Saturday, October 26, 2013

Swimming the Financial Ocean of Parenthood

Do you ever feel like you’re chasing your own tail, running in circles, not sure if you’re moving in the right direction? Even though some individual days as a mom can feel like that I’m actually thinking of the last five years put together. Five years ago at this time I had recently found out that we were expecting a baby girl, our now four year old daughter. She was a planned baby, and I remember people always telling us how if you wait until you’re financially ready you won’t ever feel ready.  I never really exactly understood that.

Not sure that I still do but now as I look back on the last five years and all the tail chasing we’ve done to try to get ourselves in the this is where we plan to raise our family stage, I maybe understand it a little better. We had our careers started and were living in our first home when our first daughter arrived. I was a little over halfway through graduate school. However, Nate wanted to switch school districts, and was offered a position that would help move him in the direction he wanted to go towards school leadership because  the new position was  with a school system that offered a great program through a local university to get his graduate degree.

The downside is he had to take an almost $5000 pay cut. The same time he found out he got this job he really wanted our car broke down three hours from home, left us stranded for days, was going to cost us almost $5000 to fix it when it was only worth $5000 and we still owed $12,000. I know it's just money and a car, but I cried. A lot. I saw this as a huge financial step back; I thought I was going to have to call my dad and ask for money for the first time in my life. And my pride just could not take that (super stubborn, remember)  so we got it to run for a $1000, took it back to the dealership, traded it in for a family vehicle we planned on getting in a few years anyway when we could afford it, but we had to get a certain priced vehicle in order to take on all the negative equity of the broken car. So for that upcoming year we were not only now taking a $5000 paycut but we also were going to be spending another $4000 throughout the upcoming year we hadn’t planned for on a new car. But instead of throwing $5000 into a car we didn’t plan on having much longer with a family, we at least now had a family SUV we could drive for the next 7-10 years. On top of this daycare is not a cheap expense so it felt like we were taking a couple steps back in order to go forward.

Shortly after getting the job, my husband also got into the leadership program. In order to meet our financial obligations, we both took up coaching. In the last five years of parenthood, I’ve coached two volleyball seasons while he’s coached two wrestling and three baseball seasons. Even though each season is only 2-3 months it’s a lot of late nights and sometimes Saturdays. This is where we came to value our summers off together so much. I made every dollar we brought into our house work for us to cover not only our monthly expenses but give us a little bit of our time back in the summer with our kids and our families we didn't get to see much during the school year.  At times it was a lot and at times it was really stressful.

Like most other American middle class family trying to make it we accumulated other unsecure debt. There’s lots of times we spent money on things we shouldn’t have. Sure, there’s times we could have been more responsible. But I didn’t want our life to be work and sit at home. We cut out a lot of stuff after we had kids. My husband who use to go to a Steelers game every season now has only been to one since our first daughter was born; I don't think we've been to a concert at all since we've had kids. We definitely don't go out for Happy Hour every Friday anymore or down to the Inner Harbor to party our Saturday nights away.  We rarely go out for expensive restaurant dinners anymore; dinner out has to be $30 or less. I don't make as many trips back home as I use to but I still made sure I had money for some.

 My father always has this saying about money that “you can’t take it with you when you die.” So our spending habits have not always been the wisest. The problem with sharing this is those that know me would say I shouldn't have spent money on this and that. Maybe they're right but it is what it is and it's too late to change it now. To me making trips back home, having a family vacation together, having family outings on the weekends was important. Is it to everyone? Maybe not, but it was to me. Did we spend money we didn't have sometimes; did we put stuff on credit cards? Yes. Would I do it differently? I honestly don't know at this point. I think I'll have a better answer later.

The first year of parenthood turned into the fourth and we were getting closer and closer to our oldest daughter starting kindergarten. We were starting to stress that because of the crashed housing market the townhome in the city we bought was never going to sell and we would be faced with paying for private school for our daughter or sending her to inner city schools.

