Tuesday, October 9, 2012

On Guilt, Budgeting and Scraping By...

Do you know, I was actually hesitant to mention that we have cable here?  Really, I was.  Maybe it's I have a tiny bit of guilt, because it's a non-necessary expense, but it was also because I knew that inevitably there was likely to be a comment expressing shock at how we could possibly afford it and then I would feel guilty about spending money on a "luxury item," despite the fact that a great deal of the rest of my time is spent figuring out ways to not spend money and make things myself.

And of course, after spending an hour waiting in line with a two year old and a four year old at the comcast building, and finally getting things worked out, I returned home to just such a comment, which I'm sure was written in the nicest possible anonymous way (but then again, it can be hard for a blogger to attribute niceness to a questionable comment when it's anonymous... I do tend to give posters who leave a name more of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to that sort of thing), but that offered food for the thought for the rest of the day, ultimately culminating in this post as an explanation of sorts.  Forgive me if the explanation is somewhat jumbled.  

Tone is hard to decipher online in a comment box, and there's certainly a good chance that aforementioned anonymous commenter doesn't fall into the category that I'm about to describe, but the comment did bring to mind a trend that I've seen more and more of late, that I find... disheartening.  Again, yesterdays comment didn't directly embody this sentiment, but it got me thinking about it and in that way inspired this morning's post.

You see, in comment boxes around the web, articles, and facebook status updates, I see a tendency to rant about the choices that we see other people making as we go about our daily lives.  The comments I'm thinking of usually involve a certain measure of self righteousness, that make us feel good about our own choices, while expressing disgust over what someone else is spending their money on.  "Can you believe that that obviously poor family with little kids was wasting their money eating fast food?  Don't they know that they can buy nutritionally rich items at a grocery store for much less and make much healthier meals, that will last much longer, for the same price?"  Or "Today I saw a poor family with a shopping cart full of junk!" which seems to be a frequent point of commiseration I see in comments on political articles.

I understand that many of us are frustrated about what's going on politically in our country right now.  We're frustrated because there are people who take advantage of the system.  We're frustrated because the system is broken and no one seems to know how to fix it and because "make it bigger" doesn't seem like an awesome fix for repairing deep underlying flaws and that the problems will likely be magnified if we handle them by throwing money at them and hoping they go away.  I get that.  I really do.

Yet, at the same time, my soul feels sick when I see the lack of charity which seems to be the go-to emotion when observing our fellow man these days.  It's almost like we go out looking for the worst in the people around us, hoping they'll confirm our outrage at a system that is far from perfect and justify the anger that we feel with the politicians who will likely amplify the problem.  

So worry about what's going on in our country.  Pray.  Speak out.  Rally.  Vote.  Offer your fellow man a hand up and show him that "charity" doesn't have to come from the government.  And the next time you see someone who's making a spending decision that you think is unwise, pause, say a little prayer for them and for yourself, and try not to rush to a conclusion that might be true, but just as well, may not be.  Maybe that mom taking her kids out to fast food slaves over a hot stove all month and now they're going out for a treat.

The other half of my reaction to yesterday's comment, was an inspiration to start writing more again on frugal living and what I do around here to scrimp and save.  I used to write about it quite a bit more when I regularly posted my "living on a little" series, but the last year or so has been so hectic that all of my formerly "regularly scheduled posts" have disappeared.  I think at least trying to pick up where I left off would be helpful... although I'm not sure how consistent any regular post will be at the moment since things are going to be a little bit crazy around here in the coming months.  

And to answer the question of "how can you afford a luxury item like cable..."  Here goes... because for some reason, I do feel compelled to justify the expense and explain how it came about:

I scrimp and save and clip coupons and spend hours online looking at sales so that, when I go to the store, I can knock a $600 bill down to $20 (although our stockpile was so big when we left California that I was able to take a year off of couponing and even after giving away 3/4 of my stash to charity and yet we were able to live of the remnants until now.. and so two weeks ago I began buying papers again).  

