Before I had kids, I was a reasonably successful television producer. I worked terrible hours, but made good money and loved to spend it on epic international vacations, dinners out, trendy handbags and “emergency” salon blow-outs. Some of my earnings went towards retirement and charity, but mostly I was a frivolous idiot having a wonderful time.
Truth be told, the whole time I worked, I never bothered to learn how to properly budget or live within my means. If I ran out of cash, the answer was never to be thriftier or more responsible—it was to climb the ladder and make more. This method works surprisingly well when you’re only responsible for one person.
Everything changed when I had my first baby. I had no idea I would want to be a stay-at-home mom, but some combination of hormones, leaky boobs and utter baby obsession prevented me from returning to my former career. My very accommodating husband agreed to be the main breadwinner for our now family of four and I'm grateful to him every day.
But it turns out that I really miss having my own money and this change in status has definitely been a major adjustment.
At first, even though we were down an income and up two small people, I kept on spending like the old days, then wondered why I couldn't pay off my credit card anymore. So at the ripe old age of 40, I started budgeting and discovered that we had more going out than coming in, largely due to my behavior. Whoops.
Can I admit that here? Does that make me a horrible person?
The obvious first place to cut back was my recreational shopping habit. My kids need new clothes every year, because they refuse to stop growing, but I most certainly don't. Rationally, I understand this. Emotionally, I feel a bit deprived. I love being a stay-at-home mom, but I miss the freedom to treat myself.
Can I admit that here? Does that make me a horrible person? That I've got a wonderful family and we have a comfortable life, but sometimes I really miss impulse shopping?
And I'm not great at sticking to the new plan, either. Like a dieter who binges on cheat day, I'll reward myself for staying on my budget by splurging on a pedicure with extra shoulder massage. I am a work in progress.
Since my kids are still small and I love being home with them, I'm not ready to make a major lifestyle change. But I figure I can get a little more creative with my resources. That was one of my strengths back when I was working, so why not apply it to my SAHM life?
One brilliant (if I do say so myself) recent move: I asked a close girlfriend to come over and watch me try on everything in my closet. She helped me figure out what to keep, donate or swap with friends, and it was like starting over with a new wardrobe. I even unearthed a few big ticket items—mostly pre-pregnancy premium denim—that didn't work on me but were worth a few bucks at my local vintage clothing store, and I traded them in for cute accessories.
As I get craftier with everything from coupons to eBay, I'm wondering what took me so long to get smart about spending. They say necessity is the mother of invention. For me, motherhood is forcing me to me more inventive. And that's just another surprising thing I love about being a mom.