But how can they afford it?

All the other moms on the dance team got shirts that said “dance mom squad” and their kid’s name. They were adorable. They were $22. I opted out. I told them the truth: I don’t have extra money for that stuff and I am keeping my wardrobe to a bare minimum.

At the dance competition where the moms all wore them, I felt a twang of jealousy, but it passed, and I’m not sad I didn’t order one. Or a shirt that says “Sonya’s mom” for soccer, or “my daughter does gymnastics” or “I’m a dance mom” or whatever. I could easily, easily, spend hundreds of dollars to get the right t-shirts to support my kids. I don’t think the kids care or notice. It’s not worth it to me.

But I always wonder, how do other parents manage? Why does it seem like they are always dropping money on things we can’t justify? We make okay money, why does it feel like we are struggling and everybody else is flush with cash?

Well. If I give it more thought than gut reaction, it makes more sense and helps me to stop wasting time worrying about what’s happening in other people’s wallets.

1) Everybody has their priorities, and mine aren’t better than anybody else’s. I spend a stupid amount of money on birthday parties because the thought of twelve 9-year-olds taking over my house, digging through my medicine cabinet, screeching because there are spiders in the corner, getting annoyed by my puppy, and screaming nails-on-chalkboard high pitched giggles for hours on end makes me panic. I took my family to Europe last year, and we have a relatively new Honda Odyssey (is 2013 new?). I don’t care about t-shirts but some people do. Other families likely cut costs in situations where I prioritize spending.

2) Just like social media, I am comparing others’ external situations to my internal dialogue. I am certain people see my kids in a billion activities and our family’s European vacation and wonder how I do it. Well, with a lot of cobbling together pennies and late night stress fests. Side hustling and travel hacking and pulling dollars from one bucket to another. All I know when I see a shirt is that they have a shirt.

3) My choice, to focus on the future rather than the present, is not objectively better than a choice to focus on the present and let the future take care of itself. It feels better to me, but of course it does, because it’s my choice. There are plenty of reasons to not sacrifice today in service of tomorrow. 

4) I have made big, life-altering choices that mean my cash flow is much lower than it could otherwise be. We lived beyond our means when our means were minuscule, and I’m not sad about it – but now we are behind. Lots of people don’t have student loan debt. Lots of people don’t invite their wholly dependent mother-in-law to live with them. Those two choices alone cost me $1700 a month. That’s a lot of tee-shirts.

5) I have chosen to live in a LCOL area to optimize my housing costs. Maybe other people in my area are doing the same thing. Maybe the other parents in my community are making more money than I am, living in houses that are very affordable for them, and so have disposable income for relatively small indulgences.

In the end, somebody else’s choices are just that – somebody else’s choices. It’s not productive to feel jealous, or smug, both of which (shamefully) naturally arise. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got, and if I really am comfortable about choosing family vacations over a more diverse wardrobe, it shouldn’t affect me what other people do with their money.

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