As a parent, I maintain an uncomfortable level of stress over family finances. I constantly think about my family’s health and the related expenses (forecasting braces, emergencies, regular checkups, etc.), education (saving for college, extracurriculars, making sure there are funds for participation in activities and providing necessary supplies – n.b. public education is far from free!, home schooling to supplement school teaching, family field trips, etc.), our bills (housing, utilities, etc), entertainment (for a balanced life, vacations – a rarity, toys, etc), food, maintenance, transportation….the list goes on and turns my stomach to think about the gross amount of money it takes to maintain a healthy and well-balanced family. I remember the very first time I held a $100 bill; it was so much money and seemed so unreal. Now, it feels like I regularly burn Ben Franklins.
One of the painful aspects of being a parent is realizing the opportunities presented to your children which they have to forego due to financial reasons. I regret not flying to Germany to watch The Wall being torn down during a Pink Floyd performance but I knew the sacrifices I would have made to make that trip and as a young adult I could accept those. A young child gets their hopes and dreams set on something like a camping trip and simply does not have the means to understand why we have to say no. Teenagers better understand but it still pains me to shoot them down.
So I stare at my calendar. An imaginary glow illuminates the critical dates where income appears in the bank and the due dates where bills suck the accounts dry. I see the dates of an 11 day hiking trip I scheduled with my son and his scout troop and ask myself, "will the family understand eating Ramen noodles for a month to make this trip happen?" Then the phone rings, "There’s an opening on this year’s Philmont trip. It’s the last time our district will send a contingent making this a once in a lifetime opportunity for your son. The cost is $2000 plus personal expenses." My heart sinks to my toes.