How the IRS Made Me a Better Housewife (those jerks)

Two months ago, we got notice from the IRS that our monthly payment on our 2008 tax bill was being increased. We've been chipping away at that gargantuan debt the best we can, but still there's a lien on the house and a hefty lump of cash deducted from our checking account every month. But since the IRS finally calculated that we wouldn't be able to pay off our debt within their 10 year time budget, the hefty lump had to get a bit heftier.

Yeah, totally. Of course I cried.

I work really hard to be able to stay home with the kids, and so far we've been able to manage it even while slowly paying off our tax lien. We've been able to manage a lot, to tell you the truth. We have me in therapy and Iliana in day care two days a week, are paying for our remodel completely out of pocket, and every single one of us own multiple pairs of pants. That's pretty good for a family of four living on one income.

But money is tight. Not only do we have that 2008 tax lien, which we knowingly got ourselves into by living on the money in our tax savings account when the entire fricking economy went to absolute shit, but Ian was lucky enough (and I mean this honestly) to secure a stable job at about half of what he was making before his consulting business dried up.

So, we went from two incomes and one kid to half of one income, two kids, and a tax lien.

Oh goody.

So when we got the notice about the increase in our tax payment, Ian and I figured it was about time for our regularly scheduled "does Celeste need to go back to work" discussion. And by discussion I mean plug numbers into a spreadsheet and try to figure out what else we can do without.

It was easy at first to find ways to make me staying home make financial sense. We dumped some expenses that come standard with being a working parent, and then hacked away at some of the goodies that made being so goddamn busy seem worthwhile.

Testostorone is your friend
We Used to Have the BITCHINGEST Seattle Sounders Season Tickets, You Guys

Right after Iliana was born, we sold the sailboat that had at one time been a huge part of Ian's identity. Mine, too, if we're being perfectly honest. But we sold her, and just like that we found the last of the things that we could give up in order to stay committed to our single income lifestyle.

Considering all of the ways that we've had to pare down, I feel a significant amount of guilt for staying home. Regardless of how illogical this guilt is, it is still an actual feeling that influences the way I approach our discussions. Since money is tight, and I am not bringing a paycheck into our household, it's easy for me to feel selfish for staying home. And whenever an unexpected expense crops up, I'm convinced that my housewifing days are over.

I get pretty wound up just thinking about having to put together a résumé. I'm a college dropout, have been out of the job market for over five years now, and the only real experience I have is in a field that I actively dislike. If I'd had a career I loved, I for sure wouldn't be a housewife. But I can't think of any job that I would like even half as much as I love holding down this unruly fort.

And since part of my brain tries really hard to convince me that I don't deserve anything I want, well. Guilt.

For the past five years, we've made it work. Barely, but hey. We've prioritized and minimized and given up a lot of things that were really difficult for us to give up. We kept within our budget, but only just. It's been really stressful at times, and we've had moments where we've thought that we might not just lose me as a housewife, but we might actually lose our house.

(You guys, I hate this whole money business so very much.)

When the IRS notice came, I thought this is it. We're done here. Not just in the usual I-can't-have-anything-I-want way, but in the resigned, it-was-nice-while-it-lasted kind of way. I kind of wallowed for awhile, even weeping into my afternoon Dr. Pepper as I thought about saying goodbye to the life I had worked so hard to build.

(Whatever. You already knew I'm a raw, emotional nerve ending.)

But instead of folding, and in what I felt at the time was a bid of desperate futility, I took a look at the only place in our budget that we could still at least sort of control: food.

"There still has to be some wiggle room," I told Ian with surprisingly renewed determination. "All we have to do is shave off a dollar here and a dollar there, and we're in business."

We enlisted the help of the KitchenAid mixer I'd "earned" in a rewards program at my old job. It had been doing a fine job as a cookie dough maker but hadn't been doing much else besides. The dough hook, cheese grater, and ice cream maker attachments I'd also "earned" at Bank of America had been all but ignored as life went sideways and we started reaching for such luxuries as store bought shredded cheese blends. (Oooh la la!)

So, we started by dropping the convenience foods that we had stopped being able to recognize as conveniences. We bought blocks of cheese for so much less an ounce than we could get even on the craziest sale of the shredded variety that we kind of felt like we had to apologize to each other for being so frivolously wasteful. We stopped buying cookies and cakes and crackers, no matter what kind of tempting aromas wafted out from the bakery section. Instead, Iliana and I filled the cupboard with the most ridiculously misshapen cookies the world has ever known.

