Monday, August 1, 2011

Mental Set

I have this mental set I can't seem to get rid of. It is:

"I am poor."

Adam and I were "poor" for so long. I'm sure everyone has different ideas of what "poor" means. What I mean is that we had to watch every dollar (although not every penny), and we had to live without a lot of things that would have made our lives so much easier. We shared one car for many years, which was not easy. We never bought a new appliance. We spent almost no money on clothing or jewelry. Things like a pedicure or a massage were completely out of the question. The only luxuries we permitted ourselves were travel and dining out, and we only did those in the most limited ways. But, we were never in danger of running out of money for food, or being late with our mortgage, or anything like that. However, we were one disaster away from that, since we had virtually no savings (excluding retirement funds). We were definitely living from paycheck to paycheck for a decade.

Only recently we came out of this state, due to a number of factors. Now, we have a little nest egg for emergencies, and we don't have to freak out if the dishwasher breaks and we need to spend a few hundred dollars to replace it. We can take those things in stride, as normal expenses. (And that's a good thing, since everything in this house seems to be breaking down.) We're definitely not rich or even well-off. We are simply "secure." It's a wonderful feeling.

But I'm having a really hard time getting used to spending money on certain things. I have it in my head that we can't afford babysitting, let alone any kind of child-care. So when I realized that we would have two toddlers right at the time when I'd be starting to homeschool Sammy, my mind was open to spending money on private school, but the idea of hiring a nanny for the twins (which will be much less expensive) never occurred to me until someone suggested it right here on my blog!

And now, when I'm facing the possibility of bed rest, my first thought was to call on all my friends, but it didn't occur to me at first that I could actually hire someone to help me. At least this time, it only took me about 24 hours to get past my block and think of it myself - I didn't need someone to suggest it.

So, I've hired the college girl who lives across the street to come and help me take care of Sam and the house for the next month or so - probably about 15 hours a week. (I had already hired her to be my mommy's helper when Leo and Zoe arrive and I still had a hard time realizing that I could do this.) I'm not sure exactly how it will work out, and I don't yet know if I'll be put on real bed rest or not, but no matter what, I need more help. I'll probably still need some help from friends if I end up on bed rest (I certainly can't afford to hire someone full-time), but I much prefer to be paying someone instead of taking "charity." I know my friends would actually love to help, but beggars can't be choosers, and when I'm paying someone I can rely on her coming at certain times, and to do certain things. That gives me so much more peace of mind. She starts tomorrow.


  1. Not entirely related, but I wanted to share my definition of "rich." You are rich when, if your income suddenly increased by 50%, you would not spend your money any differently than you do now. A few people might be rich at a $60,000 income. A few people could never, ever be rich no matter how much they earned.

  2. Hanah, I love that benchmark. What a clever way to think about it! We're definitely not rich. :)

  3. Francis Luong (Franco)August 1, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    An interesting read. I'm glad that you're able to find something that works and that you have thoughtful people to suggest good ideas.

  4. In that case, I'm half-way to being rich!

  5. When I was growing up, my parents (especially my mother) always acted like we were poor, even though in retrospect, I've realized that we were pretty well off, and there was no reason for us to live as modestly as we did.

    I'm not sure whether ultimately, it was a good thing--

    Is that why I'm so careful about money and spending now?

    Or could I have been substantially better off by having more opportunities and material goods growing up?

    Today, I'm deathly afraid of carrying a balance on my credit card (I've never done it)--so much so that it's borderline irrational.

    Whereas most people just buy the things they need/want, it takes me *forever* to make a decision, mostly, I think, because I'm petrified by the prospect of spending money that I haven't specifically budgeted months in advance.

    Of course, today, I *am* somewhat poor--I have over $200,000 in student loan debt (thanks, law school), so any money that I make above what I need to live relatively comfortably, I have to put toward paying off my loans--so I have no real savings (except a little bit for emergencies). And I certainly can't buy myself nice things that 8-screen display for my computer, or that 60" TV, or that multi-room sound system, laser dentistry, or a BMW. I agonize over spending money on fixing my current car, getting a bluetooth headset, buying a new bed frame and mattress, etc.

    And with the ongoing threat of the collapse of the US economy, I have no idea what attitude I should adopt.

    So I often wonder whether my attitude toward money is rational or not; and moreover, how connected it is with how my family dealt with finances when I was a kid.

  6. If my income suddenly increased by 50%, I would be spending that 50% on paying off my student loans, which is what I do now. So I guess I'm rich!

  7. I totally identify with this post, as I've only started getting over that mindset myself! My two year old loves blueberries and strawberries. When he started eating solids and I saw how much he liked them, I waffled in my head about how often to buy them because berries are "expensive." Then I realized I'm lucky that he likes such a healthy food, and we are almost "rich" by Hannah's definition (we save lots, mostly because we are satisfied with what we already have). I buy berries often now! Such a little thing, but it does make me feel a little bit "rich."

  8. Stephanie, that is exactly what I'm talking about! Old habits are hard to break. And it's also a perfect example of a Little Thing.

  9. Great idea for the "nanny." Congrats on thinking of it and getting yourself some more time. And, just because I'm like a broken record on the subject, read the section on "vulnerability schema" in Reinventing Your Life. :) There may be a few useful tips on keeping the useful parts of this mentality while discarding of the elements of it that needlessly limit you from taking advantage of opportunities. One doesn't need to be seriously impaired or paralyzed by unrealistic thoughts to benefit from the book.