Money. When you don’t have it, you desperately want it. And when you do have, well, sometimes you just squander it away.
I was very conscious about money at an early age. The summer I got kicked out of sleep away camp, I spent my days being dragged around town by my Grandmother. Wherever she went, I went. At Supermarkets, I would watch her count out every single penny from her little change purse. She knew before getting to the check out counter, exactly how much each item cost and whether or not she could afford it. Sometimes, she would pick up an item and then put it back on the shelf, doing the mental calculation that she couldn’t afford it. During these trips, I never got any treats. There was no extra money for me.
After those shopping trips, I vowed that I would never be in that position. That I would never count pennies, deny myself (or a future child) a treat from the store, or put something back on the shelf because I didn’t have the budget.
When it came time for me to be financially independent, I learned the hard way just how difficult money management could be. My first job paid me $21,000 a year before taxes. It was 1998 and I was going from earning no money to earning 21 grand, and I felt like I was rolling in dough. I moved out of my parents house and into a tiny third bedroom at the Westmont on the Upper West Side, and spent $750 a month for my closet. When I moved out, I also gained access to my bank account and my Bat Mitzvah money. It was more money then I had ever seen and I started spending, with abandon.
Six months after I started my job, I had depleted my savings by half. My Mom finally stepped in and told me that I couldn’t continue to afford the lifestyle I was living. That the apartment was too expensive and I wasn’t earning enough. She warned if I kept it up, I would deplete my savings completely.
I was loving my life, spending on anything my heart desired. I went out, wore nice clothing, bought great shoes, bulked up my CD collection, traveled, you name it. But, I heeded her warning and decided to break my lease and move down to the Lower East Side, and in with my 88 year old Grandfather.
Now, you would think that since I was living rent free in Manhattan, I would have saved some money. But no, in the 2 1/2 years that I lived with my Zaydie, I didn’t save one single penny. I now had more money to spend, and spend I did.
After 9/11, I decided it was time to give the Upper West Side another chance. This time, I was making $65,000 a year at another PR firm, and the housing market in Manhattan was in the toilet. I scored an adorable studio apartment on 74th and Columbus, in a part time doorman building, at $1400 a month.
I lived there for 4 years, spending a total of $67,200 on rent. That doesn’t include yearly Christmas tips to the three doormen, porter and our super. Or my other monthly expenses like cable TV with a DVR and HBO and Showtime. My electric bill, internet bill, cell phone bill, phone bill, supermarket shopping, etc.
Living alone was amazing. I furnished my adorable apartment with Pottery Barn furniture, Crate and Barrel dishware and West Elm rugs and knick-nacks. I wore Stuart Weitzman shoes, shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue, and got monthly waxes and facials at the Aveda salon and spa. I worked out at NYSC, had a weekly personal trainer, and went to weekly Weight Watchers meetings. Every single Saturday night, I either went out to bars, clubs, dinners or the movies. I spent my Sunday afternoons shopping at the Flea Markets around town, ordering in Chinese food, and paying my bills. I was generous with family and friends on birthdays and charitable as much as I could. I never looked at a price on a Supermarket item when I put it on my credit card, and never counted out a single penny at check-out. I was making enough to cover my comfortable lifestyle, without saving a penny.
And now, it’s 2011, and I’m married with two children, and we are barely making our bills. We live in my parents apartment but we’re about to start paying a mortgage. The only way we were able to buy an apartment is because DH already owned one when I married him. We sold that apartment, bought this new one, and are praying we will be able to make our mortgage payments.
I haven’t had a wax or facial in months, and sometimes I put items back on the shelf at the Supermarket. I tell Baby J. before we leave the house that she is only allowed one treat wherever we are going, and then I pray that it’s a treat that can also double as her dinner. When I order packages of turkey breast, I stretch it for at least 3 sandwiches, or 4 dinners. In the past, I would have easily polished off that package in one meal. When the Doctor told me that I’m borderline anemic, and all I have to do is eat red meat twice I week, I was too ashamed to tell her that we can’t afford red meat. I should have just asked for iron pills. Instead, I just feel tired and lousy most of the day. The next blood test should have me as a full blown anemic, and then I’ll just take the pills.
