Generation Cedar

Why I Can't Afford It Could Be the Best Thing For Your Children

Americans are pretty obsessed with “affording” stuff. I saw a quote recently, though I can’t recall it, that said something like:

“We work all the time to afford all the things we never have time to enjoy because we’re always working.”

We’ve afforded bigger homes, nicer cars, longer vacations, but we can’t afford for mom to stay home and raise her children, and little by little, we can’t even afford children. (Hands down, THE most common question we get about both the number of children we have and my staying home is, “how do you afford it?”)

But I think we’re usually lying. I think we have a grossly skewed idea of what “afford” means, and few of us are really in dire situations that call us to sacrifice the important things.

Johnmary, Mark, Godfrey and George spent the night with us this week. They are orphans traveling across the US with a choir from Uganda.

horse uganda

Back home, they eat three meals a day, which is a privilege not every child in their country has, and each meal consists of posho and beans. (Posho is made up of finely ground white corn flour mixed with boiling water until it becomes solid.) They might get chicken at Christmas. Let that sink in…posho, three times a day.

They have very few toys or materials goods. They play soccer together and do school, but that’s the typical life, day in, day out, for these children. They live in conditions very few of us can imagine, though much improved for them, with hundreds of them living together in a big room.

The oldest boy said, “There are no hardships in America.”

How has this poverty affected them?

They are happy. They are grateful. Boy, are they grateful. They are kind, respectful, polite and very affectionate. They are smart, energetic and helpful. They love Jesus. And they dance and sing like there is no tomorrow. (I observed it, but I also talked with one of the missionaries who travels with them who confirmed it.)

Is that any less than I could hope for my own children? 

Contrast that. Across the landscape of our country, at the now-adults who were just children a few years ago, spans an ugly, disconcerting scene. They call it the “Me Generation.”

Apparently, the generation who seems to be more self-centered than ever before, who demands to have what they want when they want it, was raised by a generation of parents who meant well, and only wanted their children to “have more than I did.”

This was the generation (and it continues) who said things like, “We can’t afford to live on one income” while driving a Mercedes and vacationing at Disney Land. Or who said, “We can’t afford more children and besides, more children would take away from the one(s) we have.”

But see, living on one income (a by-product of the simple decision to be the one who raises your own babies) forces us to make choices we might not otherwise make if we could afford to. More children naturally does the same thing.

Understandably, some families find themselves in difficult circumstances and I’m not judging those. I’m trying to speak to a general mentality in our country that believes we have to sacrifice what’s important to achieve a certain standard of living.

Our children have never needed more to be better. In fact, children who grow up in homes where they are taught that stuff costs money and money must be earned, and there is a big difference between needs and wants, rather than having everything given to them, fare much better as adults.

Children who grow up in homes watching parents sacrifice material things for meaningful things usually grow up to embrace what is meaningful.

I am not an advocate for seeking poverty or avoiding wealth. I am for seeing things as they are, avoiding the love of money and embracing what has eternal value.

We need to stop fearing the inability to afford things–that doesn’t hurt our children. Let’s focus instead on the things that help our children become the kind of people that make the world a better place.


