The Reality Of Raising Kids When You’re Always Broke

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Unless I told you that I am broke, you might not know it because I don’t look poor. In my driveway is a nice looking car, although it is a 14-year-old used car that needs brakes, new tires, and an oil change. I have a smartphone that I use to run my business. My kids are well dressed, thanks to thrift stores and clearance deals online. As I type this, however, there is a negative balance of $64.03 in my bank account, because I had to pay the light bill, put gas in the car, and buy enough groceries to get through a couple of days until payday. My mental math failed me and now I have to cough up a $25 insufficient funds fee. This is what being a broke mom looks like.

While I am balancing the ridiculous nature of my finances and the reality of running a house and raising three kids, I am constantly worried that my kids won’t escape this type of struggle when they grow up. I won’t lie, I am definitely not going to be that mom pressuring my kids to have their own babies. I’ll be that one voice that says, “Hey, if you’re gonna get married, save your money and elope…and seriously, I love you and I want grandbabies, but be super prepared before you put down those kinds of roots, love.” I want my kids to know to save up a nest egg of six months worth of expenses in case of an emergency.

While they are growing up and I am growing more broke, I spend a lot of time talking to them openly and honestly about money. They hear me say “no” to a lot of requests for things like pizza for dinner or ordering some new whizbang toy on Amazon. Instead of buying stuff, we encourage inventiveness.

Our town has a dump and at this dump, there is a small, unassuming building that is part office-part garage and this is where folks go to discard things they don’t need. Locals call this building The Mall. Everything in it is free. I’ve gone in and picked through piles of clothes and shoes, kitchen appliances, and toys — whatever is there. We’ve brought home crown molding for the living room and a rocking chair that we sanded, painted, and put in the baby’s room. We pull out all the clean cardboard and bring that home, too, because the kids can use it to build all kinds of imaginative things, from spaceships to dog houses.

Being broke means that we can’t save money, at least not right now. We struggle to pay our bills, if not on time then at least before the lights or the phone gets shut off. I don’t want my kids living like this as adults, so I show them things like unit prices and coupons at the grocery store. We talk a lot about the difference between wants and needs. And if my son, the one who loves mechanical things, wants a new remote control car then he has to save his allowance and buy it himself or collect enough stuff from the dump to build it on his own (something I am proud to say that he has done)!

We’re broke, but not stupid. We’re broke, but not lazy. We’re broke, and we’re trying so desperately hard not to be anymore. I tell myself that with enough elbow grease and a few more cut corners we could have more financial breathing room, but my husband and I know that this is just how we’re going to be living for a few more years.

Being so tight on money is hard. We’re always one car repair or medical emergency away from our financial house of cards tumbling down on our heads. But we’re also scrappy and resourceful and no matter how rough things seem, we find ways to make our little family work without losing the roof over our heads.

When I see other moms out there walking that same stressful tightrope of money troubles like me, I feel like hugging them because I know what the fear of losing this game feels like. It hurts. But I’m tough and so is my family. We’re broke, but we’re fighting to get ahead.

Photo: Getty