Parenting under the best of financial circumstances is hard, let alone when money is tight.
My husband and I gave birth to twins as we were graduating from college and we were broke, in debt, and unemployed. Therefore, the first few years of our parenting journey were not only doubly hard because we were blessed with twins, but also because we had so little money to our name, even after my husband found employment. We struggled to meet minimum payments on credit cards each month and pay for all of our other bills and expenses.
Shortly after we graduated college and had our twins, we moved from Utah to Indiana where we could live with my in-laws for a few months until we could find employment, which we eventually did in Indianapolis. While grateful for a job, it was a low-paying teaching position, and my husband had about a 30 minutes commute in our only large gas-guzzling vehicle that always seemed to need another repair. When we moved into our apartment, we had to rely upon family and friends to furnish much of it, as much of our furniture was sold or left behind in Utah; there was only so much space in the trailer we rented and towed behind our vehicle.
During the second year of teaching at this school, my husband was in a serious car accident that broke his sternum and left him unable to work for about two months, as well as totaled our one and only vehicle.
This meant an even tighter financial situation, especially after we replaced our vehicle and started having to pay medical bills.
Thankfully, the car accident would eventually be the means by which we would free ourselves from our credit card debt and own two vehicles without loans. But, it was a while before the settlement occurred, and after my husband decided to go back to school for a Master’s Degree which left us relying heavily on student loans to live.
It is now more than five years since we welcomed twins into our home, and it wasn’t until this year that our financial situation finally seems solid, as we have savings in the bank and aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, and have financial plans and goals for the future. Money is still tight in many regards as my husband is now earning a PhD and we have two more children. But, we are the best off we’ve been in our whole marriage. And it’s a pretty great feeling.
Many people may find it easy to criticize our family’s reproductive, educational, and vocational choices. But, we have never taken the stance that you wait until life is “perfect” to add to your family, nor should you let finances dictate your life. The good Lord has blessed us and seen us through and we’ve made it by better than many others.
Your financial situation tends to define who you are, though, and the choices you do make. While we didn’t really let finances stop us from expanding our family, it has defined our marriage, ourselves, our future, and our parenting.
How Living Poor Affected Me
Living poor helped me get over myself.
Being poor is a humbling experience. While I grew up in a poorer household, being the adult in that situation is a completely different feeling.
Anger, resentment, and jealousy are often very real and very present. You compare your life to others who are married with two kids and it’s hard not to be jealous when they own a beautifully decorated home, two cars, and their children are well dressed and cared for by relatives living in town as often as needed.
But it was early on that my husband and I realized that living with envy was really only damaging ourselves and our happiness. Our situation wasn’t going to change no matter how much wishing and dreaming we did. Bemoaning the merits of “fairness” wouldn’t suddenly change anything.
Instead, I decided to own up to our situation and stop comparing my home, my family, my life to another’s. How grateful I am that I learned this lesson so early in my motherhood career! It has allowed me to mostly stay aloof of all the Mommy wars and Mommy guilt that seem to plaque so many of my peers.
Living frugally, as our situation demanded, solidified our life of simplicity and better aligned our priorities.
The crafty decor projects and displays my friends would sometimes be found creating didn’t interest me as I thought about the money involved, even when it was only a few dollars. The shelves and rooms full of toys at other people’s homes reminded me how nice it is to not spend hours of my days picking up toys, especially when boxes and ordinary objects around our home really did entertain our children even more.
No, we didn’t want to meet some sort of made-up status quo on what our home needed. Instead, if we had a little extra money in the budget, we wanted to use it as a family, to enjoy something together, or on a date. We realized that experiences and time spent together were much better uses of our money than furnishing or decorating an apartment, having the latest clothes, or getting pampered. Besides, most of our possessions stood a good chance of getting destroyed by our adorable children anyway.
It’s for these reasons that when we did need to make a big purchase, we spent a lot more time shopping around, and figuring out ways to save even more. We even (eventually) learned to pass up things we didn’t really need, even if they were a great bargain. I learned quite a lot about couponing and simple ways to save money during our lean time.
Living poor has really helped me be more sympathetic to others.
I understand what it feels like to be in a large amount of credit card debt. I understand what it feels like to say “No” when invited to an outing because you don’t have money to pay for it. I understand what it’s like to only have one vehicle, and live without a microwave and a dishwasher. I understand what it feels like to be at the mercy of others generosity to see you through a tough patch. I understand because I’ve done it.
But, I’ve also seen how wonderful people can be. It was in our times of trouble that I saw the generosity and good will of others.
In our season of life that was one of receiving, we realized how much we wanted to someday be in the opposite season of giving. So many people opened their homes, their vehicles, their extras, and their arms to us. Even people we did not know. In our recent financial stability, we often look for opportunities to be that helping hand to others, in whatever capacities we can.
Starting off our marriage as poor college students, then poor parents, has been a blessing to us, despite the rocky journey. While parenting itself has redefined my life and my identity, parenting while poor has helped me clear the unnecessary things from my life, prioritize family over objects, grow in love and sympathy for others, and see the bigger picture.
How has your financial situation changed your life as a parent?
Katelyn Fagan is a 20-something wife and homeschooling mom of 4 young kids, including a set of twins. She loves being active, reading books, and being a Christian (Mormon). She writes about raising kids, pinching pennies, and living simply on her blog What’s up Fagans?. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+!
A Mother’s Grief