Thursday, December 16, 2010

What being a parent has taught me about money.

Aside from having a brand new baby to care for, one of the biggest adjustments to parenthood, has, for me, been the tightening of our financial belts.

Ours was the typical story. We graduated, then worked and lived in the city, single young earners. We were used to a healthy bank balance and never thought twice about eating at restaurants twice a week or booking expensive holidays on a whim. Conveniently, my job was located just down the road from a rather lovely shopping area, and at least once a week, I'd wander down there in search of a treat for myself.

We had no idea how fortunate we were at the time - to never have to worry about money, to never have to think about budgeting and cutting back. To be that free. And I'd never really been very good with money. Thankfully, J was. He'd previously helped me clear the hefty credit card balances I was lugging around when we'd met. He ensured we were putting money away into savings, paying our bills on time, and generally taking care of things.

We moved to Canada and basically continued with our double-income lifestyle. I remember waking up one weekend, about a year after we'd moved to Calgary, and suggesting we needed a bar table and stools for the kitchen, and within four hours, we'd scouted the city and purchased a set without even the blink of an eye. It was nothing to drop cash on purchases then.

Then, when I was about six months pregnant, I quit my job, three months earlier than planned, due to stress. I'd decided it was more important to have a healthy pregnancy that a healthy bank account. We were just going to have to make our adjustments earlier than anticipated.

We went down from two salaries to one, plus maternity benefits, which in Canada are quite generous and last one full year. But still, it was a shock. I realized we were going to have to drastically change our spending habits, our lifestyle. No more dinners out twice a week, no more weekly clothes purchases, no more splashing out on furniture.

I consulted a friend on how to economize. She advised me to start planning my dinners for the week ahead. To make grocery lists accordingly and stick to them when shopping. To buy in bulk. To cook in batches and store leftovers in the freezer. To never shop when I was hungry. To join coops and share the cost of buying products with a group.

Gradually, I got the hang of it. But not without a fair amount of anxiety. I was determined we were going to live within our means, and if that meant cutting back on almost everything, then so be it. It didn't always work, but we tried.

Occasionally I still needed to treat myself.

Then, this year we were faced with a whole array of unexpected expenses (why do they all seem to come at the same time?). I retrained, and there were school fees and books and supplies. Our car needed new breaks. Our dog needed vet visits for his newly developed cataracts. Etc., etc. You know - just life.

One of the hardest things about cutting back was the present-giving. We've had to be very conservative with the gifts we've given to family and friends. We've learned to be, let's say, creative, with our gifts. For Christmas, many family members simply receive photo calendars - now a yearly tradition.Charity giving has been temporarily slashed, too.

But, like any period in one's life that presents challenges, there's hope in the end. I've been working now since September, and though building a therapy practice is a slow process, it's beginning to happen. And it's hugely satisfying to me, to be able to contribute, to hold a pay cheque in my hand, to feel like I'm helping get us slowly back on track. (And also to start thinking about all those deliciously impractical things I'm going to buy for myself next year!)

Despite all the times I've cursed this financially-trying time, I'm thankful for it too. I've learned to understand and appreciate money in a way I never imagined. My relationship with it is changed for good. I'll never again take for granted the ability to afford groceries, pay bills and keep a roof over our heads. And perhaps the meal-planning, economist mentality will stay with me always, that's okay. Because I look forward to being better with my money from here on. And, more importantly teaching my kids how to be sensible with their money too.

Besides, I would really like to retire one day in the distant future, too.

How about you, readers, what has being a parent taught you about money?
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Sara @ Domestically Challenged said...

ahh...the opposite life. We were broke nonstop the first years of our marriage, and then added kids. I always was jealous of you folks! it guess it took us a bit longer to "blossom'!

Metropolitan Mum said...

Same here. I am still living as if I'd have my salary, using up our savings. Not very wise, I know. I really need to get back to work. But then, she is still so small and I feel so guilty about leaving her at nursery. Urgh.

Mwa said...

I'm afraid I'm not too sensible either. I have stopped buying clothes, except for cheap kids' ones. And we hardly go on holidays. But I do spend too much time at play cafes (at least once a week) and have guilt pangs afterwards. I really should set up a pension for myself as well (preferably before the end of the year - oops) and have my head in the sand about it.

I really should do better.

Mwa said...

But we've never really had two salaries (very occasionally, but not long enough to notice) so we're used to being a one salary family. I used to work but then Babes was unemployed for a while.