Sorry, no. You Can't Have That.

When I left my parents house and branched off on my own, I was dirt poor. I received more than one nail-and-mail because living on $145-ish dollars a week as a supermarket clerk didn’t exactly allow me to pay all my monthly bills.

After the divorce from my first husband when I was 27, I began the arduous task of figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do with myself career-wise. I had exactly zero skills. Thanks to an incident when I was 16 - coupled with being in a rather controlling relationship - I left High School wen I was in 11th grade. My lack of finances and abysmal self-esteem kept me from college. So, I had to build a career from the basement up with a broken hammer and dull nails.

And somehow I made it work. For a while, at least.

Lyrical Press

After publishing a few books and coming thisclose to tanking my writing career due to a three-year bout of depression, I got healthy and bounced back by way of Lyrical Press. For the first time, literally, in my life, I had spending money. Also for the first time in my life, I laid my head on my pillow at the end of the day and slept a peaceful sleep.

Frankie and I were stress-free and it was awesome.

We didn’t get wealthy, mind you. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But, we had enough surplus after paying the bills to go on a few vacations and buy some nice things. And to be honest, we spoiled Jesse more than a little (Tyler wasn’t born yet).

All Good Things…

When Amazon opened the company to self-publishing, Lyrical’s submissions dried up. I totally understood an author decision to publish their book(s) Independently.. Heck, I did the same myself with Infertility Sucks. But, with only a handful of submissions each month and strong competition when it came to an audience, we made the extremely painful, but extremely wise, choice to sell Lyrical Press. Neither of us regret it, and I’m lucky enough to be among the privileged minority who loves their job.

Unfortunately, the change in our finances hit us hard. Pathmark, where Frankie had been a bakery manager for almost 20 years, went bankrupt almost without warning. Without Lyrical Press and Frankie’s Pathmark paychecks, we were in a monthly deficient in the thousands. We also lost our health insurance and couldn’t afford to buy a new policy under the the so-called Affordable Care Act. We were so screwed it wasn’t even funny. But, as we always do, we rallied and adjusted to our new financial situation. Frankie eventually moved on to become a mail carrier. Life kinda settled back into place, even though ecominicaly, we were stressed beyond belief and living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Life On A Budget

And that’s where we are now. Living a constant struggle to get to our next pay days. We both get paid every two weeks, and it just so happens our pay schedules fall on the same dates. Most of the time, we barely have a dollar to spare after bills and paid and groceries are bought. Frankie and I haven’t slept a good night’s sleep in years. Stress is aging us. It’s putting a strain on our mental and physical healths.

I feel like a garbage person because we can’t take our daughters to see a movie, or buy them something that’s not an absolute necessity. Frankie tries to drop some logic on me by reminding me that living on a crazy-tight budget is normal. Doesn’t make being a ‘No’ mom any easier.

What’s a ‘No’ mom? Someone who always says, “no, sorry, you can’t have that.” whenever our kids ask for anything.

Just yesterday I caved and bought Tyler the ingredients for slime. White glue, glitter, and shaving cream. Jesse also needed Differin gel (she’s a typical teenager prone to breakouts so acne medication is a necessity). Tyler, having grown out of all of her pajamas and shirts, needed a few new items. That one trip to Walmart totaled $54.00 (yes, I buy my 8 yo clothes from almost, thank you very much). Not to mention the $42.00 worth of groceries bought earlier in the day. And then, because we usually do nothing with the girls since everything costs money we don’t have, I took them to a street fair.

Yesterday was $100+ day. I wanted to vomit.

Don’ get me wrong. Our kids are awesome about not being able to, literally, do much of anything. They’ve gotten used to wearing the same handful of clothes every day for the past two years. They didn’t think twice that we couldn’t buy them new shoes when school started. And they’ve never, not once, complained that their world in so small, they rarely leave the confines of of our house.

We haven’t even bought them Halloween costumes yet because that alone will total $100 or more.

I honestly don’t know if their having grown accustomed to living without hurts me more than if they bitched and moaned about all the things they can’t have…if that makes any sense.

The Endless Pile of Bills

There’s a stack of bills on my desk. It’s an endless pile that just keeps growing. From the $400 we owe to the IRS that I only just begin paying off in increments, to the stack of medical bills from the years when we didn’t have health insurance…it’s a monster I can’t quite tame. Each pay period I make the frustrating decision to neglect that raging monster in favor of, you know, food. When it takes roughly $300+ a week to feed a family of four in NJ, the IRS and collection agencies have to wait. And trust me, I don’t buy fancy name brand groceries. Nope. It’s no-frills store brands for us. From Walmart’s Great Value coffee to ShopRite brand sliced bread, I make sure to shop smart. And even still, there’s not much left over to pay down our outstanding bills. So, I stare at that pile every day and feel the knot in my belly tighten more and more.

No joke, I’m waiting for the day I discover Frankie or I have a stress-induced illness. Or I get the call that Frankie had a heart-attack at work. I crap you not, I seriously worry about that. He’s not getting any younger, and being forced to start over at 46 put an ungodly amount of pressure on him. I, legit, live in fear I’m going to lose him because the stress and strain will eventually become too much of a burden for him to carry.

Smiling Through the Tears

Yet somehow, even as I’m telling my kids ‘no’ over and over again, I manage to find things to smile about each day. The fact that we have a home and heat and food…those have become major joys that keep me smiling. That we have two amazing girls who are smart, strong, kind, and funny give us a reason to wake up and trudge through another day. And that I get to live this life married to my best friend makes me close my eyes at the end of the day infinitely grateful for the road we’re traveling…bumps in the road and all.

What about you? Are you also living on the type of budget where every. single. dollar counts? Where, and how, do you cut corners? How do you entertain your children when extracurricular funds are nonexistent?

↓ Leave a comment below to join the conversation! ↓

Find me on Instagram! @reneeroccoauthor