Even though at times it maybe seemed like we were drowning rather than swimming, we soon learned in a new market that was harder to get credit than when we bought our first house, our credit and income allowed us an opportunity we had only dreamed about but didn’t think was possible. We could rent out our house and were approved to buy a home in our number 1 area of choice to raise our girls. When we bought that first house my husband always talked about renting it out later but I did not think it was something that would be possible. However, again, we would have to take two steps back in order to go forward. Because of the housing changes, we now needed $8000 for a downpayment. We maybe had really good credit, made decent money, but aside from a little less than half of that in an account that I couldn’t easily access, we didn’t even have a $1000 saved. Again we were back to two steps backwards in order to go forward. We had a nice truck that we had paid off the year before that was worth around $8000-9000. So we sold it. My husband loved that truck. It was the first thing that was truly ours that we fully owned. We finally had our $8000 to go put down on the house we knew had to be the one. It took us a month from the first time we saw it until we had the money to put down on it. Even though someone else put in an offer the same day as us, we still got it and moved into our new home last winter.

We were finally in a place we could raise our kids, but we jumped on it sooner than we should have. Technically, I didn’t have us budgeted for a higher mortgage until the coming September, we had to buy a piece of crap car to replace the truck, which only got us through seven months before we just went out and bought ourselves a newer car with a $300+ payment that again wasn’t really factored into the equation. So we were back to chasing our tails. Nate was in the heat of his graduate program so could no longer coach so I was the one that took on extra work last spring and this fall.

Money has been tight at times, we've definitely stressed, we asked ourselves multiple times did we do what’s right. We got our new house on an acre of land at $75,000 less the owners bought it for six years before and we moved in with 20K in equity, we have a phenomonly low interest rate , got in before every house is required to have PMI for the life of their loan, and now we have a rental property with great tenents so far that if we can hold on to will be paid off the same year we retire, leaving us an investment that is not in cash because as much as the housing market did crash, I feel that it’s a safer investment than the stocks and banks at the moment.

Were we too rushed? Were we young and stupid? I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll know until we look back on it and see how it all truly worked out, but faith as gotten us through these tight places so far, so I will continue to cling to that, that it will all work out in some way in the end. At times it seems like we’ve been running in circles. I think mostly because of money. Isn’t that the the middle class family lifestyle? Just swimming and swimming. You just keep going forward, keeping your head barely above water at times.

Some want to tell me what I should do to feel less stressed. This is my huge stress. Sure work stresses me out, sure balancing motherhood with work stresses me out, sure sometimes I have too much on my plate, but treading this ocean of financial obligations is the smoking gun. You nor I are going to snap any fingers or wave any wands to make it disappear. Why am I sharing this? Mostly to acknowledge truthfully to myself that this is the hugest stressor and it's not an easy fix. Isn't money the number 1 reason marriages fail? Mine is not failing; my point is though that I'm fairly confident we are not the only working parents raising a family, living on a prayer that we financially survive. But I'm also saying it because  maybe others need to understand that no matter what stressors they think I should eliminate it's not going to eliminate the main problem.

The other thing though is I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nate started his LAST class this week, will write his last paper in December, takes his big test in November. He will have an internship that he does through work in the spring, but then he has his graduate degree.

We’ve been out here nine years at that point. Nine years, and we’ll both finally be done with our graduate degrees, we’re in a home and place we could raise our girls, and I'm hopeful our finances may finally be falling into a place where I  can have more flexibility with my time between work and home (the next six months will tell a lot) . Sure it's been a bumpy road at times; yes we have definitely fought at times but we're surviving. We're always swimming forward, we've always managed to keep our head above water. There's many times even in the worst situations like with the car and even this Fall while we're still trying to recover from a summer that lacked savings because it went to buying a house, I constantly reassure myself faith in ourselves and God has gotten us this far and just keep on living on a prayer. Just keep on swimming. 

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