Have you ever been tempted to steal toilet paper from your place of employment? Or maybe you slipped a five dollar bill out of your daughter's piggy bank and left a promissory note in its place? Having $0 in your bank account and children to care for is a combination that's been known to lead to some crazy behaviors. I can shamefully say that I have indeed been tempted to steal toilet paper from a variety of locations. This is not to say that I have actually ever swiped a roll, but the temptation is there when the money is not.
When I say I have no money, I mean I have no money. There's no Discover card with an available balance that I just shouldn't touch. There's no savings account with emergency money that I'm trying really hard not to spend. And there sure as hell isn't a college fund set aside for my kids' educations. Going a few days without money in college just meant I had to forgo the bar for the weekend — no big deal. But being a mom with no money is a bit more stressful. This is what it's like.
1. Creativity Is a Must
When the bank account is low and you're counting down the hours until payday, creativity is key for survival. You may find yourself standing in front of the fridge wondering how to make dinner for four out of eggs, mustard, yogurt, and Gatorade. When your child comes home with the dreaded project that requires supplies you can't buy, you discover your inner Picasso, creating masterpiece artwork out of the remnants of random debris in your basement. You find that pair of shoes you wore just once and only around the house, and decide they're still new enough to return so you can pay the deposit for your son's soccer team. Paycheck-to-paycheck moms are resourceful because we have no other choice. We make things happen.
2. Financial Balance Doesn't Exist
The last few days before payday feel long. You're running low on everything, and you're crossing your fingers that no unexpected bills come up. Once you get paid, it's catch-up time, and then BAM! The money is gone again. There's no middle ground. You try your best month after month to budget better and make the money last all four weeks, but it never does, and that kind of makes you feel like a failure.
3. Financial Guilt Is Constant
When there just isn't enough money to make it from one payday to the next, guilt accompanies every dime spent. Even a trip to the grocery store leaves you feeling as though maybe the ice cream sandwiches are too big of an unnecessary splurge. Spending money, even on the most basic necessities, feels like some sort of financial sin.
4. The Phone Is Ringing
Those pesky bill collectors sure are persistent, aren't they? They call and call, and leave message after message. Like a mom with no money, they too are resourceful, and at times, even track you down at work! They offer solutions that make your blood boil, such as borrowing money from a relative or getting a second job. Paycheck-to-paycheck moms do our best, and sometimes that means sending the calls to voicemail, and other times it means making a $25 payment. We do what we can when we can, because owing people money sucks.
I'm not proud of my current financial situation, and I can only hope that through hard work, dedication, and responsible financial decision making, I will one day enjoy a life of financial stability. Until then, I vow to not let money, or lack thereof, steal happiness from me or my kids. Life is full of ups and downs, and as I face the week ahead with not nearly enough money for everything we need, I choose to focus on all that we do have: love, laughter, health, and happiness. Somewhere at this very moment, someone is wishing for the things I have, like eggs and Gatorade in the fridge or a safe and warm home. Love may not make a turkey sandwich, but money can't buy gratitude.