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Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Money Madness: Suddenly Living on One Income

I'm sure there are a lot of us who worry about money. I think about it all the time, especially since I had my son. I've been on both sides of the money situation. I have been so responsible I had enough to go out and buy a brand-new bed when I was five months pregnant and could no longer stand ours, and I've been so down-and-out that I couldn't run the heat in my car because I didn't have enough gas to get me through the work week.

After my son was born my husband decided to go back to school. He had reached the ceiling at his job and wanted to move forward, so he started taking classes Monday through Thursday from 5:30-10:30 at night. For awhile things were just busy and stressful; then, he lost his job. Things went from busy and stressful to terrifying. We realized that unless he could find a job that paid at least what he made before, it didn't make sense for him to go back to work. He became something he never thought he would be: a stay-at-home dad.

We also were down to one income. Instead of putting 20% of our earnings into savings the way we did before, we suddenly found ourselves living paycheck to paycheck. Afraid of running out of things like milk. Afraid to check the mail only to find bills we couldn't pay. Afraid we wouldn't have enough gas to get to work and school.

For most of my life I've believed that you don't talk about things like money, whether you have it or you don't. I kept our financial stress to myself because I was embarrassed. I didn't want my coworkers, or even my close friends, to know that my always successful husband was out of work and that we were barely scraping by.

Then one day, he told me that he shared our troubles with my coworker and good friend. I was mortified at first, not just because I didn't want anyone to know, but because I was afraid she would think I was deceptive for not telling her. Her reaction surprised and touched me.

This particular friend always seems to have it together. She and her husband are successful - as in, This weekend we bought a 70-inch TV or We pay $500 a month for our daughter's private school successful. The type of successful I've never been, and I always assumed it was because they were smarter or better or more responsible than we are.

She told me that she understood why I didn't say anything, and that she'd "been there." When I balked she looked me in the eye and said, "No, I mean I've been there. My husband lost his job when our daughter was a baby. I went back to work but we had to give up one of our cars. When he finally got a job one of us had to drop the other off. I know what it's like to have $13 that has to last two weeks until payday. And it's only in the past three years that we've stabilized."

I was shocked. Because I never say anything and she never brought it up, I had no idea that she really knew what I was going through. It gave me hope, because I know that when my husband graduates (in six weeks, by the way - hurray!) we will begin to "stabilize" too. I was also unburdened: I no longer had to tell her "I just don't have the time" to get my hair done. I could admit that I can't afford it. And she said she was praying about our situation, so now, simply because she knows, I have extra prayers shooting up to heaven for us.

I am also grateful because since I opened up to her, our friendship opened up too. She started to tell me about her own burdens - and maybe she would have anyway - but there is a trust that exists now because we started talking about things we never did before.

There are all kinds of stresses we keep secret, either because we want the rest of the world to think we have it all together or because we just don't want to talk about it. But I've found that opening up to someone creates a new reality: you don't have to hide your troubles all the time. Certainly my boss doesn't want us to start having therapy sessions on the clock, and we're both too busy with our own families to get together outside of work. But just the fact that we know what's going on in one another's lives means that someone else understands what we're going through. And all of us could use some extra prayers on our side.

My husband and I celebrated Valentine's Day the way we've spent many happy nights: home, talking, cooking and eating. Some things have changed: we're down to one income and there was a one year-old asleep upstairs, but we are still laughing. I'm proud of his accomplishments and we love each other, so we're "successful" as far as I'm concerned.

If any of you have "secret stresses," or stories of sharing them, please tell me about it! I hope things get easier, and if everything's going smoothly, I hope it continues that way.

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