Since returning from vacation, we’ve embarked on an Austerity Plan, mainly because
we’re broke we know how important it is to have a savings plan. The children are beginning to notice – like, when we went school supply shopping, we didn’t walk out with lip gloss, Legos, and Monster High dolls. We did cave regarding some plush teddy bear purses, but they were only $4.99 each, and they were hanging out in the school supply section. What’s up with that?
So the other night at the beach, the Diva sidled up to me as I watched the sun set on the tidal pools. “Mom?” she said. “Are we poor?”
Again, we were at the beach. At our BEACH CLUB, in fact. Which we can’t really afford.
“No,” I said. “We’re not poor.”
“They why are you and Daddy always talking about money?” Her soft little hand on my arm.
There’s a fine line between teaching kids about money and letting financial woes trickle down to them before they’re ready to handle it. I rightly realized we had crossed that line – by emphasizing our new commitment toward financial responsibility, we had subconsciously caused our daughter to worry about our future.
She’s so good, this girl, so interested in me and our family – and I was tempted to just spill my neurotic guts and show her our dwindling back account. I can see how women do that. But the moment passed, and I recognized her undeniable need to believe everything was Fine.
“Honey. Listen. Do you have enough food to eat?” I asked.
She nodded. “Clothes to wear?” Nod. “A safe place to live?” Nod.
“Nobody who has those things is poor,” I told her. “And besides – it’s Mommy and Daddy’s job to worry about money. That’s not your job at all.”
“Okay, Mommy,” she said.
I sipped my gin and tonic, and stood still for a while. Thanks be to Bacchus, we can still afford gin. Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin. I love you, Uncle Val, whoever you are.
This vacation changed us a bit. For a week, we lived with our friend the Farmer and her husband, the Teacher, and their 13-year-old son. The Farmer has carved out the simplest of lives for her family. They eat only real food. They never go to restaurants. No cable television. Fresh eggs for breakfast, fresh greens with dinner. A small house that stays cool in the summer, warm in the winter. “We have nothing,” said the Teacher one day, when we were talking about money. But we both knew it was a joke. They have everything.
It’s a beautiful existence. And there, in the midst of it, one I yearned to emulate.
Fast forward back to the suburbs, where the Target sign beckons like a siren, I suddenly NEED a pedicure, and store-bought (gluten-free!) chicken nuggets seems like a reasonable dinner plan. Life here isn’t quiet. No chickens squawking – just the endless, insidious buzz of the leaf blowers and the hum of a thousand air conditioning units.
I’ve spent hours lamenting the suburban blur – wishing we could live more farmer-like, but feeling stuck in this rat race, where our kids panic when their electronics go low on batteries and I inspect my face for wrinkles every morning.
For the first time, I recognize that we can change – right here, right now – without selling everything and moving to Costa Rica. Which might still be an option down the road. But for now, Hot Firefighter Husband and I are committed to a new way of life.
Our initial goals:
1. Real food. I’ve dramatically reduced the amount of processed food I buy, and am cooking simple dinners from scratch – grilled shrimp and corn, chicken soup, roasted vegetables and broccoli. And get this – when the kids get to help, they actually eat it.
2. Keep track of spending. This is a thorn in my side. I like to just assume I can afford things. But I see now that stuff adds up – three trips to Starbucks in a week with the Tyrant can cost me $30, or $120 a month. That’s a lot of humanely raised organic chicken breasts.
3. Spend more time outside. I’m constantly gnashing my teeth about this – I want my kids to just go outside and do shit. But we need to teach by example – and we have an enormous yard with the potential for lots of kid-friendly projects. Don’t I sound all Martha Stewart-y?
It’s a start, and I had been feeling pretty good about our effort. Until. Yesterday in the mail, we received a notice from our Homeowners’ Association regretting to inform us that we have still neglected to replace our mailbox with the wrought-iron mailbox that the association gods decided all residents should purchase for $240. The matter has become urgent because we are MISSING a single number on the mailbox. What if firefighters were looking for our house number in case of an emergency? TOTES HILARE, right, Hot Firefighter Husband?
I’m trying not to be bitter about this – about the fact that I have chosen to live among people who value uniformity over neighborliness. Because it was a choice, after all. But now it’s a financial necessity, and I find it….distasteful, and frankly more than a little elitist. Should I refill the Pterodactyl’s medicine this month, or buy a fucking mailbox?
I suppose we’ll have to buy the fucking mailbox to avoid being fined, and put the medicine on a credit card. Here we go again.
Yet I still feel changed, and motivated to take the first small steps toward a simpler life. Does this seem like a reality show? Remember…you read it here first.