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41 Responses

  1. While I agree with your article’s point – that teaching children the value of things and wants v. needs is a GREAT thing – I will say I feel like you are unfairly judging the families with 2 working parents. Whether or not it was your intent, when you use words like “choosing to be the one to raise your children,” it conveys your obvious judgement of those of us who cannot stay home – and in my case, it has nothing to do with my not wanting to stay home (I would love to!) or paying for life’s extravagances. It has *everything* to do with being able to afford a decent home (not huge, not extravagant, very clearly in a middle class neighborhood), in a community with good schools (not great, not awful – the type of schools you’d expect in a middle class community), to feed and clothe our children (not eating all organic but as healthy as our $500/month food budget allows, not buying name brand or even brand-new clothing), and to allow them to experience SOME of life’s luxuries (like a pool pass for our family to enjoy during the summer months, or being able to play soccer through our community rec programs, etc). My children are not in the super expensive and very popular sports in our area (hockey, girls’ softball, etc) – nor are they in a traditional daycare (their grandma watches them). After our modest house payment (less than $800/month), utilities, car payment (we have 1 car payment yet – the rust bucket is paid off and well maintained by my husband so we don’t have to get a 2nd vehicle), student loans (how does anyone get through college without them anymore?!?!) and our luxuries like internet service and a telephone – well, our “surplus” in our monthly budget is $33. We are both college educated and working full-time jobs and making OK money (still not at the state average for 2 full-time worker families, well above poverty but not over $75K per year between us). For our family, we barely make enough to live a simple life. Eating out? Not often! Family vacations? We go tent camping occasionally (because the cost of travel itself is almost prohibitive). We do “stay-cations” and go to our free parks for hiking and picnics. Thank God for a large yard and green thumbs – we’ll have enough produce this summer that we won’t have to buy much, and hopefully will have enough to preserve for the winter, too (we grow enough tomatoes to make our own salsa & marinara, which we can – haven’t had to buy it in about 4 years now). My point is: just as you are judged for being a stay-at-home parent, you are judging those of us who are not. Whether it’s a choice or not – we’re all in this life together, doing the best we can. Let’s try to be understanding and supportive of one another’s decisions – or at the very least, not be a Judgy McJudgerson. You can’t lump all two-working-parent families in as being those who “don’t want to raise their children.” We’re all different, making the decisions that are best for our individual families and circumstances.

    1. I’m sure most women in Uganda would jump at the chance of having regular employment so they can pay for their kids’ school fees and food. They wouldn’t understand your idea that a woman is needed at home all day in order to be a keeper of the home. Those who are lucky enough to have jobs keep their home just fine.

      In addition, I’m sure these children are enormously grateful for the chance to attend a school. That is the way it is in poor countries. School is a blessing, a goal, a way out of poverty.

      1. Guest,

        You’re actually wrong. Uganda has very traditional roles where women are expected to manage the home and take care of the children. Sometimes they do have home businesses, selling their art, etc. The orphans from Uganda are so because of an AIDS epidemic that wiped out a large percentage of the adult population. The women would most certainly understand, and embrace, my idea that a woman is needed at home.

    2. Kate, thank you. I’m there too. I work because that is how we survive – the basics – modest house, home-cooked food, simple entertainment, a few school activities, utilities (our cars are 19, 13, and 12 years old respectively! No car payments but TONS of car repairs!!). My husband is not in a job that allows him to provide everything we “need” … as much as he’d love to do that. We are in debt because I stayed home as long as possible but our regular bills weren’t even being met (and I’m just talking electric, water, simple internet, and groceries). I work full-time and have a friend who baby-sits for much less money than she deserves. *sigh*
      I am thankful that my kids had to buy their own cell phone if they wanted one and my 16 year old works a part-time job to save for his college and buy any extras he might want (electronics, etc). They compare to their friends some times and gripe – but overall, they have ENOUGH. They know what that means.
      Mom works so they can have a home with a bed in a climate-controlled environment. Not so they can go to DisneyWorld or whatever … but they are PROVIDED for.
      Sorry to sound a little defensive – but it’s been a hard transition … we REALLY can’t afford much – but yes, this article put it in perspective. What we CAN afford is ENOUGH and so much more than much of the third-world.

    3. Kate,

      I’m sorry you felt I was judging you, because no, that is not my intention. That’s why I used the phrase, “usually we’re lying.” There is a general lifestyle that Americans feel they deserve to have and more often than not, we sacrifice things like raising our own children to try to keep up with that lifestyle. That may not include you at all, but it includes a vast number of people in our country. That is who I was addressing. Our upsidedown idea about what sacrifices are important.

      When I quit my job and came home on my husband’s salary of 19K/year, it was logically a foolish idea. No, we couldn’t afford pool passes or going out to eat at all, or, fill in the blank, but those sacrifices were worth it for other things of value.

