Our family is getting used to a new norm in so many ways. One way that makes itself evident on a nearly daily basis is the fact that money is tight! I grew up without extra and have memories of running out of toilet paper. I hated running out of toilet paper. I also would get new Keds-type shoes at the beginning of the school year. Notice I said, “Keds-type” because they were really from Target or Payless. And after some months my toes would be curled in there desperately needing a new pair, but that would have to wait until money allowed.
We have lived frugally on one income for the kids’ entire lives, but we are always well stocked in the toilet paper department and I will not let them wear shoes that are too small for them even if they love them still. (Bunions!) Things are different now, but we chose “different” and I am aware of that. This isn’t a call for sympathy or anything like that. We sat down with the kids and went over finances with them. Wait, that’s a lie. Actually, Brian sat us all down and went over the budget and finances with us. For the first few weeks we wrote everything expense down. The kids got to visually see the number decrease. And then. Bam! On Sept. 16, Brian said, “Just so you know we have $80 left.” All kinds of ugly was bubbling up inside of me. I don’t like doing hard things like this. I spent years of my childhood being poor. I don’t want to do this again. Other thoughts were, why did we come here? Life was good back home. And lastly, I guess I won’t be getting the bookcase I had my eye on for $40. Deferred gratification sucks.
Miraculously, with the help of my first born probably, we looked at it as a challenge and tried to see if we could make our food last. One day we went to the store and we had $30 left in the bank. I just needed a few essentials that could go a long way. I also had $17 in my wallet. I wasn’t totally paying attention to how much I was spending, which is actually interesting, I wasn’t anxious or nervous or anything when I got to the front. The lady said that my total was $47. I had exactly enough money to buy my groceries!
We have some emergency money, and I knew I could delve into that if I needed to and I was pretty sure I was going to need to. The days kept ticking away without us having to get bread or milk or anything. It became a game and somehow we made it to payday!
The kids were invited to go skating with a friend and they had to use their own money. We found some coins and were all able to enjoy a kiddie cone at the dairy across the street one warm Sunday afternoon after working hard in the yard. The kids have a job on Friday to wash a car and earn $5 each. I’ve taught them Solitaire and Sudoku and our evenings are now spent playing these games. For the first time in their life, we aren’t able to treat them in ways that cost money and yet all of their needs are met.
Tatum asked me the other night, “What was our budget in California? I feel like we could get whatever we wanted.” I would have never thought that they felt that way. Honestly, we went to great restaurants, but only on kids-eat-free nights or during happy hour. We found cool stuff to do, but usually we only went if there was a special or a free day. I only took them to the movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when they played for $5. I let them buy useless junk if we were at a garage sale and it cost me a few coins. I knew I was making the most of our money, but they could only see the extravagant life they were living. And I guess that was the point. I wanted them to feel like they weren’t lacking anything, while still living frugally. I cringe now as I just wrote that. I don’t know if that is healthy or not, but it’s the truth.
You may be wondering why I am sharing this. Why I am letting you in on a conversation about my finances? Because by the grace of God it only took me a few days to feel the blessings in these growing pains. It has been SO good for the kids to see that everything costs money and that there isn’t an endless supply. I would have never chosen to teach them this way, but hey here it is! Brian and I are both missing our drinks, both alcoholic and caffeinated. I think that going out for a drink became an easy date, cheaper than a meal, especially when we were here last year. So many great cafes! But the drinks are a definite non-necessity and it is where we feel it the most, especially if the day is cold and gloomy, and I wish I could be sitting in a cafe or if the kids have been especially difficult and I want to end the day with glass of wine. Wow I literally just sighed as I wrote that. This is not for forever, dear self. The second gift that has come from this, empathy! I am feeling for those who are living in poverty and who are living paycheck to paycheck. We want to live within our means, and right now that technically means we are below the poverty line. Luckily, we know that if an emergency occurred, we could pull money out of savings. And in other good news, I can start subbing this week! I pray that we can be wise with our money even as our monthly income increases.
The hardest goodbye for the kids was their Boston Terrier brother, Frankie. They also had to re-home their guinea pigs and tortoise. So, with the move we promised them they could get bunnies, something they have always wanted. Another gift that our budget has brought into our lives is the gift of ingenuity. As soon as we got here, they were ready for bunnies, but it was another case of deferred gratification and a lot of ingenuity. We got all the bunny books out at the library and researched rabbits. Piper designed a hutch based on what she read they needed. And with the scrap wood we had in our backyard and other random stuff we found on the property, they built (with the help of their dad) a hutch that is pretty awesome that only cost them some nails. Two days ago, after weeks of waiting for these particular bunnies to be big enough, they got their bunnies! I may have not bought a new hutch if we were on our old “budget”. I may have looked on Craigslist or Marketplace or something. But to see them make this hutch out of nothing was pretty cool and they are pretty proud of it too. I mean it looks like a shanty town hutch. The wood is mismatched and whatnot, but it is cozy and roomy for our two new furry friends. Okay, scroll down for some seriously cute bunny pics. Piper’s is Cali (short for California and Tatum’s is Cottontail.
So, how do I end this? Embrace challenges. Maybe God is trying to teach you something. If you’re like me your initial reaction is anger and I turn into a grump, but don’t stay grumpy, look for an opportunity to see how the challenge can be used to refine you.