Well, my husband and I are coming up on our 1 year anniversary of having no income and that qualifies me to explain how to have fun through one of the scariest, most uncomfortable experience two adults with three small kids can have.
This is not just a regular kind of fear, like anticipating a spat with a department store clerk over a return or having a close call on the freeway with some road-rager, this is a much more real kind of fear. It is in the category of survival fear, like rushing your wheezing kid to the ER or not knowing where your traveling husband is at 3 am when he was supposed to be home at midnight. And it is soooooo uncomfortable, I find myself practicing Lamaze breathing, as if I were in early labor (I wouldn’t compare it to full labor – I won’t even go there!) or someone were forcing me to get a tattoo of a monster truck on my neck.
Now despite the daily fear and discomfort, I have discovered what has kept our family happy, close and having fun this year, well most days, in any case and I want to share it with all the wives and mothers out there who join me in my daily quest to have some fun no matter what life’s challenges are. So here’s what’s worked for me:
- Budget like crazy, cut back in every way I can (because I’m a control freak and I know that makes me feel better):
- Cut housekeeper down to twice a month (because I still suck at dusting, windows and changing the beds)
- Go to grocery store once a week, that’s it! I used to panic when we were down to the last bag of goldfish or last box of oatmeal and go 3-4 times a week to replenish. Guess what?! My kids survived when they had to eat cereal instead of oatmeal.
- Pack lunches at home for everyone to go to school, work, even when we run errands or go on a road trip I am the master at packing meals, snacks, drinks to last us 8 hours or more.
- Use what we have at home instead of buying anything. I must have a 3 y ear supply of bar soap (though I love liquid soap, oh well!), a 6 month supply of shampoo samples, tons of cleaning supplies, clothes, shoes, even gifts for adults and kids.
- Make a budget and then put in receipts to see if we are sticking to it.
- Buy generic. All of my wrinkle-fighting, moisturizing, smoothing, cleaning, toning products used to cost me $20-45 a pop. Now I’ve discovered the joy of plain wrap skincare at $5-$15 a pop (try Target or Walmart).
- Work the system. Learn all about government programs to help the unemployed, uninsured, and financially squashed.
- We filed for unemployment insurance after much heartache and deliberation 6 weeks ago and have yet to see a check. But we haven’t been denied benefits yet, so I’m holding out. By the way, skip the heartache and deliberation, if you have no income and you’ve paid into the system – file a claim!
- We’re signing our kids up for Healthy Families health insurance asap! I mean, I think we qualified even when we had an income – what have I been waiting for? Almost 7 years we’ve been paying $800/month plus deductibles and copays for a similar family health plan instead of $30/month for all 3 kids?!? Check it out at: http://healthyfamilies.ca.gov/Plans_Providers/
- There’s quite a few programs to check out as part of the stimulus plan, but as far as I know we don’t qualify.
- I have yet to check out food stamps – still waiting for our need to outweigh my pride. But I’ve choked down my false sense of pride and found two sources of help that will make this very uncertain time a lot more bearable (if they approve us…).
- Have fun for free, or at most do something really cheap.
- No more eating out, so in order to get a night off of the kitchen, I buy frozen pizzas and we have family pizza party once a week.
- No more expensive family outings for bowling, fairs, movies, etc. We go to the park A LOT, do free activities through the city library, schedule playdates at home, rent movies, and do every craft you can imagine and make a huge mess, because that’s the fun part.
- Only vacation if it’s driving distance, the lodging’s free and we have a kitchen to make meals. We had 4 vacations this summer, all staying with relatives, and we ate home made meals better than 75% of the time. Also, we went to the beach, to free factory tours, free kids movies and my cousin’s swimming pool for some more free fun.
- Cocktail hour. Everyday. At home. Whatever’s in your wine rack or liquor cabinet, and no, it doesn’t have to be 5 o’clock.
- Sex. Everyday. At home, any room, anywhere. Whenever the kids are asleep or zombied out watching TV.
The truth is that this time of not-knowing has been hard, so, so hard. And I’ve had bad days, quite a few, and a lot of bad moments. A lot of my bad days are related to the picture I’ve painted of myself as a SAHM Princess. On a bad day, I ask my princess-self: how could I, the diamond earring-wearing, SUV-driving, college graduate who used to earn 6 figures, married-to-a-hunk who used to earn 6 figures be in this situation? My desperation gets embarassing, I mean who tries to clean up after dinner with no lights on hoping to cut the electric bill by $2? Reality, though, saves me from myself. The reality that I created this situation, I chose this path and this is my opportunity to cherish what money can’t buy, to live each day to it’s fullest in the simplest, best way I can.