      I feel very heavy hearted for mothers who simply have to work. But I also feel heavy hearted for a society who has created the pressure of living up to a standard of living that forces us to sacrifice important things to reach it.

      I hope that makes sense to you.

      I edited the post in an attempt to be more clear.

    4. Kate, your numbers sound just like ours with the exception of income. We have chosen to be a one-income family — gross income of $45,500. We have six children who eat more all the time as they get to upper elementary ages.

      We have chosen to use StraightTalk – $50/mo, amazon prime and netflix for TV. We choose to drive paid-off cars and do our best to conserve gas. (We live more than a 20 min. drive to anywhere.) House payment – same as yours. No health insurance payments (which equals no insurance for my husband and me).

      Eating out happens about once every three months when someone gives us a gift card. Kids get ONE birthday present from us and they know it’s ONE. They don’t feel sad about it. It’s just the way our family is. ONE Christmas present from us, too. Aunts/Grandmas get them LOTS more, so they are doing just fine. 😉

      We haven’t put them in sports at all. We choose to support a child in Haiti. Sports would eliminate the money we give to that child, so sports have had to wait. (And our kids have seldom asked to join.)

      I say all that to say this: Everyone has choices. You cannot whine to this author that she’s being judgmental of you. You make your choices. She’s encouraging you to take a second look at your choices and see where “need” and “want” have been mixed up.

    5. Hi Kate.
      A encouragement to you…..if you KNOW the Lord has called you to work outside of the home, you don’t need to defend this decision. I don’t believe Kelly was judging you (or any other mother whom works outside of the home), but rather pointing out the many, many things that have become necessity in our North American land of riches, when really one could easily live without.

      While we also live on one income (family of six), I would be lying if I said we have to pinch pennies and we can never each out or treat our children to something special. But the issue is….even if we CAN afford it, is it truly a necessity? This might be the root of Kelly’s article. There is so much in this culture that we have come to feel is our right; like somehow we deserve a cell phone, since everyone else has one. Or we should have nice vacations since every other North American family does. So the issue is not that a cell phone or family vacation is wrong, but rather it have become something we expect that we deserve.

      You should not feel judged or guilty, if you know the Lord has you to work outside the home. Otherwise, it is called conviction and conviction comes from the prompting of the Holy Spirit.


  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is just what I needed to hear today. Yes, we have NO hardships in America, that is the truth. So many of us could live more simple lives. As a mom of 10 (one with expensive special needs) we have chose for me to be home. This means sacrifices such as selling our lovely house (that we could no longer afford) and downsizing, yes downsizing in a smaller pole barn style building (with no acreage.) We are well below what the US considers the poverty line but we make it work. We actually live comfortably compared to other countries (we’re by no means starving, have running water/electric and a roof over our heads.) We have to choose between needs and wants almost daily and it’s a great thing for us and the kids. In most circumstances one income is completely a choice. One persons modest is anothers luxury. I think your article was very non-judgmental, just stating facts. We previously thought (many years and kids ago) that we couldn’t have one parent stay at home either, but why not? It’s all boils down to choices. Thanks again!

  3. I clearly remember when my first was born seeing no way that we could cut back so that I could be home with him. We believed that maintaining the lifestyle we had (not lavish) was necessary to give him the “opportunities” we thought he needed to be successful. Throughout the next two years, and eye opening events, the Lord led us to take a complete leap of faith and I came home, part time then full time. We have never lacked for anything, praise the Lord. I have four (which never would have happened with our childcare costs), and we homeschool them! We can testify that the Lord is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or think! (Ephesians 3:20)

    1. This is my same story as well! When I was doing our taxes last year for our family business I was amazed that we made only$40k. The Lord provided for all our needs. Now as I wait patiently for baby #4 to arrive (hopefully this week), I was sad for my other 3 because they will have to stay home all week…no library trips, etc because I am just too tired. Then it hit me, they have more than they need here at home. A water hose is enough to keep them busy!

      1. What an testimony! God provides. I wish your family the best as you welcome your new little one. And some of my children’s favorite times are days spent doing “nothing” at home, as well!

