Wednesday, June 11, 2008

People smile and tell me I'm the lucky one
And we've only just begun
Think I'm gonna have a son

My grandmother on my dad's side always hated Danny's Song. I remember riding in her old car, Betina, and hearing the music flow from the radio as the Florida heat radiated from the blue leather car seats. I'd just started to sing along when she abruptly changed the station.

"Even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with you, honey!" she scoffed. "That's ridiculous."

My 12-year old self thought it was pretty romantic. Hey, I lived half my life in the fantasy world of Little House on the Prairie. Who needs money when you can burn hay for heat and sew your own petticoats?

But my nana always liked money, and desired it, and spent much of her life trying to get it (usually by marriage). She never really succeeded and I guess she didn't see any way to be happy otherwise.

I decided pretty early on that I didn't want to be like that.

When I was 16 my dad helped me buy a small car. Every two weeks, when I received my pay for my after-school job, I was to give him a portion as payment. I often gave him more than we'd agreed upon, because (and I quote), "What else am I going to do with the money?"

(they tried to ship me back to Mars, but the rocket ship cost much more than my car.)

When I was in college getting my degree in social work, I was shocked to find out that so many of my classmates' parents were opposed to their field of study. Not enough prestige, not enough money.

"My parents just don't want for me to struggle all my life," one student said.

I was amazed. My parents had never said one word against my choice. Actually, I thought they were proud of it. I knew they'd have said something if they were concerned, because my dad did speak up when, as a freshman, I toyed with the idea of majoring in English.

"But what will you do with that?" he asked. He wasn't confrontational, he was just.... wondering.

I mulled it over and realized that I had no clue what I would do with a degree in English. So I switched to psychology for a while, and eventually settled on social work. And years later, I settled again on librarianship.

When I married Mike, who was also a social worker, money still didn't enter my mind. Money was important, obviously, in the sense that we needed to eat and pay rent and adopt a dog (the dog was a priority for me, natch). I knew we wouldn't have fat paychecks and big bonuses each year, but I wasn't used to having lots of fancy things and so I didn't miss them.

Last year, when I got pregnant, we sat down and went over every bill and expense to see if we could afford for me to work part-time after the baby was born. We carefully added and subtracted, multiplied and divided, then held our breath and hit total.

It looked like we could do it.

Since then, we all know what's happened. Gas prices are skyrocketing. The grocery bill seems to grow every week, even with careful going-over. The health insurance premiums are going up, again. The house values have gone down, again. And when the economy is this bad, the raises we can expect are miniscule.

In other words, our paychecks are not keeping up with the rising cost of living. Pretty soon we'll be cutting one of those paychecks in half, and adding the amazing expense of part-time daycare.

Which is still not the end of the world. We've already made a list of things we will cut. Cell phones, cable TV, and my gym membership are already on the chopping block. I've been cutting Mike's hair for a few months now, and the dog will soon be getting home grooming, too. At least we have an emergency fund and zero credit card debt. And at least we love what we do, even if it doesn't pay a lot.

I'm trying to look at it as an adventure. Being able to stay home part-time is worth whatever sacrifices we have to make, but we've never lived so close to the edge before. I am holding my belly and craning my neck, and I can just about see the side of the cliff.

Tell me everything's gonna be alright. I don't want to care about money, but it's looking like I have to.

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Anonymous DevilsAdvocate said...

Awww. Everything can work out. Just read, re-read, and sing that song line your nana was so dismissive of.

Gas - it is what it is. But gasoline is actually not a giant, crushing expense when it's all totaled up - I have a 50-mile roundtrip to work and even at today's prices my yearly commute gasoline will be in the $1500 neighborhood, as opposed to the $800 it was three or four years ago.

And house value only matters if it suddenly has to be sold - if you can choose when to sell, you can wait until it's favorable to you. I think of house values as a false indicator of personal wealth - there's no need to worry about this one.

You're definitely ahead of the average American with zero credit-card debt. Good for you!

Everything's going to be all right. The second you see your son he'll make you forget about worrying about anything else.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Kay said...

Ohhhh, Liz. I can so relate to this. I'm not pregnant, but I'm about to go off and drop a lot of money on a big life change.

You and Mike can do this. My parents did it for many years, and I think we have a stronger family because of it. Your son will know the true value of a dollar, which is more than I can say of many of the spoiled playmates I grew up with in Yuppieville. He will also know what it's like to have a loving family -- and he won't notice the sacrifice (much). I didn't.

You are WAY ahead of the game because you and Mike have no credit card debt. I work in finance, and believe me, you could be so much worse off right now.

And if it makes you feel better, this is just an economic phase. I don't think we'll ever get back to the days of growth! growth! growth!, but the economy won't be down and out forever. Things will get better slowly and incrementally.

My best friend said something to me last night that really resonanted with me. She said, "If you truly believe that you're doing the right thing, then you're doing the right thing."

Don't doubt it.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that summer is always the worst time of year for the economy!

1:54 PM  
Blogger lacochran said...

Nobody *wants* to care about money. The only way not to care about it is to have it.

3:44 PM  
Blogger His suzy said...

Liz, if worse comes to really, really worse, you can always move up here with me! At least your health care will be paid for, and the AB economy is rocking right now because of the oil sands.

Just consider it your very, very last resort. Because then you'd have to put up with the insane winters. lol

6:03 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

DA- Thank you! I am singing right now. And re: the gas- you're right, that in and of itself is not a dealbreaker, but that increase plus every other increase does make an impact.

Kay- thanks. It's true... my parents didn't have lots of extra money and I don't remember noticing (much). :)

lacochran- thanks. I partially disagree, though. I know people with tons of money who still care very much about how much they have... maybe not in terms of paying their bills, but in terms of their social station and how they appear to others. I don't want it to be the focus of my life, is all I'm saying.

Suzy- LOL! I'm not sure I can hack Canadian winters. Thanks for the offer, but it gets dire, maybe I'll check with my parents in Florida first. I'm better with heat than I am with cold!

8:06 AM  
Blogger Caro said...

You sound like you have a really good grip on your finances.

No credit card debt is such a rare thing nowadays.

Everything will be better than fine. :-)

Hey, I made homemade laundry detergent and it was cheap. Let me know if you want the link.

8:16 PM  
Blogger kj said...

it's all going to be fine, liz. i know so....


10:16 PM  
Anonymous Frema said...

I never aimed to have a job where I would rake in fat bonuses and huge pay raises, but I am extremely lucky in that my company is skyrocketing in terms of growth and revenue, and employees now get quarterly bonuses as well as a handsome year-end bonus. Me, a communications director! Never in a million years did I think I'd be in this position. But now that I am, I don't know what I would do without that money. That money will pay my ob/gyn and hospital bills. A retirement account for Luke. A bigger family car. A college fund for our kids. I will never make six digits a year, but I can make enough money that Luke should never HAVE to back to work (though he eventually will) and we can still do some great savings, and my schedule is normal, so I will always be home in time for dinner. I am so very lucky, and I know it and thank God for it.

That was quite the ramble! What I really wanted to say is that I'm so glad you and Mike can make your part-time plan work. That is awesome.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

Caro- if you have a recipe you like, email it to me. I've got one but I've never tried it before.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Bearette24 said...

She made ice cream too!

11:02 AM  
Blogger BabelBabe said...

you can make it work. it sounds like you are on the right track, and everyone is right - no credit card debt is huge. and i am sending those baby clothes this weekend : )

12:38 PM  

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