Sunday, January 10, 2010

Money Matters and the Christmas Pajamas

"Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants."
Esther De Waal

Aaron and I have always been a 1 income family. We knew from the start that one day we'd have children and we wanted to prepare for only 1 member of the family working outside the home. So while I finished my credential and my student teaching, Aaron worked. Then while he finished his illustration degree and started the MFA program, I taught school. When I was pregnant with James, it was a toss up as to who would stay home, but Aaron's freelance job turned into full time, so I got to become the stay at home mom I always wanted to be.

Despite that well thought out financial plan, we haven't been the most financially savvy in other areas of our life. We probably could have saved more and made wiser choices, not taken a 5 week trip to Europe, bought a cheaper car.

Still, my husband is a champ at socking away money. He excels at budgeting and money management. He really likes to save money.

I'm going to be honest with you. I do not. I like buying what I want when I want it instead of waiting to see how much we can afford at the end of the month. I like little extravagances like fresh flowers and going out for coffee. Who doesn't like those things?

Oh, I'm not the worst. I don't order things and have UPS delver them to my neighbors so my husband doesn't know about it. I don't use the grocery money to buy American Express gift cards and then go clothes shopping with them. But I do see a good sale and think, "well, this is a great deal. I'll just put it on the card and we'll pay it next month. What's $30?" Or something to that effect.

But this year we bought a house. And we still have a lot of fixing to do. And the economy is pretty bad. We'd like to put more money in our savings account. We're going to have 4 kids! We really need to stick to that budget. I really need to.

So December became the month of reckoning. If you are going to prove you can stick to the budget, December is the month to do it in, right? We always come away with a credit card bill after Christmas. And Aaron has a healthy dislike, OK passionate hatred, for credit card debt. The goal: stick to the cash only system, no "emergency" atm or credit card purchases.

It was hard. Not because there wasn't enough money, but because I had to prioritize how I spent it. I couldn't buy everything I wanted and justify it because, "it's Christmas." I had to make do, and be creative and stretch those dollars. And for a little while, I hated it.

Things really came to a head the day I realized that buying the kids new Christmas pajamas wasn't going to be in the cards this year. "What?" you ask. "How expensive can kids pjs be?"

Let me explain. I might be shopping at the wrong places, but pjs from Gap Kids are at usually around $20. It is hard to find them on sale in sizes that are not huge or tiny. Well, $20 times 3 is $60. That seems like an awful lot to spend on kids pajamas.
Old Navy isn't much better and even at Target I was looking at $15 a pair. And they weren't even that cute! I did find pairs for around $10 at K Mart, but they were ugly and not soft, and I'd rather the kids have none at all. I should have planned ahead and bought them on sale last Christmas.

The thing was, I had Christmas pajamas from last year for Lilly and William. They were both a little big last year, so they'd fit just right this year. That would leave only James. He really did need pajamas because he was down to 2 pairs.

But I didn't want to reuse last year's pajamas. I wanted new ones. Like I get them every year. Cause it's Christmas. I didn't want to save. I didn't want to be thrifty.
I just wanted to buy my kids new Christmas pajamas, dang it!

So there I was, battling it out with myself in the kitchen. I was mad. It didn't seem fair that I couldn't get what I wanted. I know, I was being selfish and juvenile. It's embarrassing to admit, but I am aiming for truth here, and reality.

That was when I realized the truth about those pajamas. They didn't matter one bit. My kids didn't care if they got new pajamas. It was about me. It was about my attitude. There are people who can hardly put food on their tables and I am complaining about some stupid pajamas? I was so ashamed.

It is so easy to become discontent with all the luxuries we have in our lives. Our homes, our closet full of clothes, cars, dishes that are just for decoration, lots and lots of shoes, not just 1 pair, and the list could go on forever, right? We don't even see them as luxuries, but as things we are entitled to. We eat out, we rent movies, we buy music. Even if we only do those things once a month, we are doing them more than so many others ever do. When I was in India, the 3 teenage girls we stayed with had never been to a restaurant. Never. They were 16, 17 and 18. We took them out for my birthday and it was the grandest celebration they'd ever experienced.

I knew that truly sticking to the budget meant making sacrifices. If I wanted to do everything on my list for December, then some other things had to give. I had to let go. And the very moment I did, those pajamas didn't matter anymore at all.

Maybe you're reading this and you can't believe I would make so much out of something so small. But I think we all have something akin to the Christmas pajamas in our lives. It is really a matter of being content with what you have. Just like the quote at the opening of this post says.

I am sharing this with you because I hope to grow in this area of my life this year. I hope to find more joy in delayed gratification, saving up, planning ahead and stretching my dollar. It's funny that these are things I think are so important to teach my kids and yet I still have not mastered them myself. Over the course of this year, I will share some of these money matters with you--the highs and lows, the real truth.

And I know I can do it because of this promise, one of my other favorite thoughts on being content:
"I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." Phillippians 4:11-13

By the way, here are the kids in their Christmas pajamas. They seem perfectly happy, don't you think?

I'm learning, oh yes I am.


Rob said...

My wife and I have roughly the same issues. We have been on just one income for six years, but due to too many job changes for me, and several moves in several years, we have accrued credit card debt (and I can relate to your husband's opinion of such a thing). So, now we are paying it down, trying to be more frugal, and re-learning something I remember from growing up in a single-income family of eight (and which you discuss): delayed gratification. It's tricky, but when you remember that life isn't about the 'stuff', it gets a little easier. Kudos!
BTW - I really enjoy your blogs!

Annie said...

Oh my goodness, I can so relate to this post! I did find Christmas PJs at Children's Place on sale for $11, and bought them even though I probably shouldn't have. But I can relate to the rest of the post as well. We are trying to get our finances in order this year and it's harder than you would think. I have found that I can't even set foot inside a store or else I see a sale and can't resist. I am good about finding things REALLY marked down, but it still adds up.

Andrea said...

oh boy how this post rings true for me so much right now. More than I really want to even get into, but just wanted to say that you're not silly or crazy for making something out of wanting to get your kids Christmas pj's. Good luck

Erin McDonald said...

I am so in that boat and I don't even have kids. We use the envalope system and man when the 25 th shows up we don't have many opptions. But you are right it's not about the stuff it's about our additudes, counting our blessings because so many go with out we can deal with a little less. yes it's hard when the other family can have it and you can't but what is God teaching us all? save up treasures in heaven where there is no Moth or flame to destroy. Well done Greta! thanks for posting this I think it helps us all who are on budgets that we are not alone and instead of all your friends inviting out to the "Fourbucks" for coffee maybe they will have you over for a cup of Folgers eek!~ But hey think of the time well spent on the friendship instead of how hard you will have to brush to get that wreched coffee breath out. Love you Friend!