete and decided to just be ourselves.
The day was full of fun, food and visiting. As the time for them to fly home drew closer, this lady became visibly saddened. Standing on our front porch, tears came to her eyes as she said goodbye.
“I wish I could just stay here with you all forever,” she said as she gave me a hug. “Your house is so special!”
I was shocked. Why would this lady who had everything want to stay here? Then it hit me; she wasn’t happy and no amount of stuff was going to make her that way.
Later that night before going to sleep, I gave thanks for the way I’d been raised and having to work for each and every thing I owned or created. Because of my upbringing, I had become not only a better person but also a more creative one. In the process, I had learned lessons much more valuable than silver or gold.
My granddaddy used to tell me if you had enough money you could have anything your heart desires. But, over the years, I found out he was wrong. There are just some things money can’t buy!
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email email@example.com; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.