Just recently, Jake and I found the nicest public lake nearby. Living on the outskirts of the county, it’s nearby no one else, but the exact distance to the swim beach is 18 minutes from our front door. It’s small, clean, has picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and allows for boating, fishing, and swimming. After the distance, the second best thing about this little lake, is that it costs $5 per car, per day. The nearest aquatic centers costs more than that per person.
Last Christmas, my step-brother announced that he’d booked a company-owned luxury cabin, in Crested Bute, Colorado for Labor Day weekend. The whole family was welcome, at a discounted rate, which depended on how many committed. Because the cabin could only be reserved for four days, the plan was for everyone to stay at a nearby hotel for three to four more. My parents and all of my step-siblings were enthusiastically in, without private discussion, while Jake and I offered non-committal responses, knowing we’d talk about it in the car.
Though we didn’t wish to share the details of our financial situation with my entire family, from the beginning we felt it was optimistic, at best, to think we could take a family vacation in a year when we planned an embryo transfer, which costs about $4,000. So, with the final total up in the air, we tabled the idea, under the heading of “Wouldn’t That Be Nice?” In April, Zane clarified that the cost would be $100 per adult for the full stay at the cabin. Jake and I tentatively agreed that we could probably swing that, but that the hotel was out. In May, we received the wonderful news that we wouldn’t have to pay for an embryo transfer after all. In June, however, I read an article about how the used car market was going to get bad again and finally admitted that we couldn’t actually fit three children in rear-facing car seats in my Sorento.
So, we found ourselves the proud owner of a 2019 Chrysler Pacifica… along with a $1500 pending tag and title and a $100 car payment, when both of our cars had previously been paid off. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was $1500 on our emergency credit card. All the while, my pregnancy was progressing and we needed to move the girls into the larger bedroom, so we could ready their old one for their baby brother. After purchasing a new closet kit, wood and brackets for the 360° shelves Jake built, stain, paint, brush and roller kits, curtains, and additional shelving to make the most of their small shared room from 1980, we were easily looking at another $1200 on said credit card.
In August, I conceded that Colorado just wasn’t doable. A 12 hour drive with 14-month-old twins would be miserable. With gas prices as they were, it would cost an additional $400 just to get there, making it no cheaper than flying. Flying on a holiday weekend sounded even worse with the current transportation issues, all for the equivalent of an extended weekend. We’d already put so much on the emergency credit card, yet still felt we could pay it off completely with our tax return, avoiding any interest. While we could justify charging new baby preparations, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to put a leisure trip on credit, even if it was during my 35th birthday. Instead, we would take our girls on their very first lake trip and save approximately $1,495. While everyone else was in Colorado, our family vacation would comprise a few hours less than 20 minutes away. So, in this time of 40-year-high inflation rates at 8.4%, historically high gas prices, soaring electric bills, and general financial discontent across the country, I sent a group text bowing out of the family vacation… and I was the only one.
Y’all, I try to remember that what other people do with their money is none of my business… and I have a lot of practice doing so. Even before I quit my job to stay home, I never got manicures. I cut my hair and Jake’s. I owned one purse, a leather Fossil bag, which I’ve been carrying for three years, as I did with each of the previous three. My clothes have always been bought on sale from Kohl’s, Target, Old Navy, or Amazon. I keep the newest or last edition phone, only for the camera, because I make annual photo albums. Jake’s was five years old until he got a free upgrade. We don’t have cable and keep our streaming services to a minimum. We rarely eat out, cooking at home with groceries we buy ourselves, sans meal kits. My weekly splurge is maybe a $10 sushi bento box, with Jake’s equivalent being beer. When we do get fast food, we literally always split something we buy with a coupon.
Don’t get me wrong .We’re not destitute or struggling without. We have nice computers, a 75″ TV, and quality furniture. Jake owns the newest XBOX and I the latest Cricut machines. However, these are already paid for, so we spend a lot of time at home and rarely do things that cost actual money when we go out. When we go to the zoo, I get a free pass from the library. We go to the park, farmer’s market, free festivals, church events, rodeos with tickets from Jake’s uncle. We stream new movies or check them out from the library. We host two separate DnD games every other week to maintain a pretty decent social life for parents of small children. For fun, I do various crafts and read, while Jake works in the yard or plays video games. Our tax returns go, primarily, to pay off the 0% emergency card or home improvement projects. Our mortgage payment is a little high, but it’s most certainly balanced out by the fact that we have very little debt beyond that.
