ok- joking aside, i’d like to get your feedback/suggestions/perspectives on a topic that’s sometimes hard to talk about face to face.

and that topic is money.

i’ve asked people how they make it financially and had them smile beatifically and say, “we manage.” that’s beautiful, but unfortunately not helpful at all in drawing up a grocery budget.

i like to be open with my kids without putting adult worries on their backs. we are not doing worse financially than we were; in fact, we should be doing better. but we are trying to be more careful and more mindful about how we spend our money. our bigger kids are already aware of this, and they don’t ask us for things unless there is a real need. this is good; i want them to have a healthy respect for the value of money. what i don’t want is for them to have an unhealthy aversion to spending or a paranoia about getting their needs met or a feeling that there may not be enough to go around. so the trick is to find a balance between sticking to a budget and being generous enough to not be stressed about money all the time. the four oldest use their own money for extras, and even the two littlest are getting into the idea of saving money that they get for birthdays etc. to use for treats and extra things they want.

but back to the topic of budgets:

i have one friend who makes a game of seeing how much money they can save. she will go to buy food with her kids and come back gleeful with loads of distressed produce which they she will then sit and meticulously (sort of. i hope.) sort through to take out the bad stuff. she will turn rotting apples into applesauce and rotting zucchini into zucchini bread and squishy potatoes into yummy potato soup. but spoiling food grosses me out, and i’ve unfortunately passed that onto my kids, so this option doesn’t work so well for us.

i have another friend with a blog who chronicles how she feeds her family of 11 (soon to be 12- hurray!)- on like $600/month. the blog is www.oceansofjoy.wordpress.com. she recently moved to israel, but before she moved, she spent considerable time and effort finding suppliers for bulk products so she could save on the things she uses. i’ve seen over the years, though, that a big part of how she is able to feed her family so frugally is that they are used to eating and living frugally. just one example- they eat lots of beans and lentils. i’m slowly incorporating beans and lentils into my family’s meals, but it’s slllllllllllllloooooooooooow going, with a fair bit of resistance along the way. i’ve tried a few of her recipes (delicious, by the way!), but unless it’s an adaptation of something my kids are already familiar with, let’s just say the new recipe doesn’t get a lot of love…

in high school i had a teacher who was a passionate coupon-er. she taught us lesson after lesson about how she and her husband spent practically nothing on food and household items, and she brought in her coupon books and her receipts to prove it. this was before companies got wiser, so you could get travel sizes and sample sizes with coupons. so she would get a 25 cents off coupon for toothpaste. she would go to the store on double coupon day, so it would really get her 50 cents off.  she would get the travel size toothpaste for 49 cents, so the store would actually owe her 1 cent for each toothpaste she bought- and because she had stacks and stacks of coupons at any given time (she saved her own plus had tons of people who gave her coupons), she could make enough just off of the toothpaste to buy something else. but she would do that with like 70 different items. and then she would have enough to build up her coupons for that thing for a while, and to not need to buy it again. i was so excited about this, i remember going home and telling my mom so she could do it- and she said, “yeah- that’s fine if you don’t mind eating garbage bags…” and i didn’t get it then, but i get it now- i’m not feeding just me and my husband like she was. i’m feeding 5 kids, each with their own preferences. i know ‘hunger is the best spice’ and all that. i know that -in theory- if there are no options kids will eat what’s put in front of them. so in theory, i should be able to get 143 cans of cream of mushroom soup, on sale and with a coupon, and my kids should be  grateful to eat it. but i’ll tell you that this is simply not the case. i’m not that mom, and my kids are not those kids. i would have gone to bed hungry as a kid before i would have eaten something i disliked- not because i was bratty, but because it just grossed me out to eat food i didn’t like. even now, i would rather skip eating- even if i don’t feel well and need to eat- then eat something i find icky. sorry. i hate to be a princess, and i wish i wasn’t like this, but this is reality, so i’ll tell you that just because i can buy something for 2 cents at walgreens doesn’t mean i can serve it to my crew. but i think people who super-coupon are super cool…

another friend, who i look up to bordering on hero-worship ( and i know her really well- and i know a lot of her “stuff”- and i still think she’s all that! so, go E!), is just great about sticking to her realistic finances. if she doesn’t have something, so goes without it. her kids are still small, so i think it’s a bit easier. there’s no big person who “needs” ketchup and nobody who wants to make a certain recipe and needs ingredients and nobody who wants to invite guests but would be traumatized by the paltry spread you have to offer. she is great about making substitutions in recipes and great about adapting to what she can get at reasonable prices and great about working with what there is. i always feel like she has an abundance, even though i know realistically that she and her *h struggle financially like everyone else. whenever we are there, she feeds us well and healthfully. i never feel a financial stress, although i know she is super careful about money. i know she is frugal but i never feel like she is cheap. this is the kind of financial feeling i want for my family. but i think she has the kind of financial head that you either do or don’t. and it seems that i don’t.

so, here we all are. we are in this quasi-private forum where we can publicly share private stuff. i would like to know how you all make your budget work without making your family feel impoverished. i know it’s sort of tacky to ask people about money. i’m hoping that since you can comment anonymously here that you won’t be afraid to be honest and share your tips or your struggles. what have you tried? what has worked and what hasn’t? what do you love about being on a budget and what do you hate?

we spent so many years living in the false reality of credit cards that our sense of how much money it takes to live is all skewed. we never had a realistic budget since we always knew we could dip into credit if we needed to. and i say this in public here as a cautionary statement. because credit debt isn’t just about money. it’s about changing your mindset about how you live. it’s about feeling entitled to things you aren’t entitled to. it’s about getting things before you’ve earned them and having no sense of what your true standard of living should be. and because all of your contemporaries are in the same boat, you look around and see that they all have x or do x (poor maligned letter x- it’s so often used to hold the place for something bad…)- and i’m not talking about ‘keeping up with the jonses’.  i’m not talking about fancy vacations and fancy clothes and fancy jewelry. i’m talking about whether your kids should feel embarrassed that you buy secondhand clothes. i’m talking about whether your friends would judge you if they came to your house and your dishes were all chipped. i’m talking about your kids bringing home-baked snacks instead of pre-packaged (do you know that some school don’t allow this?!??!?!) to school and not getting made fun of.

i could go on and on, but the point is- when you are used to a falsely- inflated standard of living through credit cards, and then you try to back up and live within your means, even though your means might be completely adequate, your standard of living will most certainly change.

and that’s what i want to hear about.

what is your standard of living like and how do you finance it? what does your budget look like and how did you make those decisions?

nosy? yes. but my inquiring mind wants to know.