The Golden Ticket to financial peace

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I lamented on Facebook last week, "Sometimes I think if I somehow earned an extra quarter, I would get a letter informing me I needed to buy a gumball."

Of course, our family is not in dire straits. We are going to have supper tonight. I am typing this on a computer in a house with electricity. But, I think a lot of folks find themselves in the same situation -- putting in extra hours at work, scrimping here, modifying the budget there and then having a budding savings plan come crashing down when two kids get raging after-office-hours ear infections or a tire goes flat.

When Bob and I were first married, we read Larry Burkett's "Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples." We followed its principles and faithfully lived within our means, trying to tithe and keep a savings account as well. Some months things got tight, but we made it through. Three children and three moves later, even though we are now both employed full-time, I feel like we have not progressed much past our newlywed days when it comes to finances. We've read about Dave Ramsey's "debt snowball" and sat down with our numbers lots of times to make a better plan. Still, as Willy Loman would say in "Death of a Salesman," "I still feel kind of temporary about myself."

But, over this week, I had to make my own "financial peace" about our current situation. And, ironically, it has to do with the temporary-ness of it. I admitted to myself that I would rather do something fun with my children now than have more money in savings later. I don't regret that we save up for vacations and day-trips in addition to their college funds.

I often spend about six hours over the weekend grading papers. And I really dislike it that when in the midst of enjoying a perfectly lovely Saturday at home, I find myself thinking, "I should be grading." However, when we are picking apples at a farm or are strolling through the zoo, neither of which are particularly expensive excursions, I am able to slip the surly bonds of work and be much more in the moment with them. And, when we do take a big trip, like when we went to Disney World this summer, we try to do it frugally -- staying with friends, packing our own meals -- but still experience the magic of watching our children's faces light up when they see Mickey and the gang for the first time.

My new peace was enhanced as the kids and I had an impromptu family room campout when Bob was away at a conference this weekend. We watched "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on TV, and, in the midst of explaining to my kids how rotten August Gloop and Veruca Salt were, I was struck by Grandpa George's explanation of why Charlie should go to Willy Wonka's factory instead of selling his golden ticket: "There's plenty of money out there. They print more every day. But this ticket, there's only five of them in the whole world, and that's all there's ever going to be. Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money."

I will have the rest of my life to try to earn and save money. But my three children will only be children for a little while. This chance to spend time with them as their mama is the only one there's going to be. I'm not going to give that up.