I thank G-d that we are on a Kupah here in Jerusalem, because there is no way I could afford health care in America. As an independent contractor, my health care bill was $350 a month. With a spouse and two children, that monthly bill would be triple the amount.
I haven’t had a vacation in 5 years, we can’t afford for me not to be working. When Baby J was born, I wrote a press release from my hospital bed. I then pitched it two days later, the first night we were home from the hospital. When Baby S. was born, I took a week off and then was back at my desk, writing and editing blog posts and working on social media strategies. I have a Masters degree in creative writing, a manuscript I’d love to get published, and a book idea that I wish I could actually write. But, being a writer is merely a dream, one that I don’t think will ever be realized. My manuscript will languish on the shelves of Bar Ilan University where maybe, some other Creative Writing student will read it. That’s probably the closest I’ll get to publishing my work.
I’d rather skip a meal than not pay for my weekly cleaning lady. I don’t have the time to clean the apartment and it needs to be maintained since it’s my parents place. When we move into our new place, we probably will not have a cleaning lady.
Baby J. doesn’t stay a full day at gan because we can’t afford to pay for after care. And I’m already sweating trying to figure out how we will be able to have two children in gan next year.We don’t have a second car because we can’t afford the vehicle, gas, and extra insurance. There’s a reason I walk everywhere, and it’s really not because I love the walk. Sometimes, our lives would be so much easier if I just had another car.
The worst are the unexpected expenses. Like the unexpected oral surgery DH needed this past month to fix a tooth. That was 6,000 shekel. Or paying my Israeli accountant almost 6,000 shekel to do my books this year (this doesn’t include my estimate quarterly taxes that I pay in the States). And the private OT consultation and subsequent appointments to help Baby J. with some of her tactile issues (thank you Mom for paying for this!) Or the fact that Baby S. is probably allergic to wheat and now I have to eat gluten free. Have you seen the price of gluten free products yet? It’s obscene!
And then, there are the little things that you need to find the budget for. Like date night and a babysitter at least twice a month. DH works all day, comes home at 6, and then I go to work at 7 p.m. If we didn’t go out at least twice a month, our relationship would severely suffer and it’s already suffering because of my work hours. Baby J’s birthday is coming up and she is having a party at gan. She asked for a Dora birthday cake and I am going to have Abi of My Cakery Bakery make it for her. It’s more expensive than me just making a plain, Dunkin Hines sheet cake, but she deserves to be happy on her birthday.
Chanukah this year is going to be really lean in our house. I already bought Baby J. presents at Target this summer. Everyone laughed at me for buying Chanukah gifts in August, but we had more funds then and I just wouldn’t be able to buy her anything otherwise. Poor Baby S., she won’t be getting anything this Chanukah from us. We just don’t have the budget. DH asked for a book, and so he’s getting the book.
And, because I’m not humbled enough by our money issues, this morning I asked my Mom for cash to help pay our bills as my birthday present. I really wanted an iPad, but I can’t be self indulgent when I have a 6,000 shekel accountant bill that needs to get paid.
I never thought I would be in this position. In my twenties, I always assumed I would get married, quit working, raise the kids, take care of the home, and write my books while my husband supported us in a comfortable fashion. I think there is a very small percentage of people who could fulfill that type of dream, most everyone I know needs to have two incomes to keep themselves afloat if not comfortable.
At the end of the day, I just don’t want Baby J and Baby S to grow up wanting anything. I want to be able to give them whatever they ask for, with in reason. I want them to not worry about money, or whether or not Mommy and Daddy can pay the bills. I don’t want them to bear witness to our stressed conversations about going into minus with the bank or not being able to pay a credit card bill in full.
And, most importantly, I don’t ever want them to have the image of Mommy not being able to buy them a treat at the Supermarket. Or worse, counting out the shekels, realizing I don’t have enough, and making them put the item back.