I make much of what we need: knitting, crocheting and sewing whenever my hands aren't busy cooking and cleaning and wiping little faces.  The girls both need new sweaters and long sleeved shirts and I'm scavenging material from old sweaters that I haven't fit into in years to make them, rather than paying $17 for the ones on sale at the local store.  And when it was time to buy baby boy clothes?  I went to Once Upon a Child during one of their super sales and bought an entire baby boy wardrobe for $80 (which filled a dresser with outfits that were 0-9 months).  

I've learned to use many, many different kinds of beans in unusual ways so that my family doesn't even realize that they aren't eating meat unless it's pointed out (the right seasonings can go a long way!).   And I cook gigantic batches of food (often bulking said food up by adding beans to it) to save money.  I grate and mix and blend and make our own cleaning supplies.  I make nearly all the gifts we give the girls.  And over the course of our marriage I've grown hundreds of vegetable plants so that we were giving away vegetables by the bag full, even when we were scrimping and saving to get by, because we couldn't keep up with our gardens bounty (and thankfully, with a yard again, I'll be able to kick start growing our own food after winter again).  

I run three stores and stay up late working on them Every.  Single.  Night.  I can literally count the days I've "taken off" from "work" in the past five months on one hand, although this pregnancy does mean I'm working around 30-40 hours a week instead of 50-60 (my body just won't buy that I don't need sleep these days).  And, yes, I look around the house at night and wonder if I'll ever catch up and make it the way I'd like it to be from the picture that I've somehow come up with in my head (usually one room matches... and I give the others up as a loss until the next day, when said clean room is messy and another room gets to be clean...).

I guess you could say that I do more than some to get by, but far less than others.  I certainly see ways that I could cut back... and struggle with feeling guilty about not mustering the energy to do more or with having the self control to say "no" more often when I buy something that is a treat of some kind.  

But the thing is, when I knew that my husband, who generally asks for nothing for himself, really, really wanted cable so that he could see the local games and the Red Sox and Patriots games that he'd be missing without it I thought... yeah... you know what... I'll make a few more snoods each month.  I mean, the guy leaves in the morning, comes home for dinner and then studies until midnight, pretty much every single night.  Maybe it would be nice if he could take two hours off to watch a game on Saturday... And hey, it will help distract me when I'm tired and sore and everyone is in bed or studying and I still have four more hours of work to do... And so I suggested that it was his birthday present, since much of the time we don't do presents for the adults in our little family.  I'll admit it...  splurged on something entirely unnecessary. 

And yes... I still felt guilty about buying it, which was probably why yesterday's comment did bother me and why I wrote this post today... because it is "a luxury" that we could do without.  But sometimes, when you spend the rest of the time getting by, one little unnecessary "luxury" can really mean a lot.


  1. Meh. Everyone has at least one area in their life where they have more than the bare necessities. We could each only own one pair of shoes, too. You shouldn't have to justify your choices as long as you are paying your own bills. (Now, if you (generic you) are getting my money through food stamps or something because you can't buy your own food because you have cable, that's TOTALLY different.)

    We just splurged on the postseason.tv membership--for $5 you can watch all the postseason baseball games online. Necessary? Absolutely not. Do I feel guilty? Not a scrap.

    By the way...GO RED SOX!

  2. I don't know... at this point, after living a bit and seeing what people are going through, I really wouldn't begrudge anyone one little thing even if they do receive assistance of some kind. Because honestly, small things of the sort I'm talking about aren't going to make a difference in needing that sort of help and really, might help the person keep going and working and trying to drag themselves out of the situation. It's really, really hard to judge other people's choices in these areas.

  3. You forgot the luxury set of wheels you get around in! ;)

  4. Oh Baron, I totally did! I was actually going to write that in my section on DH! LOL! About how he sold his paid off brand new baby so we could move cross country, to help with costs of living and to buy little only Cabrini, who has definitely proved to be a great investment for the price paid.

