The Challenge of Debt Free Living
DJ is 7 weeks old today. Last week, after I reached the 6-week postpartum milestone, I decided to go full steam ahead with my usual activities. I cooked. I cleaned. I organized cabinets, filed papers, cleaned out my coupon binder. I dusted, I vacuumed, I paid bills, I started our tax return. I did all of this in between DJ’s naps and nursings, while caring for two other children (one with a bad head cold), and each night I fell into bed, dizzy with exhaustion. But I was getting stuff done. I was catching up after months and months of being behind. I was being productive.
I was being an idiot.
I woke up on Thursday with searing pain in my left breast. By Friday morning, I was so sick that I could barely stand to get out of bed. I had fever and chills, and all-over body aches. I had mastitis.
I e-mailed Kathy and got on antibiotics for that, but on Saturday I started bleeding. My postpartum bleeding had pretty much stopped, but suddenly it was back with a vengeance, along with cramping and overall misery. I e-mailed Kathy again, and she thinks it’s probably nothing to worry about, but the general consensus among my friends and family is…slow down!
But how, exactly, do I do that? I have three little kids and a house to take care of, and most of the time I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water. When will there be time to slow down?
I know that I need help, but my husband cannot take any more time off work. He just can’t. He wasn’t able to work for the first two months of the year because I needed help, and we’re starting to feel the pinch. Which brings me to an important point – debt freedom comes with its own set of financial challenges. When you make up your mind to live a debt-free life, you still have financial stress – just a different kind. If your car gives up, you must buy a new one without borrowing. If you have an unexpected problem (such as an unplanned c-section and a baby in the NICU for 3 days), you’ll worry about how to pay the bill without borrowing. And when you have an average income, as we do, and must do without it for a couple of months, you might be able to weather that storm more easily than someone with a mountain of debt, but it will still hurt. You will notice.
Among people who know that we’re debt free, there seems to be the attitude that we’re somehow independently wealthy. We rejected something that is widely accepted as a fact of life in America… payments. House payments, car payments, credit card payments. Because of this, people like to comment on my spending habits, such as the woman who told me that I have no reason to shop at garage sales, because I can “afford” to buy new stuff. If I balk at a purchase because I don’t think I can afford it, I hear things like, “What do you mean you can’t afford it? You’re debt free!” If I express any kind of concern or anxiety about money I hear, “Quit worrying about it! It’s not like you’re destitute. Your house is paid for!”
To these people, I have one thing to say, and because it never occurs to me to say it to their faces, I’m going to say it here:
“Who are you to say what I can and can’t afford?”
Whew! I feel better now. That’s been a burr under my saddle for a long time.
Debt freedom does not excuse us from paying all of the same bills that everyone else pays. We pay property taxes, income taxes, utilities, phone bills, car insurance. We have three little kids who need food, clothing, and medical and dental care. Also, we’re self-employed. Our health insurance alone costs over $700 a month (and it isn’t even good). We have no pension plan or employer-funded 401K, but we would like to retire someday. We would like to give our children a good education. This is why we worked for 7 years to become debt free, and why we continue to work hard, and practice frugality, and save as much money as we can. Not so we can buy whatever strikes our fancy, but because we need it. If we just started wildly spending money without regard we wouldn’t be debt free for long.
So yes, I know I need help, but I don’t feel like I can ask my husband to take more time off, though I know he would be willing. I also don’t want to hire someone to help me, because I would feel guilty about further adding to the financial burden he carries as the sole breadwinner. I’ve decided that the best solution to my problem is to lower my standards. If my house has to be a total pigsty for the next month so that I can take it easy, who cares? (I mean, other than me) I will just have to let it go, because if I end up hospitalized for exhaustion, who benefits from that?
Nobody, that’s who.