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It is such a pleasure to “introduce” Sarah to you-all today! Sarah, you and I both enjoy The Thinking Housewife blog and it was there that both of us responded to a woman who wrote to Laura (of The Thinking Housewife)because her hearts desire was to stay home with her child but because of her school loan debts she felt she had to keep working.

Your reply to her was basically a dissertation of money saving techniques that you have put into practice in order to stay home with your little girl.

Many of the choices you suggested (hanging laundry in your tiny apartment instead of paying for a dryer, doing without a car, selling your nice “career” clothes at a consignment shop etc.) people might find “extreme.”
I recently read that the average income for an American family of four is 45-50,000 a year. Give us a ball park for how your income compared to the nations average; lower, equal, higher?

Our family income is a little lower than the national average.  Additionally we live in a larger city (Chicago) so our economic power is further diminished.  We choose to continue to live here in order to prevent my husband commuting several hours each day to and from work.  In order to move somewhere “more affordable” we would have to move quite far away from his job.  I feel the additional hours away from our family and the additional stress on him are not worth the few extra dollars at the end of the month.  It is more beneficial to have your husband home enough to participate in family life (influencing your child, sharing meals, etc.) so I make sure we live well on what he makes, even if it is in a very expensive area. If we can live well on one income here – anyone can do it!

What sort of preparation did you have for this lifestyle? Were your parents frugal?

We had no preparation for a frugal lifestyle.  On the contrary, we both were very typical spenders for our entire lives until our child was born.  There was no planning for a family, there was little planning for anything in the future.  We just sort of followed the cues and zeitgeist of the prevailing culture.  We both spent a lot of our income on gadgets, vacations, and eating meals out.  I spent a lot of my money on clothing,  meeting friends for meals out, weekly mani/pedi’s, etc.  At that time, I would consider myself good at budgeting if I didn’t put a weeks worth of fun and living expenses on my credit card before I got paid again.  We both assumed that we would always work.  It literally never occurred to us that I wouldn’t go back to work after we started our family.Our parents were careful with money but not what I would consider frugal.  We didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle – but “wants” were always fulfilled in addition to our “needs”.  What I remember most from my childhood is the wonderfully excessive love.  The toys and gadgets were played with briefly, then put on a shelf until they were given away.  My husband’s parents divorced.  My husband had a strong supportive extended family and that support ensured that he and his siblings were never without their “wants” in addition to their “needs”.  He was also greatly loved and well taken care of.  Of course he also remembers the affection of his family more than the material things provided.

The way we figured out how to be frugal was through planning and trial and error.  There are a lot of websites and blogs that have great suggestions, but ultimately we had to  craft our own plan tailored to our circumstances.

Knowing what you do now, what would you have done differently before you even got married or, perhaps, when you were expecting your child?

I could write a book to answer this question!  Briefly, I would have adopted a frugal lifestyle much sooner and used critical thinking when presented with some of life’s bigger financial decisions instead of just “going with the flow”.  I would have saved every penny I could have so we would have started out with a financial cushion.

My biggest “shoulda, woulda, coulda” is that I would not have gone to college.  Yep!  You read that sentence correctly.  If there was a guest service desk where I could return my college “education” for a refund (even with a restocking fee) I would do it.  I didn’t major in nursing or another useful major that would have provided skills I could use the rest of my life.  I amassed thousands of dollars of debt to feed, house, and purchase materials to “educate” myself.  I also worked during my college years – so the cost of my “education” was stratospheric.  This may sound harsh and I am sure you will get a few comments about it but; college is not a magical gateway to more money.  It is a huge expense that lasts for a decade or more.  I didn’t learn any life skills that I wouldn’t have learned without “the college experience”.  Seriously, how hard is it to learn to use a laundry mat?  Or find a small over priced apartment to share with friends?  I didn’t even meet my husband in college.  We met after college when we both had large educational debts.

What I did do in college was miss my family members birthday celebrations, anniversaries, and reunions.  I lost touch with my cousins because we were all so busy studying.  I tolerated jobs and people that I normally would have avoided like the plague.

Another thing I would have done differently is I would not have invested the time, effort, and money in a “career”.  I would have simply worked at a “job”.  I really enjoyed working as an assistant manager for a condominium complex during the week and waiting tables in a family diner on the weekends right after college.  I was comfortable with the skills required and enjoyed the people I worked with.  I could have left the workforce quickly and easily when I became pregnant.  I made enough money to live on my own without roommates or support from family.  With hindsight, I would have kept those jobs instead of striving for the brass ring promotions and continued to share an apartment with friends and saved money.

