Splurge or Investment?

July 22, 2009

When is a purchase an investment and when is it a needless splurge?  I have been struggling with that question A LOT over the past few months.  It has been a struggle in terms of a number of potential purchases: clothes that actually fit, shoes that don’t make my feet hurt, a jogging stroller.  I have been wracked with guilt about spending money on these things that I see as selfish, especially since I haven’t been bringing in much money.  It has sort of felt like I don’t deserve them.

The thing that has made it especially tough is that while my husband thinks that I am being silly and that I should get things I need, the truth is that we are paying much closer attention to our bank account now that we are pretty much living off of one salary.

This anxiety all came to a head this past weekend, though, in terms of the jogging stroller.  I had been thinking about getting one for over six months.  While I love my umbrella stroller, my daily (and sometimes twice a day) walks were definitely slowed down by it.  And this got pretty frustrating, especially since I use exercise as an emotional outlet.  So I had been looking on craigslist, scoping out yard sales, the whole deal, but I just couldn’t get myself to actually buy one- it just felt too extravagant to have two strollers.

And then my mom came into town for a long weekend.  She saw how crazy this whole search was making me and also how important a jogging stroller was.  So, after a day, she told me that before she left she wanted to make sure that I had a jogging stroller.  We searched on craigslist, on ebay, on overstock, etc.  And then, on Sunday, we headed out to Babies R Us.  Initially the plan was to just try the different strollers out so that I could decide which one I really wanted to hold out for on craigslist.  But, of course, we ended up coming home with a brand-new jogging stroller and not only that, we came home with a nicer, brand-new jogging stroller.  Not a $300 one, but expensive enough.

I was wracked with guilt.  Did I really need to spend this money? Was I going to put it to good use? Was I just being a consumerist yuppie?  And then went for a walk.  A walk I would never have been able to do before with my umbrella stroller.  And it was great.  Since then I have gone for a number of walks and am really happy with the stroller.

Do I still feel guilty?  Yeah, a bit.  Do I think it will help me stay sane?  Definitely.  Did I come down on the right side of the Investment or Splurge continuum? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Over the weekend I made what, to me, was a BIG purchase.  I bought a jogging stroller.  I had been thinking about buying one for seven months and had been looking around on craigslist but kept getting cold feet and avoiding actually buying one.   I just felt like it was an extravagant purchase, something I didn’t really need.  What is perhaps even more important is that since my big contract hasn’t come through, yet, I felt like it wasn’t responsible to be spending money like that.

Taking the Plunge

July 10, 2009

I officially launched the website for my consulting business yesterday.  SCARY!  This is a move I have been putting off for months, but after a number of recent conversations I realized that I just had to do it.

One friend of mine, who is also in the process of building a business, was telling me how she feels like opportunities are just passing her by as she avoids promoting her business.  As soon as she said that something in me clicked.  I had been feeling exactly the same way- terrified that I was missing chances for work by not getting my name out there and beating myself up for it constantly.

But I also realized that the other part, for me, was being afraid of what I would do if suddenly I had tons of work on my plate.  How would I balance the work and taking care of M?  How would I find child care at the last minute?  Would I be capable of doing the work?  And then I realized: I can cross that bridge when I come to it.

I don’t have it all figured out in order to take the next step.  Of course the site had to be ready for the launch, but I didn’t need to have child care arranged.  Or even a plan for what I would do if I suddenly was overwhelmed with work.

In that way, I feel like launching your own business is kind of like having a kid: you are never really going to be ready, there is never going to be a perfect time and, in the end, it is just about doing the best you can with what you have.

So fingers crossed and here’s hoping for some good, interesting work coming my way soon.

Unpaid Vacation

June 11, 2009

While I am happy with the decision I made to be self-employed and work from home while M is small, there are times when it is really tough.  The obvious one is when you have a big deadline coming up and your kid won’t take a nap.  But the other time that is really hard is when you are offered a job but are unable to take it.

This week I was contacted about a small job that needs to be turned around in two days next week.  Unfortunately, I am going to be on vacation next week (well, fortunately I am going to be on vacation next week but unfortunately I can’t take the job).   As a self-employed person, turning down a job is always a hard call.  But turning down a job as a self-employed stay-at-home mom is awful.

As a self-employed stay-at-home mom I often feel guilty about how little money I am able to bring in.  I know that the work I do for our family is invaluable, blah, blah, blah, but the truth is contributing financially also feels really good.  So turning down jobs suddenly becomes not only about the risk of turning down a job and the loss of the income, but also about the self-esteem blow that comes along with all that. 

I know I made the right choice by saying no and I know that my vacation is well-deserved and will be a lot of fun- I likely won’t even think about the job lost- but, man, does that twinge of guilt suck.

