The news is bad enough with depressing reports of violence and war, but the current economic concerns are not just stories that happen to other people—it’s a reality that’s impacting all Americans, including you. Decisions in Congress (or lack there of) are affecting your paycheck, your bank account, and your family’s future. This Fiscal Cliff situation could mean an upwards of $2,000 in additional taxes for each family, and a deeper recession. I don’t know about you, but I cannot spare an extra dime, let alone two-thousand dollars. Even though we don’t talk about it with our friends, and it’s a social faux pas to discuss incomes, mortgage payments, or the amount you have in savings, I think it’s safe to say that everyone’s stretched thin and most are feeling there’s not enough money to successfully get through life without going into debt. At least, that’s how I feel right now. So what are we supposed to do?
“Who is FICA and why is he getting all my money?” ~Rachel Green
I haven’t posted on this blog recently because I’ve been feeling like a fraud. When I created Below the Fork I set a certain positive tone and goal for content, and I feel like I can’t live up to that at the moment. In the beginning I was genuinely feeling like I could have it all—be a stay-at-home mom for part of the week, and a massage therapist the other half. Some people told me I was crazy, or were perhaps secretly rooting for me to fail, but I budgeted, I made Excel sheets, I calculated anticipated income, significantly slashed our bills, and kept a positive, idealistic attitude that no matter what, this was going to work out. And I also hoped to inspire a few others to challenge the expectations placed on us by society that we need to live 40+ hours a week in a cubical. Now, I’m feeling defeated and angry those nay-sayers are dangerously close to being proven correct.
Is My American Dream Impossible?
Without fueling the tiresome debate if being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom is better, I think it is fair to say that moms in general are confused on how they can best serve their family. We know it’s important to be a constant presence, support, and teacher to our children and help build a positive foundation so they grow up to be productive members of society. But we also know it’s crucial they have a roof over their head, food on the table, clothes on their backs, and the same opportunities (if not more) that we had growing up. I grew up with a stay-at-home mom, and all my friends’ moms also stayed home. In fact, I will honestly admit that there are still times to this day, where I am surprised when I learn a woman in her 50s or 60s went to a 4-year college and not a secretarial or 2-year nursing program. (Isn’t that awful? I feel sheepish even admitting that, but it’s true.) My mom didn’t intentionally shelter me from career women and working moms, that’s just sort of how it played out in our small town in New Hampshire. My mom now points out that back then there weren’t as many household expenses to contend with so the ratio of bills to income was easier to swallow, which perhaps made it easier to be a stay-at-home mom. No cell phone or Internet bills; cheap basic cable or no cable were your only choices; less technology so lower electricity bills; lower gas prices; lower mortgages; etc. Plus women made even less in pay then, so staying home was a no brainer because daycare costs were well over 50% of the typical woman’s salary. I imagine most women probably felt forced to stay-at-home back then, whereas most of us current young moms feel forced to work. Is it so much to want a happy medium between the two?! A different set of stresses for a different time, but still similar to present day: we want to make the decision ourselves instead of being forced one way or the other by societal expectations or a failing economy.
Which Stress Is Worse?
The first 6 months of this year while I was in school were great and we were thriving on one income. There were high-fives all around and I felt like I was pulling off the ultimate caper—I thought I had cracked the code to achieving the perfect work/life balance. I knew that I would be contributing financially within the year and that would balance things out. I got a job before I even completed my schooling and everything was playing out according to my well-crafted plan. Or so I thought. Truth is, at no fault of my employer, my paycheck is not high enough and we’re struggling more than I expected. And really, I should have anticipated that this scenario would spiral me into a complete panic. I mean, I get heart palpitations over the mere prospect of losing money at the 25 cent slot machines, let alone accumulating credit card debt. I know my complaints echo the same sentiments of many other struggling Americans, but it’s still a very scary place to be. I also know we’re still a lot better off than most people and we continue to pay our bills on time every month, but this frugal living and lack of saving is very new territory for me and one I’m certainly not comfortable with. The whole point of my entire life change was to become a better mother, and if I can’t provide for my child, and am constantly stressing about money, then what was the point? And if I may fully indulge myself in a “woe is me” moment: the biggest bitch about this entire thing is that I traded the stress of hating my job for the stress of finances. The question of the moment is, which stress is worse?
So What Are We Supposed to Do?
Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to that stress-inducing question (do you? please share!), but I’m not throwing in the towel yet. No doubt I will continue to stress about this for many more months to come, or maybe my entire adult life (yikes!) I don’t know if living in the moment or planning for a financially secure future is best for my family at this point, I just know that we are in this together. And while I am in agreement that keeping specific finances personal is a much needed social norm, I felt compelled to be honest about my current situation—perhaps as a way to commiserate and feel less alone with my stress—because I feel others keep too quiet about it. My biggest weakness is comparing myself to others, and while I’m actively working on that, I can’t help but feel the silence means others have figured it all out while I’m left scratching my head. However, I also realize I’m just as guilty of posting only smiling happy faces and positive life highlights on Facebook, and while I get annoyed by the few constant complainers still left in my timeline, I think the “my life is wonderful” comments unhealthily contribute to the illusion that my life, or your life, is perfect. It’s not. We all have money problems, we all have doubts, and we all have guilt as parents. Sometimes it’s just nice to be reminded that the Joneses have things that suck about their life too.
Answer these questions in the comments section below!
- Do you think it was harder to be a mom at the cusp of women’s lib? Or is it harder nowadays in a two-income society?
- Do you think Facebook has had a negative impact on our insecurities?