Stress, Money & Those Bastards, The Joneses

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!

  1. 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?
  2. Do you think Facebook has had a negative impact on our insecurities?


Meridith Oram
Meridith Oram is an ACE-Certified Health Coach at Below the Fork where she encourages women to love themselves towards healthy. She is married with two boys, and lives outside of Philadelphia. She earned a B.A. in Communications from Villanova University. Meridith writes about FASTer Way to Fat Loss, fitness, nutrition, Celiac Disease, and easy (but delicious!) gluten-free recipes at Follow her @belowthefork on all social channels.
  • Lori

    First thing…as i understand why you have not been writing lately, you should continue to blog!!! You are human. People are kidding themselves if they think they will always be happy go lucky. People have bad days, weeks, and even years. It is nice to know that people are people and not some fake person who wants everyone to think they will always be on top. Finances are hard! There will always be unexpected emergencies that will set most people back. There is nothing to be embarrassed about as long as you try your hardest and stay true to yourself. As long as you are not out there buying loads of unnecessary clothes and things for your house, you are Doug what you can for your family. I think struggle makes us grow. It helps us know what is really important. Think about our grandparents that paid cash for everything. They knew something our generation didn’t understand and now a bunch of us are in debt from college and credit cards. We all had to have that new tv, fancy car, Coach purse, and don’t forget a nice vacation. I have realized I can’t spend like I used to and basics it is until I find myself with some money in savings!

    As far as Facebook is concerned, I think it is harder to be honest with ourselves and people. Who wants to tell everyone they know they took a stumble on the path of life? But truth be told, we all have something we are struggling with in life. If it is not money, it is marriage, children, divorce, or career. My insecurity is never graduating college. Everyone I know has graduated. I feel like a failure and now paying down student loans for three years of college that I am not using. It is not worth going back at this point because I would only get more debt and anything I want to major in would be an extra three years.

    I think women are pressured to work fulltime jobs as mothers. I think society has made it a “bad” thing to stay at home. I think men are not accepting of it. My husband was not really on board with it at first. I think our society has lost a great sense of how important family is to every aspect of life! I do not think a working mom is wrong If that’s her prerogative. There are some amazing working fulltime working moms that can do it all. I however know that is not me, lol. When people are asked what they want to grow up, they say things like a doctor, a vet, firefighter, or football player. My answer was always a mom 🙂

  • Meridith

    As I sit here in a 6 yr old tank top from H&M on a couch I bought from a consignment shop for my first appartment, I can assure you there are no frivolous expenses happening here! 🙂 I know you’re right in that I shouldn’t keep silent due to a bump in the road, I guess I just had this false notion that I could be all “I did it! You can too!” You know, stick it to the Man/hippie type stuff. Like I said, we all experience (or are experiencing) financial issues but for me its hard to not feel selfish or like I’m not pulling my weight around here when I can fairly easily get a well paying job again. Ah, guilt. No path in life is easy and believe me, even if this whole thing ends up being a social experiment and I go back to my “old life”, it was not a waste. I’ve learned SO much about myself, the depths of support I have coming from the amazing man I married, and the thrill of accomplishing a goal.
    PS-I had no idea you didn’t graduate college so that’s another great example of making assumptions that people have perfect lives!

    1. meridith

      Whoops! Hit ‘send’ too soon. What I meant to add is, You shouldn’t feel bad about it–your consistently excellent and thought-provoking comments are proof of that. I agree whole-heartedly about society losing the emphasis on family.

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