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Carla Shutak Headshot

My Extravagant Life as an Unemployed Mother

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I've never been a fancy girl. I grew up running around my grandparents' dairy farm barefoot. I stopped wearing make-up in my mid-twenties, and still only force myself to cover my mid-forties face when society deems it essential, like at weddings, job interviews, and funerals. I was brought up to reuse anything that could be reused. I even hand wash plastic baggies to use over and over. I started cutting my own hair after repeat trips to horrific stylists left me redoing what they did anyway. Now I not only cut my own hair, but also my husbands and both of my children's. I do it not only because I can, but because buying a shears and clipper was more cost effective than going to a professional every other month.

As the income disparity settles in and places its firm grasp around the throats of hardworking people in this great nation, I am thankful for my many talents. The skills I use every day are what make it more fiscally and socially responsible for me to remain unemployed than to take just any job available. I have always had issue paying someone else to do something I can do myself. I now have taken that one step further, and simply attempt to learn how to do the things I don't already know how to do.

Since it is now my second job, after being a mother, to manage our budget and save every cent possible, I spend quite a bit of time discovering new ways and implementing already known ways to do this. I have learned how to grow and preserve over 50 percent of the produce we consume year round. The only processed foods in our home are breakfast cereal and pasta. I make pretty much everything else from scratch. I save our family untold amounts of money every month by making our own bread. I've sewn reusable sandwich bags to send my kids' lunch to school with them. We absolutely never eat out at restaurants, much to the chagrin of our children. I've been a vegetarian on and off again for many years. Not eating meat really saves a lot of money. I will confess to one extravagance in our household. I mainly purchase organic food. But because I am able to do so and consciously spend less than many people who don't eat organic I refuse to feel bad about that. It's important to me that my children are healthy, and I have affirmation in that they have not missed any school due to illness this year to back up my steadfastness on this point.

In January I started tracking our grocery expenses in a spreadsheet. It's amazing the creeping of prices I've noticed in the few short months, yet I don't recall anyone here getting an increase in income. I can tell you which store in town has the cheapest price for the foods we purchase, and I will combine trips to same areas of town in order to use less gas. The thermostat is never set above 68 in the winter or below 72 in the summer and our average utility usage hasn't increased in over five years, yet our bill has increased by over 50 percent. Amazing. Again, I didn't notice any income boost to cover that.

Our children participate in mainly free activities. We love the public library, and a nice day at the park on the weekend is a highlight. This will probably be the last year our daughter is able to take ballet unless something really major changes. Swimming lessons are questionable at this point. But they don't need to learn how to swim, right? That's a luxury. I buy their clothes when they outgrow the old ones at thrift and resale stores, but I did that when my husband was making over $100,000/year anyway. Why buy something new when they only wear it about six months? My clothes are mostly over a decade old, and I don't care.

I've witnessed many assumptions about people while interacting in social media online, including political party and religious beliefs, all based on a single statement and usually negative. I've witnessed many assumptions about various groups of people while watching network news report on the 'economic crisis' facing our nation. Could it possibly be time to assume the best about people instead of the worst? Could it be time for people to start recognizing that political affiliation is not related to the economy, that one party isn't going to help us any more than the other? Is everyone out there struggling doing so because they go to Starbucks and get coffee every day? I'd like to think not. I'd like to think that if people like us, intelligent, educated and ethical people, are having a hard time and we're not being wasteful or self-indulgent that there are others out there in the same situation, and I hope it gets better for all of us real soon.

Someone will always have it worse than you or I. Someone will always have it better, too. That's okay. I don't look at life as a competition or feel the need to limit myself to make someone who has it worse feel better. Self-improvement is a worthy goal, one that should not be disparaged by anyone. Right now, I create more financially for my family by not taking any old job to get by. I definitely do more for the future of my children by being here for them instead of working to net a few hundred dollars.