I just read a post at Get Rich Slowly about raising a family on one income. The post was written by GRS’ cousin, Mrs. Darling. The post was not unusual – most of the things that Mrs. Darling and her family have done over the years are not new to frugal folks. They have lived within their means and done just fine with one income. As I read the article, I saw a lot of myself, my parents, and my fellow pf bloggers in the descriptions Mrs. Darling wrote of her financial life. But I was surprised to see a comment on the post that basically said that the article was self-glorification and did not help others who are needing to learn to get by on one income. The comment said that it seemed that Mrs. Darling was just congratulating herself for being so wise about money all these years, and that the ideas were not helpful for people who hadn’t started being frugal early in life.
This comment stuck with me today, and I wonder if other people feel the same way. I suppose a lot of the posts on pf blogs could be considered self-congratulatory. We write about the small steps we’re taking towards financial freedom. Although we also write about the backslides and struggles and indecision we all face. The comment on Mrs. Darling’s post said that it looked like she had never had an income, so she didn’t know what it was like to go from two incomes to one. But one income is still one income – regardless of what you’re used to. And the things that she and her family did (driving old cars until they could pay cash for a new one, keeping their Super Nintendo forever, not buying newer and better stuff just because they could, etc.) are the same sort of things that will help anyone who is struggling with money issues.
Most people have at least some regrets about money and the financial decisions they have made in the past. Money gurus are forever talking about the value of starting early - invest $3000 when you’re 19 years old, and you’ll retire rich, blah blah blah. That’s great, if you’re 19 when you read the book. But most of us take a little longer to get on the savings train. It doesn’t do any good to then say you can’t make it because you didn’t start early enough. It’s never too late to learn to live within your means. If you start saving when you’re 40, you’ll have less at retirement than the person who started at 20, that’s true. But you’ll have more than the person who started at 45…
And there’s nothing wrong with giving ourselves a pat on the back for making the sacrifices it takes to live within our means. A brand new Saab 9-5 would be so much fun to drive, but we’ve chosen to keep driving our 1990 Oldsmobile 88 and 1991 Honda Civic. Because of that choice, we have no car payments, and our auto insurance is $66/month total. And we deserve to be proud of ourselves when we put the car payment money into an IRA instead of sending a check to a car company every month. We’ve also chosen to only eat out about once a month. And to stay in our “starter home” forever (or for at least a very long time…). And to buy our clothes at thrift stores. These are not things that we need to hide from the world. I say that anyone who is living within their means should shout it from the rooftops. Most Americans tend to look at people who are driving a MBW suv and assume that they much be wealthy. But maybe they’re struggling to make the payments on the fancy car. Maybe the person in the other lane in a 10 year old Buick is actually a millionaire. We judge people all the time by their stuff, because people who live within their means don’t tend to advertise their frugal ways. But we should. We should all be proud of ourselves for doing whatever we can to achieve our financial goals. And pf blogs are a great source of inspiration to so many of us who take solace in knowing that there are lots of us out here who are struggling with financial decisions and responsibilities. We need to be congratulating not only ourselves, but each other as well.
So to the person who wrote the comment on Mrs. Darling’s blog – I wish you all the best. I know it’s not easy to live on one income. My husband and I did it for a couple years when he was getting started in a commission-only job, and we lived on my income. I know that it sucks to really want to go out for a nice dinner after a long week, but to realize that you just can’t afford it. I know that it sucks to look at a list of bills and try to decide where to apply a little extra payment. For the most part though, life without a lot of money has been really great for us. We’re excited about our future and love the life we’ve built – every frugal part of it. So I would encourage you to read other pf blogs, to take an honest look at your life and make sure you’re living it for you and the people you love, rather than trying to measure up to the material wealth of people around you. If you’re in a one-income situation because of a job loss or illness, I wish you all the best in getting back on track as a two income family. If you’re a single income family by choice, then I hope that you’ll see the positives in the choices you’ve made, and that you realize the value of what you or your partner is giving to your family by “not working.” Best of luck to you and to all the rest of us as well.