Most everyone I know bitches about expenses or claims they “can’t afford” this or that – often baldly and in the face of evidence otherwise. Some I know look at other people’s seemingly more extravagent choices and vociferously point out just how easy said others must have it because, you know, they themselves are just struggling to make it. Recently a friend with a family transport easily twice as expensive as mine readily pointed out that others in her peer group have vehicles newer, better, more status-y. And I feel confident those she speaks of with the high-dollar brand new SUVs can wave their arms at “proof” they themselves don’t have it as easy as so-and-so, or that their car is their only extravagance on an otherwise “tight budget” (actually, I know a few of those moms myself). All of which leaves me and my assy Astrovan that’s half paid off and feeling a bit threadbare wondering if there’s anyone I can relate to at all besides my own husband.
Twice every month when it gets toward the end of the pay period our finances get tight. For me this means a lot of creative thinking about groceries. It means time at home baking bread and going for walks with the children instead of taking the kids to errands where I send something off in the mail, or go buy lightbulbs for the house. It means not going to the HDA function my mother bought me a ticket for tonight, as I’d originally planned to – because I don’t have something appropriate to wear. I mean I have one evening dress that almost fits, but no shoes, no hose, no nice coat, and not even a bra that doesn’t show and show with popped elastic in the band at that (my mom gifted the auction a heretofore unknown Elton Bennett painting, given to my grandparents on their marriage. The painting is kind of a big deal and she anticipates being interviewed so she has been buying up makeup and getting her hair done and dry cleaning her dress and in short gussying up for the event – I call her preparations “going to Whore Island”). This morning I tried to make it happen. I walked into an apparel boutique and saw lots of beautiful things. Then I thought, “I can’t get any of these and know where my food budget is going to come from for the next week.” I left; I wrote my mom a (not-covered) check for the ticket price and asked her to take my father if he’d go (he won’t)*.
Twice a month things get tight. It means when I’m supposed to run off 50 copies of a letter for my child’s preschool (I’m the board secretary) I find myself not able to buy the envelopes, do the printing and postage, and get reimbursed later, whenever. Oh, I guess I could do that – except my larder has no cooking oil, we are out of milk, behind on preschool tuition, late on at least one car payment, can barely make rent, haven’t even touched the debt we owe my parents for their rescue of our family car, and Ralph has needed a haircut for months (yes, I’ve offered him a DIMY). I hope that last sentence at least can illuminate why I’d walk into a clothes shop and just know I couldn’t do it.
I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining what my reality is. I don’t think of the Hogaclan as “poor” because we still have freedom in our lives. We have made deliberate choices and they are hard ones. I read a phrase the other day in the paper: “kid poor”. The author of the letter meant that all the money in the family went to the kids – their care and feeding, mostly. When I read that I knew it was true for Ralph and I. For instance, and largest in our way of thinking, we have an entire lack of a second income. This is not because I don’t want to work or couldn’t find work. This is because of what we want in our family life. We spend our money on the children. We put our kids in a co-op preschool because we wanted a good experience for them and believe in these programs for the betterment of our community. Ralph and I may be out of clothes (he has two pair of boxers and yes, they are washed carefully and regularly) but our children always have coats and raincoats and good shoes because we make it a priority. Food. Food is a huge issue for us. We may have $10 to last through the weekend but $4.39 will be spent on a gallon of organic milk. Every night our table is laden with good food and we sit down together. My children have known nothing but the best, warmest, most loving family life (with a little yelling and whacking from their mom when times get too stressful for her). They thrive and their strength and joy proves the righteousness of our lives even when I sometimes wonder why I’m the only person I know without a credit card or a down payment for a house.
Our family life is rich in so many ways. It’s just money isn’t one of those ways and doesn’t look to be any time soon.
* ETA – he did!