Friday, 27 February 2015

Priorities and Perspectives

The internet is full of advice and information about every subject under the sun. Authors and experts all have their own takes on any given topic and their advice is given from that perspective. This blog's focus is on frugal family living and making family memories. As a parenting author and mother of three I offer the perspective of a middle-income suburban parent.

While I am aware that my advice, opinions and experiences may not resonate with or even be relevant to some lower or higher income families or those without children at all, there is an enormous segment of the population who fall into the same category as my family. I hope that they can take something useful from what I have to say.

When it comes to financial advice, the message remains the same regardless of your own financial situation: Live and spend within your means. Don't spend more than you make. Don't borrow to spend.

That is the simple message: Live within your means.

It doesn't matter whether those means are a single-parent minimum-wage income with subsidized child care or a household with two six-figure incomes. Live a life you can afford. Live within your means.

That message seems to have gotten muddled somewhere along the way in this online world of financial advice into one of unrelenting penny-pinching frugality. That is not the point.

Frugality is fantastic insofar as it keeps us on budget and living within our means. But there is nothing wrong with splurging, there is nothing wrong with occasionally indulging, there is nothing wrong with unnecessary spending - as long as it's within your means. If you can afford it - if it fits into your monthly budget and you don't have to borrow to pay for it - then spend your money however you damn well please.

I do understand the difference between lower- and middle-income families and lifestyles.

When my first marriage ended I found myself a single mom of a one- and two-year-old with a huge amount of debt, freshly re-entering the workforce and trying to juggle rent, car payments, grocery bills and child care on my own. There were times I didn't eat in order to stretch the grocery budget. There were times we walked in order to save gas. I once took change from my son's piggy bank to pay for his kindergarten field trip. And because daycare is so inordinately, impossibly expensive, I worked only part-time during the day to cut costs - and took on another job that meant I worked from home late into the night and the wee hours of the morning every night. Treats were picnic lunches at the park, indulgences were a very-once-in-a-while hot chocolate from Tim Hortons.

I didn't have much, but I did the best I could with what I had.

Years of hard work and saving paid off the debt and purchased a house; two incomes now give my husband and I a little more wiggle room to give our now three children the life we want them to have.

And we're doing our best with what we have now.

And that is the point.

Not to scrimp and save and deny yourself everything that might be deemed unnecessary simply for the sake of frugality, but to set a budget that works with your income and live a lifestyle within those means.

Maybe it means a smaller home, moving further from the city, sacrificing a second car or owning a car at all, taking on extra work, working in shifts to cover off child care. Whatever you have to do to make your budget balance is what you have to do.

And if there is any wiggle room - pick your priorities.

In our family, having one parent at home to raise our kids full-time is our absolute top priority. I can't imagine only seeing my children for an hour or two before bed every night. As so many of you have pointed out, we are very lucky that we are able to do that. In order to do that, we have had to make some choices: we live in a small suburban townhome and we are a one-car family. Because these choices allow us to meet our priorities, they don't feel like sacrifices at all.

Incidentally, since so many people have referenced the fact that I'm an at-home mom, I'd like to point out that I am a work-at-home mom. I do at-home daycare for my neighbour's children nine hours a day, I have a writing job which means a couple of hours on the laptop after the kids go to bed every night, and I teach fitness classes a couple of hours a week. In order to be able to stay at home with my kids and give them the extras we want them to have, I work a lot more hours every week than most people do - in addition to volunteering and full-time mommying.

Are extras like rep sports and family vacations absolutely necessary to my children's well-being? Of course not. But they are luxuries we want for them - and since we have adjusted our lifestyle and income in order to fit those into our budget we are more than entitled to them.

That is the point, and that is the only important point: understand your finances, create a balanced budget based on your actual income, avoid debt and live within your means - whatever those means may be.

1 comment:

  1. Frugality is an amazing tool for anyone. It is particularly important for those of us who work from home. These numbers aren't real...they're just an example. If I make $25,000 as a work at home parent, it's more like making $35k if I worked outside of the home because of the reduction in expenses. I spend less in gas. I'm a clothes horse...I still have most of my things from when I college. However, I don't need something new as often because I'm not wearing the other clothes so much that they are falling apart.

    I'm a big Dave Ramsey fan (not debt free yet) and I loved your post.