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In debt due to childcare? Why bother?

(15 Posts)
TheNewCinders Tue 13-Sep-11 11:54:54

Childcare costs have made headline news today. The BBC claim that parents are giving up work or turning down jobs because the cost of care outweighs their earnings and is even getting them into debt.

Having been a working mum for fourteen years I have lived this dilemma. When I was first working my salary was just nine thousand per year, and my nursery fees were a similar figure. I was able to live because I got tax credits which made up my money to around £1600 per month - still a tight fit when you consider my rent and all bills had to come out of this.

Even now, with older more independent kids, and a bigger salary, I still struggle to make ends meet. I bring home more than £1600 a month myself these days, even after my pension and student loan has been taken, so I don’t get tax credits any more: It seems that low income or not, the tax credits make your money up to a similar amount. So nobody is better off until you really progress up the salary ladder. In fact the year my tax credits stopped I actually became £200 a month worse off because my student loan and pension contributions rose at the same time.

I am apparently a family with an above average income, so really I should be able to manage. But even today my son came home with letters for two trips for his GCSEs coming to a total of £65.00. This is money I have not budgeted this month, and in reality I don’t really have it to spare.

Not least because I have just had to buy two sets of uniform including expensive blazers, two sets of PE kit, and replace bags and stationery that is worn out. To keep costs down I found myself using summer holiday time to bleach shirts back to white and lunch boxes have now become very dull indeed. And despite my lengthy teacher holidays, I couldn’t afford to take my children away abroad this year - summer holiday prices were just too much.

But surely this is all family life? I am not entitled to expensive holidays abroad and everything sparkly new for my children. In this modern, material age, are we really getting into debt because we refuse to compromise our expensive lifestyles?

At school as a teacher I see pupils come from apparently poorer homes than mine carrying smartphones, iPhones and iPods. I hear them talk about their X-boxes, their PS3s and the clothes and shoes that they buy. The girls all have bags full of make-up and perfumes and they are constantly chomping down sweets, crisps and energy drinks.

But in my home we don’t have all of these things. Phones are cheaper and credit has to be earned and the X-box was the treat of the century. Clothes and shoes are not always as we desire, particularly for my kids who are constantly growing, and our cupboards are sometimes bare. I certainly do not fund daily energy drinks - bottles are filled with water. This is healthy and cheaper. I could not afford to keep attempting to fill bottomless teenagers with Redbull and junk. But then, if I could, I’m not sure I would want to.

Equally both my children play the piano to quite a high standard. But I do not pay for lessons - since being a one parent family again there is no way I can afford the £12 for half an hour. Rather than giving up their hobby, they have taken to teaching themselves from Youtube; they have managed this impressively well. The BBC mentions that parents are in debt due to things like swimming lessons. But what has happened to plain old-fashioned going swimming as a family and learning together?

It seems we judge the quality of our parenting by how many activities our children do. Your child goes to ballet, tap and jazz but I raise you clarinet and swimming lessons. Plus my child is learning to ride too. Oh no, not just how to trot and jump, we do dressage don’t you know. I play board games with my two - does that count as an activity?

My Darling Daughter loves riding, but at £20 per hour this is a luxury that I cannot manage. So instead we have found ways for her to earn it. She helps with looking after horses in exchange for riding time. Now she helps exercise some horses for a friend.

Similarly my Lovely Son loves acting. The local drama school, however, costs around £1200 for the year - a hefty price tag even out of my above average salary. That is money that I can put towards a new car, a family holiday, or even groceries in these more trying financial times. Does this mean he has to miss out on not only his hobby but the chance to turn it into his dream? I hope not. In fact, I refuse to believe it. Instead we keep our ears to the ground for opportunities that he might be interested in. He takes part in school plays, and two years ago he even had a small part in a film after we found some audition information. So perhaps we could all manage if we just find different ways to make things happen.