  4. It’s all about choices. I’m looking at some of the comments and thinking how my h smoother things would be for us if we made the money that some are listing here as not much income. We have 7 small children and another on the way. The youngest 2 are identical twins and we spend $500 a month on their special formula because of the eating issues they have due to severe prematurity. It isn’t easy and there’s never any wiggle room or extra in the budget. But we’ve never went without and God has allows provided. We aren’t pitiful and I’m not about to complain.:)

    Thanks for a lovely post!!

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with your article. I’m a single mom raining four children on just my child support. We do what is necessary to get through. God always comes through blessing us to meet all of our needs. Whether it is hand me down clothes, bountiful garden or what not. We live on less than fifteen thousand a year. I’m buying my home on land contract, my car is scrappy but it gets me from point A to point B, I have a simple cell phone no extras with anything. We read, bike, take advantage of free activities around the city. I don’t feel like my children are missing out on materialistic things. I truly believe I’m where I’m supposed to be.

  6. I loved this article! Thank you for writing it. I am a stay-at-home Mama to my kids, 4 of whom still live at home, and yes, we do sacrifice some of the material things so I don’t have to work outside of the home. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else! 🙂

  7. I work so that myself, my husband and our 3 children can have insurance, period. My husband is in business for himself and if we had to pay out of pocket for our insurance we would never make it.

          1. I have never heard of this before, the concept is fabulous and I’m sure works wonderfully.

          2. Korenna,

            It does work fabulously. We’ve used it for 6 years and every major health need we’ve had has been covered 100%, complete with letters and cards of encouragement from the members. (I thought you had replied with the diabetic statement.) I would strongly suggest checking into it.

            My parents have used it too and had major claims like heart attack, and other major problems, once totaling $197,000, and it was all paid in full.

            Also, while our family “share” amount (what we pay in each month) is around $385, there are many months where it is much less because you get a credit if anyone refers you. It’s really is an incredible way to do health insurance.

        1. Also not optimal if you have mental illness. From what I could glean from the website, Samaritan Ministries appears to be in the “psychotropic drugs are the devil” camp, so Manly Man and I would be in real trouble if we went this route. Pretty discouraging because otherwise I love the concept.

          1. From their guidelines: “Psychotropic medication to treat chemical imbalances not demonstrable by lab tests is not publishable except as part of an involuntary commitment.”

            That seems a far stretch from “SM appears to be in the pd are the devil camp.” I think that was an unfair villainizing of the ministry when they do acknowledge and treat psychiatric conditions.

  8. A thought crossed my mind when I was reading through: “The general lifestyle that Americans feel they deserve.” I was thinking that for the general American population that were focused on doing just that very thing don’t actually come to this blog. This blog is about us bible believing, children having families for the most part. So, I think, the generalized statement still stands. I think a lot of, if not all of the readers that come here are really doing the best that they can under the circumstances that they can.

    We live “under” the poverty line here in Australia, but I feel like a queen most days – I don’t think that I have gone without ANY meals at all. In fact our meals are very varied. We live in a very nice house – ok, it’s rented, but it’s super nice. We can afford clothes, books, and day outings, all the while allowing me to stay home. I figure, at some point, I might be pushed out to the workforce when the children in the house starts to dwindle, but until then, while we can, I’m enjoying being at home.

  9. Fabulous post.
    I stay at home with our six children and feel blessed to do so. Giving up my job meant being creative and saving and cutting back. I have relatives who complain they have to work, but the first they did when they moved into their new home (new to them, but not a brand new house) was hook up their cable/satellite t.v. Cable t.v. is NOT necessary, no matter how cheap the deal is. And cell phones for your children is also not necessary. Eating out at restaurants is a luxury! (All of the above, we do not do.)

    I feel frustrated when people think I’m ‘lucky’ to stay home at home and “not work” when I see the same people spending their money on things we will not touch. Perhaps this is judging but also, people need to realize they don’t NEED everything that everyone else has.

