No Extra Money: The Unfair Reality of the Family Budget


Let’s talk about money. For mamas everywhere, money and the family budget are heavy on their minds. It is a concern amongst mothers worldwide. When we as writers set out to address the financial stress of being a mom it is usually from the money-saving advice angle. Scour the Seacoast Moms site and you will find countless ways to live your best life on a budget. However, I feel like maybe its time to talk about the darker side of money stress. Too often the reality of my “mom life” is that I can clip coupons and budget and save and side hustle, but at the end of the day, there just isn’t enough money.

The Privilege Inherent in Budgeting

I say that and then feel like a basic idiot. I admit that I am a privileged white woman complaining about my middle-class money struggle. Truthfully, when I say, “not enough”, I mean not enough “extra”. I know that for so many, maybe even you, there is not enough for the basics. The fact is that we have the ability to decide where our money goes. For many, there is no choice, only necessity. Here I am bellyaching and my reality is that I have a stable, provider in my husband and a career of my own. We make enough money to pay for our house and our cars and insurance. We put warm clothes on our kids and healthy food in the fridge. In so many ways we are blessed, but I can’t help but feel that my trials are still valid and, more importantly, they are common. 

A Middle-Class Reality

families living on a thin margin may not have enough money for extras
Source: New York Times October 2019

An October 2019 article in the New York Times, The Middle-Class Crunch revealed the impact of the cost of housing, education, and healthcare on families like mine. Among other factors, the median U.S. income has increased by just 19% since 1995 while the cost of healthcare has increased by 35%, housing by 50%, and the average cost of education has increased by 80%. As discussed in the article The Lost Decade of the Middle Class published by the PEW Research Center the disparity in income and cost has created an inability to maintain wealth. We make money but scarcely enough to save or spend on the extras. We are all surviving on a thin margin. My family, like so many, is just one emergency away from financial ruin. 

Unfair Money Truth

It is heartbreaking when we don’t have the money for that extracurricular my child is dying to try. Likewise, I feel like a complete failure when the overnight field trip or tutor or alternative medical option is not something I can give my child. I am not talking about toys and fancy clothes. It isn’t about excess. It is about those things that would enrich the life I am providing for my daughters. Yes, I can provide the basics for my kids, but my kids deserve more than just basic. It’s not fair that my children don’t get certain opportunities but life isn’t fair. I know it and sadly so now do my children. 

Mostly I try to compensate for those things that are out of reach on my own. I can scour for good deals on weekend adventures and enrich their learning and personal development at home. However, when my daughter sees a photo of a glowing little girl in a Cinderella dress embracing Mickey in front of the Magic Kingdom there is little I can do that compares. Asking her to understand that Disney isn’t in the budget right now seems so unkind. Disney certainly has sold the “every kid deserves a Disney trip” idea well.

raising kids is costly and often there is no extra money
Based on the USDA’s 2015 Expenditures on Children by Families Report

What do struggling moms do when there’s not enough money? 

Provide What’s Important- Prioritize. Sometimes this is obvious: sneakers for a growing kiddo before a new purse. Then there are priorities we set that are not so obvious and not for everyone. My daughter has an aptitude for animals and struggles socially. I prioritize things that develop those areas while other activities are less likely to take precedence. 

Provide Enrichment- That specialty camp or tutor may be out of reach, but there is so much a Pinterest Momma (try searching enrichment activities for kids) can do to expand on the learning her child is already doing and to teach those soft skills that make successful people. 

Provide Money Smarts- When money is an issue, it affects the entire family. Children may not be in a place to make budget decisions but they can certainly understand what a budget is and why your family sometimes has to say, “no”. I hope that an early understanding of the difference between need and want and the ability to accept disappointment will serve our children well. 

Provide Yourself- I know our plates are full, but the number one thing any of us can do is take an interest in what’s going on with our kids. This is so much more than dinnertime inquiries about their day. You may not be able to make more of a monetary investment, but you can invest hours in your kids. 

There may be no extra money, but there’s no limit to what you can provide.