I put poverty in quotation marks because we haven't really been poor, but for the last 11 years that my husband has been in school, our income has been below what is considered the poverty level for a family of our size in the US. We have taken out student loans in addition to having a stipend and various other means of income through the years, but it hasn't been easy. Still, as we near the end of this stage (my husband defended his dissertation on Friday, so except for maybe some administrative details, he is done with his PhD!), I have discovered that there have been blessings that have accompanied our financial struggles.
1. I wasn't able to sign our kids up for every class or activity that sounded interesting. This is a benefit? Yes. I recently read the introduction to Einstein Never Used Flashcards where the authors discuss how children these days aren't given enough time to just play. Our society today encourages parents to sign kids up for every class imaginable as young as possible. I definitely would have fallen prey to that idea. If we had had enough money I would have been tempted to involve my kids in way too many activities. Luckily, I had the benefit of a tight budget to control me. I believe that the kids and our whole family have benefited from this. The kids have had lots of time to play and our family is not stressed out from a too busy schedule. Over time, I have some to realize that that we are happier not having our kids in tons of activities and they are growing up just fine without them.
2. I have had to control my urge to spend tons of money on homeschooling stuff. Oh, there were times when I didn't think of this as a benefit. But because of financial constraints, I had to search, ponder, and pray over every curriculum choice. In the end I realized that I didn't need every wonderful homeschool product to teach my children at home and I saved tons of money by not buying impulsively. I had to really want something before I would buy it. Every once in a while I would buy something that ended up not working for us or wasn't as great as I expected. Then I would feel guilty and be even more careful with my next purchases.
3. I have learned that we can have fun family vacations without spending a lot of money. We have done a lot of camping and visited many National Parks. Luckily we love the outdoors :) We have also taken road trips to different cities and eaten the local food. We have been able to explore this beautiful country of ours without spending money on every attraction and activity.
4. I have learned to live without. Our world today teaches us that we "need" certain things. Kids "need" their own room. We "need" nice cars to drive. We "need" a big house. Our kids have become closer from sharing a room. My car, as ugly as it might be, gets me where I need to go. The places we have lived, though mostly small, have given us a roof over our heads. We adults may feel crowded at times, but the kids have been just as happy wherever we have lived. Now that I know that we can be happy without, I feel like I am in a better mind set for not spending frivolously once we have a larger income.
5. I have been taught humility. If I had gone straight from my parent's home to being able to buy a home with my husband and live comfortably, I would have felt a sense of entitlement. Like I somehow deserved to have a financial advantage. Living below the poverty level has humbled me. I can empathize with those that struggle financially. I realize that I am no more deserving of monetary comfort than anyone else.
Sometimes I wonder why it took me 11 years to learn all of this. About 5 years ago, I thought, "O.K. I've learned. I'm humble. Now can I be done with the financial struggles?" But it wasn't time, yet. Recently, I realized that I had stopped coveting other people things. I used to seriously covet other people's houses. I wanted to buy a house, so badly. Then suddenly in the last few months, I discovered that although I appreciate other people's nice houses, I no longer covet them. Same with cars and furniture and people's ability to go on fancy vacations and sign their kids up for lots of activities. Maybe this was the end result that these 11 years have been leading me towards. As this time in my life draws to a close, I feel strangely grateful for what I have experienced.