Ten Things We felt Guilty about Buying when my Husband was in Graduate school

A recent online discussion among friends in my husbands philosophy department made me remember something that I have known for years. We were discussing the unjustly low average salary of professors in the colleges of arts and science, and while it would be really nice if it was higher, it really is enough. In fact, it is much more than what we lived on for the first four years of our married life.

We got married in 2008, three months before the famous economy collapse, and as Sam Rocha wrote in his album Late to Love in the song Always Already Blues, “they say the economy is bad and things ain’t going like they should, don’t ask me, I wouldn’t know, you see I was broke when times was good…” We were already planning on living on a tiny income anyway (graduate student stipend plus whatever income I could earn until we had our first child). 

So, we survived all four years of graduate school, M was one of the lucky philosophy PhDs to get a job, and we moved on to a salaried lifestyle. Now between a higher cost of living in general in the Twin cities (as opposed to Buffalo, NY) and higher insurance premiums, the money did not seem to go as far as we would have liked, but still, it is enough.

We have enough for a nice house in a nice neighborhood. We have enough to insure and maintain two cars. We have enough to eat healthy and diverse foods. We have enough to replace clothes that are worn out. We have enough to pay our heating bill. We have enough to keep our home nice. We have enough to have a garden. We have enough for fun presents for our children. We have enough to afford the medical expenses of a growing family. We have enough to feed four or more children. We have enough.

I knew when I married M that philosophy professors don’t get rich, but I also knew that we would make a single income work for however many children we were blessed with. I knew that we would have to be frugal. I knew that we would make some sacrifices.

But we really have it much better than we did before, and so I present to you ten seemingly trivial things we felt guilty about buying while my husband was in graduate school:

Everyone thinks I am a boy in my green and yellow. Oh, the shame.

1) $5 pink hats and an Easter dress after my first daughter was born. We did not find out her gender until the moment after her birth, so her wardrobe was largely yellow and green. I felt extremely guilty spending a few dollars to buy her a pink hat so that everyone would know that she was, in fact, a girl. We had plenty of other gender neutral hats for the end of winter in Buffalo, and so I felt guilty. I also felt the need to dress her up at 4 weeks for her first Easter.

Easter 2012: I bought this $12 dress for a wedding with the gift card bought sweater to match. L’s dress is handmade and G is in hand-me-downs.

2) Clothing. I felt we really had no money to spare on extraneous clothing, and so felt guilty whenever I wanted to buy a few new clothing items. When I did, I made sure I had just redeemed cash on my credit card (we did not carry a balance, it was for building credit and getting the cash) or had Christmas gifts to cover the cost. I would never spend more than $10 on an item for myself and preferred if I could get it for even less. I still feel guilty for spending more than $10 on items for myself. Frugality becomes a habit… and don’t even ask me how much I have to spend on nursing friendly undergarments.

3) Yogurt in a large tub after I learned to make my own in the crockpot. You would think that buying not single size yogurt would be frugal enough, but no, I discovered I could cut the cost in half by making my own.

4) Pregnancy cravings. In early pregnancy I always have trouble eating, so I largely eat what I know I can stomach and what I crave. But a whole lot of guilt went into buying the foods I could eat, like Cheetos, pickles, ramen noodles, breakfast sandwiches at McDonalds (we saved a lot of money my second pregnancy because I could not go through the drive through with a window that would not role down. I also felt guilty buying the relatively healthy things I could stomach. They all cost more than our normal diet.

Books, books, books!

5) Books. My husband loves books, and buying books has been part of normal life for him since he was a child. But when we had libraries to go to, spending money on books seemed like a guilty pleasure. So, we often limited book buying to when we had gift cards or as Christmas or birthday presents.

6) Ordering Out Food. Sometimes it is nice to not worry about cooking or cleaning. We gave ourselves a reasonable for our income recreation budget, but it was still hard to stomach the expenditure and not mentally compare the cost it to me preparing the same food at home.

This bottle we got from M’s parents. They had owned it for 20+ years.

7) Alcohol. I spent a lot of the time in graduate school pregnant, but when we could we liked to enjoy a bottle of wine or a beer. This too seemed like an unnecessary extra when money was already tight. When we did buy it, we made sure the cost fit within the limit of our allotted recreation budget.

8) Internet Service.
We actually lived without this at home for a year. I would use the internet at work or at the library and M had access on campus. But after the birth of our first, I asked if we could pay for internet access. I always felt guilty paying so much for it, but the life of a stay at home mom of a newborn gets lonely without the instant socializing the internet provides.

Craigslist crib, super on sale rocker, M’s college trunk, and fleece curtains.

9) Home Decor. We decorated our home with things we already owned in our first apartment. When we moved into a two bedroom, I very guiltily upgrades to bedroom curtains from our fleece blanket curtains we had in our first bedroom. We also hated to buy any new furniture, and if we did we had to find it at the lowest price possible.

Wegmans was better in most areas, but Tops French Roast blend had better flavor and a better price tag when there was a sale.

10) Groceries and Tolietries not at the lowest price. I price checked everything. I knew where every item cost the least, and I would only buy it there. Also, most store brands are just as good as the name brand. (I still shop like this, but get over the guilt a little bit faster if I have to buy it somewhere else).

Even with more financial freedom, we still try to remember to limit our expenditures. It is good for our souls to live simply, and to remember the lessons we learned about prudent spending habits when we had so little. But really, we have always had enough, and I would say we have flourished.

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