    I cannot believe that she is still running! It must be through "her" namesakes intervention!

  5. We recently lost about a quarter of our income, and had to slash some things to make it work. We shrunk our grocery budget and my craft and personal spending went out the window.

    We kept the cable though. My husband and I rarely go out for date nights, but we do sit down two or three times a week after the kids are in bed and watch a show together. It's the only time neither of us is chasing kids or working, and it's our only entertainment. I also let the kids watch cartoons in the morning because I can't let them run around outside due to big unleashed dogs in the neighborhood.

    Don't let people make you feel guilty for doing something special for your husband. I can guarantee you that the people who do spend money on things that are far more frivolous.

  6. I think when you are making especially difficult sacrifices little treats can make a big difference. Looking forward to your posts on frugal living, I love more inspiration in that area.

  7. I totally agree with you about not begrudging people "little" luxuries anymore.
    It's really easy to judge people - to say, you're on food stamps but you have THAT - but we don't know their story. Just the other day, I saw that a friend has an iphone 5 and I was furious - I know for a fact she's on welfare! I asked about it casually and she said "yeah they gave them to us at work and pay the bill too...I kept my old phone in case they take it away or I lose my job, but it's nice for now to have it."

    You just never know.

  8. We've cut off cell phones (except pre-paid for use on the road) and use google voice for our home phone (free!), but I told my husband that as long as I'm home we need t.v.. Don't feel bad about it. You'll need it even more once the baby comes.

  9. IT IS NO ONE ELSE'S BUSINESS! I'm also sure that - because you're bundling with internet service, it is a very modest "luxury", at most.

    What I want to know is... do you ever sleep, and how do you find time to blog??? I feel like a total slug reading about how much you accomplish, and how joyfully you generally go about it!

    You truly should write a book.


  10. My concern when I see a struggling small family with cable is never the money. I mean, who am I to judge how someone spends their entertainment budget? Like you said, some people may do it by going to a fast food place every once in a while and others may have cable.

    My concern is always having the type of content that is found on cable in a home with small children. You're a smart woman, Cam, and I know that you probably monitor your children around the television and also probably do not watch things that allow sinful thoughts and desires to enter your heart and home, but not everyone does. I don't think the television is inherently evil, but I do think that it is an easy way for Satan to deceive us through advertising and desensitization of sinful images and thoughts. Just be careful with those precious little girls and what they see (and how those images can affect their self images). I know you probably are and I don't mean to sound preachy. I'm apologize if I'm coming across that way :)

  11. Shame on that person for judging you, when they don't even know about all the sacrifices that you make as a wife and mother 365 days of the year. Yes, we should pray for their insensitive thoughtlessness of calling you out on something that is none of their business to begin with. It would be a better world if people were more loving, non judgmental, and less self righteous. Your in my prayers, and a wonderful inspiration to me as another Catholic woman.

  12. We made the decision about 18 months ago that my husband would stay home with our son while I work, and that has neccessitated some obvious cutbacks to our family budget, and some major sacrifices with regards to personal spending, new clothes, etc. We struggle, from month to month, but the pay offs are more than worth it. And while we don't have cable because we don't love a lot of what's on tv, we do have Internet and Netflix, and an Amazon Prime membership. We also both have iPhones. Could we save a little more with basic phones and cancelling Netflix etc? Probably, but those little luxuries really help take the edge off the other sacrifices we've made. It's all about balance and choosing things that are worth it to you.

  13. Thanks for writing this. I love your blog and find a lot of encouragement here- our family seems to be following a few steps behind yours. We have an almost 2 year old and another on the way in Feb. I work part time from home as a legal secretary. My husband just started his 1st year of law school so I feel like we're experiencing many of the ups and downs you write about. I love your frugal tips and would love to read more!

  14. It is none of their business how you choose to spend your income.

    I got rid of cable and was criticized for it, you get cable and get criticized for it--> concupiscence. Just pray for them and keep on being your own style of Proverbs 31 woman.

