I don’t know if it is part of my personal nature, living with autism spectrum kids, or just part of being a family, but for the last several years our family has been living in a state of emergency. If it wasn’t our bedroom ceiling collapsing, it was a car accident. If it wasn’t Colin pulling a part the closet to ride the door down the stairs, it was diving headfirst in the middle of a homemade WWF match. Emergencies have been our norm. It has only been in the last few weeks that I’ve come to see that life is not meant to live constantly in fight or flight mode. Our bodies, our souls cannot handle it.
For the last three months, my husband and I have been taking a self-reliance class, through our church, focusing on the family budget. We couldn’t figure out why our family struggled so much to live within our means. What we learned is that it all came down to perspective-how we looked at our lives. Numbers are numbers. But our family is not just numbers. We are a picture, a portrait. We have waves of good and bad days. Our problem was that we were living (if you could even call it that) putting out one fire only to move on to the next. And even our children were worn out.
So we are working to change how we view life. We know surprises will still happen. I mean come on, life happens so emergencies will to. But we had to decide if we were going to continue to be reactive or start being proactive. We had to change our perspective. By doing little things like starting an emergency fund we gained back a measure of control over the chaos in our lives. We’re working toward a one month’s worth of savings for when things go wrong. We aren’t there yet, but guess what?
Things went wrong. And I was okay.
I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out, wondering how we were going to find the money for the emergency. We’d already been saving it up. And that little change helped me be calm, collective, and focus on the big picture. Not the fear of having to put out another fire. Sure we’re going to have to rebuild what we need to take out, but that’s all part of our family’s plan.
Another interesting side effect of this self-reliance class is that our family is becoming better at communicating with each other and listening to one another. I had no clue how we were going to explain finances to three kids who see the world completely different from their parents. But we’re making it work and it is paying it off. We’re open with them about what we have, where the money needs to go, and practicing savings and patience for the things we would like to earn.
We started small and we’re still a work in progress. But at least its positive progress.
With my kids food issues/sensitivities they struggle to eat most food. But they do love pizza (as long as its pepperoni and comes from Little Caesars). In the past, we would pickup a pizza on the way home as an easy dinner knowing there was a 90% chance our kids would actually eat it. Plus, medically, they need the calories. It was simple. It was doable in a life of emergencies. But the costs add up over time.
So instead, we’ve made homemade pizza tickets. They can turn in the ticket at any point and daddy will bring them home a $5 pizza for dinner that night. But they have to text him prior to him getting on the bus to come home, and once the tickets are gone, they are gone until the next payday. And because the ticket is something physical/tangible that they can see/feel and has a specific outcome, our kids are starting to pace themselves and make connections between money and product that they hadn’t before.
In fact, our kids use to ask us for a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. At first we thought we’d make Christmas very simple and just have one family present and get the Switch and one game. But learning better about perspective, planning, and self-reliance we’ve changed our thinking.
The other day we told our kids, “Do you know how many pizzas a Switch costs?”
They shook their heads at us.
“You could have 60 pizzas for the price of a Nintendo Switch.”
Our kids haven’t been as gung-ho about getting a Switch ever since. For them, they couldn’t make a connection with budgeting using real money; it just doesn’t click for them yet. But by giving them a frame of reference that they did understand. . . well, its been life changing for our family.
Everything is in baby steps and that is okay. It takes time to undo a life living in panic. But we’re doing it. And we’re doing it in a way that makes sense for us. And because we are planning for emergencies and looking at self-reliance on a bigger level, our family portrait is becoming more clear, colorful, and calm. We’re having more fun together and enjoying each moment. And, I’ll take that any day.