Updated: Sep 15, 2020
If you want to feel rich, count the things you have that money can’t buy.
Soon after our daughter was born, I chose to leave my 14-year corporate career to stay at home with her. At the time, I was making more than my husband, so my decision to quit working cut our combined income by more than half. We believe strongly in financial independence, so we continued to save as much as possible even though it meant that our remaining discretionary income—that money that you use for things that are not necessary, but merely fun or convenient—was now squeezed. A lot. I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. We weren’t destitute by any stretch. We still covered all the bills. Our squeezed circumstances were a choice rather than an imposition. On the plus side, we were both brought up to value thriftiness so we happily chose to do many jobs the two-income families in our neighborhood were hiring out like lawn care, housekeeping and childcare. My handy and hardworking husband fixed all things mechanical and electrical, improved things that were not broken and took care of our yard. I did the shopping, cooking and housework along with managing our family’s health and well-being.
Still, it took some adjusting from our former dual-income lives, and at a time when our family was expanding. It’s not as though we’d been extravagant spenders before, but this was definitely a belt-tightening time for us. Our new budget had little to no room for former luxuries like eating out, travel, new clothes or toys. Suddenly, spending that I would not have given a second thought to as a working professional required great deliberation. I clipped coupons and strategically planned errands to save on fuel. But here’s the cool thing: this drastically restricted budget generated a ton of unexpected benefits.
Some savings happened simply as a result of my being home rather than at work. I said a happy goodbye to work suits, heels and dry-cleaning bills, trading them for jeans and t-shirts. Not only was my simpler wardrobe better for playing on the floor with my kids, I could wear it every day without judgment. Such freedom. (Now I hear this is a trend some very successful people follow.) Hair was a favorite pull for a nursing baby, so a simple ponytail that didn’t require frequent trims or shaping became my style, cutting down on personal care expenses. Jewelry scratched soft baby skin, got grabbed by baby hands or was just in the way, so earrings, bracelets and necklaces became unnecessary accessories. Makeup, and the time it took to apply it, was incompatible with cuddling kids all day, so I learned to like my natural face. Likewise, the fancy manicures I used to get biweekly became a thing of the past. I wasn’t willing to spend the money or the time apart from my kids so I let that go, which was not only cheaper but saved me from a lot of toxic fumes. All of these changes turned out to bring me better self-esteem because I learned to like myself in a more natural way.
There were times I enviously eyed the mass of toys some of my friends showered their kids with, but choosing to make do with less taught me some interesting things. When kids are young and uncontaminated by needless consumer goods, they can happily spend hours with little more than sticks or pebbles. I found that fewer toys minimized chaos both visually and emotionally. In the same way that adults find too many choices overwhelming, my kids seemed to play more peacefully when their choices were limited. When we did splurge it was for quality rather than quantity, like wooden blocks or classic simple toys, things that were pleasant to handle, didn’t break and could “become” whatever the mind could imagine, allowing a wide range of play scenarios. Making toys from household objects was another cost-effective strategy. Cardboard boxes were free and could become anything from a house or a fort to a bus or a truck. They could be decorated, cut, torn, taped or glued and then recycled once their usefulness was past. Food containers and wooden spoons could be used for pretend cooking, or go way beyond their original purpose when placed in a child’s imaginative hands. Books were expensive, so at the rate we went through them it was better to get library cards and borrow them. Not only did this save money, and keep our house less cluttered, we became friends with the librarians, further widening my kids’ community. Having fewer things meant appreciating what we had rather than taking things for granted. Borrowing books instilled responsibility for taking care of and returning things that didn’t belong to you.
A healthier diet was another unexpected benefit. My choice to breastfeed was a very cost-effective one and by far the healthiest for the babies and for me. It drew me to La Leche League meetings, where I met like-minded mothers who were happy to trade money-saving tips. I adopted the La Leche League philosophy of eating a wide variety of foods in as close to their natural state as possible and that turned out to be a cheaper, simpler and healthier way to eat. I bought ingredients and whole foods at the grocery store rather than processed foods that were more expensive and less healthy. I incorporated more vegetarian meals into my repertoire like black beans and brown rice. I made my own bread and hummus. A friend organized a coop with fresh, organic produce from a local farmer. This meant I picked up a large box of strange new vegetables every other week. It was a bargain as long as everything was used quickly so I learned ways to cook and eat kale, Kohlrabi, fennel, Swiss chard, and more—all things I would not have done had I not been looking for ways to save money.
Health wise, while I was nursing, breastmilk was a free resource used for conjunctivitis, earaches, minor cuts and scrapes. I joined a homeopathy study group where I learned natural health options, including homeopathy, flower remedies, essential oils and old-fashioned home treatments. All these health options hugely reduced our medical expenses, however the bigger benefit by far was the feeling of empowerment we gained. We learned from experience that we could trust our bodies to heal themselves, eliminating all sorts of unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Many people think of the early years of parenthood as a time that requires more money in order for kids to be happy and healthy, but I found the opposite to be true time and again. What I first viewed as financial hardship turned out to be a payoff in health, imagination, resourcefulness, appreciation, gratitude and self-empowerment. Quite a bargain if you ask me.
© Jean Nunnally and TrustYourChild, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jean Nunnally and TrustYourChild with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.