Every time I check the mail, I feel the anxiety coming. When I look at the phone and see an unknown number. Around the 5th of the month when rent is due… it’s the anxiety of an unknown expense, a bill collector, an increase in payment.
You see, we live paycheck to paycheck.
We don’t look it. We have a nice car (that we share), our kids have nice toys and clothes. We both have college degrees and work in fields that may not buy mansions anytime soon, but a living surely.
Looking back, it wasn’t one thing that happened. We had a string of bad luck. Some medical expenses, losing a job, kids, moving for a new job, house on the market for too long. None of these bankrupted us by any means, but we could never seem to get out of the hole. We’d get ahead and then it just felt like something else happened.
I do all the things you should do to save money. We coupon and shop sales. We really don’t buy stuff for the kids, grandparents like spoiling after all. We don’t have cable. We don’t eat out often. Our kids are young enough thankfully that they aren’t fazed by it. They are happy and content, which is a blessing in more ways than I can count.
It’s hard. It’s hard to pretend to be middle class.
When friends want to go out to eat or have a happy hour. Something so simple, but to have to wonder if that will mean not paying for something else. Being invited to a birthday party and hoping we can get a small something at the dollar tree. None of our friends are millionaires, and everyone has a budget, but it feels like we are playing pretend.
Even with just the two of us, sometimes it feels like we are pretending this huge weight isn’t on our shoulders. Sometimes I think we shouldn’t, and other times I know it’s saving our relationship.
“When will you guys buy a house?” “Do you want any more children?” “Going on any vacations soon” All such innocent questions from concerned and curious friends and family. But I find myself trying to smile through the pain. The pain of wondering if any of those are in our future. The pain of being “found out”. The pain of praying my children don’t put it all together.
We are more fortunate than many in that we have family willing and able to help us. And though we are truly grateful, it is a bitter pill for our pride to swallow. Mostly it’s the guilt I feel. Guilt for failing my children. Guilt for shutting out my husband and partner. Guilt that our families have come to our rescue. Guilt that every path we’ve pursued has ended in this. I try and have hope. Some days that’s easier than others. I try to just be grateful for happy and healthy children, and again some days that’s easier than others.
But here we are a picturesque family, living paycheck to paycheck disguised as your middle-class neighbor…