Friday, October 5, 2012

The freedom of frugality

My mom has been making passive-aggressive statements lately about the nature of our lifestyle, and it seems as if she is implying our irresponsibility for our way of life. I don't mean to bring her out, because I'm guessing our unconventional ways are a little bewildering to many of our friends and family, and from the outside, maybe we do seem to be lazy drains on society. But, nonetheless, we think our life is almost perfect, and here's why:

Exhibit A: My mom made her first comment about how maybe since we both college degrees we should just "get a job..." and I'm presuming she's mostly talking about Tim. The reasons I went to grad school are many, but one big reason was due to the fact that we weren't even Tim would get a job right out of college, and rather than being unemployed and hopeless, this was our best bet. Obviously, he would've found something, but did he really want to work at Target full-time? Yeah, no. Besides, the amount of my stipend is probably what we would've been making at any job we would've found, unless by some rare occurrence he landed some sweet deal on a government job but he doesn't really want to do that with his life, he would've been gone a lot, and yeah, it wasn't too likely anyways. People always talk about HOW POOR grad students are, and even though we are grad students with two kids, I'm saying i don't feel that poor. In fact, now that we are finally making a steady paycheck for the first time in like, ever, I feel pretty dang wealthy. That $2084 monthly check feels nice and hefty in our bank account. So, yeah, get a job? Mom, I have a job. It's called "being really smart and getting a fellowship to grad school so I don't have to get a job right now but will one day probably have an even better job." Also, getting paid that much to go school about 20 hours a week ain't bad at all.

Exhibit B: Apparently, Tim and I don't know what it's like to live in the real world, to know how hard it is to pay bills and live paycheck to paycheck. Yes, maybe we don't know exactly, though we've paid plenty of bills in our day. I think my mom is implying here that we are government moochers, which many of you may also believe since we have happily admitted to using WIC, Medicaid, food stamps, etc. And while I used to be ashamed of those things, I'm embracing them because there is no shame, especially if you yourself are a socialist. We have a few Scandinavian friends now, and what we get from the government is meager compared to their benefits. I think my friend Eda said she gets something like $600 a month just for having a kid, plus free (or relatively cheap) childcare, a year maternity leave from her job (also, she's a student midwife, how cool is that?!), etc. Besides wanting to drop everything and move to Sweden immediately, it made me realize just how un-mooching-ness it is to be raising children and furthering my education, doing very hard work that will benefit society.

But I digress because the point I was going to make here was that most people live paycheck to paycheck because a) they are working minimum-wage jobs and have many financial obligations, or b) they are not frugal with their money. My mom (who is a nurse) thinks she and my dad (who is in the military) are "just making ends meet..." with their combined incomes. You are not just making ends meet when you live in a fairly large, newly remodeled home, you own more large screen flat TVs than people live in your home (not to mention 40000 channels), you eat out 5 days a week, and you have more clothes than you could possibly ever wear (plus you buy your granddaughter more clothes than SHE could possibly ever wear). Whatever lifestyle you choose, that's fine, but I don't buy the Ann Romney with your "oh, but we're just so ordinary and not rich at all...."

We are not living paycheck to paycheck, and never really have, not because we have government help, though thank you America for your kind-of wonderful system, which we certainly did not build. We are doing fine because we 1) live in a very tiny, very old apartment 2) everything we own has been used by others before us 3) we cook vegetarian, homemade food from real ingredients and go out to eat 5 times a year (maybe) and can manage a monthly food budget of $300 a month and 4) when we do purchase something that is expensive, we wait until we have the money and have never put anything on credit (yes, we own a double BOB and an iPad). It's liberating to know that you don't have outstanding credit card bills piling up or overdue loan payments or whatever that is that happens to people out there in the "real world." We use credit cards because we get a lot of money back at the end of the year, but we have never once paid interest or fees. We can garage-sale like nobody's business, and our kids still play awesome board games and wear awesome clothes because it's amazing what people will sell for 25 cents when they really don't want it anymore (aka adorable Zutano dress and Arthur game, thank you kind richer people than us).

Ok, so our lifestyle now brings us to the liberation issue. Because we are frugal and don't have any financial obligations that extend beyond our income, we are also able to make radical decisions or do sweet things that others don't have the ability to do with their choice of lifestyle. I had a conversation recently with my sister where she said something to the effect of... "I would love to switch places with my husband and go back to school or work for a while and he says he could handle the full-time parenting, but it doesn't make financial sense for us..." which I get, because her husband works in a lucrative career field and she has been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years with no career training or education past her bachelor's degree. It makes sense for them to continue living in a nice house and continue the lifestyle they are living with her husband's income and her reproductive labor. They have a nicely defined set of tasks and they are both specialized in those tasks, and complete them efficiently and don't want to embark on the messy issues of forging an unknown path. And to be quite frank, if I haven't been already, there are some days I come home from a crap day at school and walk into a messy house with a screaming baby who I've missed terribly and I collapse down to nurse her and look at Tim and say, "freak, will you just find a job because this sucks!"

But... I'd rather live the slightly messy, slightly more complicated life we have chosen fulfilling my dreams and passions while allowing Tim his space to be both a caretaker for our children and (kind of) fulfill his passion for writing (when he gets a spare moment), making waves by shaking things up and being a little bit odd in this overly-socially-constructed world.

Boogs sometimes wonders "why the heck did I choose these parents?" but most of the time she thinks we're awesome


  1. Have I mentioned that your baby is beautiful? Cause she is.

    2k for part-time school is AWESOME. It's gotta feel good to have THEM pay YOU to learn.

  2. How are you on all those programs when you're above the Wisconsin poverty level with your stipend income? -Devin

  3. Congratulations for your lifestyle, you are free and the freedom makes you richer than the money.

  4. I'm writing as Lauren's Dad and I know that offends you. But I took that name to write on Lauren's blog and I didn't know that would be my name on all the blogs. So, this comment is really from Caitlin's Dad. I just back from Norway. Beautiful country, nice people. And they do get tons of government subsidies for the 60% taxes they pay. (Actually, I don't know if taxes are that high; that's just what someone told me). Anyway, gas is $7.50 a gallon, a bottle of Coke is $4 and a nice meal is $75, if you don't drink the $15 beer. So, you have to make an enormous amount of money to live comfortably there...but if the government subsidizes everything from housing to childcare, maybe it's a good lifestyle. I don't know...but I know it cost me $23 US for a piece of cheesecake and a glass of Coke (no free refills or to-go cups). Norwegians (or Swedens) don't live this simple, near-impoverished lifestyle you advocate. They live much better.

    1. Thanks for proving my point, Dad. A gallon of gas and a coke SHOULD be expensive. They are luxuries. You are right, they live much better because socialism has worked there. That is why the Kroner (is that Norway's currency?) is so strong compared to the dollar. in the US, things like childcare and health insurance are ridiculously expensive, and things like Coke and McDonald's are ridiculously cheap. It's all backward.

  5. Have I told you lately how glad I am that I met your family on that study abroad? You two continue to open my eyes every time I catch up on your blog. We all have so much to learn from each other!

  6. I've been thinking of writing a post similar to this for a while, especially after our little Facebook group discussion. I often get rankled by other's ideas of what "living well" means. I have to say a lot of our financial decisions are similar to yours and Tim's even though Jonathan does have a job. We still try to live like we did when we were students with the one exception that we just took out a mortgage for a house we had saved and saved for. There's no shame in living frugally, though perhaps in living cheaply . . . Also, way to be smart and earn $2000/month for it!