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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.

Visit Generational Womanhood again to read the rest of Sarah’s interview!