  15. I wish I had your skills of frugality and cooking. We're well enough off, especially compared to you, that while I have a budget and follow it I could do much better. I'd love to see what things I could cut out that I'm spending money on. I'd also love tips on flavoring food so it's not so bland. I have dairy intollerance and grain intollerances in our family and it's making for challenging meal times. I seriously wish we lived seventy years ago at a time when people knew how to make a meal out of anything without all this processed crap.

    I found a recipe you might want to use from nom nom paleo: http://nomnompaleo.com/post/33235606879/pressure-cooker-crispy-potatoes

  16. See, I used to get pretty grumpy about watching a person cash their EI cheque and walk over to the Liquor Store to buy a pint, and then I realized I basically do the same thing.

    I pretty much live on the hard boundry so far as my means go. I could actually create a lot of wiggle room by cashing out my internet account and maybe even selling off my computer. I'm not going to do that, though, because between being my main way of getting in touch with The Princess and the computer being a mainstay of my hobby lineup, getting rid of one or both of those things would make life, well, unfulfilling.

  17. I think that you and your young family are lovely.
    You are the same age as my eldest (a daughter, training as a transplant surgeon. ..so motherhood isn't happening soon in her life). .. and the fact that you wrote this post saddens me a bit. Seriously...why should you be troubled by the opinions of strangers as to how YOU spend YOUR money??? I could go on with a REAL rant, but I'll spare you. :) You are a great mom, and a great wife, and a great person - that's clear to me. These "discontented"sorts. . .can't they find someone else to bother?? Mary Ann

  18. When my husband and I signed up for our internet access (something he needs for work), the way the local place bundles everything it was $10 a month *cheaper* to add basic cable to it. :-)

  19. LOL, and it's their business, HOW? When my husband was laid off we kept internet so he could do job searches and send resumes. "Oh you could have used the library" someone might say. We also had teen children here whose part time jobs paid the internet bill. The internet helped them in homeschooling and everything else. We don't have tv or cable but my son subscribed to Netflix. We got rid of our land line but kept, GASP, cell phones, which we shared the cost of. Absolutely necessary when you have 5 people sharing two cars and getting to jobs and coordinating rides. Everyone's needs are different.

  20. I get annoyed when people refer to home internet access as a "luxury". It's 2012. Many companies don't do paper applications anymore, it's all online. If you have kids, their school will probably require them to have internet access (and no, the public library's computers will NOT cut it). Internet access is to 2012 what having a home phone was 20 years ago--a necessity.

    If it's only a little more to add on cable to that, why not? Being poor doesn't mean you should have to sit in the dark with zero luxuries.

  21. Wow - you are amazing! I don't even know what to say, I just wanted to say something. Making all your own gifts, growing your own food, making your own clothes, cleaning supplies, toys, everything PLUS running 3 Etsy shops that take up to 60 hours a week of your time! That is amazing! Plus you blog. Instead of blogging in defense of your cable, blog about how on earth you do it all! Girl, I do about 1/6 of that with 1 kid and I feel overwhelmed! I'm floored and jealous and proud of you.

    Plus, I never told you, but reading your religious blog posts has opened my heart to the little voice in it telling me to cover my hair at Mass.

    God bless and keep blogging : )

  22. Cam, maybe cable is cheaper where you are--and I mean that totally sincerely. I think it would add about $100/month to our bill, which already includes high speed internet and phone service, including unlimited long distance to Canada.

  23. Oh wow, Sophie! That is a lot more! Our entire bundle with all the necessary stuff for my business is less than that! That's really expensive (definitely wouldn't have been able to figure out how to justify that much more!)!

