Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Re-Post: A Woman At Home, PtII July 2008
A woman at home....I savored that phrase. I tried other titles on for size: homemaker, stay at home mom, housewife, home keeper. How I loved the sound of each of these new titles. I could hardly make up my mind which one I liked the best.
My first two weeks at home were like a vacation. After struggling with a stressful job, and getting up early and going to bed late for years on end, to lie abed in the morning and truly rest was a real luxury...But then I really woke up one morning and realized that the vacation wasn't a vacation at all. I'd taken on a vocation, a new job, and I needed to begin to undertake my new duties right away.
I felt so overwhelmed when I realized the sheer amount of work that needed to be attended to in my home.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I fell back on an old habit. I made out a list of the areas that needed to be addressed. First there was housework. Years of working crazy hours and seeing the house in dim evening light had kind of hidden the clutter and the layers of dust and the desperate need to really work on the living conditions my family had been enduring.
Then there was our budget. If we were going to make this a permanent position, I needed to tackle all those budget areas that needed to be trimmed, cut away or finely honed.
There were children. One who needed a job and me to transport her to look for it, two who needed a bit more discipline and attention and responsibility than they'd had in their largely unsupervised past.
And finally there was yard work. We'd been in our new home for over two years and nothing had been done about the grounds. Things looked pretty grim outdoors, too, especially when seen in the clear morning light.
I suddenly felt overwhelmed. I'd somehow thought being at home, for the first time without a toddler or infant in arms, was going to be a piece of cake. There was a need for real work and it was not a type of work I was accustomed to doing. Housework and yard work are physically demanding tasks, especially when you're brand new to them. I was more accustomed to customer service/business office type work. I knew that this experience would also be helpful in my home, but it encompassed only a tiny portion of the whole job.
I had to get organized. After years of working in the business world, I knew full well that until my home was in a reasonable state of order we'd live in a state of near poverty. Wasted time almost always results in wasted money. Wasted food equals wasted money, as well. The first two areas to tackle were obviously my food storage areas, and that budget.
Honestly the housework and yard work had waited for a long time. A little longer wasn't going to do any real lasting damage. As for the children, I realized that now that they were older, I had at my hand individuals who were more than capable of being my work mates. And I learned quickly just where their individual skills could help smooth the transition from working mom to stay at home mom and homemaker.
I started with a working budget. I'd had an idea of what it would be like to live without income from my job. We'd played with figures on paper in anticipation of the change, but by the end of the first month we had a much better idea of what money we'd have coming in and what needed to go out monthly as well. Our figures were off by a little. For one thing, my daughter found a job right away. But she lacked transportation. She also didn't have a driver's permit. That meant I was her main form of transportation and the gasoline costs were not significantly decreased as we'd anticipated. Nor was our mileage decreased, so the hoped for reduction in insurance coverage was not possible.
It also took a little while to accustom ourselves to being more watchful of where and how we spent money. I was used to picking up takeout when I felt overly tired, but we soon discovered that eating take out even once a week was too much for our straining budget. Spending the weekend wandering the mall or shopping center was no longer an option for leisure purposes. We'd always lived carefully by our budget, but we had to really tighten our belts and remain vigilant now that I was at home.
When our daughter received her first check we worked out a reasonable amount to be paid weekly towards fuel costs. It didn't by any means cover what it cost me to make two trips a day. We decided that she should pay only what she might pay if she were driving her own car to and from work daily.
I talked with our insurance agent and we discovered that moving our home owner's insurance to their agency, changing insurance carriers on our vehicles, reducing coverage on the car that was paid off, all helped to significantly reduce our monthly budget to the tune of about $100 a month.
I still recall the joy I felt when I called my husband at work and said "Hey guess what? I just saved us $1200 a year and I did it in less than fifteen minutes." I'll never forget his reply: "That's a pretty good wage for 15 minutes of work." I'd already been struggling with the idea of not having an income of my own to contribute to the household. I've since discovered that many women who move from working outside to staying at home, struggle with this, as well. His words jolted me awake. I did have an income: it was whatever savings I could make for our household!
I worked constantly reviewing our bills to see where we might make other reductions. And we did manage to reduce several. We got very strict about the thermostat on our air conditioner. We set it considerably higher than we'd previously set it. We took advantage of the cool morning air and our box window fans for use in the early hours. We trimmed our phone bill and carefully watched long distance charges. If we received a bill for any service or commodity, we looked to see how we might decrease the amount paid monthly.
I got serious about our food management. I love to cook. For years on end, the only creative outlet I had was cooking. The amount of waste in both our budget and in fact came home to me the day I began to work on our food storage areas. Expired foods, spoiled foods all went into the trash. And as I watched the trash can fill, I realized that I had literally thrown away hard earned dollars with every item that was tossed. Remember my elation at saving $1200 on our annual insurance bills? I wept when I saw that trash can full of food.
Necessity demanded in our early years of marriage that I stretch our food dollars until we could hear them squeak. Over the intervening years, as our family size decreased and our incomes increased we'd relaxed our vigilance. I realized that I really needed to trim the food budget hard. Chance requested that I find a figure somewhere between "We'll eat anything if it will help stretch a dollar" and "What budget?". I used online government resources to determine the proper budget for a family of our size and income. And then I reduced it down to suit what I felt was a little more reasonable. I find government guidelines are national averages and they may be low or high depending on where in the U.S. you live.
I polished up my old skills. Once upon a time in one of my 'at home' phases I'd been something of a coupon queen. In my working years, that skill was dropped. I'd run into the grocery on my way home from work and pick up whatever I could remember we needed. Now grocery shopping became a full blown task all it's own. I follow the same routine these days.
First, I inventory our foods and see what meals I can manage before I begin to make my shopping list. Then I see how many more meals I can prepare with only a minimal number of ingredients added. Then I make out my shopping list based on sales papers and those menus. Then I gather coupons to match to sales and needs on my list.
And finally I devote a whole day to nothing but shopping. I go from one store to another to get the best possible prices on every item. I've found that with a lot of care, we manage very well with the budgeted amount.
Working with our budget, and getting our food management under control meant I'd taken two bites of the elephant. Now I was ready to take another bite.
Labor camp or Day camp? In order to get our household and yard in order, I needed to enlist my children's help. While the older kids had always been assigned chores, they were virtually unsupervised. That meant that sometimes jobs were done and sometimes they weren't and if no one noticed then they felt they could gradually not do them at all.
Suddenly mom was at home and she was watching to see that tasks were accomplished. I knew that I had to be an example. That meant that I couldn't sleep late or sit and eat bonbons and read romance novels. I had to do my jobs and do them as well as I possibly could. It meant I had to push through when I felt unwell or lazy. Being an example is hard work!
The kids were prone to complain at first. They whined, they procrastinated and they just plain rebeled. But eventually they realized that chores and privileges went hand in hand. And they also realized that their chores could be accomplished well and hours of leisure would follow.
The youngest could make her own bed, pick up her toys and put her clothes in the laundry basket. The older ones could do other more detailed work and certainly that fourteen year old boy had brawn to match my desire to do heavy lifting and digging.
It helped that I was working right along side them. And gradually the house, the budget, the yard and the children all came into alignment. We found a routine that worked for us. As tasks were accomplished there was more leisure time and that allowed us to create a fun day camp for the youngest. Her much older brother got so interested in creating the day camp that he began to plan her daily activities for nature walks, and such.
And so the elephant was eaten. Or so I thought. But as in most jobs, I'd only just begun.
Posted by Terri Cheney at 4:44 PM