However childcare to allow a family to work is a different matter, and a matter I no longer have to worry about now that my children are older. Possibly I am too far out of the situation to comment with accuracy, but I do remember how tough those times were. The BBC say that families are having to cut back on things like clothes to make the numbers work. I recall having to rely on hand-me-downs for my two children for years and years. Not only when working, but as a mature student as well. I wanted new and fancy things for my children, but there was no way I could afford it. So I humbly accepted the help I could find. I bought clothes from charity shops and jumble sales. I took what was offered and I handed things on to others after.

I was a low income family; that was my lot. I wanted more; I thought I deserved more - but I was never going to get it by sitting round arguing about the unfairness of the situation. Instead I knew the only way forward was to keep working and get to the next step. Back then I was on a low rung of the career ladder, and I still have much further to go now.

Was it worth the effort? Yes. Does it always feel like it? No.

Living within doors of families who live on income support who seem to share a similar if not better lifestyle only increases the futility of the effort. In modern times of expecting a certain standard of living, it seems on income support families drive new cars, go abroad on holidays, and eat and drink whatever they like.

I remember one moment to illustrate this. I used to commute to Uni, which was over 60 miles each direction, and the days were long - I would leave at 7am and get back about 8.30pm on a Monday, and repeat again on the Tuesday. One week my Tuesday afternoon lectures were cancelled, so I was able to get back in time to pick my children up from primary school. I whizzed back down the motorway to collect Lovely Son, knowing Darling Daughter would need to be picked up an hour later after her club had finished. It was raining, and as I headed out of school I saw a mum I knew hiding under a veranda. She and her husband were unemployed and at the time they had six children, seemingly unimportant information - you would think anyway. I asked her if she was okay, knowing she was waiting for her daughter, and she said that she had walked down, so she didn’t have enough time to get back home before returning. Kindly, I offered her a coffee at mine to get out of the rain.

She accepted, and we drove back to my house. I apologised for the mess explaining how busy I had been. I opened a pair of curtains I had forgotten about that morning, and gathered up some breakfast things and put them next to the sink while we waited for the kettle to boil. There were piles of my books for study, and kids’ things that had been dropped off and changed over the night before. Then she said something that sounded like a compliment, but it was really an insult: “I DO admire you for being able to live like this...”
“What do you mean?” I asked, surprised at her comment. I wasn’t sure if she admired my ability to be a single working mum studying full time for my BA (Hons) in English.
“Well, MY house is like a show home.” She announced. She clearly admired my ability to ignore the mess. I thought to myself, ‘well if I had a team of cleaners for kids, and neither myself or my husband (if I had one) had anything to do, then my house would be immaculate too’. I said, “oh”.

She carried on. “I have beautiful laminate flooring throughout, and all my furniture is modern.” I looked round at my mis-matched home made up of messy memories and things I’d collected and thought, ‘how do you afford that on the dole?’ I said, “Wow. I’d love my house to be like that.”

I gave her a lift back to school, against my better judgement; it did occur to me to let her walk back in the rain - she clearly needed to fill her time with something other than comparing flooring.

But surely if someone who has no intention of supporting themselves feels superior to someone who is trying their best at independence, there is something wrong with the ideology of success in our Country? Surely, we should always be better off to be working? Any salary should always be better than no salary, and increasing your earnings should really improve your lifestyle. Raising children should surely come into that budgeting equation.

If you have made the choice to raise a family, why should you get the choice to abdicate financial responsibility for it? You can only climb the ladder if you get on it. So let’s put some worth back into doing the right thing, instead of in the material belongings we desire and the clubs that give us status. The playing field may not be fair or even, but you only get to the next level by climbing off the first.