  24. Yeah, cable is through the roof here as well, even through our electric power board.

    I'm going back to work now that the baby is 9 months old (I'm not happy about it). I have a Master's degree and state licensure and it's still been hard finding a job. So... we're on WIC. When my husband's not with me, I dread going to the supermarket. If not the cashier, then some customer in line behind us makes a comment. When I go I put my crucifix necklace inside my shirt and I have also taken the Catholic bumper sticker off my car. Don't get me started on joining the Catholic church in the South. It's especially hard, as a social worker, being once again on the business end of assistance. :(

    Anyway... I saw the comment you're talking about. I'm not sure the person meant anything bad by it. I know when I go back and read my own internet ramblings sometimes even I don't know what I was trying to say! My first assumption was that their cable is as high as ours. I could without it, but hubby and I prioritize... differently. (I'm being charitable.)
    Anyway, today's my birthday and I wanted to say a big, big "Thank you" again, Cammie. Seriously, you have been such a big resource and a big help getting me to RCIA. Thanks and much, much love to you and your family.
    Have to get ready and go to Publix to pick up free food for my baby and our other four. >.<
    Have a great day, everyone!!! <3

  25. Oh!!! Happy Birthday Surly Mermaid! You are such an amazing Mama (I wanted to hug you a couple weeks ago on CAF!!!)! When Paul left his job in 2008 it was a social work job (and it was basically for being Catholic and demanding the kids be allowed the religious freedoms they were entitled too...)... and it was so incredibly tough and such a change for everyone. Praying for you and hoping you have an amazing day! Hugs!

    And I think you're right! I don't think the comment was meant meanly at all, it was just one that stuck with me because it's something I struggled and debated over too!

  26. Go Patriots and Red Sox (I live in the Southcoast of MA) and go you for being so frugal. That's awesome, and I'm glad you get some entertainment time!

  27. I love how you make your own detergent and you inspire me to be more selfless! You never know is right. It's easy to judge people's choices but the easy way is the way to perdition! It's much harder to offer it up and recognize our own selfishness and pride that is inspiring the judgmental behavior! Pray for me to be more selfless! I'm so self-entitled sometimes! I'm almost 35 weeks pregnant w/ #3 (4 counting my little Saint) and use the exhaustion to justify all types of selfishness. I'll be praying for you too!

  28. We didn't have tv for years. Well, I mean to say, we did physically have a tv for movies, ect. but we didn't have satellite or cable or even have it hooked in for those basic three channels or what have you. We made the decision to instead put that money towards sponsoring a little girl in Brazil through world vision. We got married while we were still in college & wanted to start our marriage off right by sowing what little we had (and it didn't hurt to not have the distraction of tv when we were both needing the buckle down and do homework). Our only "luxury" item was Internet which quite honestly I consider a necessity in today's world especially when you are in school.

    It wasn't until after the birth of our son that my husband convinced me that with the late night breastfeedings and adjusting to being home all day with no one to talk to, but a new born that would be spending a great deal of the time eating, sleeping, pooping that I should him get us a basic tv hook up. I have to say that it was wonderful during those first few months especially and it was great to hear adult voices even if it was just actors on a tv show or to flip on some soft music when the baby was napping.

    I have felt like I've had to justify have tv to everyone though. Which is rediculous since these are pretty much the same people I would have to remind over and over that we didn't have tv and then they would look at me like I was crazy.

  29. Just wanted to say I really appreciated this post and your second comment. We all like to add these qualifiers to God's law - "Judge not, lest ye be judged. Unless they're on food stamps." Also, totally unrelated, but I'm really frustrated because I can't see the pictures of the blanket you made! Oh well, I'll try later.

  30. Lately I see a lot of people making an idol of what they term ” frugality”. I'd also remind folks that if you get the child tax credit or earned income credit you're getting ” assistance” too. There is no way you can judge without knowing the full extent of someone's circumstances you can't know if something is a luxury for them or not. Not all non essentials are luxuries. We need some balance in this area it seems, especially in the blogging/mom/housewife world.


I love comments and I read every single comment that comes in (and I try to respond when the little ones aren't distracting me to the point that it's impossible!). Please show kindness to each other and our family in the comment box. After all, we're all real people on the other side of the screen!