Jordan and I started the 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero challenge on December 29, and I thought I'd write a few blog posts about it. First, here's a little history.
A few years ago, we realized we were pregnant with our second child, and we knew we wanted a homebirth. Actually, after our experience with our firstborn, Suzi, we needed a homebirth. The problem was that homebirth was not covered by our insurance, so we would have to pay it all out of pocket, and all before week 36 of my pregnancy. Our midwives told us that anything not paid by the 36-week mark could be put on a credit card... but we didn't have a credit card. In the months leading up the the payment deadline, we were ridiculously thrifty. We didn't go out to eat, not even fast food. We cancelled our trash pick-up and started hauling our own garbage to the dump. I cut my own hair and Jordan's. In the end, we did it. We experienced a beautiful homebirth that ended in meeting our wonderful Ivey Deidre. It was all paid off on time, and it was so worth it!
But that wasn't even the best part. I had been working 20 hours a week while my parents kept Suzi, our older daughter, who was about two. I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, but we weren't sure we could afford that. However, the money I made while I was pregnant with Ivey was all thrown into paying the midwives and other birth and baby expenses. It soon became apparent that my staying home was not an impossible dream! We made plans for me to quit near my due date.
The greatest gift we received during those months of extreme thriftiness was creativity. We would run into space and storage issues, and instead of running out to buy new furniture, we'd pick up an old $5 bookshelf, spray paint it a pretty color, and make it work. When we needed comfy, easy-to-clean seating, I used a couple of blankets we had to fix our hand-me-down loveseat. (We'll buy new furniture someday. Probably when the kids are in college.) Rather than spending big bucks on gifts for friends and family, we got crafty. One Christmas we made nearly every gift we gave, and I'm quite proud of some of those projects. We learned new skills. My husband now makes delicious beef jerky, and I learned how to make almost anything out of an old wool sweater.
About a month before Ivey's first birthday, we got a wonderful surprise. We were pregnant again! Unfortunately, we had to save up to pay a midwife out-of-pocket again--and this time, only on my husband's income. So, even though we hadn't gone nuts with our spending after Ivey's birth, we now had to buckle down again. This made for a period of years that we were extremely thrifty. Our son Robert had a wonderful homebirth, by the way. I am now a happy, if overwhelmed, stay-at-home homeschooling mother of three.
I have mostly happy memories of our prolonged spending freeze, but it wasn't all fun times. We sometimes missed out on social opportunities. On Sundays after church, some of our friends went out to eat at a local restaurant, but we had to go straight home. Playdates at places like Chick-fil-A were off-limits. Most of the people I knew had smartphones, cable TV, and other luxuries many people take for granted. One fellow stay-at-home mom I knew thought nothing of grabbing fast food meals or running to Target during the day to kill time with a little retail therapy--things I couldn't do. I was quietly annoyed with people who complained of money problems (or worse yet, called themselves poor) while buying new iPhones, eating frequently at restaurants, enjoying cable TV, vacationing regularly, and buying copious amounts of unnecessary stuff. I know some of them thought I was crazy for being so obsessively thrifty, but that was okay, because we were debt-free and it was working for us!
Let's fast-forward to now. It's hard to explain what happened, but it started with several changes that gave us more breathing room in our budget. As a result, we started eating fast food again. We signed up for a credit card, bought those smartphones we'd been wanting, and recently got cable TV. Our grocery spending gradually increased, and we began doing things the convenient way instead of the thrifty way. Having more money to spend feels amazing at first, but it's shocking how fast you can get used to it. Now I am one of those people who annoyed me several years ago--texting on my iPhone, watching cable TV, eating fast food, buying a ton of stuff, and wondering why there's still month left at the end of our money.
When I read about the Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge, I knew it was for us. What I most want to achieve through participating is a reset of our spending habits. I know how thrifty we can be and I want to be there again! We are keeping our smartphones and our cable TV, but there are a few areas in which we can improve. I plan to post about them soon.