History never looks like history when you are living through it.
~ John W. Gardner
When I began writing this blog just a bit over a month ago, it was my intention to keep my personal life out of it. But the more I write and read, the harder it is to separate my money story from my life story. Many of my thoughts on personal finance and balance in life are a direct result of my life experiences, so I thought it might be useful to sketch out a summary so that readers will know where I’m coming from and perhaps learn from my mistakes.
I assumed that no one would be remotely interested in my comparatively boring life. I don’t do any of the really neat, adventurous stuff that I read about elsewhere like traveling the world or running a really interesting business, etc.. I’m just a mom and wife who goes to the grocery store every week, worries about her kids and happens to have a rather over-developed interest in economics, financial management, and investing. All of this comes from someone who used to look at the business majors in university with pity and disdain for their ignorant materialism. Boy was I wrong – about the business majors and so many other things. I will elaborate on these themes in future posts, but for now, here’s the story of where I’ve been.
The First Decade
Chapter 1: The Best Laid Plans
When I was 18, I applied for my first credit card, and I was surprisingly pretty responsible with it. My plan was to get married when I was about 30 or so, if at all. If I decided to have children, they would be in daycare while I pursued my teaching career. I couldn’t understand why any woman would be expected to give up her life’s ambition to raise kids while her partner was out in the world pursuing his. The best laid plans . . .
Mr. Cents and I were married in August of 1992. He was 21 and I was 22. I had just finished my education degree (following a Bachelor of Arts in English) and he had finished a Bachelor of Arts in English. (He was previously a business major and I’m afraid I may have inadvertently steered him off course as he became really interested in what I was studying for my English degree.)
We moved about 3 hours away from our home town in hopes that I could find a teaching position there. We rented a tiny basement apartment, and – here’s the kicker- neither one of us had a job yet. I can’t imagine what we were thinking, but we did OK. Mr. Cents got a job with a retailer and I eventually got a full time job as a supply teacher. I was making more money at the time. I only mention that because it hasn’t been that way since.
After about a year of teaching, I decided it wasn’t for me and quit to pursue a degree in psychology. Up until that point, neither of us had any student loans, but I had to take one out in order to pursue my studies. By that time, Mr. Cents was making more money. But shortly thereafter, he lost his job. I can’t remember being all that stressed out about that, although I think I would have serious coronary issues if it happened today. The oblivion of youth can be wonderful!
Mr. Cents wasn’t unemployed for long, and he soon got a position with a fast-growing retailer. He was good at what he did and was quickly promoted. At this time, Mr. Cents was mostly in charge of our finances. I really didn’t think that was my department. He was the one with the business background, right? During this period, we did accumulate some credit card debt on some purchases that just look really stupid in hindsight.
But it didn’t take long for us to realize what the credit card companies were charging in interest, so we decided credit cards would be a tool for convenience from that point on. We paid down our credit card debt and became more careful with our money. Mr. Cents was good with numbers, but didn’t have the time or patience to do the detailed work it took to keep on top of everything. Gradually, I learned more and took over most of the financial management, although all of our decisions were (and still are) made jointly.
Chapter 2: Children & Changes
About 2 years into our marriage, we decided it was time to start a family. Mr. Cents was doing well and I was within a year or so of finishing my Honours degree in psychology. We would have the baby. I would take a bit of time off, finish my Bachelor’s degree and then move on to graduate school.
A couple of months into the pregnancy, I had a routine blood test done that showed an elevated amount of something or other. That could mean problems with the baby, so I had to go for an early ultrasound. The levels of something or other were elevated because I was carrying two babies. Oh.
Whew! The babies seemed healthy, so that was great, but it meant planning for 2 children instead of one, and it meant a riskier pregnancy as well. I was able to finish that year of school, although getting in and out of my small car to get there was a bit of a challenge in the third trimester.
My boys were born in June of 1995, one month prematurely. Nothing has been the same since. The boys required extra care as preemies. I was never really one of those women who went crazy whenever a baby entered the room. In fact, I don’t think I had ever held a baby until I held my own. Yikes – did that ever change my life! I absolutely fell head over heels in love with those little ones and they became more important to me than I ever could have imagined.
Still, once September came, I returned to school part-time. Mr. Cents had a boss that allowed him to work from home one day a week so I could attend school. Then, he got a new boss. The one day a week deal was revoked. I had only my Honours thesis left to complete my degree, but we could not afford to put 2 kids in daycare even part time so that I could finish my degree. I never did. My formal education ended there. But what I have learned since then is not in any book or any course syllabus and I am more grateful for it than anything else.
Mr. Cents was doing well and making more money, but he was also away from home from about 6 A.M. until 6 P.M. each day. Eventually, more travel was involved as well. Mrs. “get married at 30 and put the kids in daycare” was a full time stay-at-home mom at 26!
We still lived in a basement apartment, albeit a larger one, but we had one bedroom, which just barely fit our bed and 2 cribs. I’ll spare you the details of the joys and difficulties involved with raising spirited children 2 at a time. Suffice it to say that I was one busy, exhausted, joyful, and grateful person.
Chapter 3: A House, Another Child, and More Changes
By the end of 1996 we were able to save up enough to afford a small house. The boys were very active, but their health problems were becoming increasingly difficult to handle on my own. One of my boys was born without a fibula (that’s the small bone in your lower leg), a rare condition called fibular hemimelia. He is otherwise fine, but the affected leg is shorter, and this necessitated several leg lengthening procedures and other orthopedic surgeries. My other son was severely asthmatic when he was little, and both boys suffered from chronic ear infections. In addition, both suffered from a lot of allergies to everything from medications, to peanuts, to regular environmental things like ragweed and grass. During the first few years of their lives, I became a regular at doctor’s offices and emergency rooms.
Despite how it sounds, the boys were generally very active, healthy and otherwise normal kids. I only mention these issues because they played a large role in my decision to remain a full time mom. My husband’s job was increasingly demanding and I wanted and needed to be there for my boys.
Even being there full time was eventually not enough, as my parents and sister were using up their vacation days to travel to our house and help me out with one medical issue after another. Mr. Cents’ new boss threatened to fire him if he left early one more time to take one of our kids to the emergency room. (We had only one car at the time). This was in spite of the fact that he continued to put up some of the best numbers in the company.
Near the end of 1997 we decided to move back to our home town where help was readily available, but Mr. Cents had to return to working the retail store end of the business at a reduced salary. (He had previously been a buyer.) Once we moved, the kids’ medical problems gradually improved. They had a couple of surgeries to have tubes put in their ears and then had their adenoids taken out. They eventually outgrew a lot of the allergy stuff too, at least to some extent. During this period, we managed to focus on and pay off my student loans. Our debt consisted of the mortgage and a single car payment.
In January of 1999, we welcomed our 3rd son. I guess you can probably see by now that I never did pursue my super career. By the time I turned 30, I was firmly entrenched as CCO (Chief Care Officer) and CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of our household and I was so busy that I couldn’t imagine how we would manage if I attempted to go back to school or find work. I did briefly work as a private tutor, but I gave it up because it meant being away from home during the evenings, when my boys were home from school and needed my help with their own homework.
I apologize for the length of this post. I tried to leave out some details, but I wanted to convey as many of the reasons as I could for the route we took to becoming a one income household. As you can see, it was not planned. Tomorrow I’ll cover more recent events.
Comments are welcome.