After years of climbing the corporate ladder I had nothing to show for it except a fancy title on a business card and a lifestyle that was impossible to support if I wanted to stay home and raise my child. I would have had more money in the bank if I had saved and lived frugally in a job that was less prestigious and paid a smaller wage/salary instead of  “investing in myself” and spending money on professional clothes (required), a car (required), various professional licensing fees (required), fees to join professional organizations, professional development classes, networking, etc.

Instead of being mentally challenging and stimulating, my career became an obstacle and stressful.  My husband I have talked about the hypothetical “mulligan” and we both agree that I should have given my two week notice and never looked back the second we found out I was pregnant.

I loved your suggestion to the mother who chooses to live frugally but gets discouraged by the hard work or change in lifestyle. You said, “Go hug your child and you will realize it is all worth it.” Precious words!

Thank you!  Other than the occasional “rough day”, most families will find that their lifestyle improves.  You will have less money but you will have more time and pleasant home.  Your husband will have a place where he can actually relax.  Your children will have a space to feel completely safe.  Hard work at home is not as emotionally draining as hard work at an outside the home job.  A rough day at home is exponentially less brutal than a rough day “at work”.

Has it been humbling to live differently? What sort of reaction  have you experienced from family and friends?

It has been so humbling to live differently, but not just because we have embraced frugal living.  Having a child took me out of a vapid, plastic, shiny, manufactured world filled with fake things of artificial importance.  Having a child made me realize that I really wanted to stay home.  How much we really have compared to most.  How fortunate I am to have a husband who knew I was the best person to raise our daughter and that he wanted me home too!

I think becoming humble is a process that will take my entire life.  However, there are some “eureka” moments.  For example, when I first began shopping at thrift stores for clothing in an effort to reduce our expenses so I could come home, my mindset hadn’t changed much yet.  I saw patterned turtlenecks for my daughter being sold for $1.80 each and I looked through the racks and picked out eight without rips or stains.  I rationalized that the cost of one turtleneck new was about $20 and I was getting eight for less than that!  I was so full of pride – what a deal I found!  I was so puffed up and so nauseatingly pleased with myself, I couldn’t wait to brag about my amazing shopping skills to my husband and get compliments.  Another Mother and her two children were looking through the racks too.  I heard the Mother tell her children that she could only buy two turtlenecks because that was all they could afford.  What a humbling moment.  My daughter didn’t need eight turtlenecks – eight were enough to dress her in a different turtleneck every day of the week with an extra.  She also had other shirts at home.  I originally went there to purchase one for her to wear under a particularly “scratchy” sweater.  I bought one turtleneck.  To think that I even considered buying eight to “save money”!

I often think about that bit of conversation between the other Mother and her children.  It was the first time I have ever heard a parent tell a child in public that they could not afford something.  Usually parents say something along the lines of, “well we can talk about it later”, or, “you can put it on your birthday/Christmas list/wish list”.  We do our children no favors by speaking to them in euphemistic terms.  I make an effort now when my daughter asks for something at a store to simply say, “no we can’t afford it”.  It isn’t I couldn’t find a way to buy the $12 piece of lead laden plastic from China, it is the fact that $12 should go into savings.  It is humbling to realize that it is my calling to teach our child how to budget and delay immediate wants.

My family has been amazingly supportive of our frugal lifestyle.  Other than being extremely worried about what would happen to us if my husband lost his job (I assure them we are working very hard to save) there have been no negative comments.  Many family members have even said very positive things to us.  Most helpfully family members have been fine with our decision to not “do” a ton of presents from the big box store type of Christmas.  It takes the pressure off of them to shop for the extended family and they can focus on their immediate family members.

When there are family invitations to events that exceed our budget, I make an effort to be honest and matter of fact when I decline.  For example, many family members go on vacations together at resort type areas.  We don’t want to pay for a resort type vacation.  When we decline we make sure that we have them over or go to visit at every opportunity.  We emphasize that we love their company we are just not in a position to travel.  When they offer to pay for us we also politely decline.

My husband’s friends didn’t really notice a change in our lifestyle.  They already tended to socialize and participate in activities together that didn’t cost money.  Sadly, most of my friends were not supportive at all…

                                                             ..to be continued…

For more wisdom on making it all come together on one income please read this post by one of my favorite bloggers at Like Mother Like Daughter.