It is interesting to me how managing difficult finances can affect us as mothers. I have felt so many emotions during our own financial hardships. Children often don’t understand money problems, and we can feel very alone. We may have less patience with our children as our emotions surrounding the crisis take their toll.
Usually, economic challenges don’t go away overnight. Patience is probably my greatest weakness. However, I’ve discovered some strategies to deal more patiently with financial problems as we change them.
Look at How Far You’ve Come
When we lay in bed at night, my husband and I love to talk about where we want to be in two years, five years, etc. It is fun to dream. My caution is that in looking only at where we want to be with our finances, we fail to see the progress we have made.
Even now, I’m not right where I want to be financially, and it’s still easy to get discouraged at how far we have to go. But when I look at how far we’ve come, I’m encouraged. I see progress.
We involve our children in our progress as much as we can. Since they are quite young, we have celebrated progress in small ways–dinner out as a family, a camping trip, etc. Our hope is that although they don’t fully comprehend the struggle, they see us, as parents, celebrating how far we’ve come.
Don’t Compare Your Situation to Others
I’ll never forget a time several years ago when my sister-in-law invited my children and me to join her and several friends for lunch at McDonald’s. It really wasn’t in my budget, so I brought a few things from home to supplement what we bought. As I sat visiting with these women, I became painfully aware of what they had that I did not: cute, stylish clothes, professionally done nails, highlights in their hair, and of course . . . new cars.
I left that outing feeling pretty sorry for myself. The problem is that by comparing myself to these other women, I failed to see the things I did have in my life. For instance, I had a car to drive. It worked great, and it was paid for. I had clothes to wear and my children were loved and fed. My husband had a job and I was able to stay at home with our kids.
We can never know what others are going through, and comparing ourselves to their outward appearance does not accomplish anything. Maybe they’re in debt up to their eyeballs. Maybe they’ve been through the trenches we’re currently in, and they’ve come out the better. Put your blinders on!
Have Fun Without Spending Money
It’s tough as a mom. Our kids see their friends and wonder why we don’t have the same TV channels, toys, vacations, extracurricular activities. I worried for a long time that my children were missing out on childhood because they didn’t have many of the “things” that we thought they were entitled to. Truthfully, though, what our kids really need is to feel included, loved, part of something bigger than themselves.
There are so many activities that cost little or nothing and create great memories. Last summer, when our neighbors were heading to the water park, we headed to the back yard with our slip and slide. We’ve had lemonade stands. We have taken scenic bike rides, gone on a hiking scavenger hunt, crafted at home, made homemade ice cream and suckers, visited the county fair, and so much more.
We have such amazing memories of that summer, and we spent very little money. Sure, our neighbors went to movies, Disneyland, and water parks; but we bonded, just my kids and me, and created wonderful memories for nearly no money. When you are focused on finding something fun to do, you are less focused on what you are not able to do.
Set Financial Goals
Each year as a family, we set goals. Usually, we have one finance-related goal (to pay off debt, build savings, take a trip, etc.), mixed in with all our others. This year, we have set a goal to pay off a car we purchased. We have made a large thermometer on paper where we track each payment and our kids color in the progress we’re making. This way, all of us are focusing on the progress.
Having a visual, like a thermometer to track your goals, also gives you (and your kids) a tangible reminder of why you are saying “no” when everyone else is saying “yes.” If there is something that your child really wants, set a goal. Work as a family or help him/her work to earn it. Setting a goal gives you a focus to work toward, rather than dwelling on what you lack.
One of the most frustrating parts of financial challenges is that just because you’ve learned the lesson doesn’t mean the challenge goes away. After being in the trenches and learning all that you have, you may feel like you have earned the right to be free of your struggles. Unfortunately, just because you have learned the lesson doesn’t mean the student loans are forgiven and the salary increases ten-fold. This is where patience really comes in. You must choose to see the good in your situation as you slowly work to change it.
I can honestly say I’m grateful for what we’ve been through financially because we’ve been “schooled” intensely in financial matters through our trials. The resistance caused by our financial hardship has caused us to build financial muscle. It may take two years or ten, but by creating simple strategies like the ones I’ve suggested, the journey can be much more bearable–dare I say, even enjoyable.
QUESTION: What can you do to “find fun” at home, rather than going somewhere and paying for it?
CHALLENGE: Pick a financial goal as a family and create a visual reminder of that goal.