I’m not complaining about my circumstances. I live in a nice, spacious home on over an acre, in a safe neighborhood, in a small suburb, in the state with the third lowest cost of living. I love my used car and Jake has no complaints about his 12-year-old truck. I like saving money and enjoy the challenge of finding coupon codes. Target clothes are enough for me. I enjoy painting my own nails. I don’t want a new purse. I’m content to be able to buy and cook good food. I’ve done the math on meal kit subscriptions and they’re a terrible deal, only slightly worse than eating out. I just don’t understand where people are getting their money and why they have so much more than we do. No matter how hard I try to be a good and non-judgmental person, I’m frequently left scratching my head at how people are affording their lifestyles.
With Jake’s friends and family, their circumstances at least make sense. His friends have largely gotten loans to start their family farms and run cattle. His sister has land and cattle because her husband once won quite a bit of money at the NFR and started his own business. One cousin is high up in oil and another helps run the family rodeo company. They’re also all 10 years older than us and most of them can’t even comprehend the term vacation, they work so hard. It’s not these folks who are confusing me and I genuinely hold zero bitterness toward them for their success. When looking at people our age, in similar life situations, though, I’m not bitter, but I am at a loss.
I’m not even on social media, but I still see some of my own family members, who’ve just bought their first home and had a baby in the same year, taking vacations, getting manicures, hitting Starbucks every day, and trying out expensive subscriptions, knowing that how much they earn annually places us firmly in the same bracket. They make similar money to what Jake and I do now or what we did before, but while paying for daycare. Still, they buy new cars, don designer handbags and jewelry, shop at pricey boutiques, and eat out all the time. They never seem to financially struggle during the holidays, whereas Jake and opted out of trading gifts between adults years ago. They had elaborate weddings, live on just enough land to cost some serious upkeep, and own farm animals that earn no revenue and essentially amount to expensive, but Instagrammable chores. They buy hundreds of dollars in gifts for their kids, keep them in stylish clothes and the latest tech, and take so many family vacations. I don’t even like to travel, but I’m still wondering how all these middle class people with small children are affording to do so, while Jake chooses a vacation horror movie on Netflix and I Google “fun and free family activities?”
I did not rejoice in the fact that my family all had to miss their flights and sleep on the airport floor with their many babies, came down with altitude sickness, got food poisoning, and experienced several Covid-19 cases during their Colorado trip… but I did rejoice in the fact that Jake and I didn’t put $1500 on a credit card to share in that experience. Similarly, I try not to somehow console myself with the idea that all of these people are drowning in debt. I truly hope that’s not the case, because although Jake and I had to pay $30,000 to have some babies, our house payment, new car payment, and minimum on the 0% credit card are the only monthly installments debts to our name. We also have investments, outside of Jake’s retirement. While they’re not as robust as they once were, with Bitcoin having bought us our babies, they still equal around $35,000. Additionally, although I’m staying home and these other couples earn two incomes, were I still working, the cost of daycare would have voided my pretty decent earnings when our boy arrives.. Even when Jake and I were both working, earning six figures together, we weren’t even able to daydream about keeping up with the Jones’s the way everyone else seems to be doing, so effortlessly.
What is it? Is everyone investing without me? Have they all inherited money? Are they printing it? Are they somehow not paying $4 per gallon in gas and $250 a month for electricity? Are the seemingly normal life expenses Jake and I experience so ridiculous? Do other people not need to have their thermostat replaced, upgrade their car with the increasing size of their families, repaint the occasional room, and save up for a new front door? Are these people, who seem to be living so lavishly in such similar circumstances to ours, somehow living in a pocket dimension where it’s the 1990s and a bag of frozen chicken doesn’t cost $30? Are they just spending more money? Do they have no savings? Are they all drowning in debt? Am I missing something, here? Am I just blind?
Ultimately, of course, I try to remind myself that the answers to these questions don’t actually matter. I have a nice life, one I’d have only dreamt of at one time. While we do make sacrifices to allow me to stay home, they’re both worth it to us and not that much greater than what we’d have been making were I working to pay for daycare. I wouldn’t turn down manicures, fancy haircuts, and massages, but I don’t feel my life is poorer without them. My children are too young to enjoy movie theaters, eating in a restaurant, or vacations. Jake and I appreciate the option to pause the movie on HBO Max and discuss or rant. We like cooking together every night, feeling it makes our marriage stronger. As for the Colorado trip, in hindsight, it seems we had much more fun watching The Hills Have Eyes after taking our girls to our new little $5 lake.
Still, no matter how hard I try to just mind my own busines, be thankful for all of many blessings, keep from looking into other people’s bowls… I can’t help but wonder, why does everyone have more money than we do?