And on one rainy day, when I was desperate for an activity to keep restless toddler hands busy, I made a loaf of bread.

It was quite possibly the ugliest loaf of bread that anyone has ever seen. It was completely inedible as the wheat flour in my cupboard was ages old and had long gone rancid in its airtight container. But it was bread, and I had made it. And even more, Iliana adored helping.

Making Bread
"Helping" - or Something

So we made another loaf, this time with brand new bread flour. Then we made another. I showed Iliana how to make play dough and she was hooked. I felt like the dumbest, terriblest mother ever, for having a two year-old that had never made her own homemade dough. What in the world was I even doing?!

I'll tell you what I was doing. I was beating my head senseless on all of the buillshit paper projects that Iliana and I had been doing for months. We'd been painting and coloring and stamping and scissoring our little brains out, but only with a severe amount of annoyance from this parental unit. I hated the fact that all of the mess came with some other messy thing that was just ultimately going to be thrown away. But because Iliana kept asking to color and paint and stamp and scissor, I always said okay, even if it meant hours of bitching as I swept up a never-ending supply of paper shards from underneath the couch.

But with baking I could get delicious things that my family was eating anyway. And for some reason all of the flour on the floor just didn't bother me, let alone get me all Hulk Smash! like the paper projects did. And since it was super easy to redirect Iliana towards dough crafts and baking whenever she asked after paper crafts, I didn't feel like I was depriving her of anything.

Why it took the IRS to remind me about, you know, play dough is really beyond me.

(I am not a very smart person.)

Ridiculous play dough revelations aside, it was like I reopened my housewife toolkit. I realized that instead of trying to get a new job, all I needed to do was find some ways to be more effective in the one I already had. So I dug in. Hard. And honestly, I don't know why I ever thought going back to work would actually be more cost effective.

In the past two months, not only have I carved out the money needed to satisfy our increased tax payment, I've saved enough to (mostly) afford the pasta maker attachment that I'd been coveting for years. I made my first batch of pasta last night, and it was a blast. Jonas wasn't nearly as impressed with it as he was with the pizzas Iliana and I have been perfecting, but hey. You can't win 'em all.

But I have won this round of the "does Celeste need to go back to work" debate. Unequivocally. My spreadsheet and I are elated, and I'm looking at about a thousand other projects to help me dig in. I'm doing this. I am doing this. And man, it feels really, really good.

(And to think, it all started with the IRS and a completely inedible loaf of bread.)

Not This Bread. This Bread Was Delicious.

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Jean said:

I used to be a baker and those loaves look ah-mazing! Bravo to you for digging in.

boop said:

Thank you SO much, Jean! Those were the first loaves that I really felt I "nailed" so I just had to take a picture. :D And digging in has been a lot of hard work, but definitely worth it. It's a good feeling.

celeste said:

Lol! I don't know why I signed me in as "boop" but that previous comment was from me.

Harper said:

I love this post. I'm in a really similar boat, and it's so nice to know I'm not alone. I also love how you've turned a productive, money saving practice into quality time.

celeste said:

Thanks! And it's been a life saver. I've felt better about staying home with the kids in the last two months than I have for the past three years. I don't know if it'll last, but for right now I'll take it. :)

Evelyn said:

I hope you don't mind that I've fallen in love with you purely because we have the same color KitchenAid mixer. Lemongrass, I believe? Also, thanks for writing this. I feel like your honesty gives me license to open up about our own real estate struggles and accompanying somewhat-debilitating anxieties. Loved your post. Lauren Vasil connected us, and I'm so grateful.

celeste said:

HAH! I love that. And when I got my mixer, the color was called Pear, though yeah it totally looks like it could be called Lemongrass. Maybe they just switched the name up.

I hope that you do write about your anxieties. It took me a LONG time to feel comfortable publishing this post and I almost left out the money business. But the truth is the truth, and we're trying as hard as we can to dig ourselves out of a situation that we got ourselves into, with a lot of help from my former employer. (Bank of America. Sigh. Not that BofA did anything to us personally; it's just that working on the inside of an institution like that has changed my perceptions on some financial stuff. More later maybe?)

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