The problem of buying things you need is that you can’t buy things that you want.
It seems that I want a lot of things.
That is the dilemma that I am facing as my stove saga drags on. Basically, my stove broke and we thought that we would be able to fix it. However, after a visit from a stove guy and a guy from the gas company, we are facing the realization that it may not be worth it to fix the 10-year old stove and instead we may have to replace it.
Yes, we have a “Life Happens” Fund.
We are lucky enough to have the money to pay for a new stove without having to put it on the credit card but that means that the money will have to come out of another fund- money that is earmarked for something else. It doesn’t really matter what the money is earmarked for; we have money put aside for clothes, maternity leave, baby stuff or our 3-6-month emergency fund. Once we are past the amount set aside for “Life Happens” then tough choices have to be made.
Making the Deep Cuts.
The problem with living on such a tight budget is that there is not much in the budget to cut out. I have been very open before about our low-income and tight budget. Honestly, I am more frugal than I even usually let on here. You know that we have only taken a vacation once in the past 7 years but did you know our entertainment budget is approximately $4 a month? I buy myself books from the 25 cent rack of the local bookstore and my kids occasionally are allowed to puck something out from the dollar store. We also get a drink from the gas station every few months- that is the extent of our “Eating Out” budget. I am saying this not to get pity or sympathy but to explain why “cutting something out” is not really an option and when I have to cut something- it’s a deep cut that hurts. Really hurts.
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My stove broke. We had a technician out to check out gas line and he discovered an issue with our gas line and where it connects to our stove. Since we rent, the gas line is our landlords problem (thank goodness!) but the stove is ours so we are on the hook for the expenses to the actual stove. I’m pretty grateful that this was caught because its pretty scary to think that we may have used the stove without realizing there was a gas issue. For now, we can’t use the stove until its resolved and we are not sure how much it will cost yet. A technician is supposed to come tomorrow. Meanwhile, we are stove-less.
Luckily we have an Emergency Fund!
This is what the emergency fund is for! This is pretty much the definition of an emergency: we can’t push this off (We need our stove to cook especially since the High Holidays are coming up pretty quickly), we can’t skimp on the repairs and we can’t DIY since the gas company will need a licensed and insured technician to sign off on the appropriate repairs.
Should I have Budgeted for this?
There has been discussion about the importance of an Emergency Fund. Someone on Twitter mentioned that its these types of situations that turn people off from having a fully-funded Emergency Fund as a goal. Its better to have budgeted for this situation in the first place.
I disagree. Fact is, you can’t really budget for every eventuality. If we did have an appliance repair line item in our budget- we would have maxed it out a while ago as for some reason all our appliances are needing major repairs this year. I don’t really see the point in budgeting for so many different eventualities. The amount of money you are putting away is the same- the numbers don’t change just because you have more things to budget for. You have a specific amount of money that needs to be divided up into your budget categories. That specific amount does not get bigger just because your budget items do. If you get bogged down with too many categories and line items and envelopes and funds- that is what gets you discouraged. How can you keep up with that? How can you even keep track?
We got to our Airbnb and after we set down our stuff we headed straight to the beach. We had brought some sand stuff for our kids to play with but as soon as we got there we noticed that the beach was crowded with families and most of the kids in the water had various inner tubes to play with in the water. We hadn’t brought anything for the to play with IN the water- just for outside the water. My son, pointing to a bright purple inner tube, asked “What is that kid playing with?” We responded that it’s a fun thing to float with in the water. My other son, “We don’t have anything to play with in the water”. I looked at my husband and my heart sank. I saw on his face that he was thinking the same thing. We felt so bad that our kids were in the water with all these other kids who were having so much fun with their floating toys. We put a bright face on and played in the water and on the beach- we don’t need stuff to have fun!!
The next day we hung out in the pool and then decided to head to the beach again. After a hurried consultation with DH, we decided to try to find a store to buy the kids inner tubes so there wouldn’t be a repeat of the previous day. If the tubes were affordable, say under $20, we would buy one so our kids wouldn’t have to stare longingly at other kid’s toys the whole day. We both grew up in large families and there wasn’t money for “extras”. So many times in my childhood I had gone without those small extras and I was determined that for this vacation at least my kids would have even this small thing.
We live frugally because we have to, and because we consider saving for our future and staying away from any debt to be a priority and there are many times I feel so bad for my kids. We don’t do so many things that other people do and even though they are still young, I wonder if they ever feel the pinch and feel badly or even resent us for that.
We didn’t want to spend any more money on this vacation than we had to but we decided to buy these tubes or some sort of floaty toy. On the way to the beach we stopped at a small store and I jumped out without telling my kids what I was getting. I ran inside and saw these fun inner tubes with a unicorn head attached for only $6. I immediately grabbed 2! Not only would my kids have the fun toys but they wouldn’t even need to share! I good barely contain my excitement as I paid and headed back to the car. The kids would be so psyched especially as I hadn’t indicated that I would buy them anything.
I reached the car and casually handed them each the box, “I bought you each something”, I said and grinned at my husband. We stared at them excitedly as they looked at it. Their response was… well, underwhelming to say the least. “What is it?” “It’s a floaty!” I said, “You know like all the kids had yesterday!”. “Oh” they said, “For, us?” “Yes!!!” we practically screamed “We bought these for you so when we go in the water today”. “But did we bring the sand toys?” “Both! You get to play with both!”. There excitement was palpable… not. As soon as we blow them up, we reasoned, they will realize what they are and they will get super excited. It’s hard to see what they are when they are still in a box, and the kids are still so young they can’t visualize it. Suffice it say, the excitement level just got lower as we blew them up. One kid flat out refused to carry it to the water from the car, “I don’t want to play with it”. The other brought it to the water and promptly left it next to the towels. We convinced him to play with it for a total of 30 seconds. AS we realized that they were supremely uninterested, I began to look at the whole incident with different eyes. Maybe the trip to the beach hadn’t gone as I thought it had?
Could it be that it wasn’t the kids who were jealous of the other kids, but me?
Was I projecting my disappointment on my children?
Was it possible that I was the one giving longing looks at the fun of the inner tubes, not them?
Was it possible that the “game face” I had put on was totally and completely unnecessary and my kids were enjoying themselves perfectly fine?
Was I regressing to my childhood and it was really child me who wanted an inner tube and couldn’t have one? Was I buying the inner tube to baby me who wanted what she couldn’t have?
Was I projecting my own insecurities about what I can and cannot buy and give to my children to things that I assumed that they wanted as opposed to things that they actually wanted?
Maybe I should have actually spoken to my kids and found out what they wanted instead of trying to play mother of year to them?
Did I actually go and spend money to make myself feel like a “fun” mother instead of finding out if my kids wanted inner tubes? If I wanted to treat them, maybe they would have wanted something else?
The money I spent wasn’t really the point, thankfully it was only $12 and although it’s not returnable I’m sure that we will eventually get some use out of them (maybe next year!) but it really got me thinking about the things I buy for my kids and why I buy them. There are some things that I buy because they need them but maybe there are some things I buy because I think they “need” them but they actually don’t? Maybe sometimes I buy things for them to feel like a “good mother” or because I am projecting my own insecurities onto my own kids without addressing their actual insecurities and needs?
I’m not sure exactly what the answer to all these questions are. These are questions that I am assuming most parents grapple with as we want to give our kids the world, not spoil them, well maybe a little, but not enough to ruin them. We want them to have everything but also work for it, feel loved and taken care of but also not be entitled. It’s a tall order!
What are some of the issues you face when buying things for your kids? Am I the only one who feels this way? Tell me I’m not alone!