Times are tough: not just for childcare, but for paying for food and fuel for commuting. Heating and power costs more than ever before: of course families are going to struggle. We all are. But it isn’t going to get any easier if everyone keeps giving up. Raising a family is a privilege not a right: childcare is a necessary expense for lots of us, but the glamorous extras are not. I’d rather be surrounded by honest, hard-working families in hand-me-downs than with families adorned in things they haven’t paid for themselves. I’m a working mother and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 13-Sep-11 12:21:48

You probably want 'Essays and Dissertations'... this is the 'News' board hmm

GypsyMoth Tue 13-Sep-11 14:03:45

Longest post I have ever read here I think!

jellybeans Wed 14-Sep-11 10:08:06

Firstly, great for you if you are happy and wouldn't have it any other way.
Secondly, not everyone on benefits is loaded. I have a good friend who is a lone mum and she is skint. Her kids DO NOT have x-box and iphones. They have a laptop as the governemtn provided one, I think that is great as the kids need one for school, homework is all online. I only know one family who are both not working and they seem 'well off' and have many children, but it is their choice and they may be fiddling as benefits don't pay that well no matter what you think.

Why should kids whose parents are on benefits miss out on clubs? Many parents on benefit, if they do have all these material things, may be getting into debt so their kids aren't the odd one out, may be getting them off grandparents, may be going without themselves to provide these things.

Be grateful for what you have and forget what other people have. There are much worse countries where people would be envious of those in the poorest of our society. Concentrate on your own life. material items and who has them isn't the be all and end all. What is money anyway?

PippiLongBottom Wed 14-Sep-11 10:18:50

Sorry, I had to give up reading.

coccyx Wed 14-Sep-11 10:23:25

Bleaching shirts, don't be ridiculous. get down to local supermarket for a pack.
Anyway you knew uniform was needed so you should have budgeted.
Not sure if you want a medal or a round of applause maybe

welliesandpyjamas Wed 14-Sep-11 10:23:38

Well, I will stick my neck out (and I usually play safe and/or lurk on MN these days) and say I liked your post. It was very reflective and true for very very very many people. It's true what they say, that there is a massive Struggling Class who get on with things, try their best to manage independently, and provide a good example to their children. And do you know what? Doing everything you have done by studying etc and what you are doing now for your family by working hard and getting your prioerities right...well, it makes you the better person ultimately.

We decided to haveone of us raise the children in the early years rather than work ourselves to the bone just to cover childcare. So we have sacrificed a LOT in terms of materialism and size of home, but so what, we have happy, balanced, kind children who will become happy, balanced, considerate adults. That'll do me.

Thanks for a good post, OP.

welliesandpyjamas Wed 14-Sep-11 10:26:49

Coccyx, why not bleach the shirts if they still fit ok?? A bottle of bleach is 50p, a pack of shirts is £3, so the OP saves £2.50, which will buy four pints of milk and a loaf of bread for here family for a couple of days. Honestly, no need to be so rude.

Riveninabingle Wed 14-Sep-11 20:35:15

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

wannaBe Wed 14-Sep-11 20:49:57

Op brings home £1600 a month and reckons she has to bleach shirts? Yeah right.

Yes children are expensive, but while £1600 isn't a massive income it's possible to budget effectively without claiming to be on the poverty line.

I do agree largely about the fact that many children (regardless of whether their parents are on benefits) are hugely over-indulged, but that is a question of priority rather than necessity, so if parents are getting themselves into debt for the sake of little Johny's need for an iPhone then more fool them.

coccyx Thu 15-Sep-11 07:15:09

I am surprised the shirts do fit after a year!!! don't the children grow

welliesandpyjamas Thu 15-Sep-11 09:32:52

Oh, do try thinking outside the box. What doesn't fit one might fit the other this year and is perfectly reusable. Some of us are not too precious to use shirts on more than one child if they fit and can be revived.

welliesandpyjamas Thu 15-Sep-11 10:34:11

Ok. The OP is never going to come back because he/she is NEW and has done two other similar massive posts this week and left them unattended. We've been had, MNetters. We've managed to squabble amongst ourselves and the OP has got some handy material for their article or whatever. Whatcha gonna do, eh.

niceguy2 Thu 15-Sep-11 11:10:47

I wonder if OP is an English teacher?

welliesandpyjamas Thu 15-Sep-11 11:26:40

Maybe. But an English teacher with time on their hands to write mini essays on childcare and abortion (see their other threads) hmm

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