We’re on a budget. Because I stay home with the kids and am not employed and because we live in one of the most expensive areas in the United States, we are on a budget. This budget is fairly restrictive. We hardly ever eat out. I almost never shop. We try to stick to a very specific budget for groceries. Things are tight. And I’m not a big fan. I’m always trying to negotiate with my husband about what we can or cannot buy or do. I’m often grumbling about how money would make things so much easier. I could pay for routine house cleaning. I could have a babysitter now and then. I could not feel so much pressure to use every last bit of food we purchase. There would be some breathing room. Yeah, money is the answer. Money would make life so much more livable. Money would make me happy.
Last night I did go out to dinner with a group of women. And, at first, I was listening to them talk about work and about their lives and I found myself comparing in my mind. I can’t do that. Oh, wow, that sounds fun. We couldn’t afford to do that. And, once again, as many times before, I started to go down that jealousy path toward If Only Land. If Only Land is that idealized place we think we could be in if only we had money or time. But If Only Land is a lonely place to live in your mind. When you live in If Only Land in your mind, the place you actually live starts to look a little more grey and dingy. It starts to reek of dissatisfaction. And, unfortunately, I spend a lot of my time living there. I’ve written about it before.
But last night I stopped in my tracks and took a U Turn. I sat and listened and enjoyed hearing about their lives and their travels and all the fun things they do with their kids. But then I thought about my choice to be home. It was a choice. And sometimes I still make it every day. I choose to not run away. And, while I’d love to pick up some writing jobs, I choose to not be employed. Although, the way the economy is right now I’m not sure how much of a choice that is. And, listening to these women talk about the stress of their jobs and trying to figure out what is next in their careers, I did feel a sense of relief and gratefulness. Sure, being home with these three little people is stinking hard. I sometimes feel like a tightly wound spring and struggle not to snap at everyone. But I don’t have a boss. I don’t have deadlines. I don’t have to be anywhere at a particular time. I usually have time to cook dinner and make crafts with Maya. I get to have impromptu dance parties and where I blast any music I want as loud as I want. Those are things I cherish dearly.
And I’ve started thinking about what I would do differently if we did have more money. Yes, there would be some breathing room, but should we spend money any differently than we do? Do we need to eat out more often? Do I need to buy more clothes? Do I need to be wasteful with food? Anne Lamott says “It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.” Maybe being on a restrictive budget is teaching me some skills for how to live my life when the budget isn’t there anymore. Maybe, instead of thinking “I can’t afford that” I should be thinking “I don’t need that.” It’s sometimes hard to know the difference. It’s so easy to convince myself that I need something. I have lost weight and only have a couple pairs of pants that fit, and they are wearing out. But, do I really need new ones? I’m home most of the time. Do I really need nicer clothes for the rare times I go out? I colored my hair and my roots are coming in, but do I really need professional highlights? That one is easy. No. I don’t. But I could see talking myself into them.
Because we live in a very affluent area, it’s easy to confuse the wants with needs when everyone is living with many of their wants. And sometimes friends say, “You guys won’t fit in that car. You need a bigger one.” Yes, a bigger car would be easier, in some ways. But, you know, we don’t need one. It’s difficult to determine sometimes. How warm do we need to keep the house? How many pairs of pajamas do we actually need for the kids? How important are the passionate wants like musical instruments and books? At what point are you being thrifty, and at what point are you just being cheap? What can we sacrifice to make some of our wants a reality like travelling and entertaining friends?
It’s easy for me to judge people who splurge on different things than I do. It’s easy for me to point at someone else and say, “They’ve got their priorities all wrong!” I’m severely righteously indignant. It’s a weakness. But I justify things to myself all the time. And, during this gift-giving season, I’m particularly weak. I tend to be a person of excess. If I do something, I tend to overdo it. I take on that “throw caution to the wind” attitude and do things with abandon. That can be great when it comes to music and dancing and laughing and singing. But I am learning to find more balance when it comes to food and drink and money. It’s tough though, I want all of them, and I want them bad. I find it terribly difficult to strike that balance. I understand the principle of manifesting what you want – of setting financial goals and working toward them. But at what point is that manifesting just greed?
For now, I’m working on trying to make the budget restrictions my choice. I think I should carry five bucks around with me and see all the ways I could not spend it on purpose. Today I won’t spend it on coffee or disposable diapers or more presents. Today I choose to not eat out. Today I choose to stay home with my kids. Today I'm trying not to be in If Only Land. But, don’t judge me if I waver. I told you before, I’m just learning.