Inside you’ll find part of my story of early marriage and how those lean times made me the parent I am today.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in a new city in a new country with a new baby. We had nowhere to live, no jobs, and knew a grand total of 1 person in the entire state. We had gotten pregnant within our first year of marriage which put a kink in our plans. It left us with fewer options, and gave us another mouth to feed.
Tears pooled in my eyes as I walked down the street in a suburb outside of Sydney.
I went from dollar store to thrift store and back again looking for inexpensive furniture and household supplies. As I walked into these stores I imagined a big sign over my head with red flashing lights that said, “We got nothing.”
I felt humbled. I spoke 3 languages and had both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, but I was driving a 15 year old car and no landlords would approve our application to rent. For the next month we would apply for a dozen or more homes and be turned away by each one. I was so desperate I decided fasting was the only answer.
I would give up Diet Coke until one of us found a flippin’ job.
Note: 20 oz. Diet Cokes were $4.20 in Australia so it was just as well.
Every time we left the house I felt exposed. These people would think I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a job! They would think I didn’t have any skills. But I did have skills! My pride was laid bare before me and my heart felt humiliated at our humbled position.
Sure… we had a healthy family, a friend’s roof over our head, and the time to figure this out. And though we had no assets to our name, we had no debt.
Within a month or two we found a duplex near my husband’s university. He got a night job and I found a job online as a research assistant that paid the bills. Both were part time and it meant we had just barely enough. But we got by.
Recently I read a book called More Than Just Making It where Erin talks about her struggles during a time of financial lack.
The book brought back a lot of memories
Memories of making all our meals from scratch because I couldn’t afford to buy anything packaged or pre-prepared.
Memories of spending $25 on take out and feeling guilty about it for days.
Memories of going to the public library because it was the only way I could read new books.
Those years changed me. They made me who I am today and they affect how I parent. In fact, they make me a better parent. In this day and age it’s hard to raise children who aren’t entitled.You know what makes it easier?
When you remember what it’s like to have little.
Monogrammed towels though…
The other day I went into my daughter’s room and she had taken my fingernail polish (which she knows is off limits without me) and painted her toenails. This wouldn’t be so bad if she hadn’t got the polish on the new flooring and her rug. Oh and two monogrammed towels. One of which was our wedding present and another passed down from her great-grandmother.
Let’s say I was livid and leave it at that.
It would have been easy to just punish her and move on. To yell or kick up a fuss and give her a lecture. Instead, I wanted her to learn the value of money. She can’t replace the sentiment that came with those towels, but she can replace the towels themselves. And the rug. So she worked. She created a list of chores she could do for money to replace and repair the things she’d messed up. And you know what?
The list of chores she made was twice as long as I would have given her.
Money doesn’t grow on trees….
I remember making my firstborn applesauce. I literally peeled apples and cooked them down into a sauce for her puree. I actually think this cost more money than buying applesauce but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I also remember when she had an intolerance to cow’s milk so we switched to goat’s milk but then could no longer buy it at $4.50 a quart. We had to switch to soy or almond milk and even long life milk and I felt a truckload of guilt on my shoulders. I remember filling her little nursery with used baby items and hand me downs. I couldn’t give her “the best” and thought that made me a bad mom.
Now I realize the “best” things aren’t always good for us.
Especially if they come with the burden of debt.
The other day two of my little boys didn’t like the vegetables I’d cooked for them. Never mind they had a plate full of food, it wasn’t the food they wanted. As they were clearing their plates after dinner they walked to the trash can and dumped an entire plate of food in it. Perfectly good food… in the trash can.
This gave me an eye twitch.
Everyone is allowed to share their preferences in a respectful manner, but if anyone says “yucky” or “gross” or “I don’t like this!” with an attitude behind it… well… they go to bed hungry. Sometimes that’s okay.
Things are different now
Now things look a whole lot different than back then. We have more money than month and save a large portion of our income. We have gone through the slog of financial hardship and have made decisions along the way that allowed us to be here now. But I remember vividly seeing $25.00 in the checking account with 7 days until payday.
I remember being shocked when I went into a baby store with my 6 month old because of All The Stuff. I had a crib, infant seat, baby bath, and swaddle. That was it. Seeing all the gear my baby would never have made me feel inadequate and poor.
Now, 4 kids later… I still don’t have any of that stuff. Not because I can’t afford it but because I don’t need it.
“I now know the difference between being poor and being broke. The poor live in poverty, the broke are passing through a season of financial hardship.”
Today I was at the grocery store and felt freedom. I don’t have to look at prices, check the cost per ounce, or add up my cart as I go. But I still buy store brand saltine crackers, y’all. I remember what it’s like to obsess over prices.
As we moved towards the checkout counter my 4-year-old called “Mommy, come look at dis!” I walked over and he pointed out a Blaze piggy bank that cost $9.99. I thought it was high time he had a piggy bank of his own to learn the value of saving money so I gave him a proud smile. “Sure, baby, this costs around $10.00 so when we get home you can help me make a list of the chores you’ll do to earn that $10. Sound good?”
His eyes lit up in excitement and he gave me a huge grin. “Thanks, mommy!!”
He actually thanked me for giving him the opportunity to earn money.
No one is saying being broke is fun. It isn’t. Years ago when money was tight, one verse kept popping up in my head. “Do not despise these small beginnings.” I took that to heart. The lessons I’ve learned in those early days affect how I parent. They affect how I steward our money. They affect our priorities.
Would I like to be struggling again? Of course not.
But I’m glad I went through that period.
I felt entitled and now I feel grateful.
I was envious and now I feel content.
I was cheap and now I am generous.
Where I used to feel guilt and shame we didn’t have all the best things or latest in technology, I now know that isn’t what matters most.
And that is a lesson you only learn when you’ve had to do without.
If you’re in the trenches of financial struggle I cannot recommend the book More Than Just Making It highly enough. It was a great encouragement to me and I saw our family in her family’s struggles. Erin shares her family’s struggles as they prepared for the mission field, then ended up moving back in with her parents.