Thursday, May 31, 2007

Money

Thank you internets! I've gotten some cool suggestions for the stairway. Once I cull the suggestions to my three favorites, I'll let Craig choose. I'm nice like that. And I'll post pictures once we're done. If I'm clever I'll remember to do "before" and "after" pictures.

These four-day weeks taunt me. When the kids were little, I worked part-time, and it was great. I was gone just enough to get that much-needed break from small hands and mouths and voices and diapers and being touched out. I got to engage in conversation with adults, and I got to enjoy the feeling of being good at my job (and being recognized for it).

Our family's economic reality, however, meant that once the children were big enough, I needed to work full-time. Many people in my generation are not doing as well as their parents, and the cold, hard truth is that we probably never will. My friend Anthony sent an article to me yesterday...pages of statistics and facts and analysis that gives substance to my thoughts and concerns.

I'm not going to dance around it. Six or so years ago, Craig and I were drowning, financially. I will rest most of the responsibility for that squarely on my own shoulders, as I was in charge of the finances and I didn't do my job well. However, a moment of clarity (no, I don't remember the moment at all) changed how I was dealing (or not dealing) with the money, and things got better.

Last Friday I made the final payment on a signature loan we took out in that era. I'm horrified to think of the interest we paid on that loan. But it's paid off, six months early, because I got very, very serious about our finances a couple of years ago. To say that I feel lighter is a huge understatement. Making that payment every month reminded me of a period in my life marked by a lot of fear. Fear that the mountain of debt would swallow me.

Improvements notwithstanding, I'm not saying that we're all living happily ever after. Yes, we have retirement savings to which I contribute at a fairly aggressive rate, and we're putting away money for the kids' education (though not as aggressively as I'd like). Our credit is very good, thanks to my obsessive bill-paying (and a few letters to creditors asking for some mercy in their reporting). But we still don't have much of a cushion; our income and our expenses are nearly identical, which doesn't leave room for savings. And I'm not sure that I'm willing or able to make the lifestyle changes to save more. We're already frugal. We don't drive fancy cars or wear fancy clothes, and we don't eat out much. I even walk to work! We both work more than one job.

So what's the deal?

It's our career choices. We both could have chosen more lucrative careers. But we didn't, for good and not-so-good reasons. Part of it is geography. We wanted to remain in Memphis. Part of it is the kids. We didn't want them to be in day care, and we think it's important for them to come home from school and have a parent there. Part of it is circumstance. Hiring freezes have kept Craig from getting a tenure-track position. Part of it is education. I majored in art; he majored in psychology and communications/film. And that takes us back to geography.

There's more, though. There's a mindset. There's ambition. And neither of us has a lot of ambition, at least not in regards to career. Because any career that would bring in the type of income that would change our tax bracket would also change our lifestyle. It would mean less family time, more stress, more responsibility. It would mean aftercare for the kids on school days, and worry every summer about what they're going to do while we're at work.

And I sometimes wonder if we're winning the battle but losing the war. If we sacrificed some family time now, if we were willing to put up with more job stress now, would we have more time to spend with our grandchildren, unencumbered by stress about money? Are we limiting our children's futures by not having enough money to send them to private colleges? Will they resent not getting cars for their sixteenth birthdays?

Perhaps, though, they'll learn from us. They'll learn that life is the result of choices. And even if you think, in retrospect, that the choices you made were not the best, you have the opportunity, every day, to make the best of your circumstances.

We have a good life. We own a house: it's big enough for us, though modest. We have good health insurance. We have never gone to bed hungry. We pay our bills and give to our church. And most of the time, it feels like enough.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am always proud to recall that on my 16th birthday my present was a bicycle - a used one.

I would be suprised if your kids want cars of thier own. If they do, I certainly would be suprised if you forked over the money for them, even if you could afford it. Besides, you and Craig are modelling walking and biking to places of interest. Gas prices are only going to get worse.

And as far as college is concerned, if you maintian a modest income, your kids will be more likely to qualify for financial aid, right?

uuMomma said...

Sheesh, Kaleigh: it feels like we are living parallel lives. I didn't work for 5 years; then only part-time positions (three at once at one time) and we had a similar drowning episode. Things are looking up, here, and, yet, I never felt the desire for "all that." Enough. That's what I want from life: Enough.

alan said...

I think you're doing the right thing. Yes, you stress about money, but that doesn't change when you have more of it. You're enjoying your life. That's what matters. We watched dad make too many sacrifices for his job, and we suffered some of the consequences of it, as well. Maybe they didn't intend it this way, but dad's sacrifice for the good of the family, and our family's sacrifices for the good of his career taught me that what matters most is me, not the job, or the paycheck. As long as I've got enough for the bills, and maybe some toys, I'm happy, and I don't want the stress, or the loss of leisure time that goes with a "career" job