Having children after twenty years of a childless adult life has brought with it at least two revelations. One is an acute awareness of the brevity of infancy. You only get a four-month-old for a month. And even at 4 AM when baby-ness seems eternal, it still passes more quickly than you can believe. So Jeff and I compete to be the primary parent. We don't want to miss anything.
The second is the realization that young children—in spite of all kinds of advertising to the contrary—require few possessions. What they do need, in seemingly unquenchable quantities, is the loving attention of their parents. Which brings me to the checkbook. In our household, with its two self-employed adults, money is a means to buy time with Faith and Elijah. The farther I can stretch a dollar, the more hours I have for berry-picking, story-reading, and line dances around the kitchen table.
To this end, Jeff and I recently sought out the advice of a financial counselor. We thought a third pair of eyes looking over our household budget might identify places where we could take up even more slack. And Becky Bilderback—who runs a bed and breakfast, cans her own garden produce, and sews her own curtains—seemed to possess the ideal eyes for the job.
Becky wasted no time scanning down the list of our monthly expenses. But, to both our relief and disappointment, she couldn't find much room for improvement. We own one car, buy clothes at consignment shops, pay off our credit card in full each month. And there wasn't much that could be done about those health insurance premiums. Finally, she tapped her finger on one of our line items. "Here," said Becky. "Right here. This seems high to me." We leaned over the table. It was our groceries: $140 per week for food for a family of four. "And another thing," she said. "I don't see a line item for charitable giving." Was this, she wondered, an expense that we had perhaps overlooked?