How far will you go for financial security? How much are you willing to sacrifice? Now, I’m not talking about a “what would you do for one million quid” question or asking you to consider a lucrative but unsavoury “profession”, I’m talking, or rather, writing about something more practical, like budgeting, in fact, there’s a better question – How tightly are you willing to fasten your belt?
My partner and I have recently answered that question for ourselves and the results have been challenging and liberating in equal measure.
“We’d eat a trendy breakfast in Kings Cross and think nothing of lunch out in Primrose Hill”
We met two and a half years ago, I was flying full steam ahead in my teaching career, having only been qualified for a couple of years I was already Head of Department, taking on promotions all the time and showing all the promise of Senior Leadership; I was going to be a young Deputy Head if it was the last thing I did. He was Head of Department at a private music school in London and also working in his own time aspiring to create and launch his own business.
He lived in a smart flat in Crouch End, London and I rented my own place too. We ate out in Islington regularly and ordered in Sushi, most nights. We’d eat a trendy breakfast in Kings Cross and think nothing of lunch out in Primrose Hill after walking the puppy (The biggest, most handsome Chihuahua you’ve ever laid eyes on) We’d go to gigs, smoke cigarettes and drink wine like it was water. We bought a convertible Mercedes simply because I wanted it and we spoilt each other with Michelin Starred and designer birthday surprises. Life was sweet.
We moved in together in July last year, temporarily leaving London behind, to settle close to my new job in leafy Surrey. Of course we had a huge luxury flat with all the trimmings – one needs an underground car park with electric gates for the Mercedes, dahling! So excited were we about our fancy new surroundings that we got carried away one evening and accidently made a baby. We were surprised but delighted and thought that what we really needed at that point was another puppy. So there we were, us, with two dogs, two cats and a tiny little person waiting in the wings to transform our lives beyond measure.
Of course, every parent’s life changes immeasurably when a child comes along, we were expecting to feel differently about the world and each other, there was going to be a new, almost mythological dimension added to our consciousness, but the physical make-up of our lives was going to be the same, oh yes, this little person was just joining us for the ride.
My other half had started his own business at this point, they were doing well as far as new businesses go but I was the main bread winner and that was fine. I had a job I enjoyed, albeit at a school whose ethos I did not share, but it was a sure thing. I was covering maternity but the job would go permanent. That was until I told them I was pregnant. Did you know that from the moment a woman conceives a baby all of her professional integrity goes out of the window? Everything she’s worked and strived for becomes null and void? It’s true. A woman pregnant is no longer a viable employee because “you don’t know how she’ll feel once she’s had the baby”
“I was pregnant, not stupid”
A month before the baby was due I was being asked to handover all of my hard work and I mean HARD work, like – crazy lady doing waaaaay too much above and beyond every lesson good most outstanding hard work – to someone that couldn’t write a lesson plan and taught an inadequate lesson at interview. I didn’t hand it all over though, I was pregnant not stupid.
Then the baby came. I was consumed. They were right, I didn’t want to work but I had to and was always going to regardless of how strong my desire to be at home with the baby was. I couldn’t afford to be off for any length of time but we allowed me six months maternity anyway and sold a car and a motorbike to help ease the burden. It turns out getting a job was pretty difficult, despite the strength of my CV. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told every school I interviewed at that I’d just had a baby but, like I said, I was consumed.
I, eventually, secured two part-time roles thanks to a couple of good connections. My salary was halved and halved again just to cover childcare – that’s a whole other blog post! He wasn’t taking much home and we were staring at a growing mountain of debt.
“So what do you do when you can’t afford the rent without accruing more debt?”
So what do you do when you can’t afford the rent without accruing more debt? You can’t go back home to Mum, because you’re not just one person and a bag anymore, you’re a whole family or is it just because your step-parent is a pig? Either way, it’s a no go. You need a roof over the tiny, silky head of your 6 month old baby but you don’t have the means to pay for it. You could get into more debt but how will you ever get out of it? How will you ever buy a house? How could you ever afford to get married and what about a sibling for the baby? The baby needs a sibling…
I can’t remember where the answer came from but I remember how I felt about it. I text my best friend “I’m moving into a f**king caravan, a pull with your car caravan” and she said “Oh, love…” and other encouraging things that made the world seem fun and bright again, thank god for her.
“I text my best friend “I’m moving into a f**king caravan”
So here I sit, in my double bed, in my caravan, right next to the toilet and the kitchen and the living/dining room. The baby is asleep on one of the living room chairs, his granddad converted it into a cot for him but he won’t be there for long because he’s a teething monkey and doesn’t sleep through the night – but that’s a whole other blog post too.
Somehow, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s warm enough, dry enough and home enough, for now. The day we moved in we looked at each other and laughed, me hysterically, him in disbelief. He giggled, “ We live in a caravan” and I chortled back, “I know” and we sighed into a mute reflection in which we were probably both telling ourselves, this is fine, just make it count.
And that’s the thing – it has to count. It’s for 1 year only and it has to be a game changer.
Now, let’s be clear about what’s being sacrificed here. Whilst I went to great lengths to describe our frivolous and somewhat indulgent, childfree lifestyle, it’s not actually those things that we feel bereft off.
We look at our baby and we look at the floor and wonder how he’ll learn to crawl. How can he cruise around the living space with only one metre’s worth of seat to cling to? Then there’s the home comforts, like making dinner without having to constantly reconfigure the work surface; not having to try and hold onto a slippery baby in the shower because you don’t have a bath; even, having enough space to store a thick winter jumper. Then there’s the washing, oh the washing – if you don’t yet know how much laundry a baby produces, it won’t be long until you’re wracking your brain trying to remember a time when the air wasn’t filled with the hum of the washing machine or tumble dryer!
Perhaps most challenging of all, not least because of what’s at stake, is the strain on your relationship. They say that the first year of a baby’s life is the most stressful time in a parents’, learning your baby and adjusting to the huge shift they bring to your foundations, is immense. Well, try starting a new business AND living in a caravan in that first year too. Suffice to say, we are fully loaded and creaking under the weight. Of course, all relationships require work at one time or another, caravan or not. We are learning a new level of patience with one another, taking it in turns to loose our sh*t and then be the calm one. We have to remember to be kind to one another by reminding ourselves that it’s not the other person’s fault and actually, we’re in this together, 100% together.
And so, you see why it has to count. We make these sacrifices now and try to overcome the challenges our situation brings so that next year, when we’re debt free, we can sit in our garden whilst the baby plays in his wendy house. Then we’ll go inside and make lunch, using every work surface available just because we can. We’ll eat at the dining table without melamine plates and then head to the living room where we turn all of the sofa cushions into a fort. There’ll be a bath for bath time and real bed, in a separate room for the baby and he will sleep through the night, he will and so will we. Finally.