A failure in balance

May 15, 2009

On Monday I got an email from one of my clients asking if I could turn around a project by Thursday.  On a normal week it would have been rough, but this week I had tons of plans that I couldn’t/didn’t want to cancel so it was going to be extra tough.  But money is money.  So I said yes.  The next day he sent a second, smaller project that had an even shorter turn around time.  So what did that mean? A SUPER busy week.  I tried to look at it as a short-term experiment in work/life balance. The results?  Not so pretty.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • After two nights with very little sleep, still setting my alarm for 5:30am to get work done before anyone else got up
  • Almost no exercise, which equals unhappy me
  • Thinking the stair gate was closed and only finding out it wasn’t when I heard M crawling upstairs!!! (he was just fine and actually very pleased with himself but, man, that was a scary moment)
  • Eating a lot of junk
  • A breakout of small, stress zits

So what does this tell me?  That multi-tasking, work/life balance stuff is still a work in progress.  What else is new, right?  Ah well, at least it is Friday!

Call me cynical but the findings of the new study “Is Breastfeeding Truly Free?: The Economic Consequences of Breastfeeding for Women” are not remotely surprising.  Short version: Before pregnancy, women who later chose to breastfeed were more likely to be paid more and work longer hours than women who later chose to formula feed their babies. But over time, breastfeeders of “long duration” (over six months) ended up making significantly less than formula feeders.  

Is it just me or is this logical?  It is really, really, REALLY hard to breastfeed and work full-time.  Sure, you can pump, but pumping for that long would make most women lose their minds.  So the women who are still breastfeeding after six months?  They are the mothers who are more likely to be working part-time or staying home.  The fact that they earn less in the long term seems like a big, fat DUH! to me.  

So what does this study tell us?  To me, it is just further proof that the the breastfeeding debate one is counterproductive and just plain dumb.  The truth is, whether or not you breastfeed your child is really a personal decision that has a lot more at stake than the health of your baby.  

I am one of those “long duration” breastfeeders and while the decision was a natural one for me (and one that comes from a privileged position since my family does not depend on my income to pay the rent), I was also aware of the fact that by working from home part-time, I was likely sacrificing a bit of my career.  And to be totally honest, at times that has made me bitter and made me feels as if I am betraying my feminist ideals slowing down professionally.  

I also have friends that have struggled with breastfeeding and have ended up opting for formula.  Do I think less of them as mothers? No.  Do they feel tremendous amounts of guilt about their decision, at times they have.  One friend recently said that now that she is switching to formula, she feels so guilty that she often holds her baby while he sleeps because she feels like not breastfeeding him and taking time for herself while he is sleeping it callous and not maternal.  How awful to feel that way!

So the truth is, neither one is going to be perfect.  Both options have drawbacks and HUGE amounts of guilt associated with them.  So why can’t we just leave well enough alone and let mothers make the decision that is right for their family without putting our moral judgments on them?

Mmmm… pesticides

March 25, 2009

 

 

I recently heard a mom say, “You let him eat a donut?!  Would you let him drink bleach?”  C-R-A-Z-Y.  That said, if there is anything I am uptight about, it is trying to limit my son’s (and the family as a whole’s) intake of pesticides, hormones, and all those other ever so pleasant things they pump into our food these days.  So I was really excited when I came across this shopper’s guide for produce and pesticides.  It is a helpful cheat sheet to carry with me when we go to the grocery store since buying only organic is pretty much out of the question for us these days…

Readjusted Priorities

March 20, 2009

Judith Warner’s piece in the Times today that talks about our failure to pay attention to the families that are really struggling in this recession (or whatever you want to call it) rang incredibly true to me.  If I hear one more story about how the very wealthy are struggling to make sense of their smaller bank accounts I may scream.

I am sure it is a harsh reality check when you can only go to Gymboree for your play sessions twice a week.  It must be really hard to come up with things to do with your kid who has more toys than the entire kindergarten class in any working class or poor neighborhood you can name.  And believe me I know how hard it is to balance a baby and making dinner at the same time, rather than ordering in.

But when I hear that the unemployment rate in Detroit, a working class city if there ever was one, is now at a 26 year high of 22.2%, those are the families I think we should be hearing about.  How are those moms and dads making it?  Families are making hard decisions about whether they are going to pay their heating bill or their food bill, whether one or both of them work isn’t even an issue that is on the table.

Maybe we should focus all of that energy we expend criticizing families for the choices they make- both parents working, one parent staying home, daycare or nanny, etc., etc.- on thinking creatively about ways to get the country back on track.

Ok. I’ll get off my soap-box now.  Happy Friday.