Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Penniless Parenting in a Crisis

Rachel's baby in the ICU, 5 days post open heart surgery
This is a guest post by my friend Rachel. She's a mother of 5 and pretty frugal minded. We've shared ideas for money saving things back and forth already for years. Recently, her family went through a crisis, and she wanted to write a blog post on how a very frugal family manages in a crisis. I hope no one here ever has to go through a crisis, but unfortunately that's not always doable, so hopefully this post will help you out, should a crisis arise.

So you have been living frugally for a while. When regular life hits, you are ready. You have even learned to roll with the punches, to prepare for the little crises in life; sick kids, unexpected car repairs, and an extra $20 for Junior’s class trip no longer throw you for a loop. You are even prepared for bigger surprises; you are having a baby, you teenager “needs” a weekend away with friends, or your mother really wants you to fly in for Thanksgiving. But what about when something hits you just can’t prepare for in advance? How do you keep your finances in check, let alone your emotions?

Last month, we were prepared for one of these regular bumps, eagerly awaiting the arrival of what we thought was a perfectly healthy baby boy. I was prepared for regular baby expenses, and few extra surprises that always come up. I was not prepared for a baby born with a 1 in 20,000 heart defect which required open heart surgery at 5 days old and an almost 3 week hospital stay.

Now let me say, before I move on, that of course you can’t be prepared for every possibility. It’s not irresponsible to not prepare for the possibility your baby is born with a 1 in 20,000 defect that wasn’t seen on the ultrasound. The point of this post is, sometimes life throws you a bigger loop than you are prepared for, and ready or not you just have to deal.

Crisis Parenting 101

Rule #1- This is Not Your Fault
It was not my fault I had a baby born like this. I did all the standard tests, and this was not seen. But you know what, I didn’t do a fetal echogram. The reason I didn’t do it, is because the ultrasound doctor wanted me to not because of something he saw, but because I had reached the ripe old high risk age of 37. Even if what happened *is* your fault, you did not want this to happen. Thousands of people leave pots of water boiling on the stove and turn their heads. The vast majority of their 2 year olds do now wind up in burn units. If yours did, it happened, and there is nothing to be gained now by blaming yourself. Guilt will get you no where.

Rule #2- Take Care of Yourself
If you do not take care of yourself, you can not take care of your sick child / mother / sister. Nor can you be a support person for your husband or children. Even if it means spending more money, or taking more time, make sure you are eating, drinking, and sleeping the best you can.

Rule #3- Remember This is What the Money is For
You have been saving, you are careful with your money, but remember you can’t take it with you when you die. I buy maybe 2 iced coffees a year, but when I was in the hospital with my baby I had one almost every day. There is a big difference between going on a round the world cruise to drown your sorrows, and making your life easier or splurging on a luxury. Remember you have not been saving money for the sake of saving money, you want to use the resources you have to better your life.

Rule #4- ...But Don’t Go Crazy
Even while operating in a crisis, a little planning will go a long way towards helping your state of mind and your bank account. There is a balance between spending a bit more than you usually would, and going all out and forgetting the word “budget” ever entered your vocabulary.
Practically speaking, what you can do yourself, do yourself. Even if you buy prepackaged food, buying it at the supermarket and bringing lunch from home will save you money over buying it in a hospital or on the road going to visit someone. And even if you do need to occasionally supplement because you forgot to pack your lunch (and breakfast, and supper, and snacks), buying packaged food will be cheaper than a hot meal. If you need a hot meal a day to keep you going, by all means get one. But if you are buying hot meals because you are not organizing yourself in the morning to get food together, try to take a deep breath and remember your larger financial goals and decide if buying three restaurant meals a day makes sense.

Rule #5- You Can’t do This Alone
If people offer you help, don’t be shy. People offering genuinely want to help. If you think what they are offering with help you, take it and don’t feel a bit of guilt. Rely on your friends, family, and faith to get you through.
Ask people to bring you books to borrow instead of buying new ones, or to exchange your old ones at the library for you. When someone offers to bring something, let them know it will be dinner time and if they have family leftovers you would appreciate it. Most people have games, DVDs, and puzzle books lying around that they are happy to bring you, but if you don’t ask they can’t know what you would like and appreciate. Feel free to even ask for little treats you don’t want to spend on.
When you are in crisis, it’s your job to ask for what you need, and it’s your support person’s job to decide if he or she can or can’t help.

Rule #6- You Will Get Through This
If the crisis is one day or three years, you will get through. Life will return to normal eventually. It might be a new normal, but you will not be in crisis mode indefinitely. Don’t forget to take a deep breath and look for that light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how far off it may seem now.

What was the biggest crisis your family went through? How did it affect your finances? Did you start splurging, or were you extra frugal even during that crisis?

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