Matt was laid off in January. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how it was affecting us. And then to our surprise, Matt accepted a new job, a better job than his old one.
What a relief.
We went out to a restaurant to celebrate, and, while I was eating the first steak I’ve had in ages, I thought about how good it will feel not to need food stamps anymore. Before we became parents, we never dreamed of homeschooling, but, once our little girl was in our lives, we decided that we would adjust our lifestyle so that we could live on one income and homeschool our daughter.
We made a lot of mistakes over the last four years, trying to figure out how to make it work. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way:
1. Don’t buy a house.
It was Sunday morning. We were in a good mood, because MATT JUST GOT A JOB! Then we got a clog in the toilet. Matt tried to plunge it and broke the plunger. Then a pipe burst in the garage and poop water spilled out, flooding everything, soaking cardboard boxes and old furniture.
The plumber came out and helped us unclog the pipe, pulling out a baby wipe that had been the culprit. Then he went under the house, into our crawl space, to locate the drain line. He came back out with bad news: the pipe that drains out of our tub was broken and had been dumping water into our crawl space for months.
This is what being a homeowner is like. When things fall apart, you are the only one responsible. It’s expensive and stressful and overwhelming. And it’s not worth it.
2. If you want to work from home, establish a business BEFORE you have kids.
I’m at this point with my art where I have the knowledge I need to launch a legitimate career but I don’t have the time to invest. I work evenings, after Phoebe is in bed, and I have one day a week completely to myself, when Matt’s mom takes Phoebe for several hours. That’s it.
Clearly my art is a low priority. I already have the full-time job of being a homemaker and stay-at-home-mom, and I won’t pursue my art until my other duties are done. But I still make art because it makes me feel alive, and, after spending my day doing mundane tasks and putting my family’s needs before my own, making art is an outlet that helps me feel significant and valuable.
I know people who have kids and work from home, and they have a lot of control over their income. But they put in the insane amount of hours and effort to build their careers early on. That is not an option for me. Maybe I can build my art slowly over the next decade and work full-time once Phoebe is grown, but, for now, my art is not a career. It is a hobby. And that’s ok.
3. Split roles with your spouse, then work really hard.
Matt makes the money. I take care of the house, the cooking, and Miss Phoebe. When Phoebe was born, Matt’s job was exactly what we needed. He worked for a large company, he was able to work lots over overtime, and he had excellent benefits and perks. Plus there was a lot of promise for upward mobility and raises.
Then, things slowly got worse and worse.
First, the company stopped hiring new help. Then they stopped giving raises and bonuses. Matt made it through three rounds of company-wide layoffs. Then they cut overtime and denied repayment for hundreds of dollars of Matt’s work expenses.
Maybe we should have seen the writing on the wall sooner. Maybe we should have already been looking for a new job. But we were not, and this was our wake-up call. We knew that one of us needed a second job fast in order to get us through this rough patch.
When I ran a shop reselling vintage clothing, I only made about $2.50/hour. I’ve also tried providing childcare and freelancing as a technical writer, but neither were a good fit. Now that I paint, I make a decent wage, but commission work is feast-and-famine. I thought about putting Phoebe in daycare and getting a 9-5 job. I thought about working nights, after Matt got off work. But every time we crunched the numbers and walked through how that would work out practically, the expenses outweighed the benefits.
So Matt took on a night shift at a sorting center, and Phoebe and I spent our evenings missing him.
4. Don’t eat out.
Just don’t. It’s so expensive.