What Having a Family Taught Me About Finance
A New Era
Where we live, my partner and I are considered "young" parents simply because we chose to start a family in our late twenties. When we were expecting our first child, my social media was filled with pictures of lavish holidays and epic nights out that made me realise two things: a) I would be off the menu for a good few years to come and b) we wouldn't even have been able to afford before getting pregnant because our credit cards and overdrafts wouldn't have been able to take the strain.
There were numerous conversations about money I remember having with my partner before the birth. How were we going to cope financially with a heavily reduced income? And anyway, I would definitely go back to work because I had worked so hard towards my qualifications and besides, I was earning more anyway so that would make sense...
Was I jealous of everybody else? In all honesty, a part of me was. I guess the worst thing feeding the green-eyed monster back then was the fact that we were the only ones amongst our circle of friends who had taken the leap. Nobody else understood why we had decided to start a family at that point and went about their typical "I'm in my twenties having fun" life while we rushed to pay our credit card off, reduced our overdraft limits; and purchased lots of baby gear it turned out we didn't even need to get ready for a considerable drop in household income.
Living on One Income Plus Statutory Maternity Pay
The big day came and our first child was finally there. As any parent will tell you, it is a great yet scary experience. From a personal finance perspective though it wasn't as bad as we had anticipated even though our household income had just dropped by £1500.
Recovering from an emergency C-section and being constantly sleep-deprived, outings were initially difficult and online shopping for anything other than necessities just wasn't attractive either.
Then, a few weeks in as I felt stronger, we ventured out but our usual hang-out spots just weren't attractive to us anymore. Our regular brunch and dinner dates got canceled, the shopping centre we went to all the time suddenly seemed too crowded and the trips to the cinema that we had still gone on during my pregnancy were out of the question (and nowhere near as appealing as an early night).
Instead, our outings became a lot quieter but also cheaper and relaxing. A nice walk around the woods, exploring the local villages, having a coffee and a pastry in the village coffee shop (as opposed to the coffee outlets in the shopping centre), etc.
In other words, life slowed right down and became a whole lot simpler and the strange thing was, I didn't mind at all. I cherished these first few months with my baby and really didn't want them to end.
For the first time in years, I felt at peace. Once the pressure of delivering results at work was taken off me, I realised that really what I had been doing since leaving university had not actually fulfilled me. Sure, it had paid the bills and enabled me to recklessly spend my wages on fun things as it does for countless other millennials, but as far as happiness is concerned...let's just say, the money we were now short on wasn't really bothering me.
"Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be."— Abraham Lincoln
Of course, they don't pay statutory maternity pay forever and I was aware that without that monthly cash injection my stay at home bliss couldn't last. Officially my CV might have stated maternity leave but the reality was that the project I had worked had also come to an end and so really, I was unemployed. I was lucky enough to find an amazing childminder around the corner who understood our situation and said that our little one could start settling in once I knew when I would go back to work.
And so, unwillingly, I started looking for a job and( thanks to previously mentioned qualifications) found one pretty much straight away. To cut a long story short, we made it work. My partner cut his hours back to spend more time with our son (something I am incredibly grateful for—especially since it was not as straightforward to put in place as legislators had envisioned) and I went back to bringing in the big bucks.
Being in an office environment felt much as it had before, just that this time I knew that it wasn't as fun as the alternative had been. Money-wise, it was a welcome change to be earning again but were we financially better off? Not really. Commuting costs into London are high and, as it turns out, so was paying somebody else to look after our son for six hours a day.
I'm not going to lie, working hard without it raising your standard of living is a slap in the face - and it would be even for somebody working in their dream job. I was not impressed at all.
Life sometimes takes unexpected turns though and mine certainly did that. Just a few months into my new job, my partner found a new employer who was prepared to let him keep the flexible schedule for more money. I, on the other hand, didn't feel well. Concentration had gone right out of the window and physically I felt terrible. I got signed off work and numerous tests were run at the time but no diagnosis other than "maybe it's all a bit much for you" was made. And so, half a year after joining the workforce again, I resigned.
Financially, things were tight and we had to keep our money together even more than we had while I was on maternity leave. But even though I was still not feeling well (a real diagnosis was only to follow months later and I'm glad to say it restored me to full health), at least I was happier.
I truly believe that once you care for a child, sacrifice becomes easier to bear. Human nature has a way of making us snap out of the "I want" mindset pretty quickly and instead our thinking revolves around what the little person in our life needs. And if we let them lead every now and then and really open our eyes, then we see that to them the free walk down to the playground is just as meaningful as any expensive outing.
For toddlers, it really isn't about money yet, it is just about time. It's actually us parents who sometimes fall into the trap of thinking expensive is better. And so, if you are in a similar position wondering how you will cope financially after having a family, I promise you will adjust to all the changes that it brings. There will be U-turns in your attitude and the odd mistake along the way, but raising a child in a loving environment is possible on any budget.
Now that I'm feeling better and my son being older, it is easier doing a bit of part-time work while he is at the nursery. I have also decided that I should ditch the career path I had been on and am working towards a career working with children. Money is still tight but there is enough of it there to put a little bit aside every month without depriving ourselves. We are still flexible enough to spend time as a family every afternoon and in the long term that is making me happier than any trip to southeast Asia or Down Under that I might have missed out in the last few years.
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© 2018 Sarah