  10. I don’t think the point of this post was to make a statement about whether or not a woman should work outside the home. I think the intent was to make an indictment on the materialism of our culture and the lies we tell ourselves to justify our lust for more and more things, We are a single-income family, and are fortunate that my husband makes a comfortable living. We are not rich by any means, and we try to live frugally. But stuff isn’t good for kids, because ultimately it doesn’t satisfy and we just want more and more and more. And still we are not satisfied. I’ve been meditating on Ezekiel 16:48-50, which really addresses what’s going in in our culture today.

  11. The choice to be content with less is the choice that my wife and I made from the beginning – 31 years ago. I often tell my children that “every decision is a trade” – trading this for that. To serve this or that. My wife is graciously content to be home with our children – even home before children. Has been for 28 years. She is of the highest esteem in our home. Her heart is home. If we teach our children to be content with the models of life that God gives in the scriptures, it will be far easier to say no to the many offers of the culture around us. God’s models always work – no exceptions. Paul wrote: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” ( I Tim 6:6 ) If our children see dad and mom pursuing eternal gain, they may well by the grace of Christ, be inclined the same way. While pursuing eternal gain, we find we have no time or inclination to pursue earthly gain, which I believe was the point of the article. The issue is where the “eyes” are fixed! (Heb 12:1-2) Eternal focus, even in daily home life, makes the lures of the culture seem oh so shallow.

  12. Kelly, this is a bit off topic, and I would do it myself if I wasn’t dealing with chronic health issues right now, but I was wondering if you might be up for tackling the new study that has come out from Harvard, (yes I know their liberal bias) about how daughters of working moms are more likely to be successful. I know that we define success differently from the world-that isn’t the issue, but I have observed both your critical thinking skills and your ability to remain objective and consider the facts, which makes you a good candidate for this topic(don’t you feel special:P)

    What do you think?!

  13. It’s very interesting how some people felt condemned when reading your post. I understand as I was in that position several years ago. I wanted to be home, yet was defensive at even the tiniest whisper suggesting that my working was a choice, not a necessity. We didn’t have any of the little luxuries that are normal in our society. Well, I did get my hair cut regularly. We lived modestly and still had very little left at the end of each pay period.

    We had debt, seemingly insurmountable debt. A large chunk of which were my student loans. Somehow, rather miraculously, God answered the desires of my heart and I have been a stay at home mom for 14 years. On paper we shouldn’t be making it yet we are barely squeaking by. Our kids miss out on nothing-God has been so gracious in providing-and no one is naked or goes to bed hungry.

    God can do anything and I believe He wants Christian mothers raising and educating their own children. We can’t always make it work , but He can if we will trust Him and take a leap of faith.

    1. “On paper we shouldn’t be making it yet we are barely squeaking by.”

      Erin….this is us exactly! Each month is a testament to God’s amazing provision, love, and grace. I enjoyed reading what you wrote here. It blessed me 🙂

      1. 🙂 I love how you said it, “Each month is a testament to God’s amazing provision, love, and grace”.

        As we face the possibility of the loss of my husband’s job, I’m thankful for the years of trusting God for our daily bread. It has taught me that He alone is our provider, and I can trust in Him completely.

    2. Erin,

      We too, cut to one income when it logically made zero sense. There were many years of tears, but God was faithful and provided beyond our wildest dreams. So glad to hear He has has sustained you too.

  14. Thank you for this article, Kelly. A much-needed reminder that we are simply passing through this “land,” and our REAL home is heaven. Too often Christian families get sidetracked with what it means to live in this world (needing shelter, clothing, food), without transforming to its cultural norms (“I have to have a big house, nice car, vacation….”etc…)

    I don’t need to share all the specifics of how our family of 6 lives on one income – the bottom line is….do we trust God to provide and are we willing to sacrifice in the here and now for a much richer, eternal reward. Many of us Christians will be surprise how much of our earthly life truly comprised of becoming more wealthy and comfortable verses remembering our home and reward is in heaven.

    Blessings to you. 🙂

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