Around Thanksgiving, my husband and I decided that instead of going back to work at the end of January as we'd originally planned, I am going to stay out on maternity leave for the rest of the school year. I'm very happy about this decision because I love motherhood much more than I'd expected, and having an additional five months with my son is a huge gift. The downside to this decision is since we had planned on my paychecks starting again in February, we're facing a big financial adjustment.
We've been very fortunate these past several years. Although like most couples our age, we have student loans and car loans, we have no credit card debt and, thanks to buying at the right time, our mortgage is less than a third of our usual monthly earnings. (The national average of the mortgage-to-paycheck ratio is around fifty percent.) Pre-Edwin, we were able to live comfortably and still save money for nice vacations and new furniture.
Now, however, our savings is growing smaller by the month and for the first time in our married life, we have put ourselves on a strict budget. I'm actually kind of excited by this. I've always liked math and numbers, and I've always thought we overspent a bit on things we didn't really need. I like being forced to re-evalute how we spend our money, not only for the coming few months, but beyond that, so that in the future we can save again for good daycare, summer camps, musical instruments and college. (And still a nice vacation or two, with or without Edwin!)
I like looking for deals and saving a buck as much as the next person, but to me, the rewarding part of budgeting lies in prioritizing. You know you can't afford breakfast at the diner and Chinese takeout in the same week, so you decide which you'd enjoy more and eat sandwiches or cereal for the other meal. In the process of making those decisions, you figure out what's important to you and what experiences you enjoy most. Is it the sound of the diner coffee maker and the waitress's smile behind the old-fashioned counter? Or the smell of egg rolls and barbecued spareribs as you settle on the couch to watch television? The process of decision-making gives you the chance to know yourself better.
Budgeting also helps you appreciate your expenditures more. Maybe you need to save for a few months to buy swimming lessons for the baby or a couple of nights in your favorite vacation spot, but when you get them, they feel even more worth it because you worked toward them.
In the end, I don't mind the financial sacrifice one bit. We can always make more money, but I'll never get this time back with Edwin. That's the kind of math that makes sense.