We love it, and we hate it. We need it, and we wish we didn’t. It is a necessary medium of exchange and an unfortunate target of vitriol. We’re never supposed to talk about it, and so we live our lives only able to speculate about what kinds of financial management are behind the lives of our neighbors and friends, only able to guess at whether our wages or expenses are fair or how good we really are at budgeting.
I want to be wise with it, but I don’t want to hoard it. I want to live life, but I don’t want to strangle in debt. I want to help others, but I need to help myself and my family as well. I want to grant all my children’s wishes, but I know I can’t let them live pampered childhoods. I know (or suspect) I am better off than many of my friends, yet I seethe inwardly in frustration at trying to make ends meet.
Sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying to save and be frugal. We refinanced our mortgage last year, saving $400 a month in mortgage payments. Six months later, the new mortgage company decided they needed more escrow, and so our mortgage payment shot right back up to nearly what it was.
We get better insulation, line our windows, cover the window A/C in the living room…and then get hit by the coldest artic temperatures in decades, so our energy bill doesn’t budge.
I want my kids to do all the same activities their friends are doing, but the costs add up. We don’t qualify for scholarships, discounts, or assistance generally, so I spend as much as a couple hundred dollars a term for my kids to take only 1 or 2 classes each, while they have friends on financial aid taking 4 or 5 classes apiece, and I can’t explain to my kids why they can’t do that, too. I want my kids to do wrestling, cheer, soccer, art, but even for one activity for one child we could spend $50 a month. Times six and it would be $300. But I hate to say no.
We cut the satellite. We cut the phones. We shop at Goodwill. We (try) to grow food. We cut back on gas. We turn the thermostat down in the winter (as far as we can with cold allergies) and up in the summer. And every year, we end up further underwater, even while doing less eating out, fewer presents for birthdays and holidays, fewer road trips and visits to amusement parks, fewer school books.
I don’t know what the secret to clipping coupons is. When I tried being diligent about clipping coupons, we ended up with a higher grocery budget than we had when I simply worked to plan meals, cut out junk food, and make our own treats. Not to mention it takes 2-4 hours every week to clip and organize and making shopping lists for the darn things! It seems like it is some mystical secret language or ability that I don’t have.
I feel like I have no right to complain, because I know there are others struggling much harder. I know people scavenging food out of dumpsters, unable to pay rent, unable to buy medicine. We used to have much less money, but we seemed to have more to spend. It’s frustrating to feel like we are on this constant downward spiral of standard of living, though, and not be able to figure out why, not be able to pull off the miracles some people seem to do with shopping and eating cheaply and growing food.
And it’s